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Steve Klc

SPECIAL REPORT: 3-day sugar class w/ Anil Rohira

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Special Report: A Look Inside a Professional Sugar Class

Since much of our mission at the eGullet Society is education and sharing information, and we've often discussed the merits of attending pastry school and the role continuing education courses play in our development as pastry chefs, I thought it was natural that we begin to delve a little more deeply into the nuts and bolts of some of this instruction. A few months ago I approached Albert Uster Imports in Gaithersburg, MD, who had just launched a new series of diverse professional classes under the rubric 'Des Alpes University,' and asked if they would set one space aside for an eG member pastry chef to attend and report from the inside, in as close to real time as possible.

Thanks to their generosity and that of their corporate pastry chef Anil Rohira, who developed this new educational program, we're now able to bring you just that: a look inside an introductory 3-day sugar class aimed at working pros, developed and taught by Anil, himself one of the best sugar artists in the world.

Your online guide for this experience will be Lee Blackwood ("simdelish") a veteran eGulleteer and herself a multi-talented pastry chef with a dozen years work experience under her belt who, for the next several days, will chronicle her experiences in the class for us as she's taking it.

A little bit about Anil:

Most people know he assisted the incomparable Ewald Notter for 3 years, but not many know that even before that he was a teaching assistant at the CIA to Joe McKenna, their lead pastry-chef instructor, and that he hung out for 6-8 months after his graduation just to help out on his own time. "I always viewed teaching as another part of learning," Anil said, "but at the CIA I did it just to take advantage of the extra time I had. I had no intention at the time to end up teaching myself." Then came his 3 years with Ewald--and what impressed him most about Ewald was his tireless work ethic: "As a sugar artist and teacher he was already there, at the top, with no need to push himself everyday, but he did anyway. That fact is never lost on me," says Anil. For the past 4 years, Anil has been the corporate pastry chef of Albert Uster, and along the way he has delivered a slew of impressive performances as a sugar artist in competition on the world stage in his own right. But doing well does not inherently translate into teaching well, and Anil now finds himself at what might be called a defining moment for his career--having been asked by Uster to develop and lead their Des Alpes University.

How he sees this particular 3 day hands-on class? "I've done hundreds of sugar demos, but this is the first time for this class--so it's a real test for me. I have two days of basic techniques planned--how to cook sugar, how to cook isomalt, how to use Venuance pearls, the basics of how to pull and cast--but since sugar is such a temperamental medium, I won't really know how far I can go on the third day until I meet the students and get to know them," Anil said. There will only be 8 students in the class: "I'm fortunate that Uster doesn't view these courses as a profit center," Anil lets slip, "because that way I can structure it to be more personal, more comfortable and, hopefully, it will be more educational in the long run." Fresh in his memory was how difficult it was to approach sugar for the very first time himself, and Anil says that "if I convey the basics well and help my students begin to understand the medium, then just like in any other aspect of pastry, where they go with it after the class ends will depend on the effort they continue to put in on their own."

Anil, for the moment, is very fulfilled and he feels "this position could be my last job." He says this despite the travel required, which is 60+ days per year. A much better profile here:


A note about our correspondent:

Lee recently became the Executive Pastry Chef for the new Metropolitan Restaurant in Annapolis, MD where she creates desserts for the Met, as well as two other restaurants, Tsunami and Lemongrass--and somehow she managed to get 3 days off from work for this opportunity, she's been practicing with her digital camera, and she's psyched. Lee also happens to write thoughtfully and well, so she's here for you--it'll be up to all of the eGullet community to determine the direction this thread takes. Take it away Lee, the class starts today, so introduce yourself, for the next 5 days or so this will be your diary but it will also be communal: everyone reading along with some interest please feel free to post, ask questions, etc.

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Lee, is this your first sugar class, or have you taken any sugar classes in the past?

What are your expecations going into the class?

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Thank you Steve. Wow, what an official opening!

"SPECIAL REPORT" --- whoa! sounds like I am in the trenches. Well actually, we were today, in the sugar trenches that is...

Kidding aside, I am so pleased and excited to have this opportunity, and bring it to eG'ers everywhere. As Steve said, there has been much talk lately of schooling, continuing education, professional development, how to stay motivated, and what the real world for a pc is like. Classes such as this one at Albert Uster Imports are a boon to both beginners and pros. There is so much interest not just in basic baking and pastry techniques, but in these specialty techniques as well. Hopefully I can provide not just a glimpse into a professional class, but give you all a perspective of "Is this something I am interested in? Is this something I can use? Is this something I can DO?" as well as "Is this worth it? Will it make me better at my craft? Will it expand my repetoire, and add to my value?" It may also help you decide "No, you know, that's just not my thing. or -- as much as I would LIKE to do that, it really isn't practical in my everyday workplace."

I am open to any and all questions as I take you through this Sugar Course over the next few days. Particularly if it helps you clarify how you can best develop your talents. Even if you are not a pro, but a passionate amateur who wants to try things at home, or maybe just an "armchair traveller" who lives vicariously through our "oh so glamorous" world of pastry :laugh: -- bring it on.

