Sugar means various things to pastry professionals. For example, cake decorators tend to think of fondant and gum paste, while sugar sculptors typically imagine cooked sucrose or its derivative, isomalt.
I first learned about working with cooked sugar as a pastry student in Maryland, attending a demonstration by Chefs Ewald and Susan Notter. A few years later, I pursued further education at the Notters’ former school outside of Washington D.C., where I met, I met my colleague at ICE, master cake decorator Toba Garrett! At the time, she was working on her first wedding cake book, which featured beautiful gold sugar balls on one of the cakes.
This week, 20 years later, I attended my third sugar workshop with Chef Ewald Notter through the ICE Center for Advanced Pastry Studies. The three-day class was attended by a diverse group of experienced cake decorators, pastry professionals and instructors who refined their skills in sugar casting, blowing and pulling techniques.
Over the years, I have studied sugar with other world champions and M.O.F.s (meilleur ouvriers de France), and now teach a variety of recreational and alumni sugar classes at ICE. But each time I attend a demonstration with Chef Notter, I cannot help but admire how he teaches. He is truly the master of his craft, but beyond his talent as an individual or value as a team member for pastry competitions, he is an excellent instructor.
In particular, as a young student, I noticed that Chef Notter builds confidence in an amazing way. This fostered several things in me: a need to practice, admiration for air brushing, and a drive to work towards competitive showpieces. Today, even after participating in two national showpiece competitions, my interest in practicing sugar skills and desire to learn more about air brushing has not diminished.
So what did I learn this week from returning to class with my very first sugar instructor? First and foremost, it’s reassuring that even Ewald Notter doesn’t have an innate sense of patience. He also thinks everything is “simple”—but looking at the photos of everyone’s pieces, you can see it is all very far from simple! Most of all, I learned that I personally need to continue doing what I tell my own sugar students: pull colder and more opaque so it’s shinier—and practice!
Chef Kathryn Gordon will be teaching a Halloween-themed sugar decoration course on Oct 30th. For more information about Advanced Pastry Studies at ICE, visit: http://ice.edu/professional-development/advanced-pastry-studies