(This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
Until recently, the idea of 3D for the majority of the population simply meant an evening at the movies, but the technology sector had other ideas. 3D printing went from concept to mainstream reality in just a few short years, creating a platform for innovation across many industries. It most recently hit a sweet spot facilitating a new stream of ideas in pastry, from amazing molded desserts to customized wedding cake toppers and even to printing the food itself. The world of pastry has gone three dimensional, and the possibilities are endless.
The use of molds is certainly not a new concept in the food industry. The popularity of silicone molds has dominated the industry for decades, but use of 3D printers is starting to revolutionize the way pastry chefs develop their product. Ukranian pastry chef Dinara Kasko combined her background in architecture and 3D visualization with her passion for baking to create unique molded desserts that earned her an impressive social media following as well as a budding new business concept. 3D modeling technology allows her to create a mold rendering, and then her imagination comes to life using a 3D printer. She simultaneously develops the recipe to fit into her mold design concept, creating a cohesive final product.
While endless creativity is certainly a major benefit of the technology, 3D printed molds can also offer improvements to speed and cost. Though Kasko may take months to perfect a recipe and the corresponding mold, it can take as little as one day to create a prototype, rather than the weeks to months it would take for traditional molds to be developed. She says it takes an average of two to five prototypes to nail the concept before proceeding into bulk production, depending on how complicated the design is. Because 3D printing a prototype is so fast, experimenting to get the mold just right can not only cut down on time, but potentially also avoid costly mistakes before proceeding into larger production runs. 3D printers can also reduce unnecessary inventory for chefs wanting to create their own molds by avoiding the larger production minimum often required with traditional silicone production. What may have been previously out of reach for a smaller operation, or just not feasible for a one-time specialty order, is now more achievable using the new technology.
The use of 3D printers isn’t just reserved for mold creations, of course. There are many active small businesses on sites like Etsy that create customized cake toppers, from little brides and grooms that look like the actual couple to impressive replicas of the Iron Throne for those Game of Thrones fans. Cookie cutters, utensils and custom cups and plates are just some of the other examples of creations made possible through 3D printing. Having the flexibility to offer a client something personalized on their special day or wow customers with a new way to plate a dessert opens up a new realm of possibilities, regardless of business size.
For those interested in investing in their own 3D printers for molds or similar applications, there are some guidelines to keep in mind. First and foremost, the filament being used in the printer needs to be designated as food-safe by the manufacturer to avoid potentially hazardous chemicals. Bacterial buildup is also a concern when creating items intended for multiple uses. Because they are printed in layers, there will be natural crevices in the final products, which can lead to bacterial build up. Most printed items will also be heat sensitive, so even hot water to clean a mold may warp the design. Thankfully, because of the increasing popularity in the food space, most reputable retailers selling 3D printers have online suggestions that will point chefs in the right direction. Kasko avoids many of these issues by printing her prototypes in plastic but then casting her molds in silicone, which provides safety and stability in the final product. If investing in a printer seems daunting, Kasko’s molds are available on her website for purchase. There are also companies such as Chicago Culinary FX that will help chefs develop custom molds and that sell the tools and resources to allow them to cast silicone molds on their own.
The natural thought progression surrounding 3D printing is if we can easily print food-safe materials, can we also print the food itself? The answer is yes! Because most 3D printers use an extrusion method to create the final product, they require the substrate to be a paste or liquid to work. So instead of a chemical filament, experiments began with edible options such as pancake batter and chocolate. In fact, the concept is so popular that pancake printers are offered as cheap as $300 in today’s market. Some companies are going much further than that, such as The Sugar Lab, a 3D printing company founded in 2011 using sugar as a substrate. Now a part of a larger company called 3D Systems, they created the 3DS Culinary Lab in 2015, where they collaborate with industry professionals on unique creations. Food Network star Duff Goldman and Top Chef winner Mei Lin are just two of the well-known names that have experimented with the company recently, and they look to expand their outreach by partnering with the Culinary Institute of America in several capacities.
Given that pastry has always been such a creative endeavor, the possibilities of using 3D technology to bring new ideas and advancements into the field are quite promising. As Kasko states, “In the future, the quality of 3D printing will get better, the speed of it will get faster. It’s really good that people work not only with plastic, but also will a lot of other materials. 3D printing will help in developing different fields.” No doubt, this is just the beginning of where 3D technology can lead, and the innovations promise to be just as sweet as the pastries themselves.