Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When Pastry & Artistry Meet part 1: Dead Dough Sculpture

There are many principles of art and design that can be applied to culinary and pastry work on an everyday basis.  But sometimes there are times the artistry is used even more.

I studied art in school the first time around (graphic design and photography to be exact, with some ceramics & printmaking thrown in) and I honestly miss the daily artistic work I use to do when I worked as a graphic designer.  But I feel that my art foundation makes me a better pastry chef.

This past semester I was able to especially draw upon my artistic background while working on  "showpieces" in the Artisan Bread course (1 sculpture) and in the Candies & Confectionaries course (3 centerpieces).  Each of these pieces used edible ingredients, though you maybe wouldn't particularly want to eat all of them...  I'm going create a 3 part series about these "showpieces," starting first with my Artisan Bread's sculpture.

Dead Dough Sculpture: Artisan Breads

This sculpture is constructed of "Dead Dough" (aka non-yeasted dough) made with a sugar syrup, white rye flour and various natural colorings, like turmeric for yellow, spinach powder for green, beet powder for red, caramel color for brown etc.  Our only requirements were to make a sculpture that included something bread-related and to use only natural coloring.

My original concept and my final product were vastly different, but I did know I wanted to make a prairie girl in a wheat field with a tree somewhere in the mix.  I grew up in North Dakota, not quite on the prairie, but almost.  The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are also a beloved part of my childhood.  My mom read all of them to my younger sisters and me.  Several times. We loved them so much that we went on three specific "Little House" vacations visiting the places where Laura had lived and even dressing up like pioneer girls (too bad I don't have a picture of that with me...).  I also had the now retired American Girl Doll Kirsten, back before American Girl was bought by Mattel. How I loved that doll!  She went with us on our "Little House" vacations.  So, pioneers have been a big part of my life. And often pioneers on the plains planted wheat, which kept with the theme requirements for the project.

This sculpture did take a great deal of time to create.  Each wheat stalk was individually made (thankfully, some classmates who picked less involved pieces/worked faster than me helped with some of the wheat stalks) and it was a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to make the girl stand up (she did get some extra non-edible support).

Projects like this one always take me longer than most.  I like to think things through. I like to work purposefully and make things right. But I greatly enjoyed this project because it reminded me of my prior ceramics classes, which I loved but really wasn't terribly good at.  I will say, though, that I spent way, way too much time working with the turmeric dough and even the smell of turmeric still makes my stomach roll a bit.  But hopefully I'll get over that with a bit more time :)

Want to make your own dead dough sculpture?  Here are some recipes for making dead dough.  

Stay tuned for Part 2: Marzipan Centerpieces!


  1. Great piece!

    I am in the process of making a sculpture myself and I am wondering how were you able to keep the larger pieces upright? Did you have to use wire and then mold it with the dough?