Friday, May 8, 2015

Give Mom Some Sugar!

My mom and I have always shared a love of good food, and more specifically, of good sweets. So you can imagine my surprise when earlier this year, my mom decided to swear off sugar.  Occasionally, I've entertained the thought --after all, who hasn't heard the whispered rumors of increased energy, decreased weight, increased well-being?  But I have to be realistic.  Sugar is just not something that I can give up.  I mean, look at the title of the blog. . . .cup of sugar?! That one line in the Maroon Five song -- you know the one Adam Levine sings at a falsetto -- su-gaaar, yes pleeease!  That may as well be the theme song of my life.  (I'm aware that the song references a different kind of sugar, but, hey, I made it my own. . . ) So yes, I've long ago come to terms with the fact that, for me, there are certain things that make life living . . . and two of those things are butter and sugar.  But I do admire my mom's willpower (even if I can't aspire to match it,) and as her daughter, I want to support it, whether this ends up being a few month experiment or a full-on lifestyle change.

It does prove to be quite a dilemma in making a Mother's Day cake. But, since we are in the age of the Internet, you may not be quite as surprised as I was, to find that, yes, there is such a thing as a sugar-free cake.  And I'm not talking about substituting the sugar with agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, or any of those millions of artificial sweeteners (yuck -- I would never, by the way.)  I'm talking about a real, honest to goodness, no added sweetener cake.  The secret ingredient is. . . bananas!!  And yes, I do know just how much sugar a banana contains -- but no added sugar fits the bill just fine, thank you very much.  (Link to the recipe if you are into that clean eating stuff.)

Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as easy to find a frosting recipe.  There was one that I attempted -- chocolate raspberry (sounds deceptively good, doesn't it?)  Don't be fooled.  It tasted like. . .I don't even know.  It just. . . it just tasted bad.  Let's leave it at that.  I should have guessed from the fact that the ingredient list was composed of raspberries, cocoa powder, coconut oil, and water.  And a few dates to sweeten things up.  Let me tell you -- this recipe needed way more than a couple of dates.  Like butter.  Like a cup of butter.  Anyways, I panicked and threw some dark chocolate over a double broiler and mixed it up with a splash of cream and some peanut butter.  Peanut butter: protein.  Heavy cream: calcium. And dark chocolate is good for you, right?  I'm sure I read it somewhere. . .  And it actually turned out okay!  I mean, it's not nearly as good as the dark chocolate fudge cake with that luscious cream cheese frosting posted previously.  But let's be real -- it was much better than I had guessed it would be.

So that was the cake.  But honestly, I was still a little underwhelmed by the whole thing.  Mother's Day should be grand.  And this cake -- well, it was a compromise, if anything.  Better than I expected, but still not as good as I could have dreamed. I dream big, after all.  I thought and though, wracked my brain, and finally, finally, in crept this little idea. . . my mom's not eating any sugar.  But that doesn't mean I can't use any sugar.  And, she has this little out that allows for sugar in coffee (Because isn't that really the purpose of coffee anyways?  To serve as a dilutant for sugar, with the added benefit of a caffeine kick?)  So I got this awesome idea (pat myself on the back) to make her a cute little sugar bowl out of sugar. I know, I'm a genius.  To be fair, I got the idea from Julie Usher, who is the Martha Stewart of creating art out of foodstuff.  She has these absolutely amazing YouTube videos about casting sugar, which you should most definitely check out.  The woman makes my sugar bowl look like a kindergartner made it.  She definitely has more skill than I do.  But that's the beauty of this particular gift.  Even if you aren't that artistically inclined (like me,) the final product is still gorgeous.  And remarkably easy.  So if you're still looking for the perfect Mother's Day gift, you probably have just enough time to pull this one off.

Sugar-Sugar Bowl

The first thing you will have to do is decide what shape to make your sugar bowl.  Any type of container with an opening wider than the remainder of the dish can serve as a mold.  Ramekins, for example, are great.  So are tart pans.  I used a brioche pan so that the sides have that beautiful ruffled look for the main part and a small tart pan for the base.

Over a large bowl (so as to not waste any spilled sugar,) measure out the amount of sugar necessary to fill the container(s) you will be using to the brim. Add a third of what ever measurement you come up with.  This is the sugar you will need to make your container(s).

Next, color the sugar. If you want your container to be white, you can skip the coloring step. . . but what fun would that be?  In a large bowl (probably the same one from the step above,) mix the sugar with a desired amount of powdered food coloring.  Keep in mind that once you add water (in the next step,) the color will darken. You should ideally do this with your hands to make sure everything is evenly combined.  If you use gloves, you have the added benefit of keeping your hands normal flesh tones.

When you achieve your perfect shade, add water in this ratio: 1 tablespoon water to 1 cup sugar.  Again, mix well.  The perfect consistency is when the sugar feels like wet sand.  It can be clumped into a ball without falling apart, but is not sticky.

Firmly press the sugar into your containers until filled.  Level out the top with an offset spatula or the back of a butter knife.  Place a cake round (or any cardboard) on top of the container (at the opening) and gently flip the container over.  Wiggle gently.  Note, I said wiggle, not shake.  The sugar will still be delicate and can break if not handled with care.  The molded sugar should come right out of your container.  Leave to dry for about three hours.

 After three hours, the sugar container should feel firm.  Using a melon-baller, carve out the center of the bowl. Although the center will be hard, the inside should still be slightly wet, and easier to get through.  Be careful as you get to the edges, making sure to leave a thick enough border so that you don't go through the wall of the container.

 When you are happy with the shape of your container, leave out to dry overnight.  After this time period, the sugar container should be very hard, like cement (but not like cement, really, so still handle with love.)  Now you can decorate!

 So, not to be all gender-normative and everything (since I usually hate that stuff,) but I wanted to make the container pink and white for Mother's Day.  I took white gumpaste and ran it through a pasta machine so it was evenly flat.  This was a major pain.  It kept sticking to the pasta machine, and my husband was paranoid that the gumpaste would ruin it (since it's technically his pasta machine,) and insisted on doing it himself.  And then he's a perfectionist, so after 15 minutes of trying when I just wanted to roll it out by hand, he insisted on persisting with the pasta machine . . .

Long story short, we found that adding shortening helps the gum paste to slide through the past machine without an issue.  And since my husband was so eager to help (HAHAHA,) I put him to work cutting thin strips of gumpaste to line the ridges in the wall of the container.

He did a very good job, I must admit!  

I used store bought royal icing to affix the strips of fondant to the walls of the sugar container. 

To create a more finished look, I used a ruffled cookie cutter to cut a disc of gumpaste approximately the size of the base (tart pan).  After it was dry, I pasted it to the top of the base with more royal icing.  Then I lined the top of the main container and the bottom of the base with chocolate pearls, also attached with royal icing.

And I finished the whole thing off with a pretty white gumpaste flower.  (It was supposed to be a rose, but looks more like a magnolia, so I suppose I'll just consider it a hybrid. . .)

And there you have it -- a sugar-sugar bowl.

(These most gorgeous sugar cubes, by the way, are from Chambre de Sucre, and can be obtained here. French name, Japanese origin, which explains the little works of art that they are. . .)

And you can say "Sugar?" And whomever is responding can say "Su-gaaar, yes pleeease!"
Okay, okay, I just had to do it!  Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there!  Hope it's as sweet as sugar!

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