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FYI: Gum Paste Carnations

23 Jun

As promised, we’re going to get back to our FYI: Gum Paste series now that we know everything we need to do harvest, jam, puree and freeze local strawberries. Don`t forget the newest Cookie Cup: Strawberry Shortcake.

In our first FYI: Gum Paste posts I showed you some of the basic and best tools to use as well as how to simply make gum paste. In the second post we did a fun little project, learning how to colour, roll out, texturize, and extrude gum paste, as well as how to cut out letters. Today we are going to dive into one of the most rewarding ways we can use gum paste: flowers.

Gum Paste Carnations

If you haven`t worked with gum paste before it`d be a good idea to check out the second FYI: Gum Paste post to become familiar with some basic tips and tricks. If you have any questions about the tools needed to make these carnations check out the first FYI: Gum Paste post.

Carnations are a great first flower to start with. They are relatively simple, and their ruffly, frilly nature make them fairly forgiving for a beginner. These are perfect to add to the side or top of a cake. I`ll be using mine for accents on some pretty garrett frills I`m putting on a wedding cake in the future.

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FYI: Strawberry Freezing, Pureeing and Jamming.

21 Jun

Today I’ll continue with our adventure into preserving local strawberries to enjoy year round. Now that we’ve made it home from our trip to the pick-your-own berry farm we need to start processing the strawberries.


Freezing berries is one of the easiest ways to preserve them. No need to buy overpriced strawberries from the grocery store in January when you have some sitting in your own freezer at home that you picked yourself locally.

Step 1: Wash the berries in a colander. Use a plate under the colander to catch water while you work.

Step 2: Cut up strawberries. First slice off the top, lay flat and slice in half, slice in half again.

Step 3: Spread out in a single layer on a parchment lined pan.

Step 4: Place pans in the freezer.

Step 5: Once berries are frozen package into freezer bags and place back in the freezer.

Have you seen the label IQF on berries in the grocery isle? It stands for Individually Quick Frozen. By freezing the berries spread out on a pan they stay separate from each other and freezer quicker, which helps to maintain the quality.


Step 1: Wash and core strawberries. To core slide a paring knife into the top of the berry, twist the berry around until the top and core are seperated from the rest of the berry.

Step 2: Puree the berries in a food processor or blender.

Step 3: Place berries in a pot, bring to a boil. Skim foam. Allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Step 4: Pass puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. You can also use cheese cloth if you do not have a fine mesh strainer.

Step 5: Return to pot and reduce over low heat for 30 minutes or until reduced by 1/2.

I like to call the result of this process Strawberry Essence. It’s full of compacted flavor with no additives or chemicals. You can freeze it and defrost as needed. I use this in cakes, icings, mouse, anything I want to give a fresh summer time strawberry flavor. I use the puree to make the strawberry mouse in my Strawberry Shortcake Cookie Cup.


Jams are the traditional preserve. It’s a practice that had fallen out of favor for awhile, thankfully it’s starting to become more and more common. Once you make your own jam you will never want to buy grocery store imitations again.

That and anyone you give the jam to will make such pitiful pleas for more that you’ll pretty much be obligated to making some each year.  I always keep some extra around in case I need an emergency gift for someone. It makes a great hostess present.

Heres a list of the basic equipment you will need. You can buy kits that have most of this already. At the end of the summer the jars, lids and pectin go on sale for dirt cheap. Be sure to stock up for next year’s canning season.

Strawberry Jam

Yield: 7 x 250 or 236 ml Jars

3 3/4 Cups Crushed Strawberries (about 2 liters/quarts)

1/4 Cup Bottled Lemon Juice

7 Cups Granulated Sugar

1 Pouch (85 ml) Liquid Pectin

This reipce is from my Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving, it works great. Just be sure to measure the strawberries after you have crushed/pureed them.  I usually make this in a 3 x batch. Did I mention you will have LOTS of people begging or some of your homemade jam?

You want to be sure to put a label on the jams with the date they were made. You can buy canning labels that are premade. They look a little too…. grandmotherly for me. So I make my own using address labels.

You can copy and paste this into a template for address labels and print out using Avery White Mailing Labels 8161 or 5161. Easy, modern, non grandmotherly jam labels!

Next I’ll show you one of the many ways you can use that puree to add amazing flavor, chemical and preservative free, to whip up an impressive dessert (in a cookie cup!) Plus details on Off the List’s one month of blogging giveaway.

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FYI: Strawberry Picking and Processing

20 Jun

We’re going to take a brief detour from our FYI Gum Paste series, but don’t worry we’ll be right back to it in no time. It’s strawberry season and we need to take advantage.

