Thursday, 14 June 2012

Elephant No. 256: Shaped Sugar Cubes

I was looking online for a way to dye sugar cubes, when I came across this cool idea. I had no idea I could make my own coloured sugar cubes, so it was definitely worth a try.

I found the recipe on the Imperial Sugar site, which offers a couple of different variations.

Shaped Sugar Cubes


1-1/2 cups (375 ml) extra fine sugar (also known as superfine sugar, caster sugar, berry sugar—but not icing sugar)
1 tsp. (5 ml) flavouring (e.g., vanilla, almond, cherry, orange, coconut, strawberry, maple)
3 tsp. (15 ml) water
1–2 drops food colouring
1–1.5-inch (2.5–3.75-cm) cookie cutters (e.g., fondant cutters) 


1. Pour sugar into a large bowl.

2. Combine flavouring, water and food colouring in a separate bowl.

3. Pour liquid mixture into the bowl of sugar and mix until evenly combined. Be sure to check for blobs of food colouring and make sure they're mixed in. The mixture should feel like wet, but not soggy, sand. If it feels dry, add 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of water at a time until it feels right. If it's too wet, add sugar by the tablespoon (15 ml) until it has the proper texture. 

4. Lay out a piece of waxed paper and pack the wet sugar tightly into each small cookie cutter.

5. Immediately after packing the sugar into the cutter, push it gently and carefully out of the cutter onto the wax paper. Make sure to work your way around the shape on all sides to ensure that the shape stays together. Let dry for at least an hour before moving to drying rack.

6. Gently flip the shapes from time to time over the next few hours, until they are completely dry. When dry, you should be able to squeeze them gently without them falling apart.

Coloured and shaped sugar cubes.

That was the theory, anyway. Given the shape I had to work with, however, I wasn't sure how well things would hold together.

I started by producing the raw material: sugar plus almond flavouring plus water plus red food colouring. I added the ingredients directly to the sugar and mixed well. The instructions say to mix the wet ingredients separately, but I don't think it made any difference to the texture or the ease of mixing.

When I was finished, it felt like damp-to-wet sand. I quickly discovered that it needs to be a little more moist for a cookie cutter like the one I had. There were no mini-elephant cookie cutters in any of the shops I checked, so I bought what looked enough like one of my elephant heads to pass muster.

I began by doing what the instructions say: pack the sugar into the cookie cutter then ease it out onto a sheet of waxed paper. If you have a cookie cutter like mine, ignore the instructions. It's virtually impossible to pack the sugar into some of the smaller indentations. And, because it can't be tightly packed, all the little bits fall off when you try to ease the shape out of the cutter.

Instead, I packed the sugar into a 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) slab, as though I were making cookies. I didn't roll it with a rolling pin, as I think that would have spread the sugar apart. Firm but gentle hand-packing is all you need. I then simply stuck the cookie cutter into the slab.

Getting the sugar shape out of the cookie cuter was still difficult, however. I squeezed the edges of the cookie cutter, as I would if it were filled with dough. This helped, but the edges of the ears and the mouth wanted to stay behind most of the time. I used the flat end of a bamboo skewer to help push those tiny bits out, but that tended to cause unsightly skewer indents.

I also tried wetting the cookie cutter. My reasoning was that maybe water would act as flour does when you cut out cookies, easing the cookie cutter away from the material. The water sort of worked, but it's a fine line between a cookie cutter that's so wet the material sticks, and a cookie cutter that's so dry it makes no difference. I found it worked best if I ran the cookie cutter under water, then flicked it dry.

I also found that I had to add a bit of water from time to time in order to keep the sugar mixture fairly plastic. It doesn't dry out immediately, but it does tend to dry out over time. You can tell that it's getting too dry when the shape becomes slightly crumbly.

I made 13 elephant shapes before I got bored. This took a little less than half the mixture, so I decided simply to square off the rest and make irregular cubes. I would have made more uniform cubes, but I'd kind of had enough of fiddly work by that point. The 13 elephants took me a little over an hour, which I felt was enough time for such meagre returns.

The elephants now had to remain on waxed paper for at least an hour. This helps them firm up enough to be transferred to a wire rack. Once they were on the rack, I turned them every so often to make sure they dried properly. This is something that's supposed to take almost a day, so I'm glad it's a hot, dry day here. I think they spent about six hours drying, and seemed to be relatively hard when I removed them from the rack.

This was challenging because of the shape I chose, but I had expected that, so it wasn't a big problem. In fact, I was pretty surprised that any of them came out as well as they did. That being said, unless it was for a very special occasion, or I was making something as simple as hearts, I wouldn't rush to do this again. But it was fun to have tried it at least once, and if you were just making coloured squares, it would be a breeze.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In mid-January every year,  Siddha Raj Kumar Swami takes truckloads of sugarcane to the hills near Pollachi, in southern India, to feed the elephants who live there.

According Raj Kumar Swami, if you feed an elephant sugar cane with love at noon on a Friday, it will remember and bless you the following day at noon. If you feed the elephant over the next three days at the same time, it will remember and bless you the following year on those dates.

And if you do not return the next year to feed the elephant, it will ask God to bring you back—with sugar cane, of course.

Raj Kumar Swami feeding elephants sugar cane, 2011.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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