he Chinese say we eat first with our eyes. Italians agree, as do instructors at culinary
schools who teach plating and presentation practices. Science confirms that all our
senses come into play at the table. Food that looks good is not only food we want to eat, what we
see also affects what we taste.
This combination of tried-and-true wisdom and hard fact comes as no surprise to kitchen
professionals, and many know that for today’s demanding diners, it takes more than a sprinkle
of parsley or a toss of microgreens to make their dishes visually appealing.
Edible flowers are eye-popping garnishes that express a kitchen’s commitment to go beyond
the ordinary. Miche Bacher, chef turned artisan chocolatier, and author of Cooking with Flowers
(Quirk Books, 2013), filled with flower-focused recipes, says people have used edible flowers
since ancient times in the same way as they used herbs, both as food and medicine. But having
highly perishable and naturally fragile fresh flowers on hand can be a challenge.
Planting your own garden or buying blooms from trusted local growers can ensure a supply
of safe product in season, but what about the rest of the year? Shipping them in from warmer
climes is costly, and those that arrive in good shape must be used quickly.
There is an alternative. Candied flowers, popular among the Victorians, are making a
comeback, and not just for wedding cakes and petits fours.
“Candying is a traditional preservation technique,” says Bacher. “It also makes those
flowers that are naturally bitter, like violets, or too strong, like lilacs—which can taste like your
grandmother’s powdered neck—more palatable.” She finds that the sugared blossoms have a
place in both sweet and savory applications. “They make the plate pretty and add a nice touch to
any dish that needs a sweet note—not just dessert—such as honey-glazed ham, meat or poultry
that you prepare with fruit, or a wild rice salad.”
time + patience
Chef Jason Bond and the back-of-the-house crew at Bondir, his restaurant in Cambridge, Mass.,
candy herbs, both the leaves and the blossoms, as well as flowers in summer. “There’s such an
abundance of product available from our own ¼-acre farm and the area farmers we work with,” says
Bond, “and this is one way to keep it from going to waste and having it available later in the year.”
The process is simple. A mixture of egg whites and water is applied with a small paintbrush, and
then the petals are dusted with fine sugar. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. “It requires a lot of time and
effort and is difficult to execute properly,” says Bond. “Each piece must be done individually, then set
on racks and flipped until they are completely dry. You have to use just the right amount of egg wash
and sugar so there’s no clumping.” When finished, they’re sealed in large lidded plastic tubs with
opposite, clockwise from top: 1) Fresh
origins’ crystallized roses decorate this
cake. 2) violet cupcakes from Cooking
with Flowers. 3) This vanilla chocolate
martini from Dress The Drink is topped
with a glazed viola on a dark chocolate
above, top to bottom: Tequila is topped
off with a glazed viola, and the glass is
rimmed with habanero/lemon zest/ginger
salt from Dress The Drink. a pistachio/
macadamia nut-crusted dark chocolate
with a glazed flower from Coco Savvy.
Sugar-coated blossoms are pretty and practical.
BY LAURA TAXEL