We all try to do our part and eat local. It’s good for the economy and the environment. And it tastes delicious. It’s easy to do in the summer, but it can get a little harder once the farmers market start to close up in the fall. We need to pick up some long used skills that would have been second nature to our grandmothers.

The first, and most basic skill: How to Harvest Produce. Head down to your local pick-your-own berry farm and get ready to go strawberry picking.

Grab a couple of baskets and hop on the bed of the tractor. Soon you’ll be bumping along the field towards the designated strawberry patch.

Strawberry Picking Rule #1: Stay in your row, pick the berries that are growing to the inside. Unless your neighbour has moved on and you see a few choice berries they missed. Then it’s fair game.

Strawberry Picking Rule #2: Only pick the red berries. Be sure you don’t damage the ones that are green and unripe, that way there will be more bright red goodies in a week or two.

Strawberry Picking Rule #3: Be careful of berries that rest on the ground. They may look bright and pretty, but 9 times out of 10 they are bruised or a little insect has already helped themselves to lunch.

Strawberry Picking Rule #4: Don’t Pick under ripe berries. You want the ones that have a nice deep red colour.

Strawberry Picking Rule #5: Big berries are great for eating. But when you want to can, puree or freeze berries choose the smaller ripe ones. They have less water content and a more concentrated flavor.

Strawberry Picking Rule #6: When you have filled your basket make sure you can fit your hand under the handle.

The Golden Rule of Strawberry Picking: Everyone must have a sampling of the berries while picking. Quality control don’t you know?

Luke and I filled up 4 6 liter baskets. It took us roughly about an hour, it was a great time. 

Even though it was only 10 in the morning the field was filled with people of all ages. It’s great to watch the children wondering around smiling as strawberry juice trails down their chins. To me, that is the image of summer.

Be sure to check and see if your berry farm has any other pick-your-own produce. We’ll be back to ours for Raspberries and Pumpkins. We might even give the Snap Beans a go.

Now that we have our harvest we need to process it so that it’ll be around for the cold months.

Tomorrow I’ll show you how to freeze and puree strawberries as well as walk you through the simpliest way to make delicious jam that will have everyone you know knocking on your door.

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FYI: Getting Up Close and Personal with Gum Paste

10 Jun

In the last FYI: Getting to Know Gum Paste I showed you a slew of great tools for working with the sugar clay and walked you through the very simple process of making it from a powder mix. Now it’s time we get to the real fun; expressing our creativity in sugary goodness. Gum Paste is softer, more pliable, and much more elastic than fondant. It also dries very quickly, unlike fondant. Our number one ally in the struggle to keep the gum paste moist while working on it is shortening. Remember this well and you will save yourself much frustration. This FYI Gum Paste edition we will go over some gum paste basics

  • How to tint to any colour
  • How to easily roll it out
  • How to add textures
  • How to use the Clay Extruder
  • How to cut letters with the Tappits
  • How to adhere letters

To start rub a bit of shortening onto your hands and work a little bit into a piece of gum paste as big as you need for your project.

Lay a piece of wax paper on your work surface. Scale the size of the piece you use to the size or project you are doing. Open the colour you wish and grab a toothpick. Never double dip a toothpick into icing colours, this is an easy way to contimante the gel. You can use both ends of the toothpicks but once they have touched the gum paste they are done.

Dip the toothpick into the icing colour and smear a small amount onto the piece of gum paste. Unless you are aiming for a dark tone be light handed. As the saying goes, you can always add more. Not so much on the taking away part.

To keep the colour from transferring onto your fingers fold the piece of gum paste in on itself. Keep folding in or roll out between your hands into a long rope and fold it in. Eventually the colour will work into enough of the gum paste that it won’t leave much (if any) staining on your hands.

Keep adding colour (be sure not to double dip!) until you are satisfied.

Place your pretty tinted piece of gum paste on the sheet of wax paper, cover with another. It helps to shape the gum paste to generally mimic the finished shape you are after.

Place the rolling pin in the middle and using gentle pressure roll out the gum paste. It helps if you rotate the wax paper as you go, this way you’ll roll out more evenly.

Gauge how much you need to roll the gum paste out to fit the cutter you want to use. The thinner you roll it the quicker your finished project will dry but the more fragile it will be. After a few projects you’ll start to learn what works best for you.

Remove the top sheet of wax paper and the cutter down firmly into the middle of the gum paste. Pull away the excess gum paste.

Be sure to wrap any gum paste you are not using in plastic wrap and place in a zip lock bag you keep near by. Wasting gum paste isn’t doing yourself any favors (ask me how I know.) Remove the cutter carefully from the gum paste.

