Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Say Sugar

Sugar, Sucre, Zucker, Azucar, Suiker. But when you heat it to 160 degrees Celsius, it is hot in any language. So hot that it even burns through two sets of gloves. Sugar blisters hurt. really. Then as soon as they start to heal, get back under a heat lamp with more molten sugar and those blisters get blisters. Before you know it, you are impersonating the Michael Jackson band-aids on all fingers look. The worst blisters are the ones near knuckles, since they don't get a chance to heal before they crack and bleed, and bandages will not stay on them. Then since the sugar is so hot, my hands sweat under the rubber gloves and the bandages get soaked and slide off. Gross. I won't post more photos of my blisters, I promise.

Chef D's Sugar Pieces

Most classmates are making something similar to the chef's creations, a poured colored sugar base, with a backdrop and then flowers to decorate it. 

Poured Sugar and Early Petal Attempts

Poured sugar is easy, heat sugar, water and glucose to 150 degrees, color it and at 155 degrees, pour it into the mold. Molds can be anything - for rectangles, squares and triangles, we use steel bars; for circles, we use cake and tart molds. Or go to the hardware store and find something flexible that will withstand heat. My first poured sugar turned out nicely, I mixed some red and white and was happy with the effect. But after that, things went awry. Pulled sugar uses a different recipe, heat the sugar cubes, white, smaller amount of glucose, add coloring and tartaric acid before pouring out on the Silpat. Wait for the edges to start hardening, flick those edges in until a solid mass forms. Move the mass around to cool parts of the marbles, folding in half over and over (similar to kneading bread). When the sugar is dead (cool enough not to ooze out of its shape), starting pulling, folding back on itself, and pulling out again, until it makes a cracking noise. I use different parts of my hand and switch from left to right often, so I don't get 'hot spots' or 'pre-blisters.' Don't pull too much, or too early, or the sugar will crystalize and it hits the trash can. Or try the microwave, but don't hold your breath. Start another batch of sugar, just in case. Work with small pieces, keeping everything under a heat lamp set to 80 degrees (about 175 degrees fahrenheit). Separate a small section from the mass, then pull leaves, petals, and ribbons. It sounds vague, but I don't know any other way to explain the 'pulling part.' It is very specific motion, but it cannot be explained in words, I just watch, and try to recreate it. It is like trying to learn how to ski by watching Bode Miller fly downhill.

My first attempts at white petals are very thick and extremely irregular.

I had a grand plan of making a tree after reading a French fairy tale about the Bee and the Orange Tree. A long gory story with a shipwrecked princess and prince, ogres eating their own children, and a magic wand that gets lost after the princess turns herself into a bee and the prince into an orange tree. I love the imagery and thought an orange tree would be a great thing to make out of sugar.  An umbrella shaped tree, with little oranges and lots of tiny green leaves, large oranges at the base and a honey bee at the top of the tree, with a ribbon around the edge of the base to look like a fence. I can see it im my head, but there have been production issues.

At one practice I was able to make a orange tree stump with oranges and blossoms, and then the next class, I tried a tall tree, but the pulled sugar branches were so brittle that as I added pieces, I broke two off the structure, and the trunk started to lean dangerously, then broke into three pieces. I wanted to cry, but made a nice pile of oranges and blossoms with a very pretty ribbon for height. Of course, now I want to try something else, but it is too late to make too drastic of a change. I'd really like to make a Dutch still life with the oranges and blossoms in a Delft-looking bowl. I just don't know if I have the time to get this to work in the time constraints of the final sugar exam next week. I am happy with my oranges, and blossoms, and the ribbon, but I need to figure out the composition. The chefs are not that impressed with my work, I am not sure if it is because it is different or if it just isn't good. I really wish I had thought of the bowl idea before my last practice. Still Life Idea

I also went to Europain, a huge trade show with a Sugar competition, where I got some great photos of sugar creations, and I can see that the European decorations are very different from what I like. They seem stuck in the 1980s, and some of the color combinations are very odd.

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