Gum paste is the baker's modelling clay, an edible and elastic concoction that can be carefully moulded into a variety of shapes. Delicate white wedding cake flowers or bold blue birthday cake roses are common gum paste concoctions. These flowers can be made in a rainbow of colours to mimic fresh arrangements or exotic flora. Attached with wires or frosting to the tops and sides of any cake, gum paste flowers can transform a plain dessert into an artistic creation.
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Gum paste is made of icing sugar combined with soaked gum Arabic or gum tragacanth and a small amount of liquid-like plain water, rose water or lemon oil. Gum paste is mouldable like dough, and can be rolled out thinly to make delicate and realistic flowers of every type. Colour can be mixed into gum paste before moulding, or painted on after drying. Gum paste flowers are commonly used to decorate cakes, but can also be used to dress up petit fours and other desserts. Gum paste flowers can be "glued" together with egg whites or icing and made into decorative floral arrangements for holiday or special occasion events.
Gum paste can be made from scratch, or by adding water to premade gum paste mixes. Gum paste recipes require the same basic ingredients of sugar and gum, but can use different sugar consistencies, liquid activators, flavours and colours. Cake decorating stores and web sites also sell completed gum paste flowers that can be stored in a cool, dry place until needed for decorating. Gum paste flowers are available in as many styles as there are natural flowers. These easily moulded confections can be as simple as tiny white baby's breath blooms around a wedding cake to a table centrepiece of orchids, roses or tiger lilies. Colours range from white to pastel to deeper shades, with the options of pearlised or metallic sheens. Natural ingredients and FDA-approved colours make for edible gum paste flowers, but painted blooms, rigid arrangements stuck on wires and metallic dusted petals are best left as decoration. The most natural gum paste flowers can be coloured by using spices, edible flowers or vegetable juices.
Delicately made and carefully formed gum paste flowers can mimic fresh flowers and add beauty and elegance to wedding cakes. Group these realistic creations together to make unique floral centrepieces for events that won't wilt or turn brown like fresh flowers would. Large, brightly coloured gum paste flowers make a dramatic statement on the dessert table, dressing up cakes and petit fours. Dye gum paste flowers to match a bridal party or correspond with a holiday. Pastel colours turn a cake into a spring floral arrangement, while rich golds, reds and greens can be beautiful for fall or Christmas desserts. Use pearlised or metallic dusting powders to add a subtle sheen to gum paste decorations. Add water to powder and paint on with a brush for all over colour and shimmer. Pearlised flowers add understated elegance to wedding cakes, while silver and gold tints make perfect anniversary cake flowers. Spray pieces with acrylic lacquer for a shiny, ceramic look. Keep painted pieces separated from cake surfaces (use a paper doily or plastic floral leaves as a barrier) and be sure these purely decorative flowers are removed before the cake is served.
Homemade gum paste flowers can take up to two weeks to dry, and need to be made well in advance of the cake decorating event. Gum paste flowers are best stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. Heat, humidity and refrigeration can all soften flowers, even after they've set. Placing flowers on buttercream frosting, which contains fat, can also soften them.
Gum paste flowers are considered nontoxic and technically edible, but according to Baking 911, the dusting powders are not considered food items in the U.S. The FDA also does not approve the use of metallics in food, though gold leaf and silver dragees have been used on cakes and desserts for many years. Some gum paste flowers are coated with nonedible paints, and decorations may have been "glued" together with potentially unsafe egg whites. When in doubt, consider gum paste flowers as artistic decor and do not eat them.
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