Steve mentioned a new job for me. Approx 8 weeks ago I helped to launch a new restaurant, which has had me burning the candle at both ends. I am thrilled to take this class, as it has re-energized me coming off an intense and exhausting period (at least I HOPE I am coming off my hellish schedule) . I have left behind a brand new assistant and 2 new night crew people, and a stockpile of desserts and prep, which most likely won't last the week while I am gone. My assistant said tonight that she tried calling me several times with questions, but unfortunately (or fortunately -- depending on your view) my cell wouldn't get service deep in the kitchens of AUI. C'est la vie!

so to begin...

Class started bright and early, at 7:30 am at Albert Uster Imports main HQ, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. As I live 45 miles away, and in one of the most traffic-heavy metropolitan areas in the US, and much of that on the infamous Beltway, I left at 6 am, and pulled in the parking lot at 7:25 -- whew! AUI actually requested us to be there by 7:45 (or 7:30 if you wanted to join them for breakfast), so as to PROMPTLY start class by 8 am. I knew not to be late, as the before time and opportunities, getting to meet classmates, getting a good spot up front in the classroom, were important. But most importantly, getting breakfast of the best muesli in the world, along with a freshly ground and brewed coffee, was worth getting up a little earlier! (I am convinced I gained 5 pounds one week several years ago taking another class at the Notter school (formerly next door)-- where breakfast was provided by AUI --) that's when I discovered muesli, and ate 2 bowls every morning. Yum yum. Later, not understanding why my pants were tightening, I asked how they made it -- what did they add to the mix to make it so good? -- I was told they used a quart of cream! (along with a splash of oj, and fresh quartered strawberries.)

Edited by simdelish (log)

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We pause for technical difficulties. I have lots of notes, and even more pictures, all to share with you. But I am having a bit of difficultly uploading the pics to eG; some are coming through, others are not, and all are out of order. Please bear with me. I want to post photos along with my dialogue, so you all can best understand and follow along. If I can't resolve soon, I will hit the sack, and attempt in the morning. You do want me to be fresh and coherant for tomorrow's class, don't you? :biggrin:

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We pause for technical difficulties. I have lots of notes, and even more pictures, all to share with you...  If I can't resolve soon, I will hit the sack, and attempt in the morning.  You do want me to be fresh and coherant for tomorrow's class, don't you?  :biggrin:

Yes yes go to sleep, pictures will keep--hmm, waiting patiently and can't wait all at the same time :rolleyes::laugh:

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Can't wait for the pix and the report, Lee, thanks for doing it.

Get some sleep and enjoy the muesli!

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Wow -- this is exciting. I usually read eG in the morning, but may have to do a midnight drop-in for the next couple days to catch the reports hot off the press.

Thanks, Lee!

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OK Folks, I'm back! It has unfortunately taken me much much longer than anticipated to upload my photos. (Not sure why, I can only upload about 6 at a time, and even then, it always makes me come up with the "time out" page. maybe it's because I am having to live in the dark ages, with dial-up.) Thanks everyone for your patience. I have completed Day One, all my photos are in my (public) album in eG, for those who are interested. I will only post here the most appropriate ones, according to what I report.

Where was I? Oh yes, the muesli! Yum... :wub:

After 3 or 4 of us had breakfast and small talk, off we went to class. Anil Rohira intro'd himself, and his two trusty assistants, Brian and Amanda. All of us were familiar with Albert Uster Imports, as we used their products/ordered from them, so Anil skipped the sales pitch. (Sorry Albert, but he really didn't need to! :biggrin: ) The object of the class, said Anil, was to really learn about sugar, the basics, and the techniques. He wants us to "get it right" -- and not be under pressure to produce some fantasticly large showpiece that we really don't have any immediate use for, or way to take home for that matter. It's more about the techniques, and mastering them, than making the masterpiece. Unlike some other teachers I have had, there does not seem to be the pressure to produce. Yes, we all want to have something to show for our time, and we will, Anil assured us, but more importantly, he wants us to relax, breathe, focus, and learn... without the STRESS we all have back home in our jobs, that which we are trying oh-so-hard to forget about! That objective, we all agreed, was a good one: learn the techniques, and enjoy our time in class. Sounds great!

Our first day will cover basics of sugar, it's properties, how to boil it, etc, and in the afternoon we will start pulling. Day Two will cover design basics: theory, concept, movement, flow and color, -- that we need to understand in putting together anything, be it a competition showpiece, a small amenity for a VIP customer in our hotels and restaurants, or even just simple but effective decoration for a cake. The third day, Anil is not sure what we're doing entirely, I think. He really didn't specify, because I think he wants to see how we do the first 2 days, and see how competent (or imcompetent!) we are. It's not that he's unorganized, I believe he is really approaching this wisely. That's partly why I think we are all so relaxed around him, there's not this tight schedule to keep. He is so easy-going in his teaching manner, that I think we will all be more inclined not to be so frustrated if we don't get it right away. Does that make sense? I have had other classes, where the syllabus is planned out, to the minute! Then you are worrying that others are ahead of you, and then you need to hurry and catch up, and you miss "getting it" because you are stressed, and trying not to hold up class. Not here, which really lets us concentrate on the project at hand.

