Sugar and snow: How to make a Pressed-Sugar Snowman

December 09, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Chef Steven Weiss of Inwood, W.Va., will have to look to the stars if he has any chance of capturing a $10,000 prize from the Food Network.

And he's hoping that the fourth time is a charm.

Weiss is program coordinator of hospitality and culinary arts programs at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va. He'll be heading to Denver on Saturday to compete in the "Food Network Challenge: SciFi."

Weiss said his first competition on the Food Network was in 2000. He was part of the winning team in the "America's Best Pastries" in Colorado. He competed again as one of the team captains in 2003 at the National Pastry Championships in the "$50,000 Pastry Challenge" in Las Vegas. In 2005, he competed on the Food Network's "Pastry Daredevils."

Fans of "Challenge" know that, for chefs, it's more than just knowing their way around the kitchen. Weiss, whose specialty is sugar work, has just eight hours to create a sugar masterpiece that has to meet the judges' expectations and evoke the challenge.


However, the most nail-bitting moment of all is when the finished creation has to be moved a few feet from the counter top to the judging table. And with one sway or crack, any hopes for prize money are quickly dashed.

"For 'Daredevils,' we had to move the piece through an obstacle course,'" he said.

After a call from Food Network, Weiss had nearly three weeks to prepare for the entry to "Challenge: SciFi," which includes designing the piece, having it approved by the Food Network and shipping anything he needs to the location.

"We had to put everything on a pallet and it's waiting for us in the studio," he said, during an interview a week before heading West.

Assisting him will be Cliff Butler, who worked with Weiss during his time as a chef in Atlantic City, N.J. He said Butler is a trusted companion for this competition.

"Cliff is really good about taking direction, but he's not a good sugar artist," Weiss said. "I can have him doing the grunt work while I'm doing the sugar."

The piece has to be a minimum of 4 feet high; he guesses his to top out around 5 feet. In the "Challenge" kitchens, it's all about height. During the "Daredevil Challenge," his piece was 9 feet high, but he had to cut off 3 feet to complete the obstacle course.

"I was only one of two chefs who made it through without breaking it," he said.

Because he'll be working in a high elevation, Weiss said the biggest problem he'll face is that Denver is dry. He said to make sure his sugar work doesn't crack, he has to add more water.

Weiss said the only thing he's more excited about than the "Challenge" is a new facility for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College. The new 3,700-square-foot facility, complete with commercial kitchen and lecture lab, will be used by two new BRCTC programs and is in the Berkeley Business Park in Martinsburg. Classes begin in January.

Pressed-sugar snowman

The pressed-sugar snowman centerpiece demonstrates an old technique that used to be taught in pastry classes.

This technique can be used for any type of holiday centerpiece - even a sugar candle holder.

The process takes about 30 minutes, but the sugar balls and base should be made at least 24 hours ahead to allow drying time, Weiss said.

Start with 4 to 5 cups of granulated sugar. Add 2 teaspoons of water per cup, just enough to hydrate the sugar. If mixture is too watery, add a little more sugar. Mix with hands.

"You want to get it to the consistency like a wet snow," he said. "... if you can pack it into a ball and it'll hold for you, then it's ready to go."

To make the balls of the snowman, Weiss uses what he calls "spheres" - molds that can be picked up in any craft store. The clear, plastic balls open in half, allowing the sugar mixture to be packed into each side. He has one in three gradually larger sizes.

"What I'm doing is pressing all the air out of it," Weiss said. "It gives it a nice, smooth surface."

Once each side is filled, don't scrape the excess away, Push both sides of the sphere together, applying as much pressure as possible until the two sides almost reconnect. With a finger, wipe away the excess sugar on the outside of the mold.

To form the ball, open the sphere on the counter, almost like carefully cracking an egg.

To make the base, Weiss used a tart pan as the mold for the base. For the Christmas tree, use a small cookie cutter.

Allow the sugar balls and base to dry for at least 24 hours for best results.

To connect the balls, Weiss suggests using melted sugar.

In a sauce pan, allow the sugar to break down and boil at 320 degrees, stirring occasionally.

"This is something you really have to watch," he said.

Royal icing can be used to attach each ball, but Weiss said the icing needs time to harden and it will take a day in between steps.

The melted sugar, he said, will act like glue to assemble the snowman and make it a quicker process. But care must be taken during assembly, because the melted sugar is very hot.

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