Armatures for sugar

19 Apr

I’ve been on a quest to find acceptable building materials to replace the rice treat cereal bases I’ve been using in my sugar sculpting. While safe, practical, economical and environmentally friendly, that is irrelevant if what you are trying to accomplish is a reasonable facsimile of a period art form.

Many materials that may have been used historically are not practical or safe to use modernly. Plaster of Paris was one of the more common materials available at the time. However, it produces a chemical reaction when mixed with water, exothermic in nature and has been recorded to cause severe burns. Sanding plaster released particles into the air which can be toxic when inhaled over long periods of time. It begins to decompose at around 880-900°C. Paper mache would be a great alternative.  It was known in period and was a by product of the printing industry.  However, it was not known as a building material outside of the orient.  Its role was primarily relegated to toys and dolls. Wax has it’s own challenges including cost and potential for burns.

It is hard to “know” exactly what was used in the 16th century to support sugar sculptures. Unlike fabric or other artifacts, sugar has a short lifespan. There is some evidence of the types of armatures (structural frameworks) used in period subtleties, most is speculation based upon hand me down information and texts written in the 1700’s.  At best, we can make a reasonable, educated guess. And occasionally, we get a better guess for general armatures, but nothing specific to sugar.

The accomplisht cook by Robert May- 1588
_Triumphs and Trophies in Cookery, to be used at Festival Times, as _Twelfth-day_, &c._

“Make the likeness of a Ship in Paste-board, with Flags and Streamers, the Guns belonging to it of Kickses, bind them about with packthread, and cover them with close paste proportionable to the fashion of a Cannon with Carriages, lay them in places convenient as you see them in Ships of war, with such holes and trains of powder that they may all take Fire…”

In this case, the armature is paste board (or binder’s board), the pre-cursor to modern cardboard. This substance was the product and by-product of the printing industry.  Close/coarse paste referenced is probably a bread dough.  However, we can probably make a logical leap that paste board can be used to create structure and then covered in a food type substance.   Or in my case, sugar.  It will have to be supported by some sort of wired under structure, or the weight of the sugar may cause it to collapse in on itself.

The biggest challenge will be sealing the paste board prior to applying the sugar. Sugar contains moisture, paste board will absorb moisture and become “soggy”. This will create a wrapped underlying structure and cause the sugar to prematurely dry out. Sugar that dries too quickly is prone to cracking and will eventually become unable to support it’s own weight. Subsequently, if the surface is sealed and becomes too smooth, then the sugar will not have enough of a grippy structure to adhere to. And the result will be slumping.  I may experiment with glare, to see if this will help. Another option is to do what is done in clay creation.  Wad up newspaper, build a base of sugar around the newspaper in a “generic shape”, allow the sugar to dry and then burn out the paper (or remove) .  This method too will have the problem of drying too quickly.   But if it works, what I will be left with is a rigid structure of hollow sugar paste.

Either method will be much more laborious and costly than what I am currently doing.  This may be something I do once to say I’ve done it the “right way” and be content with stopping there.  I’ve already switched over to period sugar paste (tweaked to be sculptural rather than here, eat this). It’s cheaper than using modern sugar pastes and easier to produce.  Structure/armatures… we will see how it goes.


Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Sugar


3 responses to “Armatures for sugar

  1. Cellach

    April 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    I think they used wood for some of the structures. I know for sure they used it for the sugar molds. That would be a cheap and safe base to try. You should talk to Master Rashid. He used to do a lot of 3D subtleties. He should be able to give you some great tips. Hope that helps!!
    Mistress Cellach

    • Alysten

      April 20, 2011 at 3:14 am

      Thank you for the heads up. I believe Master Rashid is even local. 😀

  2. Cellach

    April 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    He is sorta local. He used to live in Bhakail but moved to Carillion. I remember him telling me stories of some of the impressine subtleties he and some of the other Bhakailies made for events way back when. They also made a lot of reliquaries that have very funny stories to go with them. He should be able to help you out a lot and I am sure he would also like doing it. He is an amazing resource for all kinds of info. He has helped me out a lot over the years.


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