Enough of the chitchat, here's the layout of the place: the view when you come into the kitchen at Albert Uster HQ. Looking at the front left of the room....


and once you enter the room, looking right...


Believe me, it's quite a kitchen. AUI doesn't fool around, they do things first rate. The big central island is marble topped, and HUGE. They have every gadget, every appliance, every tool, anything you could possibly need. Some things I recognize of course, others, I can figure out, but have never personally used. And, the tools to match. As assistant Brian says, "after working here, this place will spoil you to work anywhere else!" I would add, after learning how to do something here, it will spoil you to try to produce it again in another place!

Looking the other way into the large room, are our stations -- eight of them. Across the back of the room are office cubicles, for Anil's work, I assume.


Here's my station


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Not to sound negative, or defeatist, but sugar is VERY temperamental, and therefore, can be very frustrating. It's not like marzipan, gumpaste, doughs or batters, or even chocolate: things like time, temperature and environment all have an impact on sugar. You can't throw it back in the fridge to chill it, you can't wrap it up, and come back later. You can't go answer the phone. Because it is so temperamental, it's important to properly create the medium first -- get it the right consistency. And, working with sugar is like learning anything really, practice makes perfect. You have to put in the time, Chef says, you must learn the medium, and develop the relationship with it. He compared it to, of all things, JAIL! Yes, that's right. He asked if any of us had ever gone to jail... :shock: and we all looked around worriedly, not really understanding what he was getting at. But then, in his calm and logical manner, Chef explained..."you have to do the time." :wink:

Sugar is hydroscopic, remember -- that means it has an affinity for water, in otherwords, it absorbs moisture. Our job this week is a tough one. It's August, and it's Washington, D.C. If you have never experienced August in DC, (and I don't really reccommend it :sad: ) let's just say, it's swamp-like. (Between the close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, and the fact that DC was built up literally on a swamp, the general climate right now is haze, humidity upwards of 90-95%, no breeze or circulation, just a thick cloud of mugginess hanging in the air. AUI does an incredible job (with 2 different dehumidifiers in the quite coolly airconditioned room, along with apparently an awesome SUPER-SEALED hood ventilation system :wink: ) of keeping their kitchen quite dry. Every so often we check (actually it's handy-dandy Brian who checks) the humidity in the room, and it's definitely under 50%, around 45 or 47% I believe. It makes an incredible difference in what we can accomplish -- which is paramount to mastering the techniques. That way, we're not having to deal with or stress over the sugar not behaving. If you can control the humidity, you're halfway there. Afterall, when you put all the time and effort into creating a sugarpiece, you want it to last as long as it realistically can. It really hurts to know it will only last a few hours, or worse yet, end up a sticky puddle the next morning.

We discuss methods of keeping sugar, and trade stories of humidity, pieces not carefully structured, and what happens, but also how best to prevent disaster. Chef insists if you start with properly made (boiled) sugar, you can eliminate many of those disaster-causing factors.

So, first and foremost in our class: the proper way to boil sugar, to get it RIGHT, so everything else will be much easier. Chef makes two different batches of sugar. One, a more common recipe, with ingredients easily found in the grocery store, and the other, with harder-to find ingredients, and we will work with them both, and see for ourselves which we prefer.


The point illustrated, of course, is that anyone really CAN do this, given the time, knowledge of proper techniqes, and practice. Yes, in class we have fancy boxes that have heat lamps and platforms for warming sugar, and other tools, but Chef proceeds to show us over the next few days in this class several things that look fantastic, but really are simple, and can be done with a minimum of special equipt. If you have sugar, water, and cream of tartar in your pantry, and are mindful of what you do, you too can do this.

We talk about the variables: the type of sugar, the type of water, the type of heat, the kind of acid, the reason for glucose, the difference in temperature, how you mix, how long it cooks,... LOTS of factors can affect your end result.

Let's start: It's important to add the water first, mix thoroughly, and bring to a boil slowly, and skim the impurities.


You also want to keep the sides clean, to keep crystalization at a minimum.


Here, it's looking much better, just a little bit of crystals on the side of the pan.


and we add the glucose, and crank up the heat.

We also learn all about acid, and the way it affects boiling sugar. Depending on which recipe (cream of tartar, or tartaric acid) you use, determines when you add the acid to the mix. Since we are making both versions, the common version gets the acid early, because it can cook longer, and in the pro version we add it later.

Once it's come to a boil, you can add color if you like. Chef reccommends powder colors, to keep better control of the pH. (pH affects your results!) Some liquid or paste colors have alcohol, acid, oils, all things you don't want in your mixture.


