Sugarcraft is the art of making masterpieces using sugar in various creative ways. Often used to decorate cakes for special occasions, sugarcraft is a skill that takes a lot of practice and patience to master, but one that has impressive results when all that hard work pays off.
If you’ve admired beautifully decorated cakes topped with sugarcraft creations, a sugarcraft course will introduce you to the world of sugarcraft, and offer you guidance and training to get you well on your way to making amazing sugary wonders of your own.
The history of sugarcraft
Sugarcraft has been around for longer than you’d think, with sugar sculptures being created by ancient civilisations. Some historical civilisations regarded sugarcraft as pieces of art to be appreciated for its own sake – but others treated the creations as religious pieces, believing that eating certain parts of the sugarcraft items would result in religious favour being bestowed upon people.
The art of modern sugarcraft become popular in Britain in Tudor England, when marzipan sculptures were made as tributes to the aristocratic hosts of court banquets. And today, with the price of sugar very low, sugarcraft remains popular. However, readily and cheaply available sugar doesn’t mean that the skills of a good sugarcraft maker are any less revered - skilled sugarcraft makers are in very high demand.
Did you know? The British Sugarcraft Guild (BSG) was started 1981 by a number of enthusiastic cake decorators who shared a love for the art of sugarcraft.
The basics of sugarcraft
A sugarcraft course will probably give you the opportunity to work with some of the following ingredients...
Sugar paste – sugar paste icing dates back to the 19th Century. It is made from sugar and glucose, and is dough-like in consistency. It can be coloured to be whatever colour you need with food colouring gels, and rolls out easily to cover cakes. Sugar paste is sometimes also referred to as fondant, or sugar gum.
Modelling paste – modelling paste is similar in its make up to sugar paste, however it is slightly harder. Modelling paste dries quickly and retains its shape.
Petal paste – petal paste dries quite hard but is brittle and will break if you drop it. It tends to be used to make small details on a cake, because it is less sticky in nature than sugar paste. Petal paste is sometimes also referred to as flower paste, or gum paste.
Pastillage – pastilllage is rolled fondant which dries very hard, because it doesn’t have any of the softening agents that sugar paste and modelling paste do. It is durable, and is often used to make long lasting cake decorations. It is technically edible but very hard!
Marzipan – marzipan is made of sugar or honey and almond meal. It is often rolled into thin sheets and glazed to ice cakes – especially Christmas cakes.
Did you know? In some countries it is traditional to give small animal figures made of marzipan on New Year’s Day.
Buttercream – buttercream icing is made from creaming butter and sugar together. It is commonly used both as a cake filling, and topping.
Royal icing – royal icing is a hard white icing, made from egg whites and icing sugar. It is used as a cake covering, usually on top of marzipan on a cake, to stop it from becoming discoloured.
What happens after a sugarcraft course?
A sugarcraft course is often a fun course to do if you are looking to take your cakes to the next level, and you may be satisfied with being able to create beautiful cake toppings for your friends and family after the course. If you do want to further develop your skills though, sugarcraft courses tend to be offered at beginner or advanced levels – so when you’ve completed an introductory course, you may progress to attend the next level.
Did you know? The World Record for the largest cake decoration class was set in Quebec in 2009 - 1,293 participants took part in the lesson.
If you find you have a particular interest in (and affinity for!) sugarcraft, you might be interested in setting up your own small business as a cake decorator. This can be an attractive proposition, since cake decorators are able to charge a lot for good work, and the initial investment required is relatively low. If setting up shop as a cake decorator appeals to you, you may look into further courses related to running a small business – things like PR, marketing, and basic bookkeeping.
By Fiona Hughes
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