Not everyone realises this, but edible sugar art is rarely done with normal everyday sugar. The reason is that regular sugar quickly goes sticky when left open and exposed to air, not to mention the health risks of eating all those sweet creations! Instead, the bakers and chefs who practise sugar spinning, blowing and pulling most often use isomalt.
Watch an entertaining demo for creating your own trendy isomalt sail cake topper here:
Isomalt in a nutshell
Basically put, isomalt is made from sucrose extracted from beets, by means of mixing two disaccharide alcohols; gluco-mannitol and gluco-sorbitol. Colourless and odourless isomalt looks very much like regular white table sugar and can even substitute sugar in baking volume for volume, but it is quite different from sugar in its nutritional nature.
Due to a significantly lower caloric value, a slower rate of digestion and a lesser tendency to prompt insulin production compared to regular sugar, isomalt is a recommended alternative for diabetics, blood pressure sufferers and anyone keen on losing weight. In addition, isomalt promotes the growth of “good” bacteria in the gut and does not have sugar’s tendency to cause tooth decay.
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Besides these incredible health benefits, isomalt is a highly sought after element in sugar art because it retains all the physical properties of sugar, with quite a few additional benefits. The most significant differences between sugar and isomalt, in this regard, is that isomalt has increased resistance to humidity, making it far less sticky to work with, and is less prone to clouding. It also retains an attractive gloss and integrity even when pulled or blown very thin as shown here.
Getting creative with isomalt
Besides creating amazing cake toppers, glass bubbles and edible gems, isomalt can be used in just about any hard candy or silicone mould, and can also be shaped by hand, much like spun sugar. This means the possibilities of how to use it to decorate your baked goods is literally endless, as long as you play by the rules.
Isomalt lollipops make great cake toppers
To cook isomalt
- Use a clean stainless-steel pot filled roughly halfway with isomalt. Cooking too little at a time can cause unwanted hotspots and uneven colour. Add distilled water only until you have the consistency of damp sand, like you would use to build a sandcastle.
- Place your pot of isomalt on a burner set at high and stir gently ensuring that you do not cause crystals to stick to the side of the pot.
- Stop stirring as soon as the isomalt mixture comes to a boil. Cover the pot and check the temperature periodically with a candy thermometer to make sure the isomalt does not burn.
- Prepare a sink of cold water deep enough to stand your pot about 5-10 cm deep.
- When the isomalt reaches a temperature of 160 0C, remove it from the burner and carefully plunge the base of the pot into the cold water to halt the cooking process. Leave it there until the hissing sound stops.
- When the melted isomalt has cooled to about 150 0C you can add colour gel or colour powder of your choice. Bear in mind high temperatures may change the colour slightly, making it less vivid. Always stir the food colouring slowly with a long-handled stainless-steel spoon or spatula, keeping your face well away from the pot as it will bubble profusely. Keep stirring until the bubbling stops and the colour is evenly distributed throughout your molten isomalt.
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Making sugar ornaments for an ugly christmas sweater cake. This was my first time using isomalt and it wasn't all pretty… see my stories for my #cakefail! . . . #uglysweater #uglysweatercake #isomalt #decorations #ornaments #cake #sugar #instagood #instayum #satisfyingvideo #satisfying
The do’s and don’ts of working with Isomalt
Don’t get burned
Melted isomalt is extremely hot and drippy. A splash on your skin will cause a serious burn, so always wear cotton gloves with surgical gloves over it, or oven gloves when stirring or piping your isomalt. The natural moisture of your skin can also leave fingerprints on the perfect glassy surface of your isomalt creation, so wearing gloves offers the added benefit of ensuring a more beautiful result.
Do keep things clean
Any trace of impurities in your isomalt will cause it to discolour as it melts. If your goal is to retain its colourless appearance, be strict about using only distilled water and clean stainless steel utensils. Wooden spoons are a big no-no. To remove bubbles from your melted isomalt, pour it into a clean Pyrex measuring jug and let is stand in an oven preheated to 140 0C untouched for about 15 minutes or until the bubbles have gone. You can also maintain the runny consistency of isomalt while you work by periodically putting it back in the warm oven while you prepare your next mould.
Don’t use plastic
Molten isomalt is too hot for regular plastic moulds, utensils or surfaces. Make sure all the utensils you use are either food grade silicone or stainless steel before you start. Once hot isomalt meets plastic, the damage is irrevocable and dreadfully messy.
Do store correctly
To keep leftover isomalt for your next project, pour it onto a silicone mat and allow it to harden and cool to room temperature. Break the hardened isomalt into shards and place it in an airtight container. If the shards remain at room temperature and well-sealed, it can keep for up to two years, providing it also remains completely dry. Using a food grade silica packet can definitely help you here. Isomalt should never be refrigerated or frozen.
To reuse your isomalt, simply re-melt it in the microwave at medium heat.
Now that you’re a boffin in working and decorating with isomalt, it’s time to get baking. Get unbeatable prices on isomalt and a wide variety of cake decorations, tool and tricks available at any of our five CAB Foods stores, or shop online for ultimate baking convenience.