Watching the temp, waiting for it to come up to 160 -165 degrees Celcius.


and then it's poured out onto a silpat




and now we start to just flip up the edges, to start to pull it into a mass, but it's VERY hot, so you must go slow, and just go all the way around the perimeter, a little bit at a time.





and you finally can pull it a bit with your hands to lighten the color, and make it more opaque. We can finally cut it into more manageable pieces...



and a piece goes under the heat lamp until it's needed.

Next up: what to do with the sugar, now that you've properly cooked and prepared it.

(I'm still having some difficulty with the images, so sorry. But again, after trying to fool with this for the last several hours, it's time to hit the sack. I promise to catch you up, and I have wonderful photos! More tomorrow.)

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Hi Lee, this report is so interesting, I hope you have time soon to add more. What a great opportunity to learn from such an artist. I'm jealous. Holding my breath until then. Marilyn

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I've thought about taking Anil's class. I had the good fortune to take a Sugar Showpiece class with him last month at the World Pastry Forum, and I've got to say, he is a FANTASTIC teacher. (And, a really nice guy.) His ability to break down the concepts of showpiece design make it so approachable.

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Oh, hurry back, I just can't stand it! This is so fasinating to see. My dream is to master pulled and blown sugar and at some point I will! Did Chef touch on the use of Venuance Pearls at all? Just curious as to how those work compared to sugar. Thank you for taking the time to upload all these wonderful pictures!


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Here I am. So sorry. My computer crashed Thursday night... I wrestled with it most of the evening, finally gave up and then took it off Friday to get RUSH fixed over the weekend. Unfortunately, we also had some tragic news Sunday -- one of my daughter's friends (a 16 yr old boy) was killed by a drunk driver over the weekend, and so we are mourning the loss, and trying to help the kids cope. I picked up my laptop today after the funeral, and need to reload most photos, and other stuff to get back on track asap. Please accept my apologies for my absence on-line. Many great things to show and tell!!! I will continue my dialogue, just as if I am going through the class this week.

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The class size at AUI's Des Alpes University is wonderfully small -- a maximum of eight. The class I am in is quite varied: participants who have travelled from both far and near, from large resorts, down to small business owners. In order to protect and honor their privacy, I thought I'd refrain from using anyone's names, and just use their first initial if mentioning them in this thread... but wouldn't you know it... we have several all with the same letter. So I will just introduce them by their first names: David, Drew, Daniel, Devlin, Ed, Bob and Burghardt (all the way from Germany, could you tell? :laugh: ). Among our group are corporate PC's, ones from large resorts/hotels, a bakery manager/cake decorator, someone starting up a new business, and even an Executive Chef. Their venues are quite different, but the interest in learning, passion for the culinary arts, and their enthusiasm are not just common, but running high -- in my classmates.

We take our first break from class to introduce ourselves, and tell a little about our place of business, and what we expect/want to do in class. Of course, when it gets to me, Chef says "Don't you want to tell everyone what you are doing?" so then the cat's out of the bag... my cover is blown :shock: ... and everyone knows I'm reporting/writing about the class online. It becomes the running joke the rest of the week: everytime someone starts to tell a juicy or personal story...they stop mid-sentence and look at me worriedly..."Don't you dare repeat this!!!" :shock: :shock: :laugh::laugh:

So... if you eGulleteers want the REAL story, the inside scoop... then you'll just have to sign yourself up! (See guys? I really CAN keep a secret! ) :wink:

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Dear Lee, I am so sorry to hear of all your difficult times. I was thinking something must have happened to keep you away. I'm sure I speak for everyone here at eGullet, take your time getting back to us, we will still be here whenever you are ready. Hugs, Marilyn

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Unfortunately, we also had some tragic news Sunday -- one of my daughter's friends (a 16 yr old boy) was killed by a drunk driver over the weekend, and so we are mourning the loss, and trying to help the kids cope. 

So sorry to hear of such a tragic loss. Please give my sympathy to your daughter and those involved. A few days before my daughter turned 16, her classmate was tragically killed in a head on car crash. He had just turned 16 and was driving his new car following another friend home to spend the night. The friend doubled back looking for him when he did not appear at his house. Came upon the fiery crash. Changed lives forever. Very sorry for your loss. Give yourself some time too.

God bless you all very much.

Love & Prayers,


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Chef begins with some basic advice, like wearing gloves (keeps the sugar clean, so you don't get oils from your hands on the sugar), always cut your piece in two when working with it, so you have a second to revert to, keep your pieces of uniform thickness when under the lamps, etc.


The sugar is actually pretty clear when it has been sitting. Only when you pull it, does it become opaque. The more you pull it (like taffy), the more opaque it becomes, as well as shinier.


When Chef starts to pull small leaves and petals from a batch, the color is lighter than the original, and has a brilliant shine, almost irridescent. The faster it cools, Chef says, the shinnier it will be also. Thinner, cooler, shinnier. (Is that a word? ok, how about "super shiny" :smile: )



you can pull it longer....


and longer....


