Photography: Kate Whitaker
This is one of the projects from my new book - 101 Brilliant Things for Kids to do with Science. Considering this book took me half of last year to write and nearly killed me in the process, I have been rather remiss about mentioning it on this blog. This is because I bought a pub with some friends and got distracted (yes really).
Still, with the Easter holidays upon us I thought I might share a few of the more garden-related projects from the book on my blog. The first is one of my favourite, touching as it does on both flowers and cakes.
As with all my books, the projects are aimed directly at the kids - because let's face it, who wants grown ups getting involved and spoiling the fun. Oh and there is some actual science involved too so we can all feel terribly educated whilst still munching on cakes.
You Will Need:
Shallow bowl or plate
These brilliant cake decorations will make everyone gasp and say 'wow - those flowers look almost real'. This gives you two equally appealing options: either look smug and take the praise or roll your eyes, sigh and say "that's because they are real... obviously".
But before you get to this happy stage you need to prepare your crystallising station. Place your separated egg white in a bowl, add a tablespoon of water and whisk this gently for a minute with a fork to break it up a bit. Then put out a container with some caster sugar in it, a plate or shallow bowl and a piece of greaseproof paper.
Next go and pick a few edible flowers, ensuring they are clean and dry - rose and sunflower petals work well, as do violas, primroses, cornflowers, pansies, pelargoniums and borage. Just make sure you get an adult to double check you have the right flowers and if in doubt - don't use them (some flowers are actually poisonous!).
Now grip the flower by the stalk or, if you are working on petals, carefully hold one end between your finger and thumb. Use a small clean paintbrush to coat all the surfaces - front and back - in a thin layer of the egg white mixture.
Take a pinch of caster sugar and sprinkle this over the flower until it's covered then lay it, very carefully, face down, on the greaseproof paper. In an hour or two it will have become quite solid and you can check for any uncoated bits you need to redo.
After you've let the flowers dry for a day you can carefully remove any stalks or sepals that are left on and then use the flowers to decorate cakes and puddings. And if you have any left over you can store them for a few weeks between sheets of greaseproof paper in an airtight container. After all it's always good to have a few 'so-impressive-you'll-gasp' decorations to hand - just in case you need that lovely smug feeling.
If you haven't caused enough mayhem yet:
Why not try crystallizing some edible leaves? Mint leaves are ideal and look great alongside the flowers.
The Sciencey Bit
Bacteria and fungi would usually cause these flowers to decay and rot but to stay alive they need water. Sugar is a hygroscopic substance, which means it draws water molecules from the flowers by absorption, stopping the bacteria and fungi doing their work.