Gum paste is essentially a clay made from sugar. It dries very hard and holds its shape even when rolled into thin sheets, which are ideal for making leaves, flowers and other designs. Using gum paste gives cakes, cupcakes and other sweets a professional polish that’s sure to wow your friends and guests. Gum paste can be difficult to work with, though, so be patient and expect a few mistakes before you master the art.
Gum paste, whether homemade or store bought, is typically white to begin with. Turn it any color with just a few drops of food coloring. To control the amount of color, dip a toothpick into the food coloring and wipe it off on a ball of gum paste. Knead the gum paste to blend in the dye until it’s an even color. Kneading makes the gum paste more pliable and easier to work with, so knead it for a few minutes even if you are not adding food coloring.
Rolling It Out
Coat your work surface and rolling pin with powdered sugar before you roll the gum paste into a thin sheet. You can roll it thin enough to be transparent or stop while it’s thicker, depending on the design you’re making. The powdered sugar will easily dust off your designs when you’ve finished, so use as much as you need to prevent sticking. Cornstarch works just as well if you don’t have powdered sugar.
Cut-Out and Flooded Designs
The easiest way to make gum paste designs is with cookie cutters and specialty gum paste cutters. Pick a shape that matches what you want to make and cut out designs from a sheet of gum paste. You can also use a sharp knife to cut out designs freehand. Once you’ve cut the designs, use your fingers, spoons and specialty sculpting tools to give them shape. For example, curl the petals of a flower slightly or fold a leaf gently down the center. For a flooded, glass-smooth design, cut out the center of a shaped sheet of gum paste, leaving only the outer ring. Mix a small amount of the paste with water until it’s syrupy, and then fill the cutout with it. Flooded designs take up to 48 hours to dry and should be made on a nonstick surface like waxed paper.
You can sculpt gum paste with clay sculpting tools sold at craft stores, with household materials or by hand. Start with a ball of kneaded gum paste and shape it into whatever design you like. Birds, shoes, houses and gift boxes are common shapes. You can also coat a children’s toy with a layer of gum paste so you have a base for the design but the finished product looks hand-sculpted.
Using Gum Paste Decorations
Gum paste decorations can be adhered to other gum paste decorations or fondant icing by using water as you would use glue. Wet the surface with water, and then stick it to the gum paste or fondant surface. You can do this before or after the gum paste has dried. Generally, gum paste does not have an appetizing consistency or flavor, so either remove the designs before serving the sweets or let your guests know they can remove the decorations.