In fact, they’re quite old news. But that doesn’t mean they’re not a gorgeous garnish! The process is known as candying, sugaring, or crystallizing… depending on who you talk to. But it’s all the same process and same result… beautiful, natural, organic, earthy, edible garnishes. (Did I get enough adjectives in there?)
I first saw candied flower-making in action at the Genesee Country Village Museum in upstate New York when I was living there about 10 years ago. It was one of those things I filed into the back of my brain to look up later. Which I did.
I found a reference in an old Victorian age cookbook. Of course, I had to try it myself. I absolutely loved the results. And I’ve made them off and on ever since (whenever I have the time and occasion to do it).
There are bakeries that are starting to use sugared flowers more and more as natural garnishes, as the demand for them grows.
Borage flowers (as pictured above) aren’t the only flowers you can use. A wide array of plants offer leaves and flowers that can be candied, including:
- Calendula (petals)
- Miniature/baby roses
- Pelargoniums (scented geraniums)
- Lemon balm
- Pelargoniums (scented geraniums)
Basically, if it produces an edible leaf or flower, you can try candying it. (Though candied nasturtiums aren’t really edible… the spicy flavor doesn’t go well with the sweetness. But it does preserve them for use as a garnish. Not that I’ve tried eating a candied nasturtium…)
Besides creating beautiful garnishes, candying the flowers preserves them, so you can make them in advance. Once they’re fully dried (which can take several days), if you store them in an airtight container, they can stay good for 6-8 months. Pretty cool, huh?!
For allergy reasons, the stamens (male part that contains the pollen) need to be removed. Or, for larger flowers, just use the petals. Lots of sugared petals are prettier than sprinkles.
Pick flowers and leaves that have been grown organically. You really don’t want to be eating flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Pick only a few flowers at a time, and sugar them immediately. If you pick too many at a time, and some end up wilting before you can get to them, you’ll end up with a gooshy mess instead of pretty, sugared flowers.
Pick the flowers after the dew has dried. You don’t want them to be wet before you even begin working with them.
Before you pick your flowers, gather your supplies. You will need:
- A sturdy, small whisk
- A bowl
- A plate
- Gum arabic or egg white powder
- Water (for reconstituting the gum arabic or egg white powder)
- A small paintbrush
- A pair of tweezers (I usually use a large, chemist’s pair, like these 8-inch ones)
- A small pair of scissors (I actually use cuticle cutters) for removing stamens
- A fine mesh sugar shaker, filled with very fine sugar
- A drying rack or wax paper
- Air-tight pint jars
If you’re using powdered egg white, be aware that because it’s basically pure protein powder, it’s rather difficult to reconstitute it, whether you’re using cold, warm, or hot water. So you’ll have to work at it a bit. It needs to be whisked until it’s slightly foamy. Use 3 1/2 Tbsp. water for every 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp. powdered egg white.
If you’re using gum arabic, the ratio is 1:1 – 1 Tbsp. water for every 1 Tbsp. gum arabic.
Hold the flowers at the base, on the stem or the sepals (the ‘false leaves’ at the base of the flower) using the tweezers (or just your fingers, if you don’t have any tweezers). Use the paintbrush to coat both sides of the flower with the egg white mixture.
Hold the flower over the plate and use the sugar shaker to coat the flower in sugar, taking care to get sugar in the nooks and crevices of the flower as much as possible. Set the sugar on the drying rack or wax paper.
If you use wax paper, in an hour or two, you’ll want to come back and remove the flower from the excess syrup that has run off the flower. (If it sticks to the wax paper, just gently work a sharp knife underneath it to free it.) Always handle the flowers with as great a care as possible to prevent them tearing or breaking.
Then just set the drying rack aside, in a warm, well-ventilated area to continue drying, which can take as much as 10-14 days. Once the flowers are fully dried, gently place them in wide-mouth pint jars and make sure the seal on the lid is airtight. They can keep this way, in a dark, dry place), for several months.
- Don’t store them in the refrigerator. Besides being a fairly humid area of your house, the constant opening and closing of the door can cause temperature swings, which can cause moisture accumulation on the contents of the refrigerator, which would ruin the sugared flowers.
- You can use sugared flowers or leaves on pretty much anything – fruit cups, pastries, cakes, cookies, biscuits, muffins, etc.
- Exposure to light, particularly sunlight, will fade the colors. So a dark area is a must to preserve as much of the color as possible.