Chef uses his fingertips only, to pinch a point, pull out to the side a bit, then slides his fingers, and pulls. You don't want to pull a point necessarily, but when you pinch the piece of sugar off-- you have formed a point naturally.

Chef proceeds to show us OVER and OVER how he pulls a thin bit, widens it some, and then pinches it off between the fingers of his left hand, creating a leaf or rather, a pointy petal shape. He quickly produces an entire row of these red jewels...


Chef also shows us a quickie center that we all must make when we return to our stations... a small bit of orange sugar that we shape into something that looks like a golf tee, with little indentations that we cut with scissors.

Then, he attaches each of his red petals upside-down onto the upside-down orange golf tee...let gravity work for you, Chef says. The petals are added by simply waving one tip of the petal over the flame of a lamp filled with de-natured alcohol (it was in the picture of our station set-up -- You'll see it again, I am sure, in another of my photos.) Just enough to warm and slightly melt the tip that you want to attach, and then just stick it on and hold it for a sec. We all have spiffy hair dryers at our stations as well, set into a special base that holds it upside down, and is somewhat adjustable (as to the angle at which it blows). It is also set on COLD, not hot. Whenever you need to get something to attach quickly, and firmly, (and get shiny, too, remember)-- you blow dry the piece.

We are also given a base to attach our flowers to, premade by handy dandy assistant Brian the day before. They look kind of like mutant green spearmint jellies, on steroids.


Off we are sent to make our first flower! We are given a tiny bit of orange, to make our flower centers, a bit of green to make some random leaves, and a larger chunk of a beautiful deep red to start our play with. Chef encourages us to practice, practice, practice. Remember, it is the technique we are trying to get down, not perfection. As we all work, Chef goes around the room, checking on everyone, and performing the same magic for each of us individually -- our own personal demo: pulling a perfect petal for us. We only need 15 he says... Yikes! :shock:

As I start to get friendly and familiar with the sugar, I pull several petals. Some big, some a little too long, some the tips break off before I can pinch them properly. Some just look like aliens. Ok, ok. no problem, I just keep making more and more. I have plenty to work with. However, I start accumulating a "reject pile" -- and chef comes around just then to check my work. "No problem," he says -- "just put your trash in this plastic cup on your station." I sweep my mistakes into it, and forget them, and get back to work. Ahhh, much better now with my place tidied up! :smile:

Ed is at the station behind me. She comments that she too is starting to pile up some mistakes, and wants to be rid of them. So, she comes around to MY table, picks up MY cup, already filled with an inch or two of broken sugar bits, turns to her table, and sweeps HER MISTAKES INTO MY CUP. "Oh, Thanks a lot, Ed" I say kind of snidely... "you just want to look like you have no mistakes, and I have tons!" :laugh:

Puzzled, Ed looks around as others start to laugh. "What do you mean?" she says.

"That's ok," I reply. "Go ahead. Dump your junk in my cup. Make me look bad. But my flower's gonna be better than yours!" I tease her.

"Huh?" she still doesn't understand.

And then, she sees that she has her OWN personal cup on her table... :laugh:

Are we having fun yet???!!!

The trick is, of course, with these darn petals, not just to make them, but to try to make them all THE SAME SIZE... but then, Chef forgets to mention that until later, when we have to assemble them into three separate flowers! I manage to pull some decent looking ones, but they are certainly not similarly-sized. Oh well, nature does have some freaks, doesn't it? :wink:

After we all get enough petals, we attach them to the center, and blow dry cold as we go. Once we get our three finished flowers (5 petals to a flower, altho 6 looks good too -- these are 'fantasty flowers' so it doesn't matter), we attach them to our pre-cast green base. We use the same method: slightly melting the bottom of the stem end of the orange center, and attaching and holding in place, while blowing cold to set the flower rigid on the base. Add a few green leaves,

et voila!


Here's everyone's finished pieces.


Pretty impressive, huh? Well just you wait...

Wait til you see what's up next!

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Lee, is this your first sugar class, or have you taken any sugar classes in the past?

What are your expecations going into the class?

No, this is not my first sugar class. Actually, I took a week-long class several years ago, right next door to Albert Uster Imports, at (then) Susan and Ewald Notter's International School of Confectionery Arts. Interestingly, Ewald had a young, awfully quiet assistant, just out of the CIA... Anil Rohira was his name. :biggrin:

I loved my first class in sugar. At the time, I had my own business doing mostly cakes and other specialty desserts for a very high-end clientele. Ewald is truly a master among masters. I had taken several other classes at the school before I embarked on the sugar adventure. I wanted to be sure of myself, and I (wisely, or rather, helpfully) was familiar with Ewald's style of teaching. It was a very intense class, which moved fast, and we covered a lot of ground. I remember many of my classmates... several were among PAD's 10 Best that year and the following.

I used most of what I learned there, like fruit, flowers (particularly roses on cakes), baskets, etc, for several years thereafter. The only thing I never really had a chance to practice or do was figures. About 4 or 5 years ago, I had to close my business to move (family needs), and fully intended to re-open/start up a new business in my new location. By chance, I guess you could say, I ended up pc'ing in restaurants instead -- where my decorating and advanced skills were not needed. So, unfortunately, I have not done much sugar in the last 4 yrs, only for garnishes for specials, VIP things, and holidays.

I am thrilled to take this class with Anil Rohira, and refresh my skills, and learn new things too. As I have said prior, Chef Rohira is very giving and sharing, and teaches in a relaxed manner. I know I will pick up lots of new techniques from him, as well as polish my rusty skills.

My new job is in a very chi-chi place, with a chef that does beautiful, delicious, and expensive food. I will definitely have much more opportunity to do special showpieces and amenities for private parties and VIP's at the new place, and I fully intend on adding sugar garnishes to my current menu, when we get our kitchen more fully outfitted and settled (and train the p.m. crew how to handle sugar garnishes!).

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Did Chef touch on the use of Venuance Pearls at all? Just curious as to how those work compared to sugar.

Yes, he did. We were all eager to try them out, and know the advantages. But, :sad: that didn't come til Day Three.

I will explain the differences between sugar and Venuance crystals (generic name Isomalt). We ended up using isomalt entirely for the duration of the class. Chef was insistent, (and wisely so) that we learn the original way (that being with sugar), so as to best understand the many factors that can and do influence sugar work (the type of sugar, kind of water, the amount of water, the acid, the type of heat, the pan, the agitation, the length of time cooked, the amount/size of your recipe, as well as the obvious like the humidity of the room). Isomalt (Venuance is AUI's brand name for it) is preferable to sugar, and I believe just about everyone now uses it instead of sugar, because of its favorable characteristics.

Basically, isomalt is a sugar that is treated with enzymes, which changes its molecular structure. The change is structure therefore results in different properties than traditional sugar (cane sugar) would have. Isomalt is less hygroscopic than regular sugar, that is, it's less sensitive to moisture. It also does not caramelize at lower temps like sugar. Isomalt can cook above 200 degrees Celcius and still be clear, not turning amber/caramel colored. Isomalt is also more consistent because the recipe uses only 2 ingredients (isomalt and water) -- so there are less variables which results in less variable results. I think also that isomalt can be used for low sugar requirements, such as for diabetics.

what does all that mean? Isomalt is far easier to use, harder to mess up, and creates a sugar piece that will have better structure, hold up better to moisture, and therefore last longer. That's why the pros use it. If you are going to all that trouble and effort to create a sugar piece, you obviously want it to last as long as possible, and have the least problems.

The Venuance Pearls are another huge notch up the ladder in perfecting the technique/process of creating sugar pieces. Albert Uster is the only one to make these, and I know they worked a long time and at great expense, testing, and effort to produce this amazing product. Basically, the Venuance Pearls are isomalt that is produced in a vacuum, so as to produce a very consistent result. You don't add ANYTHING. You just heat them under your lamp, (or very carefully nuke in the microwave) and use immediately, just as you would after the several hours and mess you might otherwise do/make with regular sugar, or even isomalt crystals, to get to the same point. The Pearls come in clear and primary colors. All you do is mix your Pearls to achieve your custom color. They are simply amazing in convenience. Of course if you are making and need large batches of 'sugar' -- then you would want to just use the crystals and water, and color. But the boon for the Pearls is not just a time factor, but a factor of batch size. Say you just need to make a few quickie garnishes, or you need to create a special, but small piece for a VIP or display table. Just use a handful of Pearls, and you're good to go. No need to make a large batch. They are definitely the thing to have on hand, even just for fun, or emergencies. They are perfect for me --in a restaurant environment, as time and space are usually limited.

Coming up... how to make 'sugar' with Isomalt, and casting techniques (how to make those jelly candy-looking bases, as well as poured bases), and roses! (i also have pics of isomalt and the pearls, so stay tuned.)

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Wow, that is some great information on the isomalt! Thank you so much.

I'm hanging onto every word.

On a side note, I'm very sorry to hear of the tragedy that your family is dealing with. You have my sympathies.

Thanks again,


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After much consternation with uploading photos to ImageGullet, I am back. For some reason, iG only lets me upload about 6 or 7 photos at a time, and each time it takes at least 20 minutes to complete. I have about 250-300 pictures from class that I am picking through...I have finally gotten the first two days into my eG albums, and so now I can continue.

I also must admit a bit of an onslaught at work upon my return. The Washington Post reviewed (favorably, thank goodness, and VERY favorably for my desserts) my restaurant just before I left for this class. The expected slam has been occurring, with our business doubled or more, in the last week. The weekend after I returned, my chef told me we had had our busiest night ever, and the ensuing week (along with my family's personal events) has been record numbers, even tho it is August and much of the town is on vacation. This past Friday was DOUBLE again what we did last Friday when the chef gave me those previous figures upon my return. :blink:


Here's a closeup shot of isomalt in a pan, before melting. It's very white, and very pebble-y, kind of like very coarse sand.


