Start with simple petals and leaves before you move on to small flowers. Many people use a brush, but I find that fingers dipped in egg white are often the very best tools for coating flowers and petals thoroughly with a thin even coating of egg white—I use a small brush for more intricate or inaccessible flower parts. —Alice Medrich
as many as you like
Edible flowers petals or leaves (like herbs), or small simple flowers (like roses, pansies, nasturtiums, or borage), completely dry
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Have a towel nearby for wiping fingers. Pour sugar into a shallow plate. Stir the egg white briskly in a small bowl with a fork just to break up clumps without making foam.
Use your thumb and forefinger to swish and coat a petal in egg white. Remove the petal and slide it between your thumb and forefinger to be sure that it is coated on all sides. Once coated, squeegee off as much excess egg white as possible by continuing to stroke the petal, squeezing gently, with your thumb and forefinger, and wiping the excess from your fingers against the edge of the bowl and/or with a paper towel. Don’t skimp on the squeegee-ing! You want just a very thin, sticky coating of egg white to adhere the sugar: Excess egg white will make the sugar coating thick and clumpy or even liquefy it—in both cases the drying time will be longer and the results less gorgeous. (When you advance to coating more complex flowers, use your fingers to coat and then squeegee accessible petals and the stem, and a tiny brush to coat and remove excess egg white from deep, intricate, or inaccessible areas.)
Lay the coated petal in the bed of sugar and spoon sugar over it. Use the spoon to flip and sugar the other side. Flip and sugar a couple more times until the petal looks evenly frosted. Slide a fork under the petal and transfer it to the parchment. To coat thin leaves that go limp from the weight of the egg white (such as mint leaves) or awkward or tricky whole flowers, hold them by the stem over the plate of sugar and use the spoon to sprinkle all sides (and interior areas) with sugar; shake off excess sugar as necessary. Use the method or combination of methods that works best for the item that you are sugaring—you’ll learn as you work.
After depositing the sugared pieces on the parchment, inspect and sprinkle a little extra sugar over any bare or moist spots.
Let flowers dry uncovered in a cool place until the coating is crisp. Most petals and small flowers will be still fragile, but dry enough to use for decoration after about 4 hours: I like to wait at least 24 hours (or even longer) depending on the item.
With some exceptions, crystallized flowers and herbs are best used within a few days. Flower petals last much longer because they tend to become completely dry and crisp, but their color may become less pretty. Herb leaves don’t dry out completely from the sugaring, so their flavor gets slightly funky after a few days, though they look fine for much longer.
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 Craftsy.com, 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!).