October 26, 2016
If Stevie Nicks were a cake she'd look like this. Baker Deirdre Lane, owner of The Miel Bakery, tells us how, with mathematical precision, she created a wild hippie crystal masterpiece out of pure white sugar.
This cake is incredible! Who did you create it for?
"I made it for a friends boyfriends fortieth birthday. I asked my friend what he liked and she said crystals. Sounded like a fun challenge. The inside was a chocolate devils food cake with a chocolate ganache filling, and the crystals were pure sugar.
How in the world did those crystals come to be?
"I used sugar because of its versatility and translucency. Sugar made it possible to create height and sharp edges. I poured hot sugar syrup onto a silicone sheet pan, and while it was a hot syrupy liquid, I tilted the sheet pan to spread it in a thin even layer. After it was semi-hard, I traced where I wanted it cut. When it was fully hard and cool, I carefully broke the pieces apart, then reheated the edges with a torch and glued them together to form three dimensional shapes. Afterwards I painted the sugar crystals with a purple amethyst powder."
"The sugar crystals were completed in one day —they crystalize quickly so you can work fast. The hardest part is learning when to pour the sugar. It has to be heated with water in a very clean stainless steel pot to around 300 F to hold its shape. A great way to test the sugar is to have a cup of cold water nearby; once you start to notice larger bubbles form you can drop some of the melted sugar with a spoon into the water, let it cool for a few seconds, then feel it with your hand. If its still malleable and forms a soft ball, it’s not ready. It should be brittle, hard enough to break. For more accuracy, get a candy thermometer. At a certain temperature the sugar will start to caramelize. Some of my crystals have brownish tones from caramelization; I liked how the contrast looks, so I blended a few pieces in with the clear sugar.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring bakers attempting to try this at home?
"Whatever method you use, be careful not to get any sugar on yourself. It will stick to your skin and burn like hell!"
Where did you learn this technique? And what did you use as inspiration?
"The fundamentals of working with sugar were taught to me in culinary school... but all the sugar swans and flowers we learned felt very dated. I'm not a fan of working with sugar when it feels restrained and traditional, but I loved the free form feel of the crystal cake. For inspiration, I looked to nature and precious stones. Also, my mother has a huge piece of amethyst I borrowed to use as a still life."