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Test Kitchen tips: Make edible and candied flowers

August 29, 2013

They may not be the first ingredient you think of when garnishing a dish, but flowers are perfect for adding bright color -- not to mention flavor -- to a host of sweet and savory recipes. Sprinkle tender buds in salad, laminate pastry sheets with colorful petals, or stuff whole blossoms with any number of fillings. "Candy" the flowers, coating them with a layer of sugar, if you want to add an extra element to cakes or other desserts. The options are almost endless.

If you decide to add flowers to a recipe, make sure that the flowers are indeed edible. Like mushrooms, some flowers can be harmful or even poisonous if eaten -- be sure you know what you're playing with before adding any flowers to a recipe. Likewise, make sure the flowers haven't been sprayed with any pesticides or harmful fertilizers. If you're picking from your own garden, make sure it's from a spot your dog or cat can't mark as its own.

You can often find edible flowers in the produce section of well-stocked grocery stores and gourmet markets; if purchasing flowers, be sure to buy them from produce suppliers (flowers from florists may have been sprayed with pesticides).

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Freshly picked flowers should be used the day they're harvested because they can wilt quickly. Purchased flowers can keep up to several days, tightly wrapped and refrigerated.

The New Food Lover's Companion gives a great list of options in its edible flowers entry:

"Some of the more popular edible flowers are: the peppery flavored nasturtiums; chive blossoms, which taste like a mild, sweet onion; pansies and violas, both with a flavor reminiscent of grapes, and perfumy, sweet roses. Other edible flowers include: almond, apple, borage, chamomile, lavender, lemon, lovage, mimosa, orange, peach, plum and squash blossoms, chrysanthemums, daisies, geraniums, jasmine, lilacs, marigolds and violets."

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Candying flowers will help to preserve them, and the sugar gives the flowers extra sparkle in the right light. The process can be a bit time-consuming, but that extra time and attention can make for a product far superior to candied flowers you might buy at a specialty store.

To candy flowers, using a fine paint brush or a spray bottle, paint a thin layer of egg white over the flower petals on all sides (if you have any health concerns, you can rehydrate dried pasteurized egg whites, which are safe to consume), thinning the white if needed with water to make it easier to brush or spray. Then sprinkle the flower on all sides with colored sugar (to color sugar, add a little food coloring to a bowl of sugar, whisking to fully incorporate), the colored sugar will help the flower retain its color after it has dried and the natural color fades. Shake off any extra sugar and leave the flower to dry on a nonstick surface, then store at room temperature in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Check out the photo gallery above for additional tips and photos from a recent wedding cake I made garnished with home-candied flowers.

If you have any gadgets, kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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