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What is the difference between florist paste, gum paste, fondant, mexican paste etc?

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What is the difference between florist paste, gum paste, fondant, mexican paste etc?

There are lots of different types of pastes you can use when making cakes.  Below I have set up some of the key definitions so you know what each one is and when you should use them.

Florist Paste – also known as Gum Paste

Florist Paste is the same thing as Gum Paste.  Florist paste (or floral paste) is used by cake makers in the UK and Gum Paste is the term used for the same paste in certain other countries such as the US. 

It is used to make anything which needs to dry quickly and hold its structure.  For example, flowers like roses, lilies and carnations all work best in florist paste.  It can also be used for small decorative details on cakes that are more fiddly as it is quite a stiff paste but less sticky than fondant.

Florist paste is fully edible although it dries quite hard so it is brittle to touch.  If you dropped a florist paste flower, it would shatter into lots of pieces.  Therefore, you would never use it to decorate things like the surface of a big cake as it would be crunchy.  For that you used fondant.

Florist paste is more expensive than some other pastes such as fondant but you don’t need to use much of it so a large pack will last a long time.  Most florist paste that you buy in shops lasts around 6 to 12 months if wrapped properly.

Florist paste is perfect for flowers as it is elastic allowing you to shape flower petals using something like a ball tool for frilling the edges. It is also easy to use with moulds.

As florist paste dries so hard, you should ideally leave any florist paste decorations to dry for at least 48 hours. Otherwise they can droop at the crucial moment!

Adding vegetable shortening (trex) to florist paste makes it lots easier to use.

Florist paste should be stored in a wrapped bag inside a fully sealed container which is completely air tight to stop it drying out.  You can store unused florist paste in a plastic container.  However, do not store finished flowers in a plastic container as they will sweat and droop.  Finished florist paste flowers (or other decorations) should be stored in a cardboard box, like a cake box.

Fondant – also known as Sugar Paste

Fondant is also known as sugar paste, ready to roll icing, covering paste or regalice.  It has several uses:

  • It can be rolled out and used to cover a cake.
  • It can be used to model novelty characters like animals and people if you add Gum Tragacanth or CMC (see Fact Pack on Gum Tragacanth and CMC)
  • It can be used for small flowers and decorations that have Gum Tragacanth or CMC added to them.

It has the same consistency as play-do. 

If you are modelling with fondant, you should add 1 teaspoon of Gum Tragacanth (or CMC or Tylose) to every 250grams of fondant.  This will make it firmer and easier to model.  It will also help it dry more quickly.

You cannot roll fondant as thin as florist paste so although you can make flowers with it when adding Gum Tragacanth etc, they won’t look as delicate as the florist paste ones.

Fondant should be stored in a wrapped bag inside a fully sealed container which is completely air tight to stop it drying out.  You can store unused sugar paste in a plastic container.  However, do not store finished work in a plastic container as they will sweat and droop.  Finished sugar fondant cakes should be store in a cake box made of card.  Novelty characters should be stored in the same place. Novelty characters made from fondant can be made several weeks in advance 

Mexican Modelling Paste

This is an ultra-fine modelling paste.  It is ideal for fine modelling especially plaques, frills, drapes, cards and using with Patchwork Cutters.  It is less stretchy than florist paste hence preferable for patchwork cutters. It sets firm, but remains soft enough to eat. Also ideal to use with moulds.

Mexican modelling paste can be rolled paper thin for dressing model characters and colours easily with paste colouring just like florist paste and fondant. 

Pastillage

Pastillage is rolled fondant which dries very hard.  It does not have any of the softening ingredients (glycerin corn starch or shortening).  As it dries bone hard, it normal use is for decorative ribbons, appliqués and 3D shapes.

As pastillage dries hard, it is relatively strong and durable.  It is often used alongside florist paste and other sugar work.  It has been used cake stands, containers, long lasting cake toppers due to is strength
Pastillage is made from 100% edible ingredients.  However I would not describe it as “edible” as it would probably break your teeth! It could therefore be unpleasant to eat.  It is useful however for key structures which need to be strong.  For example, if you were making a table and you had things to place on it on a cake, pastillage would be perfect.

Pastillage cannot be rolled as thin as florist paste.  In addition with pastillage you have to work quickly as it dries very fast.

In terms of how strong it is, pastillage will take handle humidity better as florist paste tends to take on the moisture from the humid air which can make it go softer if it is too humid.

Sugar Dough Modelling Paste

Sugar dough modelling paste is another type of paste you can use for cake decorating and sugar modelling. It is primarily used for modelled figures where you want the piece to hold its shape and dry quickly, yet still remain soft enough to eat.  It is an alternative to using fondant but slightly harder.

Marzipan

Marzipan is an almond and sugar paste used to ice cakes and model characters. Marzipan is a mixture of almond paste, powdered sugar and a moistening agent such as water, corn syrup fondant or egg whites.  All the ingredients are mixed until they product the consistency of dough.

Marzipan is very simple to work with and its use is widespread.  When using the marzipan to cover a cake (for example a fruit cake). A think sheet is rolled out and draped over the top like fondant. There is often fruit syrup glazed over the cake before the marzipan is added to make it stickier.  

Marzipan is a very easy medium to use can you can make flowers, characters and models out of it. The downside is that because it contains nuts, many people now avoid it.

If you are stuck

If you are ever stuck on anything, feel free to ask in the forum or under this blog post

Happy Decorating! 

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