How to Make a Sugar Building Centrepiece (The Star and Darling on the Gold Coast)
My love affair started with this building in 1992. It was just a few days before I first arrived to Australia. At that time it was named Conrad Jupiters and I had been appointed as Executive Pastry Chef to this Casino Hotel which belonged to the Hilton Group. It is the largest casino in Queensland and 7000 people visited daily at that time. I worked there for about 5 years until 1998 which was when started my own cake business. The building’s name changed twice since then. First it became Jupiters Casino and now it is called The Star Casino.
The second oblong shaped building in front of the casino was built in three years and recently opened its doors to hotels VIP guests. A grand breaking ceremony of this 6 star residential hotel was held in mid 2015 and I was very proud to be commissioned to build a sugar replica of it including the original Casino building. I took some pictures during the production and am happy to share with you while also expressing some of my thoughts. I also hope, this article would be a significant example of how to plan and put together such a building out of sugar.
There’s no doubt that everything has to start from producing a plan as a guideline. First we need a source of information or reference. Sometimes our sources of reference can vary in size, angles and views so we need to make adjustments. For this project I have referred to followings sources;
• Google maps
• Blue prints provided by event organizer
• Several pictures
• Several illustrations of building (3D renders from architects)
• My own observation
When all of these are ready on the table I had to answer following;
• How big is the centrepiece expected to be in general?
• What is the top view size to achieve that?
• What is the board size (includes landscape)?
• What will be the final height?
• When the centrepiece is finished, will it be transportable?
I started drawing the top view of the foot print meaning the shape of the area where the building touches to the ground. From there, I used semi transparent sheets to draw the upper levels by partially copying lower levels.
The following is the main principle to create an actual size plan referring to different pictures in the examples we have.
Reference Picture 1: Let’s name it P1 This picture is taken from the front view and from this, the width and height information is quite reliable, but not the depth.
Reference Picture 2: With this reference image taken from Google Maps, we can only see width and depth in its correct proportion, but not the height.
Next is the actual size plan of the top view. I wanted to have a width of 60cm which meant, according to P2, that the depth is 20cm.
Now for the actual size plan of the front view, we have to refer to P1 where the height is 1.5 times the width meaning if the width is 60cm, the height is 90cm.
I followed the simple principle 10ths of times to finish my actual size plan referring 10ths of different pictures.
Once the plan is ready I had to make some further decisions by answering following questions;
• Q. What is the main pastes to be used?
• A. I always choose Pastillage for making buildings because of its strength. It is rigid when it completely dries and exact size walls and ceilings can be produced and joined after drying.
• Q. What is the material for the windows?
• A. For this matter, I decided to make an internal full height foil and drop cylindrical or rectangular shape PVC foil and by doing that I can illuminate the whole building with a few lights.
• Q. What is the glue to join the panels?
• A. Of course, royal icing is the best because it can be also used for some lines and can be cleaned with wet a brush.
• Q. What is the other material for extra support?
• A. Hidden polystyrene, PVC pipes wrapped in pastillage and corrugated cardboard.
Despite using Pastillage because it is rigid enough to construct very large architectural pieces together, additional support was needed so I used a long piece of PVC pipe going through the balconies. I also used a piece of folded cardboard to add additional support underneath the large connecting roof in between the two buildings. Specially shaped polystyrene was also helpful to create the slim tower in front of the original building. Not to forget I needed a very strong base board which would need to be a minimum of 20mm MDF or plywood. We could also glue and screw additional wooden bars underneath the board instead of using heavier and thicker board.
Templates and Holders
Basically, the old building begins with a large flat entry level as the vertical walls carry a big flat roof and from the top view the “V” shape building sits over that entry level. I made a special holder with polystyrene and white cardboard to achieve complete front and back walls with a rounded connection which also made it comfortable for cutting random windows and roof top pieces.
New, modern designed buildings are different. Each storey’s floor/ceiling was an individually produced oblong shape using a polystyrene holder and individually produced ceilings which were also the balconies for the next storey with a special template smaller oblong cut out in the centre. These same size centre cut outs all together will allow the tall one piece PVC foil to go all the way down at a later stage.
As a result with the complete plan on the table I was able to produce following templates and holders.
• Templates for all walls with indication of level height and window sizes.
• Templates for all roofs and ceilings with centre cut outs.
• Large “V” shape holder with rounded connections to dry casino walls in the right shape.
• Oblong shape polystyrene holders to shape new building walls.
The fun starts right here. Till this point, there was only thinking, deciding, drawing lines on paper and preparing templates and holders. I have to say that it is quite important to go through all these steps thoroughly before doing anything else. Also, all the success will depend on how correctly and accurately you do these planning steps. From this point, you will need lots of trays and shelf space to get things properly sorted and stored to dry. Most of the preparations involve rolling and cutting flat pieces in the right numbers and shapes, out if correct colour premixed Pastillage. Using very sharp blades instead of a knife is very important to achieve sharp and clean cuts.
This is my favourite part of the process. Every piece you put together shows the difference and makes you wonder a little more about how it is developing so far. What I would like to emphasize and recommend to you at this stage is not to rush to finish. Each step should be easy to do if the previous step was taken correctly. For me, the technique of achieving this is doing a simple brain storming using yellow sticky note tags. Write every short step you can think off individually on tags without worrying about the order of things. Once you can see all the small steps involved, it is much easier to see a global map of whats involved and then you can put them in the correct order as good as you can. Just simulate the process in your mind one or two times and you will easily realize that some of the steps need to be relocated and some new additional steps need to be added. As a result of this you only worry about each step at a time and you will have a comfortable, relaxing work flow with joy.
When all elements have come together on the ground, doing the landscaping is the finishing touche. This needs the same amount of attention to make things even better. At this point using a couple of different techniques is necessary. For small cars, I simply cut them from a block of unkneaded firm fondant in different colours with a blade. For trees, I used forest green royal icing and oats mixture 1 to 1 ratio. For streets I had a smart idea where I covered the whole board with tar colour fondant and then rolled out a grassy green fondant on top of that. Then I cut out the streets from the green fondant which made the streets automatically appear.
For this kind of project I always use remote controlled multi-colour LED lights. Not to forget I also used opaque white cellophane sheets together with a one-piece internal PVC sheet as windows to spread light evenly. Specially when I set the fading different colours slowly as a special effect, I like it most.
An project of this scale does not come everyday and I also didn’t want to make them more than a few times a year. With these lights in place and functioning with a touch of a button, my sugar replica of the Star Casino & Darling Apartments was completed. I delivered it to the event and it is well received. It was featured in some newspapers and covered on TV news.
As my final words I would like to say, to me it wasn’t a cake or centrepiece, it was a project and I was a project manager rather than a Cake Decorator or a Pastry Chef. I think some of you know exactly what I mean.
Thanks for reading and I hope you got something out of it.