Saturday, 4 July 2015

Candied Flowers

Since we arrived on Prince Edward Island I've been out walking, hiking and exploring quite a bit, and recently I borrowed a library book on the edible plants and flowers of Atlantic Canada. The book is a good field guide, and as I'm walking the trail I am able to identify what wild flowers, plants and berries are indeed edible. The book includes some very basic recipes and recipe ideas for each plant, and the author notes that historically many of the wild flowers would have been dried for making tea or they would have been candied. When I read this I was like, 'Hold on a sec! Candied flowers? What is this thing that sounds so wonderful? Is it exactly what it sounds like? And why haven't I heard of this until now??' 

Well, I did a little more reading and it turns out that candying edible flowers is a great way to preserve a little piece of summer. It's been done for many years and it's not difficult. Quite the opposite, it's actually a lot of fun, and collecting the wild flowers is only half of it! This is a great DIY project if you're into baking, candy making, food preservation, or even gardening! The sugared flowers have such a lovely, Victorian era charm. They're the perfect thing for accenting homemade candies and baked goods, and they look so sweet on a tea tray. Make them for a bridal shower, wedding, or garden party. Here's how:
To make a candied or sugared flower: lightly brush an edible flower with an egg white solution (powdered egg whites mixed with water or vodka), then coat entirely in super fine sugar. Leave flower out to dry, rotating if necessary. The moisture will evaporate, and as it does so the flower will become preserved and candied. 

Roses, pansies, lilacs, hibiscus, dandelions, and nasturtiums are all edible!
Much of this project is just about gathering the supplies. Pick flowers that you know to be edible (you may need to read up on edible plants in your area) and pesticide free. I used a selection of wild flowers (marsh marigolds, young dandelions, apple blossoms, lilacs) and flowers from my personal garden (pansies, mint leaves, lavender). When it comes to washing them, use your discretion; I found that a light soaking in water was fine for some, but harmful for others. You may get away with not washing the more delicate flowers, but do be sure to check for little bugs. 

Rehydrate your powdered egg whites by mixing them with warm water. Using cold water will cause the powder to clump. Whisk lightly until solution is frothy. Vodka may be used in place of water, or in combination, because it will evaporate faster (helping the drying and candying process), and flavoured vodka will impart a delicate scent and flavour. (Although I did use vanilla vodka and did not find the scent very noticeable. To enhance flavour, a vanilla sugar- or any flavoured sugar- might be a better idea).

Set up a work station with your prepared flowers and leaves; a small bowl of fine white sugar (most granulated baking sugars are exactly what you need, decorative sugars are too large) and a spoon for sprinkling; a drying rack or wax paper lined baking tray for the candied flowers to be placed on to dry; and a small paintbrush with a bowl of re-hydrated powdered egg whites. Have tweezers handy to help you handle the flowers. 

Lay flowers out on a paper towel. Using a new paint brush (or one that you reserve for cooking/baking purposes), brush the egg white solution onto the flowers.

Immediately after brushing with egg white, lightly sprinkle sugar onto the flower. You need to coat the flower thoroughly and entirely, however, you want to use a light hand. Adding too much sugar will result in clumps and thick areas that obscure the flowers natural beauty and colours. A light, thorough, and even coat is best, but does take some practice. Any area that you miss will not be preserved and will turn brown with time. 

Leave flowers on the drying tray for 24-48 hours. Be sure that all areas are dry and not sticky (you may need to rotate some flowers). Once they are completely dry, lay them gently in a parchment lined container, seal and keep in a cool, dry cupboard; or if the climate is very damp, store in the fridge. 

I have read many different things concerning how long the candied flowers will keep. Some recipes say they should be used within a few weeks, while others claim they last a year. As I have only made my batch three weeks ago, I can't give you a shelf life, but I am hopeful that they will last at least a few months. And after seeing the finished product (they are brittle and encased in sugar), it would not surprise me if they lasted a year.

When placing your candied flowers, pick them up gently using tweezers. Keep them securely in place on candies and desserts by sticking a tiny piece of fondant underneath each one.

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