Sugar - part 1 of 2

Just from reading my blog, you would probably not get the idea that I was actually studying cuisine as well as patisserie. Though when asked I always say that I like both the same amount, there's something about pastry that seem to excite me more than anything else. Now after completing both of my chocolate and sugar showpieces, I think I have finally figured out why that is.

You're going to think it's cheesy, but there's something magical about patisserie. When one beholds a sugar or a chocolate creation, the feeling of childlike wonder seems to present itself. Along with this wonder come question upon question about how foodstuffs can be manipulated in such a way to become sculptures, and effectively, art.

Each pastry demonstration I have experienced at Cordon Bleu have left me with a sense of enlightenment. "So THAT'S how you do it" I’d think to myself as I walk home after witnessing a new technique, or as I’d like to think of it, a new magic trick.

This is because I think the discipline of pastry is the perfect fusion of art, taste, creativity and skill. Though each and every one of the students at school would have attended the same demonstration, the varying products after the corresponding practical class would be a reflection of their own artistic taste and personality. 

There are several pastry chefs at school who are all very capable in sugar and chocolate art. Yet when you ask them to produce a sugar rose, they would all vary significantly in style. Some chefs have dissected numerous roses to figure out the way to make their sugar roses as realistic as possible. Meanwhile, other chefs compose their roses mathematically and using absolute precision of hand that results in a more artificial looking albeit harmonious creation.

Because of this, the chefs respect each student's interpretations as well. They're happy as long as the petals are thin, shiny and arranged neatly. But there is more to sugar art than just pulled sugar flowers! We also learned poured and blown sugar, both of which were techniques also featured in my showpiece. Let me walk you through my preliminary sugar pieces to show you how I finally settled on my final design.

This is the result from our first sugar practical class. We learned how to use metal bars and cake rings to make the foundation for our sugar showpiece. During this practical, as I gazed upon my pieces colourful casted sugar, I had multiple flashbacks to my childhood playing with plastic building blocks. We had to make sure that our poured sugar chunks were thick, welded securely and were stable enough to withstand the violent shaking the chef was to impose on our finished structures.

At the end of the practical, the chef was happy overall with my structure's stability and cleanliness, but remarked that it needed to feature more elements of difficulty. "Dont you worry about that chef" I thought to myself. I knew that the roses and blown pieces that the structure will eventually adorn will take care of that.

In the second practical, I started to question my base structure as it was difficult for me to place my three roses and leaves harmoniously on the showpiece. The attending chef in the practical didn't really have much to say but a quick "c’est bon” and a “bonne soirée” as it was an evening class. So I went away to find my trusty buddy Chef Cotte. He commented that the piece was too empty and needed more leaves to fill it out. But he said the roses were lovely even though he did not agree with their placements. That night I decided to take my sugarpiece home so I could take off the roses and play with the placement. Also, I wanted to see how a blown sugar swan would fit into the picture:

Practice makes perfect better-ish

Yes I know. The ribbon was a bit much! I think exhaustion made me make the strange call of putting the bow on the very top of the sugar piece. Needless to say that idea was immediately canned. I definitely knew that my piece would feature a blown sugar swan.  But again, to me this still looked awkward. Then the idea came to me to make a large bird and make that be the central focus of the piece.

Almost immediately, worry and doubt started to come over me. A large swan is a whole different ball game to the small ones I had been able to make. It is a huge risk to undertake especially coupled with the pressures and time constraints the final exam will no doubt present. But too late, the idea had been planted in my brain. I had to do a large swan and I was going to do whatever it took to make it work.

So a quick search on youtube brought my attention to this horribly edited video. I had to make do with this because the chefs did not demostrate how to make a blown sugar bird in any of the demos. So equipped with a sugar pump and laptop, I learned to do it myself at home. To my surprise, it wasn't too long until an avian type creature started to take form. I was excited; my vision was beginning to materialize.

For the third practical, I decided to change the colour of the principal base pieces to red in order to provide a colour contrast to the fat white bird. I made a mistake when sticking the wings onto the swan poorly that it broke off, creating a fissure on the body. But a quick leaf-cover-up job did the trick. With a grin, Chef Walter said that it looked like the swan was hiding in bushes. However Chef Deguignet was not happy that I placed the roses on the ground. Apparently it was an unwritten rule in showpiece design. But after another discussion with my pal Chef Cotte, I decided to stick with my guns as he assured me that the piece made sense and was nicely balanced.

The fourth and final five-hour sugar practical was the night before the final exam. I did not change too much of the design, but decided that yellow roses fitted better with the colour scheme. After two tries with the swan, I managed to achieve a more elegant shape than the bird in the last piece. 

Chef Pascal showed me a couple of tricks to get the roses and leaves looking shinier without overworking the sugar. He was extremely helpful. I was very grateful to have received these last minute tips and to have access to his expertise in the last practical before the exam. He offered more advice and told me that he wasn’t very conviced with the design of my poured sugar base, and that the smaller pieces looked awkward. I agreed, and I knew I had to think of something quickly as time was running out as the exam was only 11 hours away...


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