Even though most of the family will be working or in far off countries over Easter, preparations are still underway. Eggs have been dyed. Did you know that if you put a red cabbage leaf in the water while you’re boiling eggs it turns them a beautiful duck egg blue? I though beetroot might make them red but it didn’t work and I had to resort to food colouring.
Huffers have been made. Batch baking on a larger scale than normal though I got my measurements slightly wrong and made them half the size I’d envisaged. The hot cross bun dough can rise slowly overnight so it’s ready for tomorrow.
My Simnel cake has sunk in the middle so I shall fill the dip with crystallised flowers. Most books advise painting the flowers with egg whites and dipping them in sugar, but I’ve tried this in the past and ended up with a flower hidden in a clump of sugar.
In Food For Keeps, Pamela Westland gives two different methods. For the first one put 150 grammes sugar and 300 ml water into a pan, keep the heat low until the sugar has dissolved and then boil until it reaches 105C. Turn the heat down and drop the flowers into the syrup, leave for 1 minute and lift out with a draining spoon onto a lined baking tray. Leave for 24 hours in a warm dry place before storing in an airtight container. I found that the flowers closed up in the syrup; the polyanthus shrivelled up completely and the violets turned into balls though they still taste good so will be fine for adding a bit of colour to the top of a cake or trifle. The other thing to be aware of is that if you think to yourself, “this is going swimmingly so I’ll just take this syrup off the heat for a moment while I pop out to pick a few more violets” you’ll come back to a saucepan full of rock hard sugar rather than liquid syrup.
The second and to my mind more successful method uses gum Arabic, which you can buy from a shop supplying cake decorating equipment. The tub of gum Arabic didn’t have any instructions and the person serving me had no idea how to use it either. Not a promising start. But all you do is mix a teaspoon of gum Arabic powder with two teaspoons of water. Obviously you must only use edible flowers such as violets, polyanthus or rose. Holding the flower by the stem, dip the petals into the solution using a small brush to make sure the flower is thoroughly coated, give it a shake to remove any excess and then use a teaspoon to sprinkle over caster sugar to completely cover the flower. Lay the flowers on a piece of bake-o-glide, carefully cut off the stems and put the flowers somewhere warm (like the airing cupboard or above an aga) for 24 hours until they’re be crisp and dry. Store them in an airtight jar and they should last a few months.