La Mascota Bakery on Whittier Boulevard in Boyle Heights is known primarily as a go-to source of great homemade red chile tamales, ones that are light and perfectly spiced. However, for a first-time visitor, what might be most eye-catching aren’t the racks of pan bolillos and sugar-dusted pan dulcinea, but the refrigerated glass showcase holding what looks like something between a dazzling flower garden and a collection of crush-proof boutonnieres.
What are these shimmering half-globes that could also double for vintage acrylic lucite paperweights and contained daisies, hibiscus and fragile roses suspended in mid-air?
As it turns out, they are made entirely of gelatin — even the realistic-looking petals — and, according to La Mascota employee Benjamin Morelia, