Monthly Archives: November 2011

When sugar goes horribly wrong

The last few posts have been about the poured sugar projects I have been working on for our Yule event Dec 3, 2011.  Many different things can effect sugar work. Humidity, stirring and undissolved sugar crystals getting into the mixture as it cooks. Even the best, most prepared cooks can run into problems when working with boiled sugars.

Crystallization refers to the formation of sugar crystals in a sugar syrup.  This will turn a smooth, clear candy into a lumpy, bumpy mess.  The lollipop on the left is clear and smooth.  The lollipop on the right is cloudy and gritty.

You often do not know that crystallization will happen until after it is poured. Once it has solidified, problems will be very apparent. The bishop chess piece does not have a smooth surfaced back. When it is broken, you can see the crystal formation through out the entire piece.

It is important to start with a clean cooking pot and clean molds. The use of “interfering agents” will help too.Interfering agents are added in the beginning of the recipe before the sugar syrup begins to boil. Common agents include corn syrup, glucose, and honey. Often acids like cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar will be used. Vinegar helps keep clear candy “more clear”, longer as the cooking temperature gets above the soft crack stage. Most professional chefs use a sugar called isomalt, when doing poured sugar work.

Isomalt is out of period for SCA confectionery work. I prefer to use a wet pastry brush to brush down the sides of my pot as the sugar boils.  Once it hits 245, the chemistry changes and the boil does not throw as much saturated sugar water up the sides of the pan. I will add a tablespoon of corn syrup and a splash of vinegar to the mixture, especially when the weather is unpredictable and unseasonably humid.

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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Poured sugar, Projects


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Poured sugar- Yule continued

The piece for feast has been mostly completed. Depending on the weather, I will decide whether to pour a top coat or just leave it as is. It is pretty humid and the sugar is absorbing moisture. This is causing weeping and severe crystallization. This second piece is based upon our menu scroll for feast.

Step 1- Grid lines

Step 2- Pouring the sugar glass

Step 3- Completed Salamander


Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Poured sugar


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Poured Sugar- Yule

Boiled sugar is an amazingly temperamental and often persnickety thing. It goes through stages. First it comes to a boil and hangs out at about 220° F for several minutes. This first boil is critical. If you do not keep it off the sides, you will end up with crystallization. If you stir the boiling sugar after it has dissolves, you end up with crystallization. If you look at it wrong, you end up with crystallization. As it sits and boils for a while, you brush the sides down with a wet pastry brush. After a while (this isn’t on a set schedule. things are determined by pan, heat, amount of sugar, humidity, blah, blah, blah), it will move up to the soft ball state at 250° F and will hang out there for a while. Once it crosses this magical barrier, you can stop brushing down the sides.

It will hang out there for a while. Next magic stat is the soft crack state at around 270° F or so. Hangs out for a little and then gets to hard crack at 300° F. Once it gets to this stage, it goes from creeping up the thermometer to Ka-BLAM Burnt Sugar quicker than you can blink. And unlike burnt popcorn, burnt sugar smells vile and the smell lasts for days. Ask me how I know this and why I almost set the house on fire several years ago.

Today I worked on a chess board of poured sugar and a little gumpaste. It was a proof of concept project as I hadn’t done something pour this intricate before. And I didn’t want to experiment with doing poured sugar work with the subtlety.

Step 1- clear sugar base

Step 2- grid lines

Step3- colored squares

Step 4- painted lines

Step 5- salamander and top coat

* Note: A watched pot never boils to the next temperature bracket. And a thermometer is critical. Though you can do it by sight, sound and a glass of water. But that is a post for another day.

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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Poured sugar


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Sugar ship- research

I will be working on a 2 part sugar piece. Part 1 will be the ship, part 2 will be the castle. Hopefully both pieces will be completed by Yule, December 2012. But part 1 has a target completion date of Feb 11, 2012.

If I try to recreate a navel/shore battle 1588 might be a good year to emulate. Spain was at war with England and the English Galleon would be the best contender for ship class. Sugar paste was known during this time period and people would use the media to celebrate important events (such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588).

The English Galleon:
Size- Converted Feet to Inches to get 1:1 ratio, then divided by 5 * 12″. This will be significant sized vessel, but still reasonably transportable.

Masts: 3
Sails 6, 5 square sails and lateen
Hull dimensions:

  • Overall: 120 in (36.6 m) 2 ft
  • Hull: 102 in (31.1 m) 1.7 ft
  • Waterline: 75 in (23 m) 1.25 ft
  • Breadth: 22 in (6.7 m) 4.4″
  • Depth: 13.5 in (4.1 m) 2.7″
  • Beam: 20 in (6.1 m) 4″

Height of mainmast: 92 feet (28 m) 1.5 ft

Armaments: 22 guns

  • 2 Peteras (small guns) on poop deck
  • 2 Peteras on fore deck
  • 2 Falcons (long range guns using two pound shot) in forecastle
  • 2 Falcons in stern
  • 14 Minions (guns using four pound shot) on gun deck

This is the first project that I will be doing as a journeyman confectioner, with services to “sell”. Rather than as a modern day artist trying to reproduce an art form. Griffith is the Commander of the Bhakail Navy. Sabine is patroness of the Arts of Bhakail. What I’d like to do is build a ship that features both of these things, similarly to what was done for the Golden Hinde.

