I’ve been making these sugar eggs since I was a kid… in fact, I still have one that I made back then! It’s a bit faded, and my kitties licked off the frosting in a couple spots, but I’ve kept it all this time, because I love it.
The origin of the panorama – or diorama – egg is unknown. Some folks say they’re German, some say they hail from Italy, others claim they possess Ukrainian or Russian roots.
An interesting article from 1987 (!) on the subject can be found here: http://bit.ly/10eDYbq Another, from the New York Times, notes that while current commercial eggs must be entirely edible, early models had paper scenes inside. http://bit.ly/10eDYbq
No matter their provenance, I adore these little sugared gems.
A few years ago I made some eggs that were more modern and updated, using bold colors, whimsical themes. They were fun and festive, and something I could keep out year-round.
This year I wanted to go back to the traditional Easter sugar panorama eggs. They’re classic, beautiful, and have a particular charm.
Step 1: Materials and Supplies
- Egg molds – found in craft stores, cake decorating shops
- Superfine sugar
- Meringue powder
- Food coloring
- Cookie sheet
- Cardboard pieces (for drying egg shells)
- Royal icing (recipe below)
- Piping bags
- Shredded coconut
Some info about supplies:
If you don't have superfine sugar, use regular granulated sugar, and put it in a blender or food processor for a few seconds to grind it finer. Using superfine sugar will give the egg shells a smoother finish.
Royal icing is like sweet cement… once’ it’s cured, It’s not going anywhere. And it smells much better than it tastes. ;-)
Meringue powder in the sugar-mixture makes the eggs super strong. You'll appreciate this when you get to the assembly part.
Step 2: Preparing Sugar for Egg Shells
- 4-1/2 C super fine sugar
- 2 tsp. meringue powder
- 3 Tbl. water
Place sugar and meringue powder in a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine. Add water and mix with electric mixer or spoon. If you are coloring your eggs, add color to water before mixing with sugar. For light pastel eggs -- which work best for light diffusion -- use only 1 or two drops of liquid food coloring. Mix until well combined, knead with hands if necessary. Keep an eye out for meringue powder- or color-lumps, which sometimes form. Work them into mixture with fingers, if necessary.
Step 3: Making the Egg Shells
To prepare molds, dust lightly with cornstarch. This will help the sugar egg release from the mold.
Mound sugar into molds, and press firmly against the sides and bottom, creating a thin shell -- about 1/4" to 3/8" thick, depending on the size of the mold (with a larger mold, thicker sides). I usually pack the sugar in, press firmly, and then 'shave' out excess, when necessary, with a spoon.
Flatten the edges by running your finger along the rim.
Using a spoon, cut out a 'window' in the narrow end of the sugar eggshell.
Gently turn eggs out onto a cardboard square, and place onto a cookie sheet. Tap with a spoon if shells aren't releasing. Remove plastic molds.
Bake at 200 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Allow shells to cool. If the insides are not hard, return to oven with inside exposed for another 15 minutes.
After shells are set and completely cool, decorate with royal icing.
Some people recommend filling the mold completely, curing for some time to create a shell, and then scooping out the interior. I tried this method several times, and never had one survive. With the mold-and-press method I describe above, I didn’t have one fail – and I made nearly 40 shells!
Step 4: Making the Royal Icing
- 4 C powdered sugar
- 3 Tbl. meringue powder
- 1/2 tsp. clear-colored extract -- almond, lemon -- optional
- 1/2 to 3/4 C warm water
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and meringue powder until well combined. Add extract and water, beginning with 1/2 C. Beat on medium until thick and glossy, and stiff peaks form – about 5 to 7 minutes.
Consistency can be adjusted by adding more water or sugar, depending on use. Color as desired.
Place icing in piping bags. Tip: Stand piping bags in drinking glasses when filling and storing between uses. This makes them easy to grab, and you will have less mess too!
Step 5: Making Colored "grass"
Place shredded coconut in a glass bowl, add a few drops of green liquid food coloring. Stir with a fork for several minutes until the coconut is the desired color.
Step 6: Assembly and Decorating
Pipe a layer of green icing in the bottom of the egg (the side with a flattened surface).
Stick decorative items into the frosting – chicks, bunnies, flowers, etc. If they start to lean, use q-tips to hold in place until the icing fully cures. Before the icing is dry, sprinkle with green coconut.
When the inside is perfect, pipe a thick line of icing along the edge of the egg. Place the top on the egg, and press down. Remove any excess icing with your finger.
Embellish the exterior of the egg using cake-decorating tips, covering the seam and opening edge with a decorative piped line. Attach flowers or pipe designs on the top.
Allow the egg 1 hour to dry completely.
Step 7: Tips and Tricks
Dark colored shells are pretty, but not great for lighting on the inside. Pastel colors allow greater light to enter, and make it easier to see the insides. If you do use dark colors, think about cutting "skylights" in the top to let light in. I used a dremel after the eggs were dry to cut skylights.
The eggshells can be made weeks ahead, stored in a dry place. Don’t throw them away if you get tired. Store them well and you may be able to complete the eggs next year!
Interior shapes can also be made days in advance – I piped bunnies, chicks, flowers and carrots onto parchment paper, let them dry and stored them for use later.
Candy -covered almonds look like giant eggs inside your diorama!
I collect little pretties – tiny ornaments, small silk flowers, stickers, etc. year–round in anticipation of making eggs.