Put a light layer of shortening on the texture sheet and using a sheet of wax paper roll out a small, narrow piece of gum paste on top.

Carefully pull the gum paste off of the texture sheet.

Lay the textured gum paste down flat on your work surface (which is protected by a sheet of wax paper). Line up the letter you want on the Tappit cutter.

Press down firmly and lift up gently. If you find that some of the tricker letters aren’t cutting cleanly, spread a little shortening on the cutter itself.

Pull away the excess gum paste (remember to wrap in plastic wrap and put in a zip lock bag) and expose the desired letter. Using a small flat tool (I use the spatula from my modeling kit but a butter knife works almost as well) carefully lift the letter off of the wax paper. You might have to wait a minute or two for the gum paste to stiffen up enough that you can move the letter without completely distorting it. Don’t worry about a little distortion, you can always adjust it once you have it in place.

Place the letters on your plaque piece and play with them until you are happy with their arrangement.

Removing the letters one by one smear a thin layer of edible glue on the back and place them back into their spots, adjusting them as you go. Once all of the letters are adhered place the plaque (wax sheet and all) out of the way and onto a flat surface

Lay down another piece of wax paper. Texturize another piece of gum paste.

Cut to the desired size using the wheel cutter/fondant  embosser. This is where wax paper becomes so handy, you can easily see through it to the measurements on your rotary mat. Carefully peel the wax paper off of th first piece of gum paste and adhere it to the larger piece.

Now grab the clay extruder. Kiss it. No seriously. You are going to fall in love with this thing. When I first got mine I tried it once and almost threw it out. I had no idea how close I came to making the biggest mistake of my caking life.  I’m glad I can save you the trial and error it took me to appreciate this thing.

Unscrew the cap, choose a small round die, place it inside the cap and screw the cap back on.

Work a generous amount of shortening into a inch or so sized piece of gum paste. You want this baby to be super pliable.

Scoop up some shortening on your pinky finger (shortening = key to success with gum paste). Coat the inside of the extruder with the shortening as far down as you can go without getting your pinky stuck. Because husbands called to help in such an emergency will take a good 3 minutes to laugh at you before they help. And that’s 3 minutes you could be playing with gum paste instead.

Remove the barrel from the extruder. Roll the gum paste into a small log and place it inside the chamber of the extruder.

Place the barrel in the top of the extruder and push down. With even pressure extrude a small rope of gum paste directly onto the wax paper. Move the extruder as you go to prevent the rope from bunching up and sticking to itself.

Position the rope on your gum paste plaque to your liking and then use a light layer of edible glue to secure it. You can do so many things with the extruder. Most of the accent on the Baby Shower Cupcakes were done with it. It has dies that are perfect to make gum paste hair. It allows you to make a quick and simple border for the edge of a cake in seconds. The possibilities are endless. It works as easily with fondant as it does gum paste.

Sit back and smile. You now know all you need to start working with gum paste. Plus now you also know the secrets of using some of the most versatile tools in the world of sugar art. Tappits come in all kinds of fondants from funky to formal. Textures can be applied to the sides of cakes as well as accents. You will never stop finding new ways to use an extruder, and you will find yourself groveling and apologizing for ever thinking of throwing it away.

Next FYI we’ll start to learn how to make detailed and delicate gum paste flowers. I’ll warn you now, this can get addicting.

Are there any specific gum paste (or other sugar) techniques that you’ve seen and always wanted to know more about? Tell me what you’d like to see on FYI and I’ll do my best to fulfill your wishes.

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FYI: Getting to Know Gum Paste

9 Jun

Although once a foreign novelty, Fondant has become a household name in the past few years. Love it or hate it, doesn’t matter, you know what it is.

Gum Paste is it’s more temperamental, and rewarding, counterpart. It’s a sugar clay that you can mold and craft into anything imaginable. It’s different from fondant in the fact that it dries hard, really very hard. In fact it can dry before you want it to, while you are working on it. But unlike fondant it holds its shape and you can roll it much thinner than it’s easier cousin.

Gum Paste flowers are the most traditional application for the sugar clay.

Bows are becoming more and more common.

(Sorry about the quality (or lack of) of some of these pictures. They are from before I had my life altering SLR or any real photography skill.)

Gum Paste can be used to create an edible version of anything you can possibly want to put on a cake or cupcakes.


And Tiaras. And yes the Roses are gum paste too.

Shoes for a Baby. 

Or a Princess.

Details to make a purse cake come to life.

