Deja vu: Polar Vortex, Take 2!

Cracked sugar

It seems like only yesterday when the weather was so bad that work was cancelled, roads were closed, and people around the midwest ventured outside to throw boiling water into the air.

…Oh, wait, it was practically yesterday. This is a winter for the record books, that’s for sure!

Never mind, it was Monday and I was again gifted with an entirely free day! Time to make a cake! Like the weather radar map cake from last Polar Vortex, I decided to stick with the wintry theme. I have to credit the almighty Ace of Cakes, a show that I only started watching within the past year, for inspiring this idea of “water.” Yes, the episodes are now only on at 3am, but thanks to the wonders of my DVR, I can watch entirely new (to me) episodes at any time!

Last week, I had seen an episode where the cake artists created a pool of water using cooked sugar. It hardened clear and shiny and really looked like water! I started to think to myself that maybe I could cook sugar and pour it really thin, and then crack it once it was hardened and maybe it would look like ice! With this thought in mind, I began the arduous process of trying to find the proper recipe and tools for this project. I read many web pages and watched many youtube videos on how to cook sugar. I learned that:
1. The type of technique I was trying to do was called “pulling sugar.”
2. Pulling sugar is dangerous without the proper tools and training.

And so, armed with neither the tools nor the training, I set to work. I decided to use this recipe, even though it meant I needed to do a little math since I don’t really know what a gram is exactly, and I don’t have a device that measures ounces. (And when I say I did math, what I mean is that I opened an app on my phone.) Here is the photographic journey of the sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar (“Yes, it’s different than tartar sauce, Kath,” promised my mom).

IMG_2788 IMG_2789 IMG_2790 IMG_2791 IMG_2792 IMG_2795

After following the recipe exactly, I came to a problem. The thermometer would not go up! Every recipe and youtube video said the temperature needed to be 305-315 degrees, but mine seemed stuck around 250. So I turned up the fire a LITTLE bit. And suddenly, disaster. My beautiful, clear liquid was instantly yellow.

IMG_2803Well, this will definitely not work. I wanted a white cake to appear to be on a melting pile of ice. This cake would look like a pile of icicles sitting in a puddle of dog urine.

But since I had the substance all cooked, my mom suggested I try and color it just to see how it worked. I dabbed a little red food gel into the center and set about slowly folding the sugar on itself. It really is a fascinating substance! I had learned from thIMG_2806e various videos that one should slowly roll up the edges (it’s reeeeally hot so you must be careful!!) and eventually it will form one large ball that can be pulled and molded into flowers or other decorations. One is supposed to have a marble slab under the baking mat (hm, fresh out of marble slabs… how about some of my mom’s extra batting material?) and one is supposed to wear gloves, both for physical protection and also to protect against fingerprints in the finished product. (Don’t have those either.)

I rolled and pulled and rolled and pulled until I eventually had a pile of orange-y sugar. That, there, is the world’s largest lollipop! And a message of warning to anyone else who tries this and turns up the stove too fast.


Alright, one store trip later and home with enough sugar to sweeten a swimming pool of iced tea, I tried again. As before, the thermometer did not climb. Either I have a bad thermometer, or I am very impatient. In any case, I vowed not to repeat the past, and so I just decided to pour it out at a temperature of 242 degrees. I knew that wasn’t hot enough, but I didn’t know what else to do!


This time, the sugar did not harden. Of course. It got quite hard, but not completely, like the other had. My brain began to churn out ideas and I decided that I could still attempt to make the cake. I would just display it on the baking mat! Unconventional, but it worked well enough for the photo!


I took the top, flat part of a tv tray, covered it with white rags, and set the baking mat on that. This way, I figured, I would move it around and take it outside for my photo op.

Meanwhile, my third batch of sugar was hardening on pans. Again, they wouldn’t harden completely, so I stuck them outside for a few minutes. Then I dropped the pan on the concrete stoop, and the sugar shattered! This made a satisfyingly loud crash. IMG_2816Perfect! I took those jagged pieces and began putting them into the frosted cake, piece by piece.


Once all the pieces were stuck in the cake, I took the whole thing with me and went outside. I piled actual snow around the cake, which might look pretty, but really was there because I needed to cover up the words on my baking mat. :/


Here’s a version in the bright, clear sun:


And in the shadow:


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