Art Month: Sugar Art of the Past

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There's food in art, and then there's art in food. As we look at food and art in the kitchen, we want to also look at some of the amazing ways that cooks and bakers have elevated their creations to art.

These flowers and sculptures are a recreation of the pastillage art often used in 18th century grand houses and courts, like Versailles, to decorate cakes and fruit platters. The sculpture was done by Ivan Day, an English confectioner and researcher who specializes in recreations of historical foods and table settings. His website Historic Food is an utterly fascinating window into the elaborate tables of the past.

There are many photographs of the work that Day has done on his website, along with stories and history. I just tried making pastillage for the first time, so I was engrossed by his gallery of royal sugar sculptures, with photos of his own work next to antique molds for creating pastillage embellishments.

Pastillage is basically just sugar, gelatin, and cornstarch, which makes a sort of rough clay that feels like Play-Doh for grownups. It's a tricky thing to work with, and having tried it once now I can't believe the level of detail and artistry that went into these pieces.

The art of a skilled confectioner is truly amazing, and it is fascinating to get a little look into the past through his art and his cooking. Check it out!

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.