Alice Medrich

How to Make Crystallized Flowers

May 23, 2016

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.

Photo by Linda Xiao

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.

Borage flowers (the star-shaped ones) and tiny pansies both make for extremely cute cake decor. Photo by Linda Xiao

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.)

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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.

Photo by Linda Xiao

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!

Nothing new under the sun. What do you hope circles back next? (Cake decor-related or otherwise.) Tell us in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Anne-Marie
  • Andie Paysinger
    Andie Paysinger
  • arcane54
  • Su
  • gochuGoose
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Anne-Marie December 1, 2017
This isn't really food related, per se, but I'd love to see sugar molds make a return. While made with food stuff (sugar and icing), they aren't quite edible, but make such a pretty decorative piece at Christmas, Easter, or any other holiday. I used to make them with my mom as a child, and we actually have a few that are over 40 years old we put out at Christmas. It's a fun craft project, and if you want to dispose of the mold after the holiday, you have pieces inside you can use again. It's also an excellent way to perfect your cake decorating skills.
Andie P. May 22, 2017
Always be sure and ask if the people to whom you are serving the decorated items are ALLERGIC.
I happen to be allergic to honeysuckle - the flowers are naturally sweet and preserve fairly well. When I was on a trip back east years ago, one of the hosts of the dog show I was attending had prepared a cake with candied honeysuckle blossoms. She was rather offended when I removed all the icing and part of the top layer but was mollified when I told her about my allergy. She said she had never heard of anyone being allergic to it.
Ignorance is not always bliss.
arcane54 March 18, 2017
Just in case you want to grow your own, you'll want to look for viola seeds (your "tiny pansies"). They are very easy to grow and come in a wide range of colors. The common name is "Johnny-jump-ups" have fun with that!
Su March 18, 2017
How long do they keep?
gochuGoose October 14, 2016
Off-topic, but where o where can I get a recipe for that lovely buttercream on the cupcake?
Winifred R. May 27, 2016
I'm curious about your take on egg white and bacterial concerns. I know it should be minimal, but have you also tested with flax seed powder for comparison? (I'm thinking about testing on mint leaves since it grows so well at my house)