Carved from Cream

Carved from Cream

Spokane chef Becky Wortman creates edible sculptures from an unusual ingredient: buttercream

Becky Wortman discovered her talent for sculpting buttercream frosting in pastry school. | Photo by Young Kwak.

Michelangelo carved the Pietá from marble. Chef Becky Wortman used butter.

Specifically, the Spokane-area chef and edible sculpture artist used a hunk of dense buttercream frosting to recreate one of the Renaissance icon’s most famous works, depicting the crucified body of Jesus draped across Mary’s lap.

Though the two media starkly contrast, it’s hard to spot differences between Michelangelo’s stone and Wortman’s sugar. The cascading folds of Mary’s robes ripple just as gracefully, like liquid silk, in both depictions.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, so I thought ‘I’ll just make it myself,’ and it came out really beautiful,” Wortman recalls of her petite Pietá, carved at a chocolate show in Chicago several years ago.

“I like the Greek and Byzantine and Roman sculptures, so when people saw it, they thought ‘Is that cake?’ but no, it’s solid frosting,” the chef continues. “I thought, ‘You know, there’s something to this,’ if you mix frosting a different way and with different recipes it [holds] up to temperature and you can carve it.”

Wortman’s other buttercream recreations of classical sculptures are equally stunning replicas. She’s been inspired to sculpt versions of many other stone statues erected in historic cemeteries and buildings around the world. Her favorite subjects to carve are people, especially faces, and animals.

Buttercream frosting is traditionally made from four main ingredients: butter, powdered sugar, milk and flavoring. For obvious reasons, Wortman doesn’t want to share exactly how she makes her special sculptable frosting, but says temperature maintenance is key to keeping the medium in a workable consistency. When carving finer details, for example, the chef chills her sculptures to keep the frosting from becoming too soft.

Continue reading