3d art baking
3D creations produced at the Culinary Institute of America.

America’s cake and pastry world is about to embark on a futuristic journey that pushes the envelope of their own creativity with the pending arrival next year of the first professional-grade culinary 3D printer for bakers and pastry chefs.

Showcased at the National Restaurant Association Show 2015 in Chicago, the ChefJet Pro from 3D Systems (3DS) can create full-color bespoke confections for an unlimited array of applications, such as sculptural, ornate cake and cupcake toppers, candies, delicate latticework or logo sugar cubes.

Speaking at a May 18 session at the NRA Show, Tom Vaccaro, dean of Baking and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, posed a question to the audience: “What will cakes look like in the future? With this technology, they can really take any shape. In a lot of ways, this technology touches the creativity of the chef and also your guests. You could pretty much say to your guests: Tell me your dreams.”

Vaccaro showed slides of work created at the CIA with a 3D Systems printer, including a candy box filled with individual chocolates placed in 3D printed boxes and a dessert cake topped with a 3D-constructed coconut shell.

To add specific flavors to any 3D food piece, you can dehydrate whole fruits or vegetables and add to the base ingredients, which are typically sugar, salt, oil and water.

“We also believe there are savory applications,” says Vacarro, explaining that you could print dehydrated beets in a 3D salad bowl and, once the structure is completed, add the salad and dressing inside the bowl. “This allows for flavors and textures to come to life. We think there is a real future in this.”
The CIA collaborates with 3DS, which constructed the first 3D sugar food lab in the world, to enable culinary professionals to explore 3D printing capabilities for pastry chefs and bakers and to empower new and exciting ideas. This becomes another tool in your innovation arsenal.

Kyle and Liz von Hasseln, creative directors for food at 3DS, provided the context of 3D printing and how the process works.

“3D Systems invented 3D printing 30 years ago,” Kyle says. “We can print more than 100 materials today, including nylon, glass and acrylic. We are committed to general concepts to make this technology readily accessible.”

Adds Liz: “This idea of enabling innovation is really important to us. We want to make sure culinarians develop their own needs. We really see 3D printing opening up a wide range of possibilities to create forms that wouldn’t be able to be created otherwise. You can really enhance the pomp of serving a dish.”

To advance the project, 3D Systems is developing the world’s first culinary innovation center in Los Angeles near the corner of Melrose and Highland, which is regarded as the influential epicenter of the city’s culinary community. The 3DS Culinary Lab will open in summer 2015 as a cooperative learning, collaboration and exploration space where industry professionals can experience the ChefJet Pro professional food printer firsthand.

The innovation center will host frequent events for leaders in the hospitality, event and culinary communities, as well as symposiums and master classes that will explore and shape the wide-open landscape of 3D printed food.

3D Systems has reached out to such culinary leaders as Ferran Adria and Duff Goldman to gather valuable input on the creative possibilities, learning how pastry chefs and cake artists might actually incorporate 3D printing into their desserts. Goldman immediately wanted to see how the printed 3D piece worked with airbrushing, an experiment that proved very successful, as well as flaming it. It turns out you can brûlé a 3D piece to give it unique texture.

Other successful examples of the possibilities include a printed 3D skull that you could enrobe in chocolate or even a honeycomb that you could make entirely out of honey and use as a mini dessert centerpiece.

“We’ve also done a printed spider web that became part of the plated dessert,” says Vacarro of the CIA. “We are seeing some amazing forms and adding color in really specific ways. Because it can be so precise, you can make a 3D printed frosting shell. Or a pastry chef might be able to print their own unique mold in a very short time.”

How it works

The ingredients used to print 3D food confections with the ChefJet Pro from 3D Systems are common: sugar, salt, oil and water. To add flavor, one can add dehydrated fruit, floral or nut essence to achieve specific results.

You can also add specific colors to the printed 3D piece. Essentially, you can lay down food dyes in layers so the piece comes out in full color.

The 3D printer builds up each object in layers, with a build speed of about 2 vertical inches per hour.

With each layer, the 3D printer spreads sugar and jets out wet ingredients to form the structure.

The structure is submerged in a bin of dry ingredients and pulled out from the dry ingredients once the structure is completed.