Hand modeling any creature you could possibly want. Even Mr. Bear from the last week’s Show & Tell began as a humble hunk of gum paste.

Some people are afraid to start working with gum paste. I was one of them. Actually I’m usually weary of any medium I haven’t played with before. That’s what blogs like this are for!

I’m going to walk you through everything you will need to know to start working with, and loving, gum paste. Then you can set out on your own and learn tons more to share with me.

Gum Paste 101

There are a few ways to obtain gum paste. You can purchase it premade, you can make it from scratch, or you can go the middle route and purchase a powder. I buy the Wilton Gum Paste Mix from the Bulk Barn. Most craft stores carry it. It makes a good sized batch that will last a lot of small projects or a few medium sized.

Beside the Gum Paste is my container of Gum Tex. You can use Gum Tex to make your own gum paste from scratch. Or if you are like me you can keep a container around to make some edible glue to keep together all your sugar clay creations.

Fondant was included in this picture, not because it’s a spot light hog, but because sometimes it helps to use 50% Gum Paste and 50% Fondant.

Large bows are a perfect example of this. You have an extended time to work on shaping because of the Fondant and it will still dry relatively hard (although it will take longer) thanks to the Gum Paste.

A perfect symbiotic relationship.

Making Gum Paste from a Mix

The instructions are clearly outlined on the back of the container. It’ll take a few times to get the feel for it, but it’s fairly simple.

Set up your black Kitchen Aid mixer with a paddle. Open up the can of gum paste mix with a black Kitchen Aid can opener.  (Can you guess what style most of my kitchen appliances/tools are?)

Empty the container into the bowl of the mixer. Add 1/4 cup of water with a black Kitchen Aid measuring cup (I’m really not joking, I do have a complete set of black Kitchen Aid measuring cup).

Set to stir and allow it to incorporate the water into the powder.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Notice that the spatula is a WHITE Kitchen Aid spatula. I’m not crazy enough to have my kitchen match 100%. Mind you, if anyone knows where I could pick up a black one, feel free to let me know.

Once it starts to come together switch to the dough hook and knead until it looks like a solid dough.

Put it into a Ziplock bag and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Put it back into (the now cleaned) Kitchen Aid bowl and add 1/3 cups of powdered sugar. Knead for 5 minutes.

Congratulations! You just made gum paste.

Now, you can store it in the fridge in a Ziplock bag if you aren’t going to use it right away (wrap in plastic wrap if it’ll be a while before you get to it).

Next I’ll tell you what toys… ahem…. tools are useful when working with gum paste.

Gum Paste Tools

The tools I’m going to show you are by no means a hard wired list. My collection is always growing (and sometimes shrinking.) It’s all about finding what works for you and what you like to work with.

That being said, a lot of these are tried and true tools that I saw recommended by a lot of other cake designers and sugar artists before I shelled out my dollars to buy them. They are the ones I use the most and the ones I think you would get the most use out of as well.

Icing Colours are necessary, luster and petal dusts are lovely, but for the most part I have found the Food Writers to be useless. These arn’t a top quality brand though, the point is very blunt, and I think that is the problem.

The Silver and Gold highlighter have got to be my all time favorite and most used of all my dusts. They add bling to any cake. And we all know that bling is always a good thing.

Out of all of these the two most essential and enhancing to any gum paste work are the Extruder and the Tappit letter cutters.

These are all  (except the three white ones) from a basic Wilton Gum Paste kit. It’s a great place to start until you decide on which kind of flowers you want to invest more money into and buy higher quality cutters and veiners for.

Floral wires, tapes and stamens make the difference between awkward sugar flowers and jaw dropping realistic edible masterpieces. .

When you are drying anything made of gum paste (or fondant for that matter) if you don’t lay it on some kind of mold or form it will dry flat and lifeless. These are all good for giving shape to different projects.

Despite all of the Wilton products I have I’m not a big fan of the brand. But I LOVE this set of modeling tools, they are indispensable.

When working with gum paste you will save yourself alot of frustration by always having these 5 things on hand:

Cornstarch: for dusting work surfaces

Plastic Wrap: for covering pieces of gum paste you arn’t working with to prevent them from drying out

Wax Paper: to protect your work surface

Shortening: to grease your hands and re-moisturize the gum paste

Tooth Picks: to apply colours and for some fine detail work

Next FYI we will get up close and personal with some gum paste. I’ll show you how to colour it, how to use Tappits, the Extruder, and Texture Tiles.

Let me know if you have any specific comments or questions about gum paste.

Or really just any comment about anything, the weather, your dog, that strange smell you still haven’t tracked down the source of.

I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

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