It's that time of year! Spring is thinking about coming and those cool weather loving pansies are going crazy. I love taking advantage of this time of year by preserving some of these gorgeous blooms for use the rest of the year. Just be sure that you use flowers that have not been sprayed!
Crystallized flowers are great decorations for cakes and other baked goods. In fact, the only decoration I had on my wedding cake was these little guys. (see picture below). These things taste great (once you get past the whole eating flowers thing), but I would recommend not eating the green stem part... it tastes kind of grassy.
Typically, instructions for crystallizing pansies include dipping the flowers in egg whites and then sugar. All that gave me was funky, lumpy balls of sugar. Not what I was looking for. After some experimentation, I came up with an easy method of making perfect flowers. This method also negates any concerns regarding using raw egg whites.
Required Ingredients and Materials:
A food dehydrator (or sheet pan and very cool oven)
Hand sprayer (be sure it is clean enough for food use)
Meringue powder (such as Wilton's)
Granulated sugar in a shaker
As you can see in the picture above, I cut the parchment to fix the dehydrator trays. The parchment helps to keep the pansies from sticking to the trays. They become very fragile when dried. They can still stick sometimes if you don't shake the liquid off the pansies enough, so I always make more than I need to account for breakage.
Mix the meringue powder with water in a roughly 1 to 4 ratio. Be sure it is mixed well so that you don't stop up your sprayer. Trim stems on pansies quite short (maybe a 1/4 inch) and then using stems to hold, spray completely with meringue water. Shake excess liquid off as vigorously as possible without ruining the flower. Then sprinkle all sides with granulated sugar. Lay face up on the tray. Continue until all flowers are done. Dehydrate on low until flowers are completely dry, usually at least 24 hours. Carefully peel off of parchment. Properly dried flowers will keep in an airtight container darn near indefinitely... though I'd recommend using them within 6-8 months.
Here's a photo of my wedding cake. While they still look nice, these were made using the ol' dip in egg white, dip in sugar technique. If you look closely, you'll notice the flowers are a bit lumpy.