Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When Pastry & Artistry Meet part 3: Pastillage & Royal Icing centerpieces

Not going to lie, I shed more than a few tears while in the midst of creating this centerpiece.  And I blame it for the growing number of gray hairs I seem to be noticing....

But, in the end, it was beautiful!  And I almost forgot the intense stress, nervousness, sleeplessness, and hand cramps that it unleashed. Almost.

I give you..... La Tour Eiffel and Paris in the Springtime!  

This centerpiece is constructed entirely of "pastillage", a sugar dough used for decorative work that dries quickly and very hard, and "royal icing", a thick icing that is made primarily from egg whites (pasteurized) and confectioner's sugar and is used for decorative work.  Ever seen beautifully decorated sugar cookies?   Yeah, those were decorated with royal icing.  I had to pipe a minimum of 8 ornaments to construct the center and a minimum of 32 ornaments for the sides.

Pastillage, used for the box portion of this centerpiece,  was rolled out, cut to size and allowed to dry for a week prior to construction. Royal icing had to be piped onto sheet protectors (like those you use in a binder), allowed to dry for several days, and then carefully, carefully lifted off the sheet protectors without breaking it.

Yeah, piping was the craziest part of this centerpieces....  And although I really am happy with my results, I still kick myself for picking something so difficult.  See, there are about 16 hours of PIPING ALONE in this piece.  Am I totally crazy?  Yes....

See, every color had to be outlined first, allowed to dry completely (i.e. not just a few minutes, but more like 12 hours or days) filled in with more runny icing (known as "flow") and allowed to dry again.  And I chose to do somewhere around 8 colors on just the Eiffel Tower portion.

Oh, and did I mention how completely fragile the entire piece is?  It can shatter in an instant.   So, not only did I need to pipe 8 large ornaments and 32 small ornaments, but I needed extras just in case everything broke.  If we were missing even one small ornament, the piece was not considered finished and thus we were not graded on it.  And not getting graded would basically mean failing the entire course because of the great weight these centerpieces held in our grading system. So, needless to say, I piped many extras.....  Can you see why I spent over 16 hours piping?

So with this project, not only was there concern about the quality of the piping, but then there was concern about if they would dry in time..... and concern about if they could be successfully transported back to school (what if I got into a car accident?  What if they somehow "melted" What if it was windy or rainy and that compromised them)..... and concern about whether they would come off the sheet protectors intact..... and concern about if I could construct the final piece sans breakage.....   Whew!  I'm getting more gray hair just thinking about it again.

I had originally decided to "fill in" the  tower with a gray color; however, I discovered on a test decoration that while my outlining of the tower was beautiful, many of spaces left behind were too small to neatly fill in.  Bummer!  All in all, I like not having the spaces filled in for aesthetic and authenticity reasons, but that also meant the strength of the piece was greatly diminished....  I than had a much greater risk for breakage as I tried to carefully lift the pieces off the page protectors.

Once they were lifted off the page protectors, the ornaments were still not out of the danger zone.  They had to be expertly glued, using royal icing, to the base piece.  Our goal was to have the piece look nearly 3-D once completely assembled. Thankfully, the ornaments were stronger than I had first thought.  I only ended up breaking a few of the side flower ornaments while painstakingly placing them exactly 1" apart from each other.  At the end of construction, I actually had many left over.  What a weird feeling it was to throw away those extras at the end of the day...

Yes, I am overjoyed that this pieces is DONE and OVER and that it turned out better than I even imagined.  In hindsight, though, I still think it would have been better for my sanity to have picked a less complicated subject.  But I guess that which doesn't kill me makes me stronger :)    This piece was also put in the display case at school as well.


  1. So cute!!! How much do you suppose something like that would cost? I bet you could charge a lot for that one day. If I was doing a traditional wedding cake, I think I would want something like that to decorate the top. The flowers are adorable. They remind me of shrinky-dinks.

  2. Thanks :)

    I think that my particular design would be terribly expensive because of the number of colors I used, which makes it much more difficult and time consuming to produce. A woman in my class did her's in an all white abstract design and I thought it would look nice on a wedding cake....

  3. love this so much. you'll get to see the real thing when we go to Paris in less than 3 weeks!!! :D

    Beautiful beautiful work, well done as always, my friend. xo

  4. This is just magnificent - really just the thing to put a BIG smile on my face. I know it must have been tiring to make but I am HUGE fan of yours now!