Working with Isomalt

Sugar can be an intimidating substance with which to work because of the extravagant sculptures that are now being created with it on TV. Not to mention, sugar burns are among the worst kinds of burns out there. But in reality, anyone can work with isomalt—on a smaller scale and with a good pair gloves, of course! Especially now that CakePlay has created no-fuss Isomalt Sticks that simply need to be melted down in the microwave. And you can easily upcharge by $20-$30 just by putting a sugar mold on top of a cake, so the payoff is worth it. Here, Peggy Tucker of CakePlay shares several tips for working with CakePlay’s Isomalt Sticks.

Flavoring
CakePlay’s Isomalt Sticks have no flavor, but you can easily add flavor by using oils. This is especially useful if you’re making something like a lollipop.

Coloring
The Isomalt Sticks are available in a wide range of colors, but if you want something more unique/specific, you have some coloring options. First and perhaps simplest, you can add any color of gel to the clear Isomalt Sticks while they are still hot out of the microwave. When you do, it will fizz like an Alka-Seltzer, which means it is getting rid of the excess moisture. If you instead have oil colors, you can swirl them into the isomalt when it is still hot, as well. You can also use powder colorings to turn the clear Isomalt Sticks into a signature color. But be sure to first dilute them with vodka and wait to apply until the isomalt has been heated and subsequently cooled down.
Similarly, you can mix pearl dust or glitter with vodka and apply it to cooled-down isomalt. Or, you can add it directly to the isomalt when it is still hot (whether right out of the microwave or reheated with a torch). To change the finish of the isomalt from translucent to pearl without using pearl dust, simply whip air into it using a spatula on a mat. This process will also slightly lighten the color.
Finally, to add color to your isomalt creations you can air brush them after the fact. Yes, you can airbrush sugar!

Melting
Melt CakePlay’s Isomalt Sticks in the microwave on high—in a microwave-safe container that has an easy-pour spout. For one full package of sticks, start with one minute and twenty seconds. You can always add more time, but you don’t want the sugar to burn. When the sticks are done, they will be bubbling. Pull the container out of the microwave and let it sit until the bubbles are gone.
If at any time while you’re working with the sugar it gets too thick, just pop it back into the microwave. Similarly, if you don’t like the shape of something you’ve created, just melt it back down and start over. The sticks won’t lose any integrity through the reheating process. So always save your scraps and reuse them.

Pouring
To make a base for a sugar showpiece, tear off a piece of Reynolds Nonstick Foil to size and roll back the ends to create a small basin. Pour the melted isomalt directly onto the foil. Use a torch to get rid of any remaining bubbles. When it begins to cool, start pulling/stretching/forming it from the edges to the middle. Eventually, pull it all the way off the foil.
To make the various shapes to place onto the base, you will need molds. If you already have existing molds for gumpaste or another edible medium, those will work. Otherwise, you can purchase some fairly inexpensively on www.cakeconnection.com. (Tucker used molds shaped like leaves, butterflies and flowers in her demonstration.) Slowly pour the melted isomalt into your mold, and spread it out with a toothpick. Let it cool down a bit and start to set up for a couple of minutes.

Shaping
After just a few minutes, begin pulling the isomalt out of the mold from the edges to the middle. You want to catch it before it fully sets so you can give it some movement/motion, as nothing in nature is rigid or perfect; everything has flaws and movement.
And in addition to your molded shapes, you can easily make decorative spirals by wrapping cooled, stretched isomalt around a paint brush handle or dowel rod, and then slipping it off the top.

Assembling
There is only one rule to remember when assembling a sugar showpiece: Hot to hot sticks. Therefore, add a bit of melted isomalt to the base and to the shape you want to add to it, or torch both surfaces until they’re hot, to apply.

Decorating
To add isomalt shapes, like butterflies, to a cake, simply stick hors d’oeuvre toothpicks into them before they dry. The buttercream on the cake won’t affect the sugar, but you can’t put the sugar in the fridge so don’t add the isomalt shapes until the last minute. Alternatively to the toothpick, you can also adhere isomalt shapes directly to the cake.

Storing
In 24 hours, your isomalt creations will be completely dry—not sticky at all. And the great thing about it is that you can make a bunch of isomalt shapes in advance and store them in an airtight container for up to two years for later use. If you plan to store something for more than four days, though, it will start to cloud. But you can easily restore the shine by adding a confectionaries glaze (cornstarch and vodka).