Eggs have long been associated with Easter. But few are as intricate and ornate as those Darla Aiken creates.
Her decorative Easter eggs are made from sugar. Then, drawing on the skills she honed as a cake decorator, she adds scrolls, roses and other frosted flourishes by hand to each one.
She first saw one of the eggs, sometimes called panorama eggs, as an 8-year-old while strolling the aisles of a Portland flea market.
It was an image she never forgot. Soon after graduating high school, she began learning the craft of cake decoration, working at Portland and Vancouver-area bakeries.
She knew she wanted to produce her own version of the panoramic egg, and began using some of her bakery decorating skills to make them for family and friends.
It’s a practice she’s continued for the past 30 years. Beginning in January, Aiken, 57, said she’s produced more than 1,000 of them in her Lynnwood home this year.
“I’m running out of room in my house,” she said. “I’ve had to figure out ways to devise shelves. I’m not cooking too much lately because my kitchen is full.”
Her decorated eggs come in three sizes — 2½, 5 and 8 inches. They come in a painter’s palette full of colors ranging from pastels, to more recently, the addition of darker rainbow colors.
“It’s fun to see people’s faces as they look at the different colors,” she said. “It’s like ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ here.”
Although she still gives many of them away, customers do find her artistry online through Etsy and Facebook accounts, selling them for $8 for the smallest ones to $33 for the largest.
The origin of the panoramic egg is unknown, attributed variously to Italy, Russia or Spain.
The process starts with sugar — a lot of sugar — hauling home 25-pound bags from Costco. “I probably go through 200 pounds a week,” she said.
She puts it into a food processor and mixes it — carefully — with water. If it’s too dry or too wet, they break. If the sugar is too fine, it won’t hold together.
“It’s gotta have the right consistency,” she said. “It’s all about the feel. It’s like making tortillas. You’ve got to feel it. I don’t measure anything.”
She uses molds to shape the sugar into batches of the the egg-like creations, then allows them to air dry overnight.
She carefully adds a peep hole to each egg, stuffing them with extra goodies such as jelly beans, chocolate, chocolate bunnies and crosses.
“They’re all different inside,” she said. “My mind just works and changes things up. Nothing is exactly the same.”
She uses frosting to decorate the exterior of each egg. It takes two to three days to complete the process, time to allow the decorative frosting to harden.
“I know it’s a dying art,” she said. “It’s really satisfying to know there are people who still do cherish these eggs. They become a keepsake.”
Some of the eggs are designed to stand up, others are decorated to be displayed lying down.
She doesn’t mind if the sugary decorations are eaten, but some become family treasures.
Aiken’s niece, Erica Jordan, 31, who lives in Vancouver, said she’s been given the eggs since she was a baby. “My mom kept one or two of them for close to 30 years,” she said.
Now Aiken is making the eggs for Jordan’s 5- and 8-year-old daughters.
Creating the eggs helps bring extra meaning to Easter. “To remember Easter and not forget it’s a sacred holiday is to have a reminder in the egg — the birth, the death, the rebirth,” Aiken said.
Creating the decorative eggs still brings her joy decades after she first began making them. “In the world of manufacturing and technology, this isn’t something you can just create with a machine,” she said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or email@example.com.