When Icing Images gave out small free samples of their new DecoGel product at the Frosting Creators of San Antonio’s Day of Sharing in May, I lost count of how many people came up to me to ask if I knew anything about it. That’s because I’m well known in cake decorating circles for having pioneered the use of gummy as a cake decorating medium, particularly using homemade gummy candy in basic translucent, opaque, or clear varieties.
I first put homemade gummy candy on a cake for the 2010 Austin cake show (the beads around the bottoms of the tiers of my First Place Showcake “Space by Spacewest” entry) and then stumped the judges at the 2011 Austin show when I used panels of it to create a water tank and coatings of it on fondant to simulate an explosion on my Wolverine Fangirl Ultra-Cake. I’ve since received the first ever Innovator’s award at the Austin cake show for my gummy techniques as well as a special Gelatin award at the most recent show (which I still haven’t blogged about yet, sorry…I blame everything on the fact that I have a baby!). Plus my Flexible, Edible Stained Glass ebook has been featured on CakeFu, mentioned in one of Mike McCarey’s Craftsy classes, and sold around the world.
In other words, for some time now when cake decorators want to know about gummy techniques, I’ve been the go-to person to ask. I’ve even been given the nickname “The Gummy Queen”. So it wasn’t surprising that a new gummy-like product would have people asking me if it works with my techniques.
I contacted Icing Images and they were kind enough to send me some larger samples to test with my stained glass methodology. I had to vary the technique a bit from the ebook because one of the main properties of DecoGel is that it doesn’t dry out, so you can’t make the leathery sheets that I typically recommend for the stained glass technique. But as mentioned in the ebook, you can make fused stained glass pieces with fresh gummy sheets if you’re careful and alter a few steps, so I pretended the DecoGel was fresh gummy for the purposes of testing.
The first thing I noticed about DecoGel before my free samples even arrived is that it is much more expensive than homemade gummy. An 8oz tub of DecoGel (about 1 cup or 236ml) costs $16.99 plus shipping from the US store. You can make about the same volume of homemade basic gummy for the cost of one box of gelatin dessert mix (ie Jell-O or store brand) and four envelopes of unflavoured gelatin, all for about $2 or less depending on brands or local grocery store prices. The other two recipes I provide are similarly inexpensive, using a can of sweetened condensed milk for the opaque recipe and some corn syrup for the clear recipe.
But where DecoGel beats homemade gummy is convenience and shelf stability. The samples I received have an expiry date of February 2016 – that’s almost two years away, even kept at room temperature – and it is expected to stay soft and usable for that entire time. Homemade gummy will get moldy after three or four days at room temperature unless it is dried, but then it is more leathery and over about six months will become brittle.
Homemade gummy needs to be mixed, cooked, and then warmed and cooled repeatedly to get all of the bubbles to rise to the surface. At that point you can either remove the foam or work around it. DecoGel takes care of all of that work for you; a busy decorator could have a stock of every colour, grab what they need quickly, and start working on their actual piece instead of spending time cooking the stuff to begin with.
Icing Images offered me two colours to test, so I requested the Green and Clear so I could make a floral stained glass piece, using the Green for leaves and the Clear to test as a base for mixing other colours. I whipped up a simple pattern that any reader is welcome to use as well:
Normally you can microwave DecoGel in the containers it comes in, but my samples were marked as having been compromised in shipping (the tubs had cracks) so they weren’t for consumption or direct microwaving. So I pulled the DecoGel out of the container (it came out really easily) and microwaved it in a bowl for 20 seconds at a time on 60% power until it was mostly liquified. Then I gently mixed it until the remaining lumps melted.
The first thing I noticed was that it was very thin and runny compared to my basic homemade gummy. Then I noticed that it has a slightly unpleasant smell, which plain gelatin has as well. However, the gelatin smell in homemade gummy is completely overridden by the gelatin dessert flavour scent. My husband and I tried a bit of the edible DecoGel sample I got from the Day of Sharing, and agreed that the flavour was “meh”. Not horrible, but nothing we’d seek to eat. Homemade basic gummy is, by contrast, quite tasty.
Because I was unsure how the DecoGel would spread, I placed the pattern (which I resized to 6 inches) under a clear texture mat and simply poured it from the bowl wide enough to cover the parts of the pattern that required that colour, plus a bit extra. I generally recommend using a baster to apply homemade gummy to texture mats and molds because this allows you to get under any floating foam on top and suck up the ultra-clear stuff on the bottom of the pot. It turns out that using the baster also reduces bubbles forming on the texture mat, plus you can readily suck up any bubbles that do appear. So whether you’re using homemade stuff or DecoGel, I recommend using the baster method if you want to get bubble-free sheets.
Remember that any warm gelatin medium can be heated beyond what a plastic texture mat or chocolate mold can take. To avoid damage to your mats and molds, be sure to cool homemady gummy or DecoGel enough that it’s mildly warm to touch but not hot!
Next I warmed up the Clear DecoGel and put a portion in a separate bowl, and then added a single drop of Americolor Electric Yellow Gel.
