The past couple weeks have been a rush of preparations for me. Doing minor home-improvements, cleaning the house, planning the food, the flowers, the music… and of course, the cake! Just seven more days until The Family arrives, here to celebrate my and The Fiancé’s marriage. Technically it isn’t a ‘wedding’ – more of an engagement party – but there will be a huge white cake (courtesy of yours truly) so if that doesn’t make it a wedding I don’t know what does!
Of course, when I decided to make my own wedding cake I didn’t think about simple or easy… I thought about flowers. Sugar flowers, to be prescise, decking every tier of the cake. So, I bought what I needed and I set to work making them – because that’s the way I roll.
I chose calla lilies because they’re my favorite flower. I find the flow of their simple shape so elegant, not to mention they come in a wide range of colors – including ‘our’ color, purple. As a happy bonus, they happen to be one of the easiest flowers to make by hand.
(Please forgive the barely-helpful photos – this is a one-woman operation, here!)
1.) Here’s what you’ll need
2. A Celboard, matt, or other clean, flat surface to work on
3. Plastic fondant/gumpaste rolling pin
4. Heart-shaped cookie cutters (these are optional, but we’ll get to that later)
5. Fondant shaping foam
6. Petal veiner (this is a mold that presses realistic veins into the petals, and isn’t necessary if you don’t want it)
7. Paper cone cups – like the ones dispensed next to a water cooler
8. Gumpaste ball tool, & mini pallet knife (these tools can be bought individually, but are both available in Wilton’s basic gumpaste tools kit – you may find some of the other tools useful as well)
9.Floral wire/tape (I use 20 gauge wire)
10. Green floral wet-foam block
11. Food-safe Color Dust/Petal Dust, in whatever colors you want (note that Pearl dust/Luster dust is sparkly, while color/petal dust is a matt finish – feel free to use what you like)
12. Clean craft brushes, for painting
13. Vegetable shortening
14. “Sugar glue” (approx. 1 part gumpaste dissolved into 1 part hot water – adjust the ratio to create a thick syrup that can be used to ‘glue’ pieces together)
15. Semolina flour or cornmeal (optional – mixed with yellow color dust, this creates the look of pollen along the stamen of the flower)
16. Flower drying rack (or clothes hangers, in a safe and out-of-the-way place)
It sounds like a lot, but don’t be too overwhelmed - the process is really quite simple!
First, we start by making the center stamen (the yellow pollen-holding part of the flower).
2.) How to make the stamen
Throughout this entire tutorial, I will repeat again and again that the most useful thing you can do is to look at real flowers, or photographs of real flowers. This helps to make them realistic in shape, and to know how to paint them when that time comes.
Calla lily stamen are usually quite long and narrow. The size you’ll want yours to be depends on the size of the heart-shaped cutter you plan to use. For now, let’s assume you’re using a 3″ heart cutter.
For your first lily, I’d recommend making the stamen approximately half the length of your cutter – so in this case, 1.5″ long, give or take. Once you get more accustomed to making the flowers, you can decide what size ratio you prefer.
Always begin with clean, dry hands, and a prepared work surface (everything you need within reach).
Start by taking a small ball of gumpaste (perhaps a little smaller than a ping-pong ball) in your hand. Rub a small amount of vegetable shortening between your hands, and begin massaging the gumpaste to soften it. Once it’s warmed up and easily pliable, roll it between your palms into a ball.
Lay the ball onto your matt or surface, and begin rolling it out like a snake. Taper one end of the snake, but don’t bring it to a point – just make it narrow. Cut the rope about 1″ – 1.5″ in, and pinch the cut end between your fingers to make another, more abrupt, taper – this end will fit into the bottom of the flower.
Be sure to immediately place the excess gumpaste back into the sealed gumpaste bag, or as I do, putting it into the (closed) tub of shortening. Gumpaste will dry out quite quickly, and needs to be kept airtight when it isn’t being used.
Dip one end of a floral wire into your sugar-glue mixture, and then carefully insert it into the bottom (pinched) end of the stamen. The wire only has to go in about 1/4-1/2 the length of the stamen – don’t thread it all the way through.
Once the stamen is on the wire, you can use your fingers to give it a very slight curve. I found this to be a much more natural look than keeping it as straight as possible.
If you’d like your stamen to appear as though it has pollen on it, you can pour a mix of semolina flour (or cornmeal) and yellow color dust onto a paper plate (I combine the flour and color in a small container, shake, and then adjust the ratio to achieve the shade I want).
Using your fingers, rub a small amount of the sugar glue all along the stamen, being sure it’s thoroughly coated. Roll the stamen into the yellow mixture.
Once your stamen is finished, stick the wire into the foam block and set it aside to dry 8 hours or overnight. You want to be sure your stamen is completely dry before attaching your flower to it, or else it may slip off the wire.
Here I’ve made several varying sizes, as I will be making some larger and some smaller flowers for my cake.
3.) Making the calla lily petal
Once your stamen is completely dry, begin on the main petal of the flower.
Take about a ping-pong ball sized chunk of gumpaste into your hand. Rub a small amount of vegetable shortening between your hands/knead into the gumpaste to soften it.
Place the gumpaste onto your matt or surface and begin rolling it out just like play-dough. You want to make it fairly thin, but not too thin or it will tear and be impossible to work with. Finding the right thickness will become easier and easier the more you do it – so for now, start with keeping it a little bit thicker than you think it should be, just to stay on the safe side.
After a few passes with the roller, lift and rotate the gumpaste to keep it rolling smoothly and to get a feel for how thin it is. Be careful of air-bubbles trapped underneath it when you lay it down, as these may cause it to wrinkle or tear when you roll it.
