Before I start showing any sugar work techniques, I want to give you an idea of what equipment I use and how I set it up. I don’t have every toy and gadget I’d like to, but what I do have is enough to play around with most of the techniques I’ve learned in the past.
Keep in mind that you don’t need all of this stuff to get started in the wonderful world of sugar! I’m planning on showing as many things as I can think of that require little or no specialized equipment besides a candy thermometer. Most of this equipment is only necessary for pulled and blown sugar. While those are sort of the main attractions of sugar work for many people, they aren’t the only thing you can do with it.
Here is more or less how I’ve been setting my equipment up in this kitchen. Fortunately, I have a nice tall space in the center of our long counter where the side-by-side “vintage” oven and range used to be. (I don’t miss them at all!) Center stage is my sugar warming box. Mine is homemade by the chef I learned to do sugar from. Compare it to a commercially-produced version. Professional sugar equipment is expensive. For the most part, I recommend you make or improvise any of it that you can. Part of the fun of doing sugar or chocolate work is taking creative trips to the hardware store! I managed to find a blog post written by someone who made his own sugar warming box.
One of my goals for this year is to start practicing my neglected sugar work skills again. Last week’s cupcakes gave me the motivation to round up all of my equipment. Now that I have it located and dusted off, I’m hoping to relearn what I used to know and share the techniques here as I revisit them. In the meantime, I’ve been looking over my old notes and pictures to refresh my memory. Inspired by the post Hayley did at Hayley Bakes of her “vintage” cakes, I thought it would be fun to do something similar with my old pastry school photos, starting with the sugar stuff. (These photos were all taken with my old point and shoot digital camera, or even worse my digital video camera’s still photo function for the first few, so they look a little different from my usual!)
First, a comparison. This was the first showpiece I ever made:
And this is the one I made nine months later for my graduation portfolio review and reception:
The sugar technique on my cupcakes last week, as cute as I think they turned out, falls slightly closer to the first showpiece than the last on my ability spectrum, so I have some ground to make up.
In my defense, that first showpiece was not designed by me in any way, shape, or form, but the execution was all me (except for the ribbons, which look pretty good but were made by the instructor). Maybe it was a good thing that I really didn’t like the design or the colors, because at the time it took my mind off of how frustrated I was that I couldn’t make the sugar do what I wanted it to.
This was back during my first quarter of pastry school. Our chef instructor for that term offered three-day showpiece workshops out of his home, and I was really excited to take the chocolate one. He was also offering a sugar work workshop. I wasn’t sure that I was that interested in it, but Chris and I decided that I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to learn the skill, so I signed up for both the sugar and chocolate classes.
Behold, the oatmeal cupcake!
Okay, I haven’t perfected my oatmeal cupcake yet. When I do it will be legendary, but I may have to turn to the world of molecular gastronomy if I want this baby to keep its shape after a spin in the microwave.
What I have perfected, though, is the weekday morning breakfast.
It’s no secret to anyone that weekday morning breakfasts have gone very literal: all the do is break our nighttime fast and keep us going until we have our first real meal at lunchtime, or dinner if lunch is a grab-and-go affair. I “work” from home (I’ll remove the quotes after I get a publishing contract), I have a love and appreciation for breakfast born of watching so many people be nourished by our two-course offerings at the Inn, and even I have a hard time sitting down to something substantial most mornings. Sure, sometimes I’ll make myself an omelet and realize how little time it takes, but any reform is usually short lived. Within a week, I’m reaching for the cereal box again or just waiting for lunchtime.
The cure for this is my steel-cut oatmeal. Not only does it take very little hands-on time on my part, especially if I have the dry ingredients mixed and at the ready in advance, but it makes fantastic leftovers. Continue reading