Gum paste is a dough made from confectioners/icing sugar and several other ingredients that make it easy to work with to make sugar flowers and leaves and other small objects used to decorate cakes.
To make flowers and leaves, the paste is rolled out thinly, and petals and leaves are cut out with custom-made cutters (or you can make them without cutters) and stretched and shaped with tools. After they have dried, you will have beautiful, porcelain-hard, life-like flowers.
To make objects from gum paste, you can either roll out the dough to the thickness required and cut out shapes with a knife or press the dough into molds. Once they are dry, you can paint them with food coloring or decorate them in many different ways.
Gum paste can be used in its natural white form or colored with gel-paste colors. It’s mainly used to make life-like sugar flowers and leaves, but it can be used to make small objects such as bells, shells, butterflies, boxes, etc., that are also used to decorate celebration cakes.
What is gum paste made of?
Gumpaste is made from confectioners/icing sugar, gelatin, water, white vegetable fat, liquid glucose, egg white, and Gum Tragacanth or CMC.
Gelatin keeps the gumpaste soft and pliable while being stretched and shaped.
Vegetable fat is another ingredient that helps keep the gumpaste soft and pliable while making it into flowers and leaves.
Glucose prevents gumpaste drying just long enough for you to have time to work on your project, but there is not enough to stop it hardening, so that is why any paste you are not working with has to be kept covered.
Egg white helps to dry and keep your flowers hard.
Gum Tragacanth is an extract of the root of a plant that grows in the Middle East, and because it has to be imported (unless you live in that area), it is expensive.
CMC is an artificial, edible chemical substitute (sold under trademarks such as Tylose) and is often used as a cheaper and more readily available substitute.
Using gum tragacanth or CMC to make gumpaste enables it to be rolled thinly and shaped with tools, and when the paste has dried, it causes it to become very hard.
One of the main differences between gum tragacanth and CMC is that paste made with gum tragacanth needs to be left for several hours before you can use it (preferably overnight). In contrast, a paste made with CMC is ready for use after a couple of hours.
I prefer to make a paste using gum tragacanth as I find it is easier to work with, and the results are much better, but that is purely a personal preference.
However, sometimes I use CMC because gum tragacanth is not always available locally where I live, and if I have left it too late to buy it online, it gives reasonable results.
Homemade or factory-produced gumpaste – which is best?
You can make Gum Paste from scratch. You can buy it ready-made or as an instant mix containing the dry ingredients and add water.
It’s easy to make gum paste at home. I always make my own as I find it easy to work with, it’s always the same consistency, and it’s much more economical than buying it ready-made.
If you want a gumpaste recipe, then an article on my blog tells you what ingredients you need and how it’s made.
When you start making sugar flowers, you may not want to go to the expense of buying all the different ingredients to make gumpaste. Until you are sure it is something you want to do, it would make sense to buy some ready-made flower paste or an instant powder mix.
Once some flower artists find a brand of ready-made or instant flower paste, they can work with it and never make their paste. However, as soon as you start making many flowers, you will find that making your own is far more economical.
Is gum paste edible?
Because it’s made with edible ingredients, it can be eaten in theory, but because, when it’s dry, it’s extremely hard, and because the gum it’s made with it doesn’t taste very nice, it’s not meant to be eaten. Items made from gum paste are for decorative purposes only.
Why make gumpaste from edible ingredients?
The answer is that anything made from gum paste is put directly on a cake. You can shield the stems of flowers by putting them in a pick before inserting them into the cake, but the flowers themselves and any other decorations will likely come into contact with the cake itself.
If flowers and decorations are made with harmful materials or toxic substances, they could seep into the cake covering and get cut and eaten with the cake.
Using edible materials to make the flowers and decorations, you avoid that from happening.
Can I cover a cake with gum paste?
No! Gumpaste is used to make the decorations on a cake, NOT cover the cake itself because it dries too hard. Use rolling fondant, buttercream, ganache, or any other suitable covering but not Gum Paste.
What is gum paste used for?
Gum paste can be made into life-like flowers and leaves that can be displayed on the cake individually or assembled into arrangements of any size.
You can also use it to make decorations, e.g., shells, bells, boxes, etc.; the variety is endless.
The bonus of using gumpaste to make cake decorations is that they can be made well before needing to use them, providing they are adequately dried and stored correctly.
How to work with gumpaste
The chances are that when you were a child, you played with plasticine or a similar type of modeling clay; well, working with gumpaste is very similar but without the awful smell.
You can work gumpaste by hand, shape it with tools, roll it, cut shapes with special cutters, and press it into molds; its versatility is endless.
When working with gumpaste, make sure that any you are not in the process of using are kept wrapped tightly in plastic so the air cannot get to it, or it will quickly get hard.
If your paste is too hard to work with, knead it with your hands; the heat from your hands should make it soft and pliable. As a last resort, if it is still hard, try putting it in the microwave for only five seconds at a time, taking it out, and trying to knead it. If it is still too hard, put it in for another five seconds until it is soft enough to knead.
Warning – if heated in a microwave, the gumpaste may get very hot in the middle, so be careful it doesn’t burn you. Remember, it is mainly sugar; if left in for too long, it could burn and become unusable.
How can I color my gumpaste?
When you have made or bought your gumpaste, you may want to use it in its natural white color, or you may wish to make it into various colors to make flowers, leaves, or other decorations.
If you make it yourself and know that you will only require one color, you can add the color as it’s made.
I think that some brands of ready-made gumpaste offer different colors, but it is usually sold in its natural state of white, leaving you to color it yourself.
Gumpaste should always be colored with gel-paste color because if you use a liquid color, it will alter the paste’s consistency, and you will end up with a sloppy mess by the time you have reached the color you require.
To color the gumpaste, break off enough of the white paste. You will need to make a flower or flowers and knead in the gel paste.
If you are making several flowers and want them all to be the same color, make sure you color enough paste at the same time because it is difficult to achieve the exact shade again.
If you color too much paste, don’t worry, it will keep, and you can use it for a future project.
if you would like to know more about how it’s done, then click this link to my article about how to color gumpaste
Now I’ve colored my gumpaste; how do I use it?
You will need to roll out the paste if you use cutters to make flowers and leaves out of gumpaste.
You will need a smooth work surface such as a non-stick rolling board or a smooth worktop such as Formica or marble, plus you will need a non-stick rolling pin.
- Dust your work surface and rolling pin lightly with cornstarch/cornflour.
- Break a piece of the paste off that you will use (remember to cover the remainder tightly with plastic wrap).
- Knead the paste you have broken off until it is soft and pliable, then place it on your board, dust the paste lightly with cornstarch/cornflour and roll it out until it is approximately 1/16” (1½ mm)
- Once rolled out, if you are not going to use it immediately, then cover the paste with plastic wrap.
Some bakers prefer to smear a little vegetable fat on their hands, board, and rolling pin before rolling out the paste. It is a personal preference, and after you have used gum paste yourself, it is something that only you can decide which you prefer. I don’t usually use it myself as I am not keen on feeling grease on my hands.
Is there another way to roll out the gum paste?
Alternatively, you can use a pasta rolling machine, which can be one you work on by hand or electric ones are available.
I use a hand roller, which I find is sufficient for my requirements as I only need to roll out enough paste to make around a dozen small blossoms at a time or enough for a large flower before I roll the next piece.
Once you have rolled out the paste, ensure you tightly wrap any that you are not immediately working on so that it doesn’t dry or will be difficult to shape into your flowers.
Another plus about using a hand pasta roller is that they are cheap to buy, it saves me having aching wrists from hand rolling lots of paste, and it saves me time, especially if I have a lot of flowers to make.
I particularly like using the pasta roller to roll out my paste because I can achieve a uniform thickness to all my flowers and leaves, so it is handy if I haven’t rolled out enough paste to complete a flower.
To use the roller:
- Knead the paste the same as if you are rolling it out by hand
- Dust the rollers and the paste with cornstarch/cornflour
- Flatten the paste with your fingers
- Pass the gumpaste through the rollers set to the widest setting
- Pass the gumpaste through again on a smaller setting
- Repeat, adjusting the rollers to a lesser thickness until the paste is the thickness required.
Sometimes I partially roll the paste out by hand and then pass it through the rollers, which I set to the final thickness, so all the paste is rolled out the same.
The pasta roller is my best purchase ever.
Remember – keep all the paste you are not using tightly wrapped because it will dry out quickly, especially after it has been rolled, and will be useless.
I’ve rolled out the paste, so what can I make with it?
Once the gumpaste has been rolled to the correct thickness, you can cut out the flower petals and leaves using custom-made cutters. You can buy cutters from a cake decorating supply shop, or there are plenty of online retailers you can purchase cutters from for nearly every flower you can think of.
I have many metal cutters that make precise cuts, and are my favorite type of cutters. However, there is one drawback with them: you have to be very careful they do not distort while using them as it is easy to grip them too hard and bend them out of shape.
Some flower cutter sets come with a plastic disc that allows you to press evenly on the cutter, and it is wise to use this as it will prevent the cutters from becoming misshapen and be easier on your fingers as some have sharp edges.
You don’t get the same problems with plastic cutters, but they tend not to cut as cleanly as thin metal ones. If they haven’t made a clean cut in your gum paste, you must be careful to remove any residue from the edges of the petals and leaves before you use them, or you will end up with rough edges to your flowers.
Flowers can be made as one piece or made from parts that need assembling, and they are usually placed in a mold to dry or wired, hung upside down, and new petals added after the first ones have dried.
To assemble flowers, you will need to use some “glue,” which can be egg white, gum arabic, water, or royal icing.
I use powdered gum arabic mixed well with a bit of water to make a thick paste. It doesn’t wet the gumpaste as much as water or egg white, which tends to melt the gumpaste.
