Using isomalt is an easy way for home bakers to create impressive looking sugar art. This post discusses what isomalt 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).
Pastry Chef Tyler Davis, formerly of The Chocolate Pig in St. Louis, worked with me on an isomalt Q&A to get you started on using this super fun sugar alcohol to easily create stunning cake decorations. The information below is based on my interview with him. You can also watch the full video interview below.
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 so you get all of the cool properties of working with table sugar without the negatives!
Sugar problem: When you heat 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.
Why isomalt is better: Isomalt is very forgiving. As long as you don’t burn it, you can melt down isomalt and reuse it again and again.
Sugar problem: Sugar absorbs moisture in the air or the refrigerator and loses its crispness.
Why isomalt is better: You can refrigerate isomalt or even leave it sitting out for a month or more and it will still be beautiful and crisp!
While you can use isomalt to decorate super fancy cake, it also looks amazing on top of cupcakes!
Can You Eat Isomalt?
If you eat isomalt in large quantities, it will make you sick. Do not use isomalt to replace sugar in a dessert recipe.
That said, it is totally fine to eat small qualities of isomalt. For example, you would not get sick from pulling one of the pieces of isomalt off of the top of the financier above.
Isomalt tastes sweet with a nice crunch – picture an unflavored lollipop. Just like a lollipop, you can flavor the isomalt with 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 isomalt on Amazon.
Isomalt 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 isomalt that in small pillow format that is pre-colored and microwavable!
How to Melt Isomalt
Use a nonstick pan to melt isomalt. Make sure that none of the surface of the pan is peeling off or the isomalt can get stuck in those crevices and under the non-stick surface, ruining both the pan and the isomalt.
Melt the isomalt on medium heat until it turns completely clear. If you are using the powder, the isomalt should melt in about four minutes (it will take a little longer with crystals).
How to Color Isomalt
Isomalt sugar is really easy to color. You can use:
- gel colors
- liquid food colors
- powdered colors
- glitter spray (which sticks to the isomalt after it’s shaped)
Mix in the color while the isomalt is in the skillet.
Because isomalt is over 200 degrees Fahrenheit 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 (Tyler didn’t, but remember that he is a pro). If you get hot isomalt on your skin, it will take your skin off.
How to Make Isomalt 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
Once you get it to the shape and length that you want, push it off gently.
How to Make An Isomalt Globe (Blown Sugar)
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 the isomalt in your hands just a little and roll the isomalt 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.
Other Fancy Cake Decorating Techniques
Now that you know a thing or two about isomalt that pouring isomalt into molds.
Try your hand at homemade sprinkles (You can make them in all kinds of flavors!)
Give mirror cake a try. It is so shiny that you can see your reflection in it.
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.