It’s been a Thursday post kind of week. Too many things to do before the semester begins and not nearly enough time to do them. Such is the pre-move-in crunch, I suppose. (Also, I think it just hit me that I’m halfway through my college years. Eep.)
So it’s a good thing that I’ve had a wonderfully distracting break from it all this past week to work on finicky little gum paste roses. (Never thought I’d say that.) And here I am to share all of my
conclusions drawn from woefully and hilariously magnificent instances of failure nuggets of wisdom with all of you.
Now that I’ve been doing the whole dessert blogging thing for seven whole months (holy cow that’s like 7 times longer than any other hobby that I’ve tried
and failed to get seriously attached to), I figured it’s time to start investing some time in developing actual skill and technique instead of wandering about Pinterest and hoping to bump into a new burst of inspiration for a dessert of the week. Super basic stuff, mind you – I’m talking about things like how to properly whip meringues (not going to lie, still kind of an embarrassingly hit-or-miss exercise most of the time…and don’t even get me started on the baking part), how to properly frost a cake (crumb coating is easy enough, it’s the not getting crumbs in the not-crumb coat part that gets me), and maybe someday, if the stars align just right, proper macaronage.
(We’ll call it a sort of New Year’s resolution for officially leaving my teenage years behind today. Oh my goodness, I’m twenty. Apparently my character’s permanently bent one way or the other. Double eep.)
To kick off the oh-so-creatively named “technique series,” I have myriad pictures of the aforementioned extra finicky gum paste roses that I’ve been slowly amassing for my birthday cake today (note to self: never bake own birthday cake again – 7 months of bumbling does not make one even remotely competent to bake a birthday cake in a sanity-preserving type way). Don’t worry, they’re actually a lot easier to make than they look once you get started – actually, it turns out that making a convincingly rose-shaped rose is really the least of your problems. At any rate, get ready for miles of commentary (and also the actual instructions are thrown in there somewhere) and really oddly specific troubleshooting advice. Hope you enjoy!
(PS, sorry for low quality process pictures – turns out my optimal gum pasting hour is 1 AM, which is coincidentally also when lighting is not so optimal.)
Gum Paste Roses
(PSA: This is a multi-day drying process. Plan accordingly.)
This is a super minimalist list compiled by a poor college student. In other words, you really actually do need everything on this list. It would probably make your life easier to also purchase the optional items in parentheses, but clearly, according to my moderately successful experience, they’re not strictly necessary.
- Pre-made gum paste (you could hydrate your own, but really not recommended)
- Gel food coloring (if tinting – I’d practice with white at first, then go from there)
- Toothpicks or kebab skewers + something to stab them into (like a styrofoam box)
- Corn starch
- Small rolling pin (the kind that’s just a dowel without handles)
- Ball tool (Google “gum paste ball tool” – you’ll see what I mean)
- Sharp knife
- Sharp scissors
- 2 saucers
- Large piece of saran wrap
- Manila folder or card stock
- Very smooth, hard surface (the top of your clean dining table will do)
- Lots of napkins
- (Glycerol – I didn’t use it, but highly recommended – this is my one non-purchase regret. Use it to rejuvenate dried out gum paste – aka, when you want to reform your scraps into a ball and re-roll.)
- (5-petal or 1-petal cutters – time saver, but not strictly necessary)
- (Pre-made rose centers – again, time saver, but makes your sizes harder to customize)
Step One: Prepare Your Rose Centers
(Skip this step if you bought pre-made rose centers.)
- Roll a small amount of gum paste into a smooth, round ball.
- Gently shape into a thin, elongated teardrop shape that is a little bit shorter than the final height of your desired rose.
- Skewer the round end of your teardrop with a toothpick or kebab skewer, and allow to air-dry at least overnight (for roses that are 1″ tall or smaller) or longer.
You can bulk prep as many rose centers as you want – if you store them in a sealed plastic container in cool, dry place, they’ll keep for quite some time.
Step Two: Prepare Your Work Station
- Make petal stencils. (Skip this step if you bought cutters.)
Draw chubby teardrop shapes of various sizes (approximately the heights of your final desired rose sizes) onto your manila folder and cut them out.
If you’re an extra psycho perfectionist like I am, it is totally acceptable to print out perfectly symmetric teardrop shapes on the computer, trace them over to the manila folders, and then cut those out, but also, as I found out later, it’s not terribly necessary since you end up reshaping the petals quite a bit down the road. Just pointing out the option, though, and your stencils are reusable, so it’s really up to you. (:
- Mix your gum paste.
Take out a small ball of gum paste about 3/4″ in diameter and rub between your hands to warm up and soften slightly. If desired, tint the gum paste by adding small amounts of food coloring at a time with the tip of the toothpick.
Tinting works well with very light pastel colors. I wouldn’t necessarily try for a super saturated red or burgundy rose, though – you might end up seriously changing the consistency of the gum paste and then all you’ll have is a sad, sticky mess. I believe it’s possibly to paint on powdered color afterward, but I haven’t tried it yet – check the Internet for more advice!
- Make glue and anti-glue. (Aka cornstarch, but anti-glue sounds more exciting).
In one of the saucers, pour in a tiny bit of water and add a small glob of gum paste (tinted or white, if you’re doing more than one color). Mush in the gum paste until well incorporated.
In the other saucer, add a generous amount of corn starch.
- Lay out your tools.
Have your rose centers, rolling pin, stencils (or cutters), tooth picks ball tool, scissors, knife, saran wrap, and small stack of napkins within easy reaching range.
Step Three: Start Building!
- Roll out the gum paste.
Collect about 1/2 of the gum paste into a smooth ball, then lightly coat with corn starch. Using your rolling pin, gently roll out the gum paste until it is thin enough to read through. (Repeat as needed when the rolled gum paste starts drying out.)
