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  Home :: techniques & tips :: Modelling Pastes Explained

Modelling Pastes Explained

If you are new to the cake decorators' and sugarcrafters' world you can be completely forgiven if you find all the terms used a little confusing. Take types of icing for example - one source tells you to use fondant icing while another says sugarpaste – how can you know which is correct? Actually, they both are because they are the same thing and this illustrates perfectly while sometimes this area can be so bewildering at the outset. Not only are there several different choices of the type of icing you can use depending on what you need it for but they go by different names.

Hopefully this article will help you sort your Mexican paste from your pastillage and know when and how to use each of the choices available.

Sugarpaste

Other names – ready rolled icing, ready-to-roll icing, rolled fondant, fondant icing, fondant (fondant is typically US terminology while sugarpaste is used by the Brits)

Ingredients – gelatine, liquid glucose, glycerine, icing sugar (called confectioner's sugar in US)

Properties – highly pliable dough which never sets completely hard, sweet to the taste, stores for long periods, can be made yourself or bought in packs

Used for – covering entire cakes, cookie and cupcake toppings, modelling figures and shapes. Because it never completely hardens sugarpaste is not always suitable for larger items such as large petalled flowers and leaves or large bows which need some integral strength to hold their own weight and stay in shape.

Tip – you can make you sugarpaste set a little harder and give it more rigidity by adding gum tragacanth, available from cake decorating suppliers. See sugar florist paste ingredients.

Sugar Florist Paste

Other names – flower paste, florist paste, petal paste, sugar gum paste, gumpaste (typically the US term)

Ingredients – gelatine, liquid glucose, icing sugar/confectioner's sugar, usually glycerin, sometimes starch, gum tragacanth. Basically florist paste is sugarpaste with  a hardener, such as gum tragacanth added.

Properties – pliable dough which sets very hard with a porcelain type finish, virtually tasteless, can be rolled very thin, stores for long periods

Used for – all modelling and decorations and used extensively with various cutters and moulds. Many of the more elaborate, delicate or intricate flower displays are made with this medium because of its properties, hence the term 'florist' paste.

Mexican Paste

Other names – modelling paste, Mexican modelling paste

Ingredients – icing sugar and gum tragacanth

Properties – modelling dough, no liquid glucose, gelatine or glycerin so the dough has no real stretch, sets hard, can be frozen to store

Used for – modelling, because it is less stretchy than other mediums and will therefore hold its shape while being worked, it is used extensively with patchwork cutters and for lettering and other cut-outs such as plaques.

Tip – beginners may find this a little harder to work with than sugarpaste or florist paste

Pastillage

Other names – none known

Ingredients – gelatine, icing sugar/confectioners sugar, occasionally other ingredients

Properties – sets bone hard, very brittle, dries out very quickly so has to be quickly worked, can be sanded after modelling to smooth or reshape.

Used for – many 3D shapes including ribbons and bows, often used for large centrepiece sugar sculpture

Tip – not typically a beginners medium as it dries out so quickly

NOTE – ingredients vary considerably depending on the manufacturer or recipe used. The ingredients listed here are those most typically found.

All of the mediums listed here are edible although as some of them set rock hard it can be a bit of a challenge for the teeth. Also, each is available in a range of colours or alternatively can be coloured yourself using special products designed for the purpose. Traditional food colourings are not suitable as they change the consistency of the dough.