Gum paste flowers, when done correctly, can look just like the real thing. I have heard that Wilton gum paste wilts in humid environments so I used Nicholas Lodge’s recipe for gum paste that holds up better in humidity. You can get his recipe here, but briefly:
To make 2 pounds of gum paste, beat 4 large egg whites in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for 10 seconds on high speed. Reduce the speed to low and add all but 1 cup of a 2-pound bag of 10x powdered sugar. At this point, you’ll have a soft consistency royal icing. Continue to beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, measure out 12 level teaspoons of Tylose powder (available at Country Kitchen Sweet Art or Confectionery House). Make sure your mixture is at the soft peak stage and is shiny. If you’re coloring the entire batch, you can add paste color now (ex: Wilton colors), but make it a shade darker than you want the final product. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the Tylose powder. Then, turn the mixer to high for a few seconds to thicken the mixture. Scrape out the mixer contents onto a work surface that has been sprinkled with the reserved powdered sugar. Grease your hands and knead the extra powdered sugar into the dough until it is soft, but no longer sticky. Place the dough in a zip-top bag inside another zip-top bag and let it “mature” in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Before using the dough, allow it to come to room temperature for easier handling. This dough will keep in the refrigerator for 6 months or it can be frozen.
To create the gum paste flowers, I loosely used Nicholas Lodge’s protocol. Here is a photo of a few of the tools you’ll need, which include aluminum foil, plastic wrap or a practice board (Wilton), petal dust (I used Rose for the edges of the petals and Hunter Green for the leaves), 26 guage wire, soft foam (Wilton), a flower veining set, a Cel Board (available at Country Kitchen Sweet Art among other places), a tulip petal cutter, a ball and veining tool (I used Wilton’s), a small knife, and a small rolling pin.
International Sugar Art sells the Parrot Tulip petal cutter, but I decided to make my own. To do so, I purchased thin aluminum flashing from my local hardware store. It comes in a roll that’s is about a foot tall so I cut 1-inch wide strips from it. I used pliers to shape the petal and then double-sided tape to hold it in place.
The Cel Board is designed so that there are small grooves onto which you should roll your gum paste. Roll the gum paste until it is almost thin enough to see the slight outline of that groove. The thinner you roll the gum paste, the more realistic the flower will look. After you roll your gum paste over the grooves, you can cut out your petal shapes as it is or flip over the piece of gum paste so you can see the ridges. In this picture, I have flipped the gum paste over so the ridges are now facing up. This will help you to line up the petal correctly. When you cut out the petal, be sure that the ridge is centered and the tallest/thickest part of the ridge should be at the base of the petal. The ridge will not reach the length of the petal, but that’s ok. Cut out 3 petals using this method and store them under the clear flap on the practice board or just under some plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
Cut a 4-inch length of wire and dip the end into egg whites. The egg whites will act like a glue and hold the wire in place inside the petal. Place the petal on the edge of the cell board and slide the wire into the ridge. This takes a little practice until you learn how to guide the wire blindly up the petal. Insert the wire at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches into the petal, without letting the wire come out of the petal on either side. After the wire is inserted, work the gum paste at the base of the petal to make sure it is formed around the wire nicely.
Place the petal on the petal veiner with the ridge facing up. Using the soft foam, press the gum paste onto the veiner. You will only vein one side of the petal because a) that looks more realistic and b) if you tried to vein both sides, you would mess up the original veining.
Place the petal onto the soft foam with the ridge facing up. Using the ball tool, gently thin the edge of the petal as you would for making fondant/gum paste roses. Tulip petals are not usually very ruffled, so try not to add too many ruffles when you’re thinning the edges.
For this next step, Nicholas Lodge recommends forming some aluminum foil around a large serving spoon to create the correct shape. I prefer forming it in the center of my cupped hand because you get a little more curve and shape in the petal. After shaping your aluminum foil by whichever method you choose, place the petal on it and allow it to dry completely. Once the petal is dry, brush the edges with Rose petal dust if you want to add a little more color.
Next, take a 12-inch long peice of 18-gauge wire and begin wrapping one end with green floral tape. Wrap the end about 5 times and then create a hook with pliers. Wrap that spot 5 more times and then continue down the wire so that the entire wire is covered with green floral tape.
Dip the thick end of the wrapped wire in egg whites and place a dime-sized ball of white gum paste on it. Shape this into a tear drop about 1 inch long with the wider part at the end of the wire so the wire is not visible. Using tweezers, squeeze the thick part of the teardrop into 3 sections to form the pistol of the tulip. Let dry overnight.
Each tulip has at least 6 stamen. You can buy fake stamen or be ambitious and make your own! To make the, take a 2-3 inch lengh of 26-guage wire and dip the end into egg whites. Place a small ball of yellow gum paste onto the end and form it into a thin snake on the end of the wire. Using tweezers, pinch the snake into 4 sections all the way down its length. Let dry overnight. Once they are dry, use green floral tape to attach all 6 stamen equally spaced around the white pistol. I also added 2 more 18-gauge wires to add stability and bulk to the stem.
In this photo, I’m showing you the plyers/wire cutters, 18-gauge wire, petal dust, and scissors I used. Along the top, you can see the stages of the flower assembly (left to right): the green floral-taped wire, the pistol on the wire with the stamen drying on the side, the stame attached to the pistol, the first 3 petals attached, the final tulip.
After you’ve dried and colored the 3 wired petals, use floral tape to attach them to the flower stem in a triangular shape. Then, roll out the gum paste over a flat surface and cut out 3 more petals. Put these petals under the practice board flap or plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. One at a time, press each petal into the petal veiner and thin the edges like before. Brush a little bit of egg whites on the inside of the petal and “glue” the petal onto the flower-in-progress so that this petal sits between 2 other petals. Do the same with the other 2 petals and let the flower dry overnight. The next day, brush the edges of the new petals with Rose petal dust and the bases of the petals (both inside and outside) with Hunter Green petal dust.
To make the tulip leaves, roll green gum paste over the longer ridge on the Cell Board. I just used a pizza cutter to free-hand cut the leaves, but you could also make/buy a cutter. Dip an 18-gauge wire into egg whites and insert it into the ridge like you did for the petals. To vein the leaves, you can create lines by pressing the end of a ruler against the gum paste multiple times. I found a corn husk veiner and that worked perfectly! I brushed up the center of each leaf with Hunter Green petal dust. Pose the leaf how you like it and allow it to dry over night.
I know the whole process sounds complicated, but once you get into the groove, you can make 20 flowers at once! It’s time consuming, but very worth it when people tell you they can’t believe they’re sugar! Good luck!