As I began to mix the colour, I was extremely impressed with how easily and quickly it blended into the DecoGel, much more easily and uniformly than with my homemade basic recipe, where gel colours sometimes break up into lots of little globs that need to be vigorously mixed to fully blend them in. Of course sometimes when I mix colour into my basic recipe, I’m deliberately trying to create marbled colours (such as the wood grain, water, and plant effects on my Lady of Shalott piece). So if your goal is to mix your own uniform colour, DecoGel makes this easy. If you want to marble with DecoGel, you’ll have to handle it very, very gently.
The next stage in my typical Flexible, Edible Stained Glass technique usually involves cutting out the pattern pieces, placing them on the dried sheets of gummy, tracing around them with edible ink marker, and then cutting out the pieces with a sharp x-acto blade (see the ebook for details). I know from experience that edible ink bleeds into fresh gummy but does not do so on dried sheets, and I wasn’t sure if it’d bleed on DecoGel or not. I also wasn’t sure if the paper pieces would stick to the DecoGel and/or mar the surface, the way they probably would with fresh gummy. So instead I placed the pattern under a clear cutting board and cut the solidified DecoGel sheets I’d poured on the various texture mats right over the pattern.
Note that this methodology coupled with the floppier nature of either a fresh gummy sheet or DecoGel can make precice cuts more difficult than with dried sheets. On the flip side, it’s a lot easier on the wrist to let a sharp x-acto blade glide easily through fresh gummy or DecoGel compared to pulling it through a dried gummy sheet. So the net result is faster, easier pieces but with less precision. That’s no big deal for a simple pattern such as this one, but intricate geometric patterns may take an extra degree of caution.
Also note that if you’re cutting directly over the pattern, you still have to leave space for the “leading” portion of the stained glass, as covered in the ebook.
Once I had all the pieces cut, trimmed as necessary, and arranged on another fairly smooth work surface, I tinted some of the Green DecoGel black with some Americolor Super Black gel, and then followed the standard technique laid out in the Flexible, Edible Stained Glass ebook for applying the “lead” portion, including mounting a #4 tip to my baster (which is shown in step-by-step photos in the ebook). The DecoGel stays fluid longer than my homemade gummy, which made it trickier to control during this phase but also meant I didn’t have to keep the tipped baster in a glass of hot water because the DecoGel didn’t solidify and clog the tip at all through the entire assembly. That’s a great feature!
It is then very easy to use an x-acto blade to trim the outer border and voila, a DecoGel version of Flexible, Edible Stained Glass!
Unfortunately, there is a significant downside to using DecoGel for this technique: unlike with my homemade version, the DecoGel does not fuse to itself. Simply moving this small piece carefully from the work surface to the white surface for photography produced a tear between sections:
I poked gently at some other pieces and they started coming out easily as well.
I set the piece aside for 48 hours and then tried again to see if maybe it just needed some time to fuse. After all, I know that if you accidentally drip some fresh homemade gummy on a dried sheet, the solution is to immediately pop the whole thing in the fridge until it sets up, then carefully remove the fresh bit from the dried bit. It will peel off, although it usually mars the surface a little bit. But if you leave that drip on the sheet overnight, it takes cutting to get it off.
However, even 48 hours later the DecoGel had not fused together and easily came apart. I was able to pop all of the “glass” pieces out of the “lead”, leaving a net behind:
This doesn’t mean you can’t do the technique with DecoGel. You absolutely can. You simply need to keep this fragility in mind when planning your design. A design comprised of a few medium-sized pieces that is then placed carefully on the top of a cake should work fine. Mounting on the side of a cake may present more difficulties; I would recommend only applying it to firm fondant with a thorough coat of piping gel, ensuring that the stained glass is supported along the bottom so it doesn’t slide down and tear from its own weight.
But I would not recommend DecoGel for multi-layer stained glass pieces with joining parts such as my Elemental Gummy cake. That piece involved fusing multiple layers together and lifting them around the cake. A DecoGel version would have fallen apart. Large pieces without support may also tear themselves apart.
Another caveat: using dried sheets of homemade gummy prevents colour bleeding, as mentioned above. This allows for drawing with edible ink markers (as with the Lady of Shallot’s face), painting with gels (as with the motifs on the Lady’s blanket), or even airbrushing. Although I didn’t test edible ink markers specifically with DecoGel, I noticed that the black from the “leading” had started to bleed into the “glass” pieces after the 48 hour test:
This means that since DecoGel can’t be dried – which is good for some applications and general longevity of the product – it probably isn’t well suited for markers, painting, and airbrushing. I’ve seen some lovely work with DecoGel applied over Icing Images so I know it works well for that without bleeding, but I would not risk a stained glass piece where painting is required unless it’s going to be delivered and served in less than 24 hours.
Thus you can use DecoGel to make stained glass as long as you keep the above points in mind. Here’s a chart summarizing the various benefits compared to my three homemade gummy recipes:
|DecoGel||Basic Gummy||Opaque Gummy||Clear Gummy|
|Can Be Dried for Stability/Fusing/Painting||x||x||x|
|Easy/Uniform Mixing of Added Colour||x||x|
|Easy Marbling of Added Colour||x||x||x|
|Fuses Well To Itself||x||x||x|
|Holds Heat/Stays Liquid Longer||x|
Generally speaking, if you’re a busy professional decorator who sells a lot of cakes and you want a flexible medium on hand and ready to dispense in minutes, get yourself some DecoGel. If you’re a home baker who primarily makes cakes for your kids, bake sales, or other casual needs, stick with homemade gummy.