Does anyone (other than pastry chefs and bakers) actually make this at home? What do you garnish with it? And does it really look anything like this?
i used to be a pastry chef, so i know how to make something that looks like this. although i do sometimes make rather fancy pastries at home, i would not bother spinning sugar at home. it really does not add much, flavor-wise, to a dessert. it just looks fabulous. for me, a garnish should be something that really enhances the experience of the food - in terms of appearance and flavor.
but if you want to make it, i assure you that you can learn how. sugar is cheap, it just takes practice and patience and a couple of burnt fingers. it doesn't require anything other than that. i think there are instructions in the claudia fleming book.
I read Pei's blog today and she made some (I think in June) even as a bite sized snack. One of the chefs on Canada's food network made croquembouche and made a tower of them instead of cakes.
Croquembouche with a tiny photo (not as cool looking as the one on the show as it's a tiny pyramid):
Spun sugar recipe:
You could also make little spun sugar decorations to garnish ice cream or cupcakes. They look so delicate and pretty if you have the patience.
They were crunchy and delicious, but not at all stable. I used only sugar and water, so they had life spans of no more than a couple of hours (in dry weather). Recipes on line have stabilizers to make spun sugar last longer, but I was experimenting with just sugar and water to practice the technique. My favorite thing to do after awhile was take a mojito mwaher (basically a woden stic about two inches in diameter), pull a long drizzle of sugar up from the pot with spoon, and twirl the wooden stick around it to get a long spiral. If you very lightly grease the stick, the sugar slides right off after a few seconds of cooling. You can play with the sugar to get thick (colder sugar) spirals or thin (hotter sugar) spirals. Those were awesome decorations for ice cream sundaes. And everyone was oh so impressed.
Getting them to look like that photo you have just requires melting sugar with a bit of water, then waving a fork back and forth over the cake. You can do it!
spun sugar "tumbleweed": http://www.chezpei.com/2006/07/spun-s...
spun sugar spirals: http://www.chezpei.com/2006/07/happy-...
This is not really difficult, and is lots of fun to do. The tower of little cream puffs encircled by the sugar strands is my favorite. This is one of those things best done with a friend, IMO.
I have never tried this, but it looks like something I'd love to do with a friend (or two) too. Fun to make and fun to eat later.