What Is Pastillage? The Secret Weapon of Cake Decorating!

Are you a cake decorator who frequently works with fondant, gum paste and royal icing? If so, pastillage will be a very natural addition to your decorating repertoire. Which leads to a rather important question: What is pastillage?

What is pastillage?

Pastillage is perhaps one of the lesser-known types of icing used in cake decorating. Similar to gum paste, it sets rather quickly and with a very hard texture. While the rigid texture will largely rule it out as an all-over coating for a cake, it can be an extremely effective tool in creating crisp, clean elements that won’t lose their shape or sag in your cake decorating projects. Here, we’ll explore pastillage from every angle: what it is, how it can be used to create beautiful cakes and how to make it at home. 

Shoe cake with pastillage

What is pastillage? 

First things first: learn how to say it right. Pastillage is a French word, and pronounced “pah-stee-ahhj.”

In the simplest terms, pastillage is a type of sugar paste icing that dries firm. Its makeup is extremely similar to gum paste, including sugar, water and a hardening agent (often tylose). Like gum paste, it can be molded, shaped by hand, or imprinted. So what makes pastillage different from gum paste? Pastillage dries pretty quickly, and once set, it is very hard in texture.

So why on earth would you want to use a substance with tooth-breaking potential on a cake? There are several reasons:

  • Pastillage dries quickly. If you need to complete a cake decorating project quickly, pastillage will “set” far faster than gum paste.
  • The strength and firm texture of pastillage makes it ideal for sculpting or creating cake elements that you don’t want to sag, such as the upper portion of the shoe cake pictured above. 
  • Pastillage fares better in humid conditions than its softer counterparts. This means that pastillage elements will likely stand up better when served at a warm summer event.
  • Pastillage is sturdy enough to be gently “sanded.” This means that you can buff pastillage surface until they have a smooth texture, which is not possible with fondant or gum paste. 

Of course, it’s pastillage’s hard texture that means it should be used sparingly on a cake. Because pastillage dries so firm, it’s probably not the best choice for an all-over coating for a cake; it is too firm and has a somewhat bland flavor. However, for certain cake decorating projects, it can really help you create a unique look.

Examples of cakes made with pastillage 

These four awe-inspiring cakes demonstrate the versatility and many ways in which pastillage can be used in your cake decorating projects.

Pastillage scrolls

Holiday cake via beverleyway

Pastillage scrolls

What started as a basic fondant-topped tiered cake became a fantastic work of art with the addition of pastillage scrolls. The decorator rolled out pastillage, cut it into strips, then formed into scrolls using a custom-designed template. The firm texture of pastillage ensures that the scrolls will maintain their shape once affixed to the sides of the cake using royal icing as “glue.” Paired with ribbon surrounding the tiers and a sugar flower arrangement on top of the cake, the overall effect is completely stunning. 

Pastillage flower

Gladiolus via totallynutz

Gorgeous gladiolus

While a combination of gum paste and fondant works well for the smaller petals on this gorgeous sugar flower, the larger petals require a little bit reinforcement to keep from sagging. This cake decorator cleverly configured the larger petals out of pastillage, which has the same look as the gum paste and fondant, but a far firmer texture that won’t lose its shape.

Pastillage baskets

Love song wedding cake via roseannatkins

Spectacular scrolls

See those adorable “baskets” along the side of this fondant-topped cake? They’re fashioned from pastillage. The firm texture ensures that they will stay put and that they are sturdy enough to hold the delicate gum paste flowers. Royal icing line and stringwork rounds out the design, creating an intricate and beautiful work of cake art. 

Pastillage mask

Mardi Gras cake via Arte en Pastel

Mardi gras mask

The tiers of this cake are mostly decorated with fondant and gum paste elements, which are painstakingly tinted, painted and marbled to perfection. But to ensure that the mask atop the cake retained its shape, the cake artist used pastillage and craft store mask to make a mold. The pastillage retains every contour of the mask shape, making for a stunning topper.

Where can I find pastillage? 

Pastillage can be purchased online, but for optimum texture and flavor, you can make your own pastillage at home.

As you can see, pastillage is a versatile medium for creating delicate and sturdy works of cake decorating art. It’s worth exploring as part of your cake decorating repertoire, whether it’s to sculpt gravity-defying elements or create fast-drying and sturdy embellishments.

Make Stunning Toppers With Pastillage!

Learn how to create and attach delicate lace pieces to any cake and make an elegant topper using pastillage in this HD online video class. Enroll Now »