Isomalt Basics for Home Bakers – All About Isomalt
Bakers of all skill levels can create impressive-looking sugar art using isomalt, a sugar alcohol that can be colored and flavored. This post discusses what it is, where to buy it, and how to use it to make sugar curls and blown sugar.
I love teaching home bakers about simple tricks that professional pastry chefs use to make cakes look amazing (like decorating cakes with edible flowers). Using isomalt, you can create dazzling decorations for your desserts.
Pastry Chef Tyler Davis, formerly of The Chocolate Pig in St. Louis, worked with me on a Q&A to get you started using this super fun sugar alcohol to create decorations that will be sure to impress your friends and family. The information in this post is based on my interview with him. (You can also watch the full video interview toward the end of the post.)
What is Isomalt?
Isomalt is an extremely stable sugar substitute used for sugar art cake decorations. It’s a sugar alcohol that acts structurally just like a sugar would. You get all of the cool properties of working with table sugar without the negatives!
When you heat normal sugar to work with it, it can crystallize in the pan. At that point, you need to throw it out; it can’t be saved. Isomalt is very forgiving. As long as you don’t burn it, you can melt it down and reuse it again and again.
Sugar absorbs moisture in the air and loses its crispness. You can leave isomalt sitting out for a month or more and it will still be beautiful and crisp! It’s best to not refrigerate it due to the humidity in a refrigerator.
While you can use it to decorate super fancy cakes, creations made with it also look amazing on top of cupcakes!
Can You Eat It?
If you eat isomalt in large quantities, it will make you sick. Do not replace the sugar in a dessert recipe with isomalt!
That said, it is totally fine to eat small qualities. For example, you would not get sick from pulling one of the pieces of a decoration off of the top of the financier above.
It tastes sweet with a nice crunch – picture an unflavored lollipop. Just like a lollipop, you can add flavorings using extracts and candy oils.
Where to Buy Isomalt
Isomalt is easy to find. You can find it at candy supply stores, Michael’s sometimes carries it, or you can buy it on Amazon.
It comes in a variety of forms – crystals, slabs, and powder. The powder format is the easiest to melt.
Some companies like Evil Cake Genius even sell it in small pillow format that is pre-colored and microwaveable!
Because it’s over 200 F when melted, always wear three or four pairs of rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat.
It’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves (Ty didn’t, but remember that he is a pro).
Warning: If you get hot isomalt on your skin, it will cause burns that will take your skin off.
How to Melt It
Unless the product you buy tells you otherwise, use a nonstick pan to melt isomalt. Make sure that none of the surface of the pan is peeling off or the melted sugar alcohol can get stuck in those crevices and under the non-stick surface, ruining both the pan and the sugar.
Melt it on medium heat until it turns completely clear. If you are using the powder, this should take about four minutes (it will take a little longer with crystals).
Isomalt sugar is really easy to color. You can use:
- gel colors
- liquid food colors
- powdered colors
- glitter spray (you’d add this to your creations after they’ve been shaped and cooled)
For everything but glitter spray, mix in the coloring agent while the isomalt is hot in the skillet.
How to Make Curls
Melt isomalt and add food coloring as explained above.
Cool isomalt using a large silicone mat. To do this, pour the isomalt out onto a large silicone mat. Lift one corner of the mat and pat the isomalt. Repeat with the other corner. Keep going until the isomalt is cool enough to touch with rubber gloves.
Work the isomalt in your hands a little bit. Then, stretch it to increase its elasticity.
Create the curls by winding the stretched isomalt around a long narrow object:
- metal cylinder
- knife honing rod
- your finger (again, wear multiple pairs of gloves per the safety precautions above)
Once you get it to the shape and length that you want, gently ease it off.
How to Make A Blown Sugar Globe
You can create your own sugar blower to blow the sugar using a blood pressure pump from a drug store and a brass fitting from a hardware store.
Melt isomalt and cool it down on a silicone mat the same as you did for the isomalt curls.
Work it in your hands just a little and roll it into a ball.
Flatten to form a disc that has even thickness all the way around.
Wrap the disc around the brass fitting on your sugar blower. Only the very tips of the disc should touch the pump. Clamp the the whole thing down and hold tightly with your fingers.
Turn your hand upside-down. The gravity will help to keep the globe round.
Press the pump slowly 2 to 4 times, never fully releasing the pressure. The globe will inflate. If you release the pressure, the globe will start to deflate.
Remove the globe from the pump and either cut off the end for a clean edge or pull to create an elongated rim.
Expert Tips and FAQs
Always wear three or four pairs of rubber gloves to protect your hands from hot isomalt when you’re working with it. It’s also recommended that you wear long sleeves so you don’t get seriously burnt by the sugar alcohol if it splatters.
You can add and mix in gel colors, liquid food colors, and powdered colors to hot liquid isomalt. Add glitter spray after your creations have cooled.
You can add in flavored oils and extracts to melted isomalt.
It won’t hurt you if you eat a small quantity of the sugar alcohol, but larger quantities will make you sick.
I recommend melting isomalt in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Some brands recommend microwaving; check with the packaging or manufacturer before trying this.
Keep creations in airtight containers for up to 4 days. After that time, surface discoloration may appear.
- Using molds with isomalt
- How to make a mirror cake
- Chocolate ganache
- Candied carrot curls
- Candied oranges
- Candied hibiscus flowers
Chef Tyler Davis is a St. Louis-based pastry chef. After landing a gig as the garde manger for The Crossing, he worked in numerous other kitchen positions, paving his own path in the St. Louis dining scene. His resume includes a number of popular St. Louis spots – Ernesto’s Wine Bar, where he was the sous chef, Benton Park Café where he was kitchen manager, and the Tavern of Fine Arts, which taught him about the importance of building rapport with customers. Chef Davis gained national attention when he appeared on the Food Network’s third season of Halloween Baking Championship, and was nominated for Feast Magazine’s Top Pastry Chef of the Year. He started working on the sweeter side of the kitchen as pastry chef at Element Restaurant, moved on to The Chocolate Pig, and has been creating magical experiences ever since.
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