Wednesday, June 15, 2011

See How My Garden Grows

    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. 
  These days things are different and I’m not an intern anymore, so I was excited about the idea of making some of the more complicated flowers from start to finish, not least of all because of all the fun new cutters and veiners and tools I got to buy.  Other equipment I had to make, like my drying racks and petal cups.  I chose the flowers types based on my conversation with the florist, working in shades of green and purple.

  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.   

  Once the petals and flowers have dried hard, they are brushed with petal dust to bring out highlights and shadow, like makeup. 

  The process is completed over several days with little to show.  And then suddenly, when all the centers and petals and buds and leaves are dry and dusted and ready to be tied, do you begin to see your garden grow!

  The cake was so large that I had to take it in two pieces...



  1. do you put them straight into the cake or into flower picks? how does the weight of the flower not rip through the cake with that many? I can never understand this... b/c mine always do (granted I don't use much fondant b/c people specifically ask NOT to have it). Is it just impossible to do this kind of spray on a buttercream covered cake?