A few months back I booked a HUGE wedding cake for a bride who dreamed of a cascade of hand-made sugar flowers sweeping down her six tiers. It had been a while since I spent any serious time making flowers out of gum paste- not since my days as an unpaid intern at the flower factory so many years ago.
Back then I was at the bottom of the chain of production, and we interns were in charge of making most of the filler flowers- hundreds of hydrangea, slews of snapdragons, rows and rows of rose buds, and leaves, leaves, leaves… I passed an entire week- every day, all day- rolling, cutting, veining and shaping leaves on wires for our delicate sugar roses that came in all colors- the week after was spent dusting the leaves with colored powders, dipping them in a noxious sticky glaze and tying them together with floral tape. And when I had tied the very last leaf with a sigh of satisfaction and relief, I was instructed to pull out the green gum paste and start production all over again.
I never got my hands on any of the really fun stuff- like the shimmery green Cattleya orchid petals or the bright red parrot tulips, or even the blooming roses, though I saw hundreds of them being made around me. So it was no wonder I always thought flower making a mind-numbingly monotonous endeavor that just wasn’t really for me.
Making gum paste flowers, just like growing real ones, takes a lot of planning, labor, and a practiced hand. Every bud and center is shaped between the fingers, each orchid throat painted with a thin brush.
For the Cattleya orchid and the Peony, each petal is cut separately, pushed onto a wire, shaped and dried wavy to give it movement.
Other flowers like roses, hydrandgea and calla lilies are shaped and dried upside-down overnight.