I was introduced to sugar flowers on a Food Network special more than a dozen years ago. This was before pastry school, before cakes and Sugar Couture, back in a time when I would bounce from creative project to creative project. My patient husband Jay recalls this time by how it affected him, like for example that time when I was making glass mosaics and he had tiny shards of glass stuck in his socks for months.
After I saw that program, I thought what I usually do… “I can do that”, and immediately ran out to buy my first sugar flower making supplies at the only place I knew of at the time, New York Cake and Bake. Armed with more a brochure than book, I started to teach myself how to make beautiful flowers out of gumpaste, a sugar dough that dries firm. I then promptly put them down and didn’t return to them until pastry school. But then I was hooked. As Sugar Couture grew, I had more and more requests for these fragile beauties. People were impressed with their lifelike quality, delicate petals, and their impressive statement on the wedding cakes I made.
Sugar flowers are some of the most time consuming things I make for my cakes. The centers are made and dried for days. The gumpaste is rolled out and each petal is individually cut out, sometimes veined for texture, attached, and left to dry. Depending on the amount of petals and flower form, this can take days, with drying in between. When they are set, they are dusted with color to give them depth and life, and that color is set with steam. And then when they are complete, they are terrifyingly delicate. They can break and chip at the gentlest touch. They are subject to the weather and have to be kept humidity and heat free to stay beautiful. This might explain a bit about the price points of of these works of art.
From time to time I’ll have a client consider real flowers, mostly for budgetary reasons. I do understand this, but real flowers are rarely a way to go. Many flowers are toxic, and because of that should not be placed on food. And for the flowers that are not toxic, they can be grown with pesticides that are not used for food, so if you’re going to go that route, organic is the only way.
There are some flowers that are actually edible, roses, pansies, violets, and these are fine, but you’re limited in the design and use of them because you should never stick a flower stem into a cake. And last but not least, flowers need water to stay beautiful for long periods of time. Water is the nemesis of cake. So those flowers that were beautiful when they were first put on, will wilt and slump and when you’re ready for the cake’s photo op, the flowers are long past their prime. I’ve heard stories from photographer friends who’ve seen the real flowers wilt over the progression of the celebration, their weight tearing the fondant down with them, and ruining the entire cake. This is the reason the art of sugar flowers was born, to solve all these issues and more. And even better, if you’re the kind of person that likes to keep mementos, the flowers can be removed from the cake, stored and arranged on floral foam with a little desiccant (those packets that come with new shoes), under glass, to keep them beautiful indefinitely.
If budget is a factor, consider a few smaller bunches rather than full on drape or wrap. Or a single large statement bloom can be all you need to keep all eyes on your cake, and all your guests talking about it for months to come.