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Cake designer Meaghan Adamski shares how you can make your own extravagant cake and eat it too!
Photos by Bruce Murray/Visionfire
One of the most welcome signs of spring is the unfurling of the season’s first flowers. Those tiny buds sometimes forcing their way through the last dustings of stubborn snow, a fantastic display of flower power. Even if you are a lover of winter, the thaw and awakening is met with the yearn to celebrate. As we turn the calendar to a new season, say good-bye to a long winter and shed our sweaters, let’s think about layering up with sweet sensations. East Coast cake designer Meaghan Adamski shares how to make a cake for your own special celebrations that will be as much a feast for the eyes as your taste buds.
How cake designer Meaghan Adamski has time to create her decadent and delicious cakes with four children scurrying around her Dartmouth home is as much a mystery as how flowers know when it’s time to bloom in the spring. But the fact that she does and with the most breathtaking results will give all novice cake decorators hope. You just need to give yourself a little time and let your imagination and love for flowers blossom.
Meaghan fell in love with cake design when she was planning her wedding in 2010. She started making small cakes for family and friends playing with fondant and different decorating techniques but when she discovered the art sugar flowers her cake design rose to a whole new level.
“I certainly remember my first wedding cake client,” she recalls. “Very good friends of ours asked me to make their wedding cake. It was July of 2012. I was terrified to make a wedding cake, as I had never taken on such an important or large order before. It was my first time truly tackling sugar flowers … I happily took on the challenge despite being terrified. For my very first wedding cake and first attempt at sugar flowers, it turned out pretty good and they were so happy. I just fell in love with the entire process and the beauty in creating such a special cake with these beautiful sugar flowers.”
Adamski’s flowers are crafted petal by petal, with meticulous detail. The results are edible art pieces so lifelike one is tempted to sniff the flowers.
She’s self-taught and thanks her mom (an accomplished painter) for her artistic inspiration and sense of colour. Adamski’s keen observational skills allow her to study a variety of real flowers and leaves, noting details like intricate vein patterns in eucalyptus, delicate overlap of peony petals, and the slight unfurling on the edges of a rose.
“I have pulled many flowers apart petal by petal, to figure out how the petal formation can look natural and organic,” she adds.
She spent hours watching videos and practising her technique for making and manipulating sugar paste.
“My love for sugar flowers was hugely inspired by Maggie Austin, one of the most talented sugar flower artists out there. I was so fortunate to fly to Washington, D.C. back in 2017 and take a three-day sugar flower workshop from her,” says Adamski.
Explaining the very basics of the technique, she says that the gum paste recipe that she makes starts with the consistency of modeling clay. It dries quickly and requires swift work. Adamski can spend up to 30 hours creating the flowers for a single cake.
Unlike fondant which remains pliable, sugar flowers become hard. “They’ll last forever,” says Adamski. Often clients save their flowers, making a keepsake arrangement for the mantle. One of her favourite ideas is keeping the flowers under a glass dome, like the rose from Beauty and the Beast.
Because sugar flowers are hard, they can be brittle and break if bumped or accidentally dropped. Tiny fractures can add to the natural look of the piece. For larger mishaps the cake artist says she uses berries. She often adds sugar berries and small fruit to her designs for contrast and variety. Having extras with her when she arrives at a venue mean she’s prepared. If a cake gets jostled in transport, a carefully placed blackberry or a few blueberries inserted in the right spot cover the damage.
Baking wasn’t something Adamski did as a young girl. “In my family growing up, my dad was and still is the baker,” she says. “To this day I use some of my father’s recipes for some of my cakes.” His carrot cake has the right amount of sweetness, the perfect texture, and it’s always moist. Her own personal favourite is lemon cake. “Anything lemon related! I must not be alone as it is also a very popular wedding cake flavour.”
“When it comes to choosing a recipe, I always recommend giving anything a try if you think it sounds delicious,” she says. “If you don’t love it, play around with it and don’t be afraid to make some changes. I have tweaked recipes over the years to find the perfect flavours and textures.”
Changing a recipe to make it larger or smaller is not as simple as doubling or halving the ingredients. Sometimes things don’t work out and she tries again. Her family, neighbours, children’s daycare workers, and teachers, however, are glad to help by eating the mistakes.
Despite the meticulous presentation of her cakes, the mother of four little boys says that she has to approach each one of her projects with patience.
“I love to bake with my children,” she says. “Baking with young kids requires a lot of patience and you just have to let go of any need for perfection. It’s pretty much what you’d expect with spills everywhere, eggs cracked on the floor, and your kitchen looking like a flour-covered winter wonderland at times. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade the chaos or the mess when baking with them for anything. I always tell myself that we are not just baking cakes, we are making memories that I hope they will cherish looking back one day.”
For her clients, she hopes her cakes, elegantly adorned with sugar flowers, create memories too.
Homemade Gum Paste
From the book Maggie Austin Cake, Artistry and Technique
(Makes about 1 lb or 454g)
- 75g (1/2 cup or 3 oz) egg whites
- 382g (2 1/2 cups plus 2.5 tsp) confectioners’ sugar
- 19g (4 teaspoons) of tylose powder
- 12g (2.5 teaspoons) of shortening
- Using a stand mixer and paddle attachment, mix the egg whites and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes until smooth and glossy.
- Turn the mixer on low-medium and add in the tylose powder. Turn mixer back up to medium and mix for about 15 seconds until it is incorporated and stiffens. The mixer will seem like it is working hard at this point, that is normal.
- Scrape mixture onto nonporous work surface and knead in the shortening. Double wrap the gum paste in food safe cling wrap and store in zip-top bag or container. Can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks and frozen up to 6 months.
Note: This recipe is very precise and a digital scale to measure in grams is highly recommended. Grams are the most accurate unit of measurement for best results.
Follow Meaghan’s steps to make your own sugar flowers bloom
- Make gum paste (following the recipe above) and colour with gel food colouring to achieve base shades. Wrap gum paste in food safe cling wrap and store in sealed bag or container as gum paste dries out quickly when exposed to air.
- Make centres for each flower by wrapping floral tape around a piece of floral wire and attaching to rolled gum paste balls or cones with edible glue (such pasteurized egg whites) and let dry overnight.
- Roll out gum paste very thin on a non-stick surface (apply shortening or cornstarch to surface prior), and cut petals using cutters.
- Use decorating tools (such as ball tool and dresden tool) on a foam board to thin & shape petals.
- Use veiner tools or silicone molds (if available) to add life-like veining to each petal.
- Use an edible glue and small paint brush to attach each petal working out from the center.
- Build the flower by layering and layering petals, often using a slightly lighter shade of gum paste as you reach the outer petals.
- Allow flower to dry overnight before using edible petal dusts to add shading and colour.