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Creating Sugar Showpieces with Isomalt..

Creating complex and beautiful sugar work showpieces, whether for display or competition requires a wide range of pastry skills in addition to creativity and artistic vision. Whether you are a professional pastry chef , or a pastry student or an aspiring confectioner , with focus on color , shapes, proportion, theme and the processes of design and assembly, you can create your own stunning full scale showpieces with passion, patience . Among the best practitioners of this art in the world, Chef Ewald Notter expresses “though edible showpieces and displays have graced the tables of banquet halls and lobbies of high- end restaurants, hotels and country, the last several years have seen a revolution in this most unique form of the confectioner’s art”. Since the development of Isomalt as an ingredient, confectioners can now create sugar that is as clear as glass and ideal for more delicate and complex designs .

Isomalt., is the popular name for Isomaltitol which is a sugar substitute made from beet sugar. It is available in a wide range of particle sizes, from granules to powder.. Despite its natural origins, the compound is generally considered artificial, at least in so far as it has been extensively chemically manipulated. It is most commonly used in commercial food manufacturing, and items that contain it can be labeled “sugar free.” It has also been shown to extend the shelf-life of certain products, which has led to its widespread use as a preservative.It is perfect for sugar sculpture and candy-making as it creates a more humidity- and moisture-resistant product. Also, it naturally resists crystallization so the addition of an acid or an anti-crystallization agent isn't necessary during boiling.

The density and viscosity of boiled Isomalt solutions are similar to that of sugar; however; Isomalt has low hygroscopicity, even lower than sugar. This is a good alternative to sugar for production of showpieces.

The compound has a much more complex chemical composition than does natural sugar. Its official molecular formula is C12H24O11, and it is a bonding of two independent disaccharides with a crystalline structure. It is used in the weight loss and diabetic food industries. Isomalt is unique among replacement sugars because it retains almost all of the physical properties of real sugar with added benefits for sugar artists, cake decorators and pastry chefs. These benefits include:

   - Increased resistance to humidity

   - Better resistance to crystallization (clouding)

Chefs, sugar artists and confectioners have found that Isomalt has many advantages over sugar especially when making showpieces, cake decorations, dessert garnishes and candy. Unlike conventional sugar, Isomalt is much more resistant to humidity and crystallization so decorative elements made with it have a longer shelf life and structural integrity. Because of its superior workability, Isomalt is used almost exclusively in televised food competitions and culinary art salons where professionals create dramatic showpieces and decorative cake ornaments to the delight of audiences world wide.

Many chefs and professional food decorators use isomalt for aesthetic purposes. It is very popular in cake garnishes and most of the confections made for television competitions, wedding shows, and other public displays use the substitute because of how glossy it looks and how quickly it sets up. It is highly resistant to humidity, and is typically very easy to work with and mold.

Rules for cooking ISOMALT:

1. Use distilled water. The minerals in tap water can turn brown when exposed to elevated temperatures but because there is so little of these minerals it is perceived as a yellowing effect.

2. Add only enough water to make the Isomalt look like wet sand. Approximately six ounces by weight for every three pounds of Isomalt.

3. Use stainless steel pots and stainless steel utensils for stirring. Do not use a wooden spoon. Foreign materials in the wood leach out into the Isomalt which can turn the mixture yellow.

4. Do not cook less than three pounds of Isomalt at a time. Cooking small amounts of Isomalt creates too shallow a depth of material which can cause hot spots in your mixture and lead to premature yellowing.

5. Cook Isomalt on an appropriately sized burner. Electric burner should be slightly smaller than bottom of pot. When cooking with gas, flame should not creep up the side of the pot and remain on the bottom of the pot only. These precautions prevent overheating of the sides of the cooking pot which can cause premature yellowing. Using an induction range is the best way to cook Isomalt because it delivers heat only to the bottom of the pot.

6. Do not use a natural bristle brush to wash down the sides of the pot once Isomalt comes to a boil. Use a nylon pastry brush. There are a host of chemicals and conditioning agents in the natural bristles that can turn your Isomalt yellow.

7. Test your candy thermometer. Many of them read inaccurately. Test by bringing water to a boil and inserting thermometer and observe the temperature is shows. It should read 212 degrees F. at sea level.

8. Cook Isomalt to 338 degrees F. Take off heat at about 333 degrees and place bottom of pot in water to stop the cooking process. Allow the pot to stay in water only until the hissing stops. About 5 seconds.

9. Place Isomalt in a 275 - 300 degree oven and let rest for 15 minutes. You will have no bubbles and pure, clear liquid sugar to pour all day.

10. Isomalt can easily be colored. Add the coloring toward the end, when the temperature reaches 280 degrees F. for sugar work. When adding flavoring, add it after cooking has been completed.

11. Allow unused Isomalt to cool and store in a microwave safe container with a tight fitting lid or multiple layers of plastic wrap. Place a silica gel packet on top of Isomalt before closing container. You can store cooked Isomalt in this manner for months and perhaps as long as a year.

12. Never store cooked or uncooked Isomalt in a refrigerator or freezer. The high humidity will ruin and even dissolve finished sugar pieces.

Uses as a Sweetener

By far the most common use of isomalt is as a sweetener in “sugar free” candies, cough drops, and other commercially-prepared foods. Food manufactures can often achieve the same sweetness with the compound as they could with sugar, but without the blood sugar and caloric concerns. This is not to say that the substitute is completely without calories — it contains roughly half the calories of sugar. As a result, it's not used in zero calorie products. It doesn't cause tooth decay in the way that regular sugar does, though, and some toothpastes use it to improve taste without promoting cavities.

It is sometimes blended with other non-sugar sweeteners like sucralose to give it approximately the same sweetness as sugar, though it does not bake or react as sugar would. It does not caramelize as quickly, for example, nor does it look or taste quite the same. Some forms that are sold for baking are actually quite bitter. The compound is often treated with a chemical known as acesulfame potassium to granulate it, which can give it an undesirable taste when consumed on its own.

Uses as a Preservative

The substance has also been shown to prolong shelf life and is sometimes used in breakfast cereals, crackers, and bakery products like breads and muffins. It tends to stabilize other ingredients, and can stave off mold and spoilage; it may also help keep dry goods fresh and crisp for longer.

Publish Date : 18-November-2013

Submitted by : Arti Thapa, Teacher, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Hotel Management, Gurdaspur

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