If you intend to add more color to your flowers after drying, be careful when applying the glue, and don’t get it onto the surface, you want to color because it will make it too glossy. The color, especially petal dust, can’t be applied very well to a smooth surface.
Can I make gumpaste flowers without cutters?
Many sugarcraft artists prefer not to use cutters, which is great if you only have a few flowers to make but not so good if you require vast quantities.
Flowers made by hand without cutters take a considerable time to produce, but they look fantastic if you have the patience to make them.
What else can I make with gum paste?
Molding gumpaste – Gumpaste is perfect for molding small items, especially ones that are hollow, because once made and dried, they are strong and won’t break easily unless they are dropped.
Items such as bells, shells, butterflies, and tiny slippers are perfect for cake toppers and are often requested for wedding cakes.
The molds are dusted with cornstarch/cornflour first, and the gumpaste is pressed into the mold and either left to dry overnight or can be placed in a sealed plastic bag and put into the freezer for 20 mins to harden up, then removed from the mold and then left to dry.
Adding more color to my flowers and objects
Once your flowers, leaves, or objects are dry, you may wish to add more color, and there are many ways you can decorate them.
For example, you can paint them with a paintbrush; you can use an airbrush to draw on them with cake decorator’s pens or brush them with decorator’s petal dust.
Painting on gumpaste is straightforward. Before you begin, you need to ensure the surface of the gumpaste is smooth. If it isn’t, you can sand it with a piece of extra fine, light-colored sandpaper. Don’t use dark-colored sandpaper, or it will leave dark grey marks on your work.
After the sugar is sanded, it will still be porous and take the color well, unlike if you have covered the surface with glue or egg white, as it will seal the surface and make applying the color more difficult.
When the flower or object is smooth, use a soft brush or a soft cloth to wipe away any sanding residue.
Paint on dry gumpaste with gel paste colors, and if you need to dilute them, use clear spirits such as vodka or gin instead of water because the spirit will evaporate and dry fast. Let one color dry before adding another so they don’t run into each other.
If you use water to dilute the colors, it is likely to form a sticky mess if the water melts the sugar as you paint; colors are likely to run into each other if you don’t let each coat dry; that could take some time.
Another way to color gumpaste is to use petal dust. It can be applied with a soft brush, or a cotton wool ball will give more delicate shading to any piece you make. The colors are quite strong, but you can dilute them by mixing them with cornstarch/cornflour in different quantities to give the required shades.
Petal dust can also be mixed with vodka or gin to make paint to color flowers.
Ensure that any paint you use is dry before you touch it, or you could smear it over more of your work than you expected.
Putting a sheen on your gumpaste
The easiest way to seal the color to your work and put a sheen on the whole item is to steam it. For years I did it in the most unsafe way possible and frequently scalded my hands. No comments, please!
I boiled the electric kettle and, using a potholder, kept the on switch pressed down with one hand to keep the kettle boiling while with the other hand, I passed all the flowers quickly over the steam, making sure the steam had reached all the surfaces of the flower or leaves but not long enough to cause them to melt.
Eventually, I invested in an electric steamer. So why did I put my hands in so much danger for all those years when, for a few dollars, I bought a purpose-made steamer? I have no answer, but now my hands are safe, and the steamer works well.
Another way you can put a sheen on your work, which is so much safer than steaming, is to buy an aerosol can of confectioner’s varnish and spray your finished work with that. You can also buy it in bottles, and you can brush it onto your work, giving it a lovely sheen. You can also purchase a confectioner’s varnish brush cleaner, so you don’t have to throw away the brush after it’s been used.
One drawback to using the confectioner’s varnish is that it is not pure white. It’s perfect on colored gumpaste, as you can’t see it, but it is not suitable for white flowers and objects unless you don’t mind a slightly creamy finish. It is best to steam any white pieces of gumpaste to keep them pure white.
Has this answered any questions you have about gum paste?
I have picked topics I am often asked about gumpaste and have answered them to the best of my knowledge.
I have discussed:
- What gumpaste is made of
- Why is each ingredient used in the recipe
- The difference between natural gum tragacanth and CMC
Also, I have given why I like to make my gumpaste from the ease of use to the economic aspects and tell you why sometimes readymade flower paste is used.
It seems strange to people that flowers are made from edible ingredients but are never eaten, so I have explained why they are used.
Next, I explained what gumpaste is and how to work with gumpaste.
Coloring gumpaste the right way is important, so I have explained why gel-paste colors are used and how to use the paste once it is colored.
I talked about a pasta roller to roll out your paste, cutters to cut out the flowers and leaves, and making flowers without cutters.
I went on to discuss what else can be made with gumpaste, and finally, when you have finished your decorations and they are dry, put a sheen on them either with steam or confectioners varnish.
I hope this has answered any questions you may have about gum paste and its use.
If you have any other questions about “What is Gumpaste and How it’s Used,” please don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments box below, and I will do my best to answer them.