A quick guide to working with pastillage.
This is a paste produced from icing sugar, egg whites, water, gelatine or gum tragacanth, a powdered starch can also be included. It is kneaded together until firm enough to roll. It is then cut out and left to dry. Three dimensional figures can be moulded or modelled or cut out and assembled from pastillage. Collars, borders, panels, top ornaments, boxes, cards and flowers can also be produced. Pastillage originated from the word ‘pastilles’ a type of lozenge sweet.
Tragacanth also known as ‘gum dragon’ is gum obtained from several species of Astragulas which can be either gum from a tree or extracted from a plant that grows mainly in the Middle East. Good quality tragacanth is white, tasteless, odourless and is in a powdered form. It absorbs 15-20 times its own weight of water to create a gel, but it is never free running. It is also very expensive for good quality (250g = £26). Gelatine paste is cheaper, but has a much shorter working life, (15 minutes in a dry room).
Points to consider
- While working with pastillage, make sure you roll the paste as thinly as possible. Paste which is too thick will result in the centre drying at different stages causing the corners or edges to curl up and warp while drying, thus causing finished pieces to not fit together.
- Cut using a fine bladed knife occasionally dampened using a clean damp cloth.
- Always cut on the outside of the piece first, concentrating on the inside after. Do not add pressure on your stencil, but keep firmly in position.
- Do not score with a knife as this will wrinkle the edges.
- Always leave to dry and then turn over and repeat the process until all the pieces are completely dry on both sides.
- For completion gently brush the pieces using a soft brush or rub the surface with cotton wool to eradicate the surplus corn flour.
- Delicately rub the edges and support them as you are doing this with glass paper or sand paper.
- Join your edges with royal icing (the same colour as the pastillage)
- Run a small soft brush over the join to clear any surplus icing
- Allow to set completely
- Continue construction step by step allowing each joint to dry completely before adding the next one
- Fill any cracks or unfinished places with royal icing and allow to dry, and then gently rub with glass paper if necessary.
Remember to take into account the following before producing pastillage:
- The amount of paste to be produced (large amounts must be produced on the machine, small amounts can be produced by hand)
- Ensure you use a dough hook if producing by machine as any other attachment will aerate the mixture.
- Ensure cleanliness of equipment, work surfaces and hands.
- Ensure a stainless steel bowl is used; aluminium will discolour the paste during mixing.
- The dry ingredients must be thoroughly sieved.