For isomalt, a 10:1 ratio is recommended, isomalt to water. It is set on the induction burner to start heating,over low heat, keeping sides clean.

Once the mass comes to a boil, we turn up the heat and then a thermometer is added until we get to the proper temp 170 degrees C, or 340 degrees F. That takes about 15 minutes.


Before we break for lunch, we watch various stages of several casting techniques. Early in the morning, when we first arrived, the lovely Amanda


was cutting out triangular shapes -- out of neoprene, I think it's called, but I am not sure -- for casting of poured shiny flat bases that we will use to mount our afternoon piece on. Here are the finished cutouts, weighted and ready for sugar to be poured into.


and here we have the actual pouring


Here are the finished bases. They are so shiny and beautiful. The color is actually a very dark purple, although my photos make it look black.


For the casting of the bases I referred to as mutant sugared fruit jellies on steriods (did I say that? :shock: ). Here are the green ones we used under our red flowers


and some orange ones Brian finished that we will use this afternoon:


Brian pours hot sugar directly into a pan filled with granulated sugar. He pokes and prods it to get the shape he wants, and lets it set enough to remove, shape more, and set up (on a silpat).


Here's also a pan readied to make bubble sugar. Another silpat and sheet pan will go on top of it before it goes in the oven. Brian calls it "like spreading chicken feed" which -- of course is a little unusual for a Philly boy to say... :wink:


We'll see how it turns out on our second day.

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We break for lunch, which is held in the same room we met for breakfast. We have ordered out, from a deli, for delivery (AUI picks up the tab) and we relax and get off our feet for a while.

After lunch, we learn the rose. Chef says that if you can master the rose, you are doing well. Many people can pull sugar, pour molds, do freeform things, and even pull fantasy flowers. But doing the rose, and doing it well is another thing altogether.... In class, Chef wants us to understand the steps: the three types of petals that form the rose. Once we understand how to make them, and how to add them to the flower in a lifelike manner, then later we can worry about thinness and shine of the petals. Here Chef is pulling the yellow sugar, in preparation for pulling the petals:


The three parts or stages are:

the center, which is basically a long strip rolled up

the first petals, which usually number three, and are smaller and pointed, and

the rest of the petals, usually either 5 or 7 more.


Chef makes these over and over for us, pulling thin shiny perfect petals, and giving them a slight turn or roll of the edge, and lines them up on the counter. He adds them, in the same manner as the other flower we made in the morning by warming the bottom edge in the flame, and attaching them overlapping to look realistic. Simple, yes? :cool:

Ahhh, the master. You know you are in the presence of one when he makes it look soooo easy, so simple.

And then YOU try… not so easy after all! :shock:

Chef also teaches us a technique called straw sugar. This is basically pulling sugar three times, laying each piece alongside the other, and cupping it, and attaching the two far sides to create a cocoon or tube-like piece, that will have air inside. You then pull and pull some more, each time creating, or rather multiplying the hollow strands, until your sugar has cooled enough and can no longer be pulled without breaking.

Chef Rohira demonstrates the straw sugar not only with lightening speed, but with light hands; he shows us how to take the length of straw sugar and snakes it on the marble surface, making an interesting base in purple.

He also breaks one into several pieces to show us the cross-section view, with all the tiny holes. This can be very effective added to a showpiece, he says.

We go back to our stations to make both straw sugar, and roses.

My petals look pretty good actually. It has been several years since I made a rose from pulled sugar. Although I made many of them, and made them well years ago, my technique is rusty from lack of practice. I plug along and make several centers, more small petals, and tons of large ones. Since at first I don’t seem to be able to make consistently-sized petals, I try to match up what I have, using petals similarly sized together on a flower. So as not to waste, and to practice until I improve, I end up with three roses in several stages. Just before are called to finish up and move on to the next thing…Only then does Chef tell us we need one good complete rose that we will add to a piece which we will assemble tomorrow! So I hurriedly try to finish one, adding a few leftover petals to my most complete rose. In my haste, I drop my rose, only slightly, and manage to catch it before it hits the marble table. But, the damage is done, and I have one very nice rose, but with a section broken off. Certainly not usable. Oh well, I decide I will just come in a bit early tomorrow, and make another so I am not behind.

My straw sugar turns out pretty well. But then again, that's fairly simple. I didn't get it shaped quick enough in the form I wanted, before it started to harden, so mine looks kind of like a snake.


Meanwhile, as we have been working on our roses, Amanda and Brian have set up sort of an assembly line for us each to come forward to make a sugar "tube." This is an example of the many new things that we see coming out of the competitions. Brian has precut plastic tubing from Home Depot, and has us tape it to the edge of the counter and fill with hot sugar.


We clip off the ends, and move around the center marble counter to Amanda, who helps us wrap them around cake rings for even shaping.


When the tubes have cooled enough to stay firm, we slice the tubing so we can more easily remove it tomorrow when it's totally cooled and set.


