Sugar sculptures are beautiful editions to any party table. Many weddings, anniversary parties and other special occasions use sugar sculptures to bring life and personality to a table. Sugar sculptures come in many styles ranging from classic to abstract. As sugar artists have proved, sugar is not just for eating any more.
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About Sugar Sculptures
Sugar sculptures are art pieces made entirely of sugar and sugar derivatives. Sugar sculptures are created by heating sugar to 149 degrees Celsius. The sugar is melted with an acidic ingredient such as non-sucrose sugar in order to prevent sugar-crystallisation. When the sugar is hot, sugar artists use paddles to mix the sugar and keep it from hardening. Sugar artists create custom moulds for their sugar designs by using tubing, silicone pans, pipes and texturised tools. While creating the designs in the moulds, sugar artists continuously stir the sugar to eliminate bubbles. The key to sugar sculpting is to make sure the hardened sugar looks like glass. If there are imperfections in any of the sugar pieces, the sculpture is destroyed and rebuilt. Sugar sculptures can take hours, days or weeks to create and require patience and dedication.
Once all the pieces of the sculpture are completed, the sculpture is put together using a gas-powered blow torch. All the pieces are welded together by the melted sugar compounds. Oftentimes, another sugar artist assists in this step, hardening the newly melted sugar with a cool air torch. Sugar sculptures are then carefully transferred to the required location.
Sugar showpieces are often used in place of wedding cakes, however, this is a more expensive option since creating sugar showpieces is time-consuming. If money allows, sugar sculptures are an elegant and fun addition to any celebration table.
Every year in October, competitors from all over the world compete in a sugar sculptor challenge that is televised on the Food Network. The best sugar sculptors in the world come together to compete for cash prizes. Each competition has a theme and is usually held in a different location each year.
Different Types of Sugar Sculptures
There are several ways to create a sugar sculpture. Many sugar artists apply several of these techniques within one sugar piece, creating a sculpture that is surreal or realistic. The types of sugar sculptures are: pulled sugar, blown sugar, cast sugar, pastillage, spun sugar, pressed sugar and rock sugar.
Pulled sugar has a claylike consistency. Once the sugar is boiled, it is poured onto a silicone pan. At this point, sugar artists use food colouring that is specific for pastries and sugar art to colour the sugar. Before the sugar has a chance to cool and harden completely, the sugar artist kneads the sugar mixture into itself repeatedly, creating a dough. By folding the sugar repeatedly, air is incorporated into the mixture, giving the sugar a sheer and shiny quality. Once the sugar is cool enough to handle and has a dough-like consistency, the sugar artist can create flowers or figurines to adorn his project. Once the figure is created, the sugar is allowed to air-dry.
Pulled sugar is used in the creation of blown sugar. In order to create blown sugar, a sugar artist places a portion of the pulled sugar onto a wood or metal tipped hand pump and blows air into the sugar. As the sugar artist is pumping the air into the sugar, she can sculpt the piece into any shape she wants until the sugar is at the desired length and shape. As the sugar artist is sculpting the blown sugar, she needs to rotate the sugar so it does not become misshapen.
In order to cool the blown sugar, sugar artists must use fans to bring the sugar's temperature down slowly. If the sugar sculptor uses water to cool the sugar, the piece may crack, rendering it useless.
Cast Sugar and Pastillage
While the sugar is still hot from the boiling process, the sugar is poured into silicone or metal moulds. Before the sugar hardens, the sugar artist must ensure that all air bubbles are swirled out of the sugar; the key to cast sugar is to make it look like glass. The sugar then hardens in the mould and is removed.
Pastillage is not created by boiling sugar. Pastillage is a packaged sugar compound similar to gum paste. However, pastillage can be created using confectioner's sugar, water and gelatin. This compound dries out quickly, so sugar artists must move fast when sculpting with pastillage. When the pastillage has dried, it becomes brittle, however, if further sculpting needs to be done with this compound, sugar artists can use sanders and grinders to shape it.
Spun sugar is created either with a sugar spinning machine or by hand. First, sugar artists create a sugar syrup and place the sugar in a spinning machine. The force of the spinning causes the sugar to form long strands which can than be compiled together to create bird nests or webs.
Other ways of creating spun sugar is to gather the sugar on a spoon, fork or pipe and twirl it around until strings are formed. Another alternative is to drizzle the liquid sugar onto a silicone pan. By drizzling, the sugar artist can create patterns and shapes that cannot be created using traditional spun-sugar methods.
Rock and Pressed Sugar
Rock sugar is created by mixing hot liquid sugar with royal icing. The sugar's heat causes the royal icing to expand, making the mixture much larger. Once the mixture expands, it is poured into a large metal bowl and sent to a flash freezer. The flash freeze makes the sugar become porous and look like a lava rock. The liquid sugar's colour determines the colour of the stone. Many sugar sculptors use rock sugar for under the sea themes.
Pressed sugar is created by mixing granulated sugar with water. Once the sugar and water is mixed, pressure is applied to the sugar, making it harden quickly. Once hardened, the sugar artist then uses the pressed sugar as a base to his sugar showpiece, however, the pressed sugar has less aesthetic value in sugar showpiece competitions.
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