For the large doe arms I want to substitute the Bhakail arms. For the masthead I want to use Griffith’s Tyger. For the striping, black, red, and white which is kinda in both arms/devices. For flags/arms, I will fly Griffith’s, Barony’s and Kingdom’s. The only substitution that I would make out of this would be the Bhakail arms on the boat back with Sabine’s arms, if she is the “personal patron”. Griffith has a letter of mark from a royal that says he can “privateer” in the crown’s name. I will be using that Royal’s initials and symbol of the crown as part of the ship.

One of the earliest full accounts of an English subtlety comes from, Triumphs and Trophies in Cookery, to be used at Festival Times, as Twelfth-day, &c.The accomplisht cook by Robert May.

“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; Place your Ship firm in the great Charger.

In another Charger have the proportion of a Castle with Battlements, Portcullices, Gates and Draw-Bridges made of Past-board, the Guns and Kickses, and covered with course paste as the former; place it at a distance from the ship to fire at each other.

After some short pause, fire the train of the Castle, that the pieces all of one side may go off, then fire the Trains, of one side of the Ship as in a battel; next turn the Chargers; and by degrees fire the trains of each other side as before.”

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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Sugar, Uncategorized


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Fall Rum 2011 class outlines

Here are the class outlines for Fall RUM 2011.

Period Gum Paste
Feast Cooking
Appliqués and heraldic garments

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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in RUM


Late Period German: Update

Making progress. I am done enough for this weekend’s event. More will get added as time goes on.

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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in 16th Century, German, Sewing


White Gingerbread

To make white Ginger bread.
Take Gumma Dragantis* half an once, and steep it in rosewater two daies, then put thereto a pound of sugar beaten and finely serced, and beat them well together, so that it may be wrought like paste, then role it thin into two Cakes, then take a fewe Jordain almonds and blaunch them in colde water, then dry them with a faire Cloth, and stampe them in a mortar very finelye, adding thereto a little rosewater, beat finely also the whitest Sugar you can get and searce it.

Then take Ginger, pare it and beat it very small and serce it, them put in sugar to the almonds and beat them together very well, then take it out and work it at your pleasure, then lay it even upon one of your cakes, and cover it with an other and when you put it in the molde, strewe fine ginger both above and beneathe, if you have not great store of Sugar, then take Rice and beat i tsmall and serce it, and put it into the Morter and beat them altogether.
*Gumma Dragantis = gum traganth.

From: A book of cookrye Very necessary for all such as delight therin. Gathered by A.W. At London : Printed by Edward Allde, 1591

I brought the white gingerbread to our event this weekend and entered it in the cooking competition. It was a very big hit.The consensus is that it was tasty without being cloyingly sweet or rosy. I believe the key was the addition of the freshly ground dried ginger.

I had samples of the gum paste and the marzipan available to the judges and asked that they try the individual ingredient first prior to eating the confection. There was a sample of the ginger, which I also asked them to try. There is a brightness to the ginger when you grind it fresh. It retains some of
the properties of fresh ginger and it isn’t as pungent as the ground ginger you can buy anywhere. By trying each ingredient separately, I could show how all the components were needed to make the perfect bite.

I used a shallow chocolate mold for creating the shapes and trimmed out the pieces using a round cookie cutter. The over all confection was a tad smaller than a 1/2 dollar.

I will definitely be making this again.

Modern recipe
1 tsp gum tragacanth
1 tsp rosewater
1/4 cup water
1 lb powdered sugar
4 oz sugar
8 oz blanched almonds
2 tbl + 1 tsp rose water
2 tbl ground ginger

1. Combine tragacanth and waters together, let sit for 8-10 hours
2. Combine softened gum mixture with powder sugar. You may need more or less
than a pound.
3. Kneed mixture until a paste has been achieved.
4. Wrap in plastic wrap and put aside
5. Grind sugar, almonds and 1 tbl of ginger together until very fine
6. Add Rose water and bring mixture together to a sticky paste.
7. Roll out gum paste 1/8″ thick.
8. Cut out shapes
9. On a bottom piece, add almond/ginger paste 1/8″ thick.
10.Cover with a second piece of gum paste.
11.Dust candy/sugar/cookie mold with ginger
12.Press disk of gum paste into mold.
13.Trim edges and serve.

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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Recipes, Sugar


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