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Although the culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years, some uses of flowers in food seems to go in and out of fashion every decade or so. My 1982 wedding cake feature in Bon Appétit included crystallized rosebuds and tiny orchids—and now I’ve revisited and improved the method below. It’s nice to see new interest in this charming way to preserve flowers, and it's always fun to experiment with flowers and leaves that I have not tried before.
Crystallized flowers are low-tech and fun to make—a great kitchen table project for craft-minded kids, too. You might also love the fact that, unlike buttercream roses, sugared flowers do not require pastry bag skills, or any pastry bag at all, for that matter. The extra bonus? Candied flower decorations have an especially pretty handcrafted look, and a personal vibe that will set a cake apart (in a good way) from any you might purchase from a shop.
Choose unsprayed flowers or leaves that you know are edible; this is a great argument for using your own backyard flowers. There are lists and information on edible flowers online from vetted sources, complete with harvesting and safety tips, as well as flavor descriptions. Check and double-check all info on the particular flower you want to use. (If this makes you nervous, buy flowers specifically sold for eating. I find these at my farmers market or produce market, in the herbs or salad section rather than in the cut-flower department.)
Petals and leaves are easiest to crystallize so long as the petals are not ultra thick (they don’t preserve well) and the leaves are not fuzzy. If you want to sugar whole flowers, begin with small ones that have simple open petal arrangements or a trumpet shape. Complex or fluffy petal formations are tricky; try them after you’ve had success with leaves and petals.
In addition to tiny rosebuds and small orchids, (after double-checking edible varieties), I have had good luck with freesias, sweet peas, narcissus, nasturtium flowers and petals, citrus blossoms and petals, Johnny jump-ups, and violets. You can also try fuchsias, English daisies, jasmine, hibiscus, elderberry blossoms, dandelions, calendulas, and carnations, and so many more. And don’t forget the leaves and flowers of herbs, such as mint, basil, borage, tarragon (so delicious), and even chives!
- 1 egg white
- 1/3 cup superfine sugar
- Edible flowers petals or leaves (like herbs), or small simple flowers (like roses, pansies, nasturtiums, or borage), completely dry
Nothing new under the sun. What do you hope circles back next? (Cake decor-related or otherwise.) Tell us in the comments.