Top tips for working with sugar paste
New to working with sugar paste? It can be confusing to a new cake maker so we’ve written a guide with some of our top tips on working with sugar paste so you can get cracking with your creations.
But first, a question that comes up all the time – is sugar paste the same as fondant? What is the difference between fondant and sugar paste? Should I use sugar paste or fondant? We get it, it’s confusing and it all depends on where you are in the world as to what you call in. In the UK we generally call it sugar paste and in America and Australia it is referred to as fondant. So sugar paste is the same as fondant BUT fondant in the UK is not necessarily the same as sugar paste. Typically, fondant in the UK is similar to royal icing and can be used for decorating cookies (it doesn’t set quite as hard as actual royal icing). We know it’s a little confusing! But generally in cake making sugar paste and fondant are the same thing so you don’t need to worry too much! You can go ahead and use whichever you like, as long as it looks like the roll out, block icing, you’re all good to go!
Here are our top tips for working with sugar paste:
tip #1: which sugar paste is best?
There are so many brands out there and I have tried most of them over the years. My go-to choice now is The Sugar Paste which is a beautifully elastic paste, easy to work with and produces flawless, wrinkle free results. It is a good price point too.
tip #2: prepare it before you use it!
When you take sugarpaste out of the packet it will typically be quite soft. This can be a little tricky to work with so we recommend preparing it to make it a bit drier and easier to work with.
For modelling work you will need to add 1 teaspoon of either Gum Tragacanth or 1 teaspoon of CMC (as in the video). They are totally food safe powders that are added to make the paste dry out a bit more quickly. This makes it much easier to model with.
tip #3: difference between gum tragacanth and CMC
Gum Tragacanth – the natural one
Gum Tragacanth is a substance which is derived from the sap of a plant in the Middle East. The sap is drained from the root of the plant and then dried. This forms a powder which doesn’t taste of anything and smells horrible but is ideal for thickening up sugar paste.
The powder is a light cream colour and very fine so you would not want to breathe in too much when smelling it or it can cause you to cough.
As Gum Tragacanth is a natural product, I regard it as the “natural one” and I use this in all my modelling work as you will see on the videos.
CMC – the chemical one
CMC stands for Carboxymethyl cellulose. In short, it is the chemical version of Gum Tragacanth. It looks exactly the same.
CMC tends to work a little bit faster than gum tragacanth and is also a little bit cheaper as it is a chemical version of the real thing.
So what then is Tylose powder?
This is a brand name for CMC so is effectively the same thing as CMC. It works in the same way and is again a chemical version. It is usually again cheaper than Gum Tragacanth due to its chemical nature.
tip #4: use Trex or Crisco to smooth your paste
If your sugar paste starts to dry out or get too cracky, add a little bit of Trex or Crisco. This is white vegetable fat (like lard) and it is a bit like moisturiser for sugar paste. It will iron out any of the dry, creased cracks.
You can buy Trex/Crisco from your supermarket and it is not expensive. You store it in the fridge like butter and it will last months. Typically it is about £1 / $1 for a large tub and well worth buying.
tip #5: use the heat of your hands to smooth the paste
One of the best tools in cake making are your hands. Once you have massaged your paste and added any Gum Trag or CMC, if you still see any little creases or lines or cracks, use the heat from your hands to smooth them out.
You will literally see them vanish if you press quite firmly and roll the paste balls in your hands.
tip #6: buy dark coloured pastes
Technically you can colour sugar paste any colour you choose but when you are making dark colours like navy and black, you will need a lot of gel food colouring. This can change the consistency of the sugar paste so that it is much harder to work with.
For this reason, I tend to always use pre-coloured dark colours. For lighter colours, I colour my own. For more information about colouring sugar paste, see this post here.
tip #7: use it for the right purpose
Sugar paste goes on the top of cupcakes or cakes. It is also used for modelling characters and figures.
If you want to make delicate sugar flowers, you should use Gum Paste (Florist Paste) as that is more stretchy, dries harder and can be rolled much thinner so is much more suited to making flowers.
tip #1: sharp edges
Sugar paste can be rolled to different thicknesses for covering a cake. Beginners will typically start with around 5mm thick and as you get more experience you will work to 2 and 3mm thick.
It is best to go as thin as possible but not so thin that the sugar paste tears.
The same applies with any decorations. So if you have flat decorations like circles or flowers on your cakes, keep the sugar paste as thin as possible. Usually around 1 to 2mm for decorations.
tip #2: don’t put it in the fridge
This is another common question – can sugar paste go in the fridge? Generally no. The environment is too wet and this moisture can cause the sugar paste to go sticky and melt. Some sugar paste brands are designed for refrigeration if you are in a hot country, but generally we wouldn’t recommend refrigerating sugar paste.
tip #3: roll on the right surface
Sugar paste is quite sticky so when you are rolling it out, it is best to use a large non-stick board.
If you don’t have one, a stainless steel or granite surface is ideal but don’t roll straight on there. You would be better to either grease the surface with vegetable fat (Trex) or cover with a thin layer of cornflour or icing sugar.
I don’t use Trex to cover the surface as I find that the sugar paste then slips a lot. I tend to use icing sugar sprinkled on the surface. If you later find there are little bits of icing sugar showing on your covered cake, you can get rid of them with a brush with a little water on the end and gently “wash” them off the cake. The water will then evaporate as the sugar paste dries.