How To Handle And Work With Pastillage
Ok so first of all, what exactly is pastillage? Here is a nice description found from wikipedia…
A thick sugar paste, similar to gum paste, is molded into shapes. When dried, it is hard and brittle. Made with gelatin, water and confectioner’s sugar, it hardens quickly and can be shaped for a short while by hand, and after hardening, with electric grinders, cutters, sandpaper and assorted files. (Source)
Pastillage (pronounced PAHS-tee-AHJ) can be used to make very large and complex structures. The gelatine contents causes it to dry very hard and very quickly as opposed to gum paste which stays soft and dries slowly. Because of this fast drying property, pastillage can be a very tricky material to work with so I am going to try to give you some tips to help make it a little easier to work with.
Here is our recipe for pastillage, in case you need it.
1. When mixing pastillage in a mixer, often you reach a smooth white texture before all of the icing sugar is mixed completely. So you will need to mix it for a bit longer to make sure all icing sugar at the base of the bowl is also mixed in with the gelatine. If you mix this dough by hand, place all the icing sugar in a bowl or just on the table. Make a well in the center of the icing sugar, then pour the very hot gelatine mix in the center and start mixing from the center with a wooden spoon. Once it’s cooled down a bit by mixing with some of the icing sugar in the middle, continue to mix it by hand. Be careful and ensure the gelatine has cooled down so you do not burn your hands.
2. Scrape the pastillage out of the bowl and soak the bowl immediately with water because if there is any remaining dough stuck to the bowl, it will be very difficult to clean if you let it dry.
3. While the dough is still relatively soft, divide it into small parts (approximately 200-300 grams) and store them in individual plastic bags (can be plastic sleeves) and keep all the bags in an air-tight container. This will make it easier to just grab and use in future and you won’t have to cut through hard pastillage to get a workable amount later on.
4. Keep this air-tight container in the fridge if you have to store it for more than a week. Gelatine inside the dough is protein which can get moldy if it is not dry. So parts produced from pastillage that are completely dry will not get moldy but because we stored the rest of our dough in the container while it was still soft and moist (because the water contents are still not dry), the dough in the container will eventually get moldy. If you do not wish to store your pastillage in the fridge, and prefer to keep the storage container in room temperature, you have to use a food preservative such as 202 (Potassium Sorbate) melted with the gelatine mixture. Preservatives are not recommended in today’s health conscious society so don’t use it unless you really need to. If you do, a safe ratio is half a gram of 202 for 1kg dough. So for example, our pastillage recipe has a total weight of 869g so half a gram of 202 is ok.
5. When ever you want to use pastillage, take 1 bag at a time (unless you need more than that) and heat it up (inside the bag), in the microwave oven. This is called “conditioning pastillage”. If you want to use this magic dough all the time, you have to practice this part of the process and master it. How long you need to heat the dough is an important question. Here is my formula for this.
Let’s say we have 200g. First, remove the last digit. So 200 becomes 20. Then divide 20 by 2. So we have 10. So 10 seconds in the microwave will give you a good start for a 200g portion. Keep in mind that this formula doesn’t mean that you will have perfectly conditioned pastillage every time. There are other factors. Like, what is the temperature of the pastillage before you place it in the microwave? Did it just come from the fridge? How powerful is the microwave you are using? etc. The trick here is just to heat it up in very short amounts and check it each time. Another thing…if you have previously used and heated this portion of pastilage (for example…it’s left over from a day ago), it may have lost some of its moisture contents due to evaporation. So you may need to add this “lost” water back in to compensate. So just spray some water on the pastillage and knead it in after heating.
6. Let say you remove the dough from microwave and you realize the dough is too warm. If it’s too warm, it will be in a sticky state and it will tend to stick to the table while kneading, making it a little difficult to knead properly. So take it out from bag and spray some cooking oil spray on the surface of the table or sprinkle a bit starch (don’t use icing sugar). Start kneading till the dough reaches room temperature. If you start rolling or molding or shaping while the dough still warm you will realize that the pastillage quickly develops a dry skin around the surface, and trying to cut it is almost impossible because it sticks to your knife. If you are trying to shape a figurine, cracks will appear before you are able to finish it and you will have start all over again. So make sure you have it in an optimal condition before you start using it.
7. At this stage you may want to use some shortening on the table and your hands. This will help to keep the dough from sticking on the table and your hands. If you use corn starch here, it will stop the pastillage from sticking, but it will also cause it to slip back and forwards on the table, specially when you are shaping pieces between the table surface and your hands.
With pastillage, there is often no wastage. Place all the off cuts in to the bag before they develop a skin, and you can use it again by heating it up in the microwave and mixing it all together again.
8. VERY IMPORTANT – Make it a habit of cleaning the surface of the table with wet towel followed by dry towel. Also do this with your cutting tools and modelling tools. If you are cutting a shape out of rolled pastillage (eg. using a stencil) with a pen knife, it is a good idea to clean your pen knife after every movement. If you do not do these things, there will be small chunks of pastillage that dry on the edge of your knife, on the surface of the table or even in palm of your hands. These chunks will cause problems and you won’t achieve smooth, clean results.
9. The time it takes to completely dry a piece of pastillage depends on thickness and volume. Placing the pastillage on a flat piece of corrugated cardboard is a good way to shorten the time it takes because the slightly uneven surface allows for some breathing underneath the pastillage. Large hand shaped pieces resting on a bed of starch (in a tray) is very helpful. The starch will withdraw moisture quicker and also maintain shape and form while drying. For example, if you were to mold the shape of a ball, and place it to dry on a flat tray, the perfect shape of the ball will be compromised. Drying it in a tray filled with starch will keep it exactly how you left it.
10. How you glue pastillage can vary depending on the situation and requirement. Each with its own pro’s and con’s, here is a list of gluing methods I use.
- A brush in a cup of plain water.
- A water spray bottle.
- A brush in a cup with a little bit of egg white.
- A brush in a cup with a little bit of Tylose and water (mixed).
- White chocolate
- Royal icing in a paping bag.
In some cases I will even use very hot liquid pastillage with a little addition of water (over melted in the microwave). If done correctly, and not moved around too much while drying for a couple of minutes, this method will hold like cement.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and you learned something from it. Don’t forget to check out our recipe for pastillage. It is the same recipe I have been using for years to successfully produce thousands of cake decorations on thousands of cakes. If you have any of your own tips regarding pastillage, feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks again!