Edible Clay

Fondant and Gum Paste and Marzipan... Oh my!

The various edible clay methods, like fondant, gum paste, marzipan, and pastillage, are all related but have critical differences. The subtle ingredient distinctions result in substantially different characteristics... how firm they become, how easy they are to shape and work with, and of course their taste!

I've included the most common edible clay or sugar craft methods here. These are the sugarcraft methods typically used to make edible cake decorations. Of course, these are the same types of edible decorations that can be used to turn a gingerbread house into a work of art.

Click on these links to jump right down to the edible clay method you're interested in:
Gum Paste
Sugar Paste
Molded and Dipped Chocolate
Pulled Sugar, Blown Sugar, and Cast Sugar
How edible is edible clay?

What is Pastillage?

Pastillage is porous and dries more rigid and faster than the other edible modelling options. Many people confuse pastillage with gum paste but the real difference is that gum paste contains gum tragacanth to keep it flexible a little longer.

With pastillage, you must work very quickly but the end result is the most sturdy of the sugarcraft mediums. It dries the most rigid of all. It will also take on the least amount of humidity from surrounding features (such as buttercream.)

pastillage showpiece

How to Make Pastillage

What is Gum Paste?

Gum Paste is basically pastillage with gum tragacanth (or, alternatively, Tylose powder) added, allowing more time to work before the creation hardens. It dries fairly rigid (less than pastillage but far more than fondant.)

gum paste figures carolling

These intricate Christmas carollers were likely made out of gum paste.

Gum Paste dough is very soft and elastic (far more so than pastillage.) It can be rolled out very thin while pastillage cannot.

How to Make Gum Paste
Photos of Fondant and Gum Paste Creations

What is Fondant?

Fondant is tastier and softer than the other edible clays. It holds its shape well, but will never harden completely. It remains maleable much longer than its counterparts and hardens only to a soft clay consistency.

Fondant is commonly used to cover decorative cakes, such as wedding cakes, or petit fours because of its beautiful, smooth appearance which can be adorned in a number of ways and its bright white appearance that takes colors well.

Fondant CAN be used to make flowers, bows, and even intricate figures, but they do not dry quite as hard or sturdy as gum paste and they lack the finesse and delicacy you can achieve with gumpaste. You can make your fondant act more like gumpaste by kneeding in about a cup of gum paste mix into a pound of rolled fondant. This will make it dry harder than it normally would.

fondant cake decorations

Most professional bakers use fondant for covering cakes and making large decorations that will be eaten, and use gum paste for smaller, more intricate decorations. Fondant is found in the center of many candies, like chocolate buttercream-filled candy or the white part of a chocolate-covered cherry (a reaction with the cherry causes the fondant to liquefy a bit, making it runny.)

How to Make Fondant
Fondant Recipes
Working with Fondant
Photos of Fondant and Gum Paste Creations

What is Sugar Paste?

Sugar Paste is usually assumed to mean gum paste, but there are certainly people who use the term to mean fondant. Since gum paste and fondant have such striking differences, it's best to use these terms to avoid confusion.

What is Marzipan?

Marzipan is a sweet paste made from ground almonds that makes a smooth frosting or decadent filling. Marzipan is pricier than the other edible clays on this page and is considered the tastiest of all. It's considered best for modeling shapes such as fruits and figures for candies and yummy, edible cake decorations.

marzipan cheese and mice

The figures in the White House Gingerbread House are done with Marzipan because it is so easy to use and the results are very predictable.

Marzipan is frequently used to cover cakes (for its tastiness) along with a layer of fondant (for its smoothness and crisp, bright white color which is easy to turn into any color you desire) or a layer of chocolate. Marzipan is more porous than fondant or chocolate so it would be likely to dry out and become crusty if not covered with another material.

You can dye marzipan in batches or hand-paint the end result shapes (with food dyes of course.) Since it does not start out bright white, like fondant or gum paste, it does not take color quite as easily as the others.

How to Make Marzipan
Photos of Marzipan Modeling

Molded and Dipped Chocolate?

Molded chocolate is not really a "clay" but it IS yet another way to make decorations for gingerbread houses as well as cakes. You simply melt chocolate and then pour it into molds that have the desired shapes. You can only add colorful details by adding the outermost color to the mold first (I often apply the most intricate details with a toothpick) and then pouring the background colors of chocolate in after the details have hardened.

You can't get quite as elaborate or creative with molded chocolate as with the other edible clays since you need an appropriate mold. This can be a perfect way to make something you're repeating over and over again though (like reindeer, trees, snowmen, or other common figures.) And, of course, they end up yummy!

Dipping chocolate candy is another way to make edible creations even more delicious and beautiful. Not exactly edible clay, but still similar enough to these other methods to include here. Chocolate candy is heated up until pourable and then another substance (fruit, pretzels, gingerbread, ice cream cones,...) are dipped into the melted chocolate and then allowed to dry until the chocolate hardens.

Check out the adorable cake topper of chocolate dipped stawberries in this photo to the right!

chocolate dipped strawberries

What is Pulled Sugar, Blown Sugar, and Cast Sugar?

Cast, pulled, spun, poured, and blown sugar are the trickiest of the professional pastry chef techniques for intricate decorations. The process involves boiling a mixture of sugar, water, glucose, and cream of tartar, pouring it out onto a greased slab to cool slightly, and then pulling it out to form a glossy sheen. A heat lamp is used to keep the sugar flexible while working with it.

Pouring sugar is the same except that it's poured straight out of the pan into molds. You can purchase molds or cast your own out of plasticene, which is found in most hobby stores.

rose sugar showpiece

Photo courtesy of Sin-Sin Sugar on Flickr

Blown sugar is similar except that a small tube is used to blow bubbles into the hot sugar mixture, very similar to glass blowing.

Sugar sculptures made with these techniques are quite impressive. Give it a try if you consider yourself more advanced, but be aware that it's common for newbies to burn themselves working with the hot sugar. Most gingerbread house decorations can be formed much more easily with the other techniques listed here.

How Edible is Edible Clay?

While all of these modeling materials are "technically edible," some taste FAR better than others. In fact, some are really not intended to be tasted at all!

Gum Paste is really designed for making intricate decorative items for cakes (or gingerbread houses of course!), but not necessary to be eaten. While it's technically edible, it's not really palatable. You never want to cover a cake with gum paste. Use fondant instead.

Photos of Edible Clay Creations

Photos of all kinds of edible creations
Photos specifically of fondant and gum paste creations
Photos of marzipan creations
Photos of gingerbread houses

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