When I was growing up my father was in the Navy, so we moved a lot, and usually to places that were close to the ocean. Northern California, Key West, Spain and the Florida panhandle were the places that I spent the most time, so I had plenty of opportunities to be at the beach.
Like any kid, I would pick up shells and stuff to keep, but I noticed recently that I have a lot of sea glass as well as shells. I liked the colors, and it's shiiiiiny.
Actually, it isn't so shiny, which is where the problem comes in when you're making sea glass for a cake. I didn't realize it until I started looking into the best way to make it was, but there's an entire network of sea glass collectors out there. And they have some serious opinions about what makes it good or bad.
(Check out this website, it's pretty interesting: http://www.seaglassjournal.com/ There's apparently a network of people who collect sea glass and go to sea glass conventions and stuff like that. Makes me want to live near the ocean again to go find some more.)
So these collectors like a nicely rounded piece of glass, nicely etched from the ocean, with no shiny edges left. Sea glass that's "finished" isn't shiny, and they throw that stuff back in so that it has longer to cook, so to speak.
I had been intending to add sea glass to my Etsy shop for a while, but it was kind of busy this summer so I didn't have time to play with the sugar until now. Keep in mind that I was using real sugar, not isomalt. They behave differently, but I wanted the crystallization to work in my favor this time.
When you're making sugar sea glass the typical way that people do it is to pour a sheet of sugar, let it set up, then break it into shards. Yes, that looks like broken glass, but it doesn't look like sea glass. Even dusting it with confectioner's sugar, which is one way to give it the dusty, etched look, doesn't make it look exactly right. It's too sharp, and too shiny.
|Too shiny and sharp. That will cut you...|
So I didn't want to do that. Nobody wants to put shards of glass-like sugar on a cake so that the bride cuts her mouth open on a piece that she didn't see. And some of it is really sharp.
So I tried plan B, which was to drop the sugar onto a silicone mat in various size dots that would be sea glass sized. That didn't work too well, for a couple of reasons.
First, it's hard to drop dots of melted sugar that don't spread out flat, unless it's cooled down to where it's almost too thick to pour. Second, the side that's on the mat is flat, so one side of the "glass" will be totally flat, and it will still have a rounded edge and a sharp edge at the same time, like a drop of water sitting on a flat surface. It just didn't look right.
Also, the sugar was too clear, so I wasn't getting the etched look that I wanted.
So I thought that maybe I could be clever and use crystallization to my benefit. That works IF you can make the sugar crystallize AFTER you pour it onto the mat. Which is difficult, but I did it a couple of times. The problem with that is that you do lose a lot of the pourable sugar because once it starts to crystallize the stuff in the pan will go in a couple of seconds, and you won't be able to pour it anymore. So that was a fail, it resulted in too much wasted sugar.
Next, I tried pouring a dot of sugar onto the mat, letting it sit for a few seconds, then picking it off the mat and molding it with my hands while it was still hot enough to mess with. This actually worked pretty well, but I wouldn't recommend it for a couple of reason. First, that $&% is HOT, and even though I seem to have asbestos hands that can pick up hot sugar and mold it, I wouldn't tell someone else to do it. Second, it took a long time to make a decent amount. so although the result was good, it wasn't time-effective.
While doing all this, in the back of my mind, I had been thinking that I should make a sea glass silicone mold out of the glass that I'd collected. Of course I wanted to avoid that, just for the challenge of finding another way of doing it realistically. Plus it would take a buttload of silicone, and I'm cheap. When I came to the conclusion that you can't get a good squared-off yet rounded edge on a piece of sugar poured onto a mat without some kind of a form, though, I said forget it, who am I trying to impress. And I went and made a mold.
And here was the answer...When you pour sugar into a silicone mold you tend to get a rough surface on it. The sugar seems to not like the silicone, and it will come out with a very slightly rough surface to it. WHICH IS JUST WHAT I WANTED! It's not good for pouring totally clear gems, but for this purpose it was perfect.
It will also allow you to pour the sugar directly from the pan and let it crystallize a little as it sets up, which is what you want to get the etched look in it. The pieces still cool off and are hard, so it doesn't affect the stability of the final piece. Some of it will stay clear-ish and some will be more etchy, so you get a good variety to make it more realistic.
The final result was excellent...My husband commented that the best ones that I'd made by hand looked more like rocks, but these pieces were obviously the right size and shape, so they looked right.
So in the end, I was able to add not only the sea glass to my shop, but the mold as well. This is a very effective way to make sea glass that looks real, and not like somebody broke a bunch of bottles all over your cake. It's less dangerous for the party guests, too, nobody will get cuts from the cake doing it this way.
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA