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SUGAR EGGS, A SWEET EASTER TREAT

Eggs are one of the earth's most perfect creations. Borrow a little of nature's magic, and create your own decorative Easter "eggs" using little more than sugar and water. Embellished with Royal Icing, they can be wonderfully whimsical or intricate; left unadorned, they are simple and elegant.

All the supplies you need to make them are available from baking-supply stores or in a kit from Martha by Mail, (800) 950-7130.

Making sugar eggs

Wait for a dry day for this project, because the sugar won't set as well if it's humid. And make some extras: Like real eggs, these are fragile and may break while you're working on them.

The directions below may look daunting, but the project is really very easy.

1. Mixing and coloring the sugar: Place 4 1/2 cups of superfine sugar (2 boxes) in a mixing bowl, and add 3 tablespoons water. Use your hands to work the water into the sugar.

Add tiny drops of liquid or gel food coloring to reach the desired shade. One batch makes one large egg (5 to 6 inches tall) or several smaller ones.

To keep the sugar from drying out while you're working, cover it with a damp paper towel.

2. Molding: Pack the sugar mixture firmly into egg-shape plastic candy molds.

Some egg molds have one flat side on which the egg will sit; if you prefer an egg that's rounded on both sides, simply make two halves from the rounded half of the mold.

3. Baking: Heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Invert the molded sugar onto a cardboard cake round or baking sheet. If it breaks or any cracks appear, repack and try again.

Transfer the cardboard round to the oven. (Note: Cardboard will burn if the oven is too hot; if you have any doubts about the accuracy of your oven's thermostat, test it with a thermometer or use a baking sheet instead.)

Eggs that are 6 inches or larger should bake for about 20 minutes, smaller eggs for about 10 minutes. Adjust baking times as necessary: When the egg is ready, the surface will feel firm when you press it gently with your finger.

4. Carving: Eggs can remain solid, but if you plan to hang them from ribbons or use them as boxes, they should be hollowed out. Let the warm egg halves stand at room temperature for about 2 minutes. Then hold one gently in your hand and hollow it out with a melon baller or small spoon, leaving the shell 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick.

The sugar that you scoop out can be reused to make another egg.

5. Sanding: Smooth the rough edges so the egg halves join easily: Gently rub the cut edge in a circular motion over fine sandpaper.

6. Joining halves: If you are decorating the eggs (see below), do so before you join the two halves.

Pipe Royal Icing (recipe below) onto the edge of one egg half, then press the other half against it. Hold in place for a few seconds, then set aside to dry.

Decorating sugar eggs

Decorate eggs with a sprinkling of sugar or piped-on Royal Icing, which hardens as it dries. Or use a combination of the two in a technique called flocking.

Sugaring: Make stripes or plaids, or cover the entire egg with sugar. Dab small amounts of powdered coloring into superfine sugar, or leave it white. Combine two egg whites with a few drops of water (less than a teaspoon); beat with a fork until frothy.

Paint egg whites onto the sugar egg with a soft paintbrush. Then spoon sugar generously over wet egg whites, and gently shake off excess.

For plaid eggs, make all the sugar stripes in one direction, then let dry, about 15 minutes. Next, make the stripes in the other direction, painting whites directly over the first stripes.

Icing: Tint Royal Icing with liquid or paste colors, and transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a small round icing tip (No. 1 or No. 2). Pipe designs onto egg halves. For more elaborate decorations, use leaf and star tips. Let dry.

Flocking: Pipe icing onto an egg, then spoon sugar (tinted or white) over it immediately. Continue, piping and sugaring one small area or design at a time. Let dry, then gently brush off excess sugar.

ROYAL ICING

5 tablespoons meringue powder

Scant 1/2 cup water

1 pound confectioners' sugar
Beat all ingredients on low speed with paddle attachment until fluffy, 7 to 8 minutes. Thin with water to desired thickness: Use stiff Royal Icing to glue egg halves together and to pipe on decorations like flowers. Medium-stiff icing is good for piping lines. Makes about 3 cups.

If not using icing immediately, leave at room temperature covered with a damp paper towel.
Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail: mstewart@marthastewart.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.