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Blown sugar is sugar which is specially worked and then molded into various shapes with the assistance of a small tube. The technique for making it is closely related to glass blowing, and in the hands of a skilled artisan, it can take a wide range of shapes, from tiny bubbles to ornate carriages. Blown sugar is often evident in sugar sculptures like those used on fancy cakes; sugar sculpture usually incorporates a number of different techniques for handling sugar to create a desired effect.
Making blown sugar starts with making pulled sugar. Pulled sugar is sugar which has been heated, folded, and pulled to make it glossy and flexible. Pulled sugar can be used on its own to create shapes like ribbons, flower petals, and so forth, but to make rounded shapes like the bodies of animals, it is necessary to blow the sugar. A confectioner takes a small ball of pulled sugar, attaches it to a tube, and forces air through the tube to inflate the sugar while working it under a lamp to keep it flexible. When the sugar has formed a satisfactory shape, it is cooled with fans to encourage the shape to set.
The art of creating blown sugar shapes requires a steady hand and a very observant eye. As the sugar is worked, it is important to keep it soft without melting it, and to cool it evenly without cracking the shape or causing it to distort. As with glassblowing, blowing sugar can also be dangerous, because extremely hot sugar can cause agonizing burns, and it can adhere to the skin, making the pain even worse.
When executed by a master, blown sugar is exquisite. It often appears in holiday displays, especially at culinary schools, and it is also used on formal cakes and desserts as a decorative accent. The sugar can be left clear or colored, and it can be used to create incredibly realistic scenes or more fanciful ones. Because blown sugar requires some skill, if you are interested in making your own, you may want to take a class or workshop in blown and pulled sugar to learn basic techniques and safety tips.
Once the sugar is set, a confectioner can meld pieces together, as might be the case when creating an animal, where the body is made from a solid piece of blown sugar and pulled sugar is molded to make legs, tail, neck, and so forth. The sugar creation will be very fragile after it has set; blown sugar is vulnerable to moisture and warm temperatures, which can cause it to melt or sag.
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