Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sharing a Sugar Swan . . .

Sometimes we try to do extraordinary or unusual things in my Pastry II class. Sometimes we succeed. Other times, not so much. Yesterday was one of the good days. We made these delicate swans and I just wanted to share mine with you guys.

The swan's body is made from blown sugar; the wings, feathers, flowers, and leaves from pulled sugar; and the base from poured sugar. Well, not sugar exactly, but a sugar substitute that pastry chefs use for this sort of thing called isomalt, which is derived from sugar alcohol. It's edible, of course, but not particularly intended for consumption.

The swan is no more than 7" tall and perhaps 6" long from front to back, and sits on a base of about 8" in diameter. Here's how it was made, in a nutshell: Its body is formed from a golf-ball sized glob of hot isomalt that you, first, mold with your hands into sort of a light-bulb shape (and, believe me, you're wearing plastic gloves--maybe even two pairs--the entire time you're working on this). Then, you attach the narrower end of that to the tube end of a small, primitive-looking, rubber hand pump, not unlike the pump used on a blood pressure cuff. You gently pump air into the sugar glob, which you're cradling in one hand, and, if you're very lucky, it expands cooperatively to about the size of a large lemon. Then, you pinch a bit of the hot sugar with your fingertips, from the non-tube end of the swan, and pull it upwards, curling it over to form the neck and head. At this point, you let the whole thing cool. Then you heat the tail end so you can remove the air tube (when that's done, you say a prayer of thanks that the whole thing hasn't shattered yet).

The wings are formed from small separate globs of hot sugar. To do this, you grab a bit of hot sugar, hold it tightly between thumb and forefinger, and then pull it out into the shape of a thin wing, and immediately use a pair of scissors to cut the feathering onto one side. The tail feathers were formed similarly, but without any scissor cuts. You heat just an edge of the wing and quickly attach it to the body.

The eyes were made by taking a very small, straight strand of colored sugar, letting it completely cool so it was like a tiny stick, and then reheating just the very end of it so it would melt into a drop. Then that melted tip was dabbed onto the swan's head on each side. The beak was made by pinching off bits of the same color sugar and pulling them into the appropriate shape, then gluing them on by quickly heating them on one edge.

 The little flowers were made by pulling a ribbon of sugar and then quickly rolling and tucking it up, very simply. The leaves were formed much the same way the wings were. And the dark blue base that the swan is sitting on was made from extremely hot isomalt that was poured into a shallow, round, rubber mold and then left to cool.

Occasionally, I don't necessarily think all that much of what I've made at school on a given day, but then I get whatever it is home (assuming it's something we get to bring home, which doesn't happen all that often) and have a chance to look at it in a completely different setting. And, I think to myself, "Wow--that's actually pretty cool." That's kind of how I felt about this little swan. I honestly don't know if I could ever reproduce him at home, partly because I don't have any of the needed equipment, but even if I never make anything else like this in my life, I enjoyed working on this feathery fellow.

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