To keep the thickness of the gum paste uniform, turn 90º after every roll.
To keep the gum paste from sticking to the table, flip after every couple of rolls and add scant amounts of corn starch as needed – you don’t want to dry out the gum paste too quickly.
- Cut out petals.
Lay your rolled gum paste onto a napkin, then use the sharp knife to cut out a petal shape using your desired stencil. Immediately cover remaining rolled gum paste with the saran wrap.
Start with 1 petal at a time, then graduate to up to 3-4 as you get faster.
- Shape petals.
Using your ball tool, roll along the edge of the petal to produce a natural, tapered edge. Continue gently rolling inward to thin the petal naturally, creating a gradient from the center of the petal to the edge. Trim any tears rough edges with the sharp scissors.
Trim at the first sign of tear. Seriously. Like a stocking run, they just get worse. Even if the petal doesn’t tear until after you attach it to the rose, go ahead and use small cosmetic trimmers (if you have them) to remove any cracked portions while the petal hasn’t dried all the way yet.
- Start wrapping!
Before attaching each petal, lightly dip your finger into the glue and wet the surface where you plan to add the petal. Next, dry your wet finger roughly on a napkin, then dip into the cornstarch/anti-glue to thoroughly dry your finger, wiping off the excess onto a napkin.
Also, try to avoid moving the petal once you lay it down onto the rose. This tends to lead to tearing. Don’t worry if you need to do a little bit of fidgeting toward the beginning and end up with tears (on the base!) in the inner layers, but try to avoid any readjustments on the outermost layer.
“Glue” refers to how much of the already attached portion of the rose should have glue applied. For the first layer, this means the entire rose center; for subsequent layers, only the bottom section of the rose should have glue applied.
“Edges” refers to whether the edges of the new petal should be glued down. For the earlier layers, both layers should be glued all the way down, but for the outer layers, one of the sides should be secured down just a little less than the other to allow the petals to spiral outward.
“Curl” refers to whether the top of the petal should curve down. If you’ve looked at a blooming rose, you’ll notice that while the inner layers curve inward toward the center of the rose (or at least straight upward), the outer layers curl back away from the rose.
- Petal 1: Keeping the large round edge of the petal upward, make a sharp cone around the tip of your rose center.
Glue: Apply everywhere around the rose center.
Edges: All edges should be glued down well.
Curl: Curve downward toward the rose center.
- Petals 2-5-ish: Wrap each successive petal a little less than 120º away from the previous petal, leaving a little gap between each successive layer.
Glue: Only on the lower 1/3 to 1/2 (more glue on the more inner layers), plus a little ways up the edges (see below).
Edges: Both edges should be glued all the way down, but again, only on the lower half of the petal.
Curl: No curl – tops of petals should point straight upward.
- Petals 6-9-ish: Wrap each successive petal between 90º and 120º away from the previous petal, leaving a larger gap between successive layers
Glue: Only on the lower 1/3, plus a bit to glue down one of the edges (see below).
Edges: Only the second edge should be glued all the way down. This means that if you’re adding on the next petal clockwise to the previous petal, the farther clockwise edge should be glued down until about 1/2 way up the petal, while the farther counterclockwise edge should only be glued down about 1/3 of the way up. This will allow you to curl the petals slightly (see below).
Curl: Slight curl – curl each petal along an imaginary diagonal line such that the edge that isn’t glued down ends up curled a bit more than the edge that is. The curl should be pretty subtle – only maybe the top 1/4 of the petal should end up bent slightly outward; none of the petal should end up pointing downward.
- (Optional: Petals 10-13-ish: Repeat, forming another layer of petals that are curled even further outward.
Glue: Only on the lower 1/3 or less, plus a bit to glue down one of the edges (see below).
Edges: Only the second edge should be glued all the way down (“all the way” being only 1/3 of the way up or so).
Curl: Larger curl – again, go at a slight angle to create the impression that the petals are spiraling outward. Depending on your preference, the edge of the petal should end up either perpendicular to the center axis of the rose or even curling slightly downward. In general, though, the roses tend to be a little easier to lay down on the flat, frosted surface of a cake when they don’t curl downward, since it tilts up the “face” of the rose just a bit. However, if the rose is fairly big, curling the edges a little more to form a V shaped point might look more natural and less like the petals are magically defying gravity.)
Design Tip: Once you start to get the hang of it, make at least 2 sizes of roses (meaning 2 sizes of centers) – the larger ones should have all 4 types of petals, while the smaller ones have just 3. Usually, once the roses get arranged on the cake, it looks better when you group 1 big one with 1-2 little ones, or do a centerpiece with a couple of different sizes (just as a rule of thumb – with the exception of when you use just 2 roses, I wouldn’t go above a 2:3 ratio of big to small roses).
- Petal 1: Keeping the large round edge of the petal upward, make a sharp cone around the tip of your rose center.
- Dry and detach.
Allow the roses to dry for at least 24 hours (for rose centers about 1″ or less in height) or 48 hours if you have the time. Afterward, add a tiny bit of water (literally a drop or less) to the point of attachment between the toothpick/kebab skewer and the base of the rose, then gently wiggle out the skewer. Store in a tightly sealed plastic container on top of a layer of paper towels for cushioning
or the sealed cupboard where you keep your shockingly extensive collection of teacupswith a silica gel packet or some rice to keep it extra dry.
Enjoy your roses, and remember – practice makes perfect!
(PS, you can also ruffle the edges of leaf-shaped gum paste cutouts, then tint green to make for leaves…or harvest clean, waxy leaves from your nearest unsuspecting hedge. Your call.)