Category Archives: Tutorials

Spun Sugar and Toffee Shard Decorations

Giving your desserts and cakes that wow factor can sometimes be as simple as a little bit of decoration. I quite often use spun sugar or toffee shards to dress up a simple rustic cake or dessert. Humidity is the enemy of these decadent sugar decorations and they won’t last long  so it’s best to decorate just before serving. At the hotel we kept the toffee shards stored in an airtight container between sheets of baking paper in a cool dry room.

Spun Sugar


  • 1 Cup Sugar.


Before starting arrange an area to spin the sugar. I use two wooden spoons, I put something heavy on the spoons and have the two handles spaced about 30cm apart sticking out from the bench.
Lay newspaper on the floor underneath where you will be spinning the sugar otherwise you will be picking hard caramel off the floor for days. Make sure that you have a bowl of ice water nearby in case of burns. Also have another heat proof bowl of water ready for later in the process.

I prefer to use the dry method to make spun sugar, this simply means that you are not adding any liquid (water) to the sugar.

Put sugar in a saucepan over a low – med flame. Wait until the edges of the sugar start to melt, once it does start mixing the solid sugar into the melted sugar in small amounts. The first part is quite slow so be patient.

Once sugar has melted and has turned a light amber colour take off stove and put pot into a heatproof metal bowl of water to stop cooking process then remove from the water.

Now you have to wait until caramel starts to firm enough to spin, you can do this by using a wooden spoon. Put the wooden spoon in the sugar and lift out slightly, shake the spoon from side to side and see if caramel starts to form strands when it falls back into the pot. If it doesn’t form strands then wait a bit longer and test again.

Once caramel is ready, use a slotted spoon to dip in caramel. Let the bulk of the caramel drip back into pot. Hold spoon high above the two wooden spoons and move spoon briskly from side to side above spoons. You will see the sugar form fine threads over the spoons. Take spun sugar off the spoons and form into a ball. Be careful of any large spots of caramel that may stick to the threads of sugar – these will be hot and can burn.

You do need to work quickly as the caramel in the pot will harden quite quickly and you will need to reheat to bring back to spinning consistency.

Toffee Shards:


  • 1/2 cup sugar.


Melt the sugar in the same manner as the spun sugar. Once the sugar is melted and a light golden amber colour, pour straight onto a piece of baking paper. Allow to cool and harden completely then cut into big pieces with a knife.
















Twisted Toffee Shards


  • 1/2 cup sugar.


Melt the sugar in the same manner as the spun sugar. Once the sugar is melted and a light golden amber colour, pour separate amounts onto a piece of baking paper. Allow to cool slightly. When the toffee pieces are still warm and pliable, but not hot, pick up the end of a piece and start stretching the toffee. Break or cut the piece when you have desired length. Twist piece to achieve desired shape. Allow pieces to cool and harden before use.





Diplomat Cream -Tutorial

There are a lot of different creams in the pastry chef’s repertoire: sauce anglaise, chantilly cream and crème patissiere, just to name a few. Diplomat cream is a crème patissiere mixed with whipped cream that has gelatine added.


  • 1 quantity of crème patissiere
  • 4 sheets gelatine
  • 250ml pure cream
  • alcohol (optional).


Make one quantity of crème patissiere using one whole vanilla bean.

Refrigerate until completely chilled.

Once chilled, whisk custard until smooth.

Place 4 sheets of gelatine in ice cold water. Make sure that you place the sheets in water one at a time.

Put a small saucepan with water on a high heat to boil.

Whip cream and set aside.

Once gelatine is soft, squeeze out excess water and place in a heat proof bowl.

If you are using alcohol, as a flavouring, add in the bowl with gelatine. Place bowl over boiling water, turn heat off and stir until gelatine has completely melted.

Place a small portion of the crème patissiere into the gelatine and whisk quickly until smooth.

Place the gelatine mixture into the rest of the crème patissiere and quickly whisk until smooth.

Fold in the whipped cream and mix until completely mixed and smooth.

Tip: When you are ready to start the gelatine, make sure you have all your equipment ready and cream should be whipped and ready to use. Speed is of the essence here. Once the gelatine is melted, you need to move very quickly otherwise the gelatine could go lumpy or the custard could set before you add the whipped cream.

Italian Buttercream – Tutorial

Italian buttercream was a complete revelation to me with its light, airy, velvety smooth texture. For me, it stands head and shoulders above other buttercreams. It is more time consuming to make than the regular variety of buttercream, but it is definitely worth the effort and it deserves its own tutorial.

(Once again, we are dealing with boiled sugar so make sure you follow appropriate safety measures as discussed in Salted Caramel Sauce – Tutorial).

Italian Buttercream


Yield: Makes enough to fill a 4 tier 8″ cake.

  • 300gm caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 150gm egg white
  • 350gm butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar, extra.

Flavours can be whatever you want from chocolate to fruit purees to alcohol, let your imagination be your guide. Quantities are really to your personal taste, remember start small you can always add more but you can’t take it out.


Place the sugar (300gm) and water in a medium size saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Keep on heat until temperature reaches 118°C.

At the same time put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on a medium speed until egg whites are foamy and soft. Add the tablespoon of caster sugar. Continue whisking at a medium speed until the meringue is firm. If the sugar is close to required temperature turn speed up to high.

Tip: Keep checking the temperature of your sugar mixture at the same time as the egg whites are whisking. The idea is to try to have them both ready at the same time.

Once the egg white is firm and the sugar has reached 118°C, take the sugar off the heat. Carefully pour the sugar in a slow stream into the egg whites while mixing on a low speed.

Tip: Pour the sugar down the side of the mixing bowl, thereby missing the whisk.

Once all the sugar has been added, turn mixer up to medium high speed and continue whisking until the meringue has cooled to 28°C.

Tip: I have only recently started using a thermometer at this stage of the buttercream. Previously, I relied on instinct to know when it was cool enough. Unfortunately, it had been a bit hit and miss and sometimes resulted in my buttercream splitting. Now that I use a thermometer, I have not had that problem.

Once the meringue has reached 28ºC add the softened butter a bit at a time, mixing in between additions on a medium speed.

Add desired flavour and use to fill cake.

Tip: Each recipe I post will tell you what flavours to add to your buttercream.