Monday 9 March 2015

How To Make Sugarpaste Orchids Without Cutters

   My mum has always loved orchids. They're very pretty flowers with a gorgeous shape and feel, and their colours and patterns can be beautifully plain or intricate. I saw a beautiful resin-covered orchid on Etsy a couple of years ago (which I found again recently), a real orchid preserved and protected in polyresin, and I'd loved to have bought it for my mum. The trouble is, she could never wear it. In truth I'm not sure she could even look at it. Her disability, multiple sclerosis, is quite severe, and her eyes shake from side to side constantly, affecting her vision. She also has little control over her limbs, suffering from constant tremors, so if she were to try to hold even a solid, resin-covered orchid, she'd likely break it. It makes me quite sad...but I may well buy it for her one day anyway.
   A few years ago she had loads of orchids growing in the conservatory, too, and I've grown quite fond of them. Orchids and poppies are my mother's flowers - that's what I think when I see either of them, and when her birthday came around early this month, I decided I wanted to try something more than just a sickly chocolatey chocolate cake, even though she probably wouldn't understand it, if she'd even see it, but I'm the kind of person who really does believe that it's the effort that counts, not the gratification from the person in question, and whether she's mentally handicapped or not is no reason not to put in that effort, especially when it's so difficult to buy her a gift because she physically can't do anything.

   Anyway! Rest assured that multiple sclerosis also induces euphoria, so while she doesn't understand or react to a lot of what goes on around her, she's always laughing and always smiling, and that's a really wonderful thing for me and my family as her carers.

   I wanted to put some edible orchids on her cake this year, and while initially I had looked into buying some that were premade, they had wire in them to give them better shape. I don't find things like that impressive, if I'm honest. I don't want big decorations on cakes that you can't eat except candles. If I'm buying a sugar orchid, I want it to be edible, otherwise what's the use? So I started looking at orchid cutters and thought I'd take a massive chance and try making my first sugar flower. Most people probably start with daisies - those jasmine flowers you can see on my jasmine tea sponge cake recipe were made alongside these orchids, but only after the orchids had already been shaped.
   Well, I bought myself a cutter set, some sugar paste and some dusky pink edible dust and crossed by fingers. I ended up not using the cutters because they were too small, but I wondered if I could perhaps make them with paper and cut the sugarpaste by hand instead. Unless I need to make loads of flowers, I'll never need to buy flower cutters again, because the paper worked a charm.
   Anyway, this is how I made them without flower cutters!

You will need:
Paper, pencil and scissors
Flour/powdered sugar/corn flour to keep from sticking
Sugar paste, fondant or something similar
Dusky pink edible dust (I used Sugarflair)
Pink gel colouring (I used Sugarflair again)
Medium soft paint brush
Narrow paint brush
Cupcake tray and fine piping nozzles to help with shaping


1. To make the stencils, choose your flower and find a picture of suitable sugar flower cutters online. You just need a reference picture to draw from. Once you've found your reference, draw it out on paper the size you want it to be. There are likely to be at least two pieces, so having a reference picture of all pieces in the same image will help you with scaling them all in proportion to eachother. If you don't get it right, you can draw another, and sugarpaste, fondant and all that is a lot like clay, so you can screw bad flowers back up and try again with no wasted material, or flatten the fondant a little around the edges to make pieces a little bigger.
   I made my petal ring 3.5cm from the centre to the tip of each petal, and the throat 4cm from tip to tip.

2.  Cut your stencils, spread either flour, powdered sugar or cornflour lightly over your work surface to keep the sugar paste from sticking and roll out your sugar paste. Place the paper stencils over the sugar paste and, using a sharp knife, cut around it.

3. Take the throat piece and gently press down the edges to round and smooth them out so they're not square-edged. Then bring the two straight sides together to make a cone. Cover the outside of your fine piping nozzle or other conical piece in flour and stand upright, then place the throat over the end upside down. The piping nozzle will help keep the throat piece open while it dries, as it will likely flatten out if you leave it lying down. Turn away the rounded edges of the throat so that they stick out.
   If you mess these up, break the sugar paste as you work, don't worry, just screw it up and try again. I made 9 throats in total, 5 of which broke while I was pinching them. It was frustrating at that point because I thought that that right there meant it wasn't going to work out, but I was proven wrong!

4. Take your petal pieces and smooth the edges as you did with the throat pieces. Lightly powder the cupcake tray, take your flower pieces and place them inside each cavity. They should be too big to cover the bottom, so the petals will curve upwards. I wanted to try to round them all properly, but as this was my first go, it didn't work out too well, so I settled for this. Once coloured, however, this little detail isn't noticed because the eyes are drawn away, so if your throats and petals aren't perfect, don't worry about it. Apply a hole a little lower than the middle of the flower. This is to insert the end of the throat into.

5. Leave the pieces to dry. I found that by using flour as opposed to nothing, the sugar paste dried a lot faster because the flour soaked up the moisture. However, you can always try this quick-dry method for fondant. A lot of people have had success with it, myself included, but I never tried it with this. If you don't want to risk melting it, which can happen if you get it wrong, leave it to dry over night or simply until hard.

6. Take your soft medium brush and the pink dust. Lightly powder the brush and apply it down the centre of each petal. Be gentle with it, you can't take the colour off once you've put it on. Once you've applied it to the petals, take the throat piece and apply it to the edges and just inside the throat. Apply more to the edges to darken it. The dust is awesome because you can very, very easily get soft edges and fade the colour out.

7. Take your pink gel colouring and your fine brush and put a little bit of colour on the brush and apply the pattern to the throat. I started with the line down the middle, then the large dots beside it, then dots around the edge, then worked my way in. This allowed me to get a feel for the gel and the brush with larger dots and then get finer ones later when I was more comfortable.

8. Now you have a few options. You can either fix the throat and petal base together, or you can just place them together. I was only sitting them on my cake, they didn't need to stand up, levitate or juggle or anything, so I didn't fix the pieces together. Instead I just put the petal pieces where I wanted them, then added the throats into the holes and let gravity and the frosting beneath it hold it in place. If you want them to be stuck together, however, you could use royal icing. I don't recommend using more fondant, as that would require applying pressure to at least one of the two pieces which will likely result in a breakage. Royal icing, however, doesn't require any pressure as it's softer than the two pieces, so it will act as a glue with minimal damage.

   No, these orchids aren't veined, but fortunately orchid petals aren't too obviously veined anyway. You could use the other end of one of the brushes or the back of a butter knife to vein it if you like, but I didn't bother. The orchids are also not too realistic, either, but I'm more than pleased with them, and Seeg, who is hard to impress, actually said "I'm impressed", so they're more than good enough for me! You may also notice now you've seen them as individual pieces without paint or powder just how much of an effect the 'painting' has, as it really distracts from any imperfections in the shape.
   These really are quite easy to make for such a unique and tropical flower, but I've said before how difficult I find things in the kitchen, so for me to have done this means it can't be that bad! I urge you to give it a try, especially with stencils. I don't think I'll ever need to buy cutters again! And cutters were half the reason I'd never tried flowers before. They can be quite expensive.
   These orchids went down a treat, so it can be done without cutters, unless you're making lots of them, or often. In that case, cutters are better because they reduce the time, but at the end of the day, not by much. The cutters don't aid 3D-shaping the petals and throats, after all, and neither do they help to colour the flowers.


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