What goes better with a cup of tea than a tiny frosted cake topped with candied violets and mint leaves? The perky flower faces with their sugared whiskers are bound to put a smile on the day. I await the blooming of the first violets of the season not only for their color and fragrance, but also as a signal that I can start replenishing my stock of the candied flowers I enjoy all year.
Preserving flowers and leaves with sugar requires some patience and time, but it is quite simple to do. Nearly everything you need is probably in your house. I use powdered egg white that I purchase at a cake-decorating shop; not only is it convenient and easy to use, it carries no risk of salmonella poisoning. I buy extra-fine granulated sugar there as well.
Any flowers and leaves you use must be edible and free from pesticides or other harmful substances. Choose blooms that are newly opened, free of dew, and clean, but wait to cut them until you are ready to preserve them so they will be fresh and firm. Limp or wilted blossoms will turn into sodden, sticky lumps. Remove any stamens as the pollen on them may cause allergic reactions.
My favorite flowers for crystallizing include violas, pansies, miniature roses, bachelor’s-buttons, fuchsia hybrids, calendula, lavender and lilacs. I use both the leaves and flowers of scented pelargoniums. Mint and lemon balm leaves both contribute a pleasing, sprightly taste and hold their color well.
Use candied flowers or leaves as you would sugar sprinkles to make a simple dish of ice cream or a brownie special. Dress up fruit cups, tarts and pies. A cascade of crystallized blossoms swirling down a wedding or birthday cake is a sight not soon forgotten.
The delicate beauty and color of flowers can be preserved for months if the flowers are properly crystallized and stored.
• 2 small bowls
• Powdered egg white
• Salt shaker filled with extra-fine granulated sugar
• Fine artist’s paintbrush
• A variety of edible flowers
• Waxed paper
• Cake rack
• Small knife
1. In a small bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon powdered egg white together with 3½ tablespoons water until slightly frothy. Lay a piece of waxed paper near your work space.
2. Pick three or four small flowers or one large one. Holding each flower by the sepals with tweezers, paint the front and back of each petal with the egg-white mixture.
3. Holding the flower over another small bowl, sprinkle the back heavily with sugar, turning it so the sugar falls into the crevices between overlapping petals. Turn and sprinkle the front lightly. The lighter coating of sugar on the face of the flower will make it look more natural when dry. Place each flower on the waxed paper, face up, allowing plenty of room between blooms.
4. While the first batch dries, pick more flowers and coat them with egg white and sugar until you’ve done as many as you wish. After the first batch has lain on the waxed paper for about an hour, gently touch a flower to see if it has stiffened slightly. If so, slide the tip of a knife under it and move it away from any syrup that may have dripped off. Move it again in several hours. Place larger flowers such as calendulas and roses on a cake rack after the first hour to expedite drying. Place the flower-covered waxed paper or rack in a warm, well-ventilated area until the flowers are completely dry. This may take as long as two weeks. When dry, the flowers are brittle and quite fragile, so handle them with care.
5. Pack the flowers loosely in airtight, shallow jars (widemouth half-pint jars are perfect). Stored in a dark, dry place (not the refrigerator), they will keep six to eight months. Exposure to light may cause the colors to fade.
Kathy Thompson owns and operates the House of Whispering Firs, an herb and everlasting nursery and Victorian gift shop outside Newberg, Oregon.
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