Next up: blown sugar!

Chef demos this for us today, so that we can see and get just a familiar idea of it. We will not blow sugar ourselves until Day Two of class. Chef makes some orange sugar, with the yellow and red he has under the warming lamp. He takes another opportunity to talk to us about the importance of color, the importance of not using straight primary colors, and stresses to us to make our own unique custom, or signature colors.

To begin blowing, you want to use opaque sugar, that is, some that has been pulled, not clear. Chef squeezes some in his hand, creating a perfect ball above his clenched fist. He cuts it off, makes a little indentation in the underside of this ball, warms the tip of the rubber pump as well as the indented pillow in his hand. He attaches the sugar to the pump tip, and then his hands become a blur of movement.


He starts twirling and pressing, twirling and smoothing and ever so slightly squeezing the rubber bulb at the other end of the tube. All the while he’s chatting with us, his hands are on their own course, their own mission. In a moment, we realize there is a slight bulge beginning to appear, where there was before only a lump of warm sugar.


He twirls, smoothes, pumps, twirls, smoothes -- sometimes against his cheek – and pumps the sugar. He shows us how to cool thin parts of the growing ball against the marble.

and like magic... A perfect sphere is before us! Chef turns on the blow dryer to cool it completely.


Then Chef removes the sphere from the pump by warming the neck over the flame, turns and twists it slightly, and cuts the softened/melted neck from the pump tip.

Next, in a matter of seconds,


Chef is back pulling another piece of orange sugar, and snips the long strip with scissors.


and in no time starts accumulating a little row of longish orange pointy petals. He calls this “the French flower.” Why French? someone asks. “Because,” Chef answers,” the French team uses this a lot!”

He makes seven of these petals, and then begins making another row of seven larger ones, but still the same shape. Before he lays down a completed petal, he twists the pointy end, curling it up. Each one he does the same way. He picks up the moments earlier-completed sphere, and begins attaching the ‘petals’ to the underneath of the sphere.


And again, in just minutes, Chef Rohira has completed another gorgeous flower in sugar.


a close-up:


Here's a pic of the three things we completed this afternoon:


By now its nearing quitting time, so we are asked to finish up whatever else we want, and then clean our stations for tomorrow. As we are doing so, Amanda is prepping lovely little mini-quiches, stuffed shells, etc on sheet pans to go in the oven. A reception is planned for after class on the first evening, to include some of the AUI people, so that we may all meet and get to know one another a bit better. We take bring our worth-saving parts and pieces to the front of the classroom, for labeling and storage.


While we clean up, Chef pulls out a chocolate showpiece he’s working on for a client, in order to take advantage of a few free minutes he has.


Here he's givinng the piece a coat of chocolate with the spray gun:


The class adjourns to the large reception room, the same that we meet in for breakfast and lunch. The room also has an attractive display of many Albert Uster products around the perimeter of the room, with display pieces intermingled. A small buffet has been set up, with beverages and hors d’oeuvres. Several gracious members of the AUI team greet us, chat about the course, and where we are from. We’ve accomplished quite a bit this first day, and are excited to talk about it. Afterwards, some of the local classmates head off home, while those from out of town (who were staying at a nearby hotel) head out to dinner at a local Thai place. I join the dinner group, as I don’t want to fight the probable 2 hr commute home. Dinner is delicious, and we have a chance to unwind a bit and trade stories. A few of the AUI people also join us, making a fun and relaxing evening. I bow out as soon as dinner is over, as I must make the long trek home, and begin this report.

I hope I am not boring you all... please ask questions! This is not intended as a one-sided thread. Ask questions, make comments, whatever! Or else I may be forced to stick in a photo of my pets! :wink:

Tomorrow: talk of showpieces and their design, making swans, and the unveiling of the tubes!

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I'm throughly enjoying this thread!

I didn't follow/understand and was wondering if you could explain a little more on the straw sugar technique, please?

I didn't understand the technique and what the finished piece looks like/achieves. I'm having a hard time seeing the effect in the dark purple sugar. In the striping I see in your purple snake, are the lighter areas/stripes because it's transparent sugar bubbles, showing length wise? I'm having a hard time understanding why it's called straw sugar..........the straw like appearance is inside your smooth exterior? Whats the advantage to this? Will you cut it into sections so you see the inner straws?

Are you pulling out a length (thats two lengths with one cupped over the other) then folding it back over itself to double its strands? What happens to the folded over ends? Do you cut them off?

Can you tell me more about the plastic tubing used to shape the red sugar tube.......

If I go to my local hardware store what is that tubing called, in what department will I find it?

I've always wanted to know how you remove the tubing once the piece has set. You showed that you score thru it......while the sugar is still warm? How deep do you score it and when? Then when you want to completely remove it how do you make sure you don't score into you sugar? Is there a tip for removing the tube? Should you cut it into smaller sections as you remove it?

How are you/they storing your finished pieces and unused blobs of sugar overnight?

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