Once the gumpaste is thin enough, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out your petal shape. Alternatively, you could use a gumpaste/fondant cutter tool to freehand this. As I began creating more unique-looking, and larger sized, calla lilies, this became my preferred technique. For now, however, let’s stick to the heart-cutter.
Peel away the excess gumpaste, ball it up, and immediately return it to its bag or sealed container.
To shape the petal, there are a few different steps you can take to make it more elegant/realistic.
First, place the heart shape onto the thick pad of foam. Using the ball tool, press along the edges to thin them out even further. You may be surprised by how much pressure you can use here, but for now be gentle. Be sure to work quickly, as the thin gumpaste will begin to dry within a matter of minutes (depending on the temperature and humidity).
Next, you can use a petal veiner to imprint the veins that real flower petals have into our gumpaste. Simply lay the heart shape into one half of the mold, lay the second half on top, and apply gentle, even pressure. The amount of force you can use depends on how thin your gumpaste is, and also on the veiner you’re using – practice will tell, but for now use a gentle pressure and see what the results are like.
To shape the heart into a calla lily, hold it upright in the palm of your hand. Place the narrow end of the cone cup in the center of the heart. Fold one wing of the heart over the cone, and (using the mini pallet knife) apply a small smear of sugar glue. Fold the second wing of the heart over the first one, and press it gently into the glue to secure it. Be careful to keep a small hole open at the top, since this will be where the wire goes.
Once the heart is folded into the shape of a petal around the cup, you can manipulate the edges to give it realistic shape and bends. Looking at real calla lilies will help give you an idea of how this should go. I like to pinch the tip of my petal, and then curl the sides slightly – this is a very basic shape, and as I got better at making them I began to play with the edges more and more, creating waves and ripples and forming a less-perfect, more organic shape. But again, for now we’ll just stick to the basics.
Set your cone cup aside to dry for at least a couple of hours before moving on to the next step.
4.) Putting the stamen and petal together
Once your petal is mostly dry, take your stamen from the foam block and apply a small amount of sugar glue around the base (next to the wire).
Carefully remove your calla lily petal from the cone cup, and thread the wire through the small hole you left when folding the petal. Get the stamen situated where you want it, and be sure the base is in contact with the inner walls of the petal so that it will stick once the glue dries.
Bend a hook shape in the opposite end of the wire, and hang the flower upside down on your drying rack (or a clothes hanger or the like) and allow to dry for 8 hours or overnight.
Viola! You’ve made a calla lily! If you’d like you can leave it here, or you can go ahead and paint it. Even white calla lilies tend to have a little green near their base, or around the edges of their leaves.
5.) Painting the calla lily
Using color dust is a little tricky at first, until you get the hang of it. Because it’s a powder, you’ll want to be careful it doesn’t get anywhere you don’t want it. Also, you may find that the limited color selection doesn’t really have what you want – for me, I ended up mixing pink and purple to find the shade I was going for.
I like to prepare my surface for easy clean-up by laying a few sheets of paper towel over everything before I begin. Color dust will wash off of most surfaces with soap and water, but is best to keep it contained if possible.
Starting on the inside of the flower, where I want my color to be the darkest, I dip my brush into the dry powder and then rub it around. You’ll want to focus on the areas where you want the color darkest, and then feather out to the edges to fade or blend.
When changing to a different color, always use a clean brush. When painting the outside of the flower, try to hold it upright or at an angle (not upside down) so color powder doesn’t fall where you don’t want it. You may need to blow, or gently tap off, excess powder onto your paper towel.
Once your flower looks how you want it, you can leave it as is, or you can steam it. Because the color dust is a powder, it may get on your fingers or anything else that touches it. By lightly steaming the petal, the color sets a little more firmly and is less likely to smudge off.
You can do this (carefully) with a clothes steamer, or over a pot of gently simmering water. Just be sure the water isn’t splashing up out of the pan.
Holding the flower by the wire stem, dangle it above the pot of water so that the steam hits the inside of the flower. Hold it here, moving it slightly so that the steam can get everywhere, for 15-20 seconds. Turn the flower to its side and rotate it around so the outside can get steamed as well – anywhere there’s color.
You don’t want to steam the flower too long, as the gumpaste will become sticky and pliable again – just a few seconds. it will look glossy and wet, and then you’re done. Hang it up to try before handling.
Be very careful not to touch the flower while it’s moist! Touching any of the painted areas will remove the color completely – this can be retouched after the flower has dried, but may not look quite right – better to avoid it all together.
Once your flower is dry, you’re finished! You have a gorgeous sugar flower to show off to your friends, or decorate your next confection with. The wire can be clipped, or you can form a long rope of gumpaste and thread it over the wire to make a stem. If you intend to insert the wire into a cake or other dessert, wrap it well in floral tape first so no metal is in contact with the food.
For transporting the flowers safely, I found a plastic box or tub lined with a thick foam pad worked well. Just be sure to keep it flat, and keep the flowers in a single layer.
The whole process may sound a little tricky at first, but keep in mind that I had never done this before… and after a few days of working on it, I had a growing collection of sugar flowers, and each one was better than the last. If you’re interested in getting into gumpaste, I would recommend starting here – calla lilies are easy enough to get the hang of, but use a lot of the same techniques you’ll need for more complicated things later on.
My white and purple lilies will be appearing this weekend on my wedding cake – photos to come!
I realize my photos aren’t entirely helpful for every step of making these flowers – if you’re planning to make your own sugar flowers, I highly recommend watching tutorials on youtube and learning as much as you can before you begin. The more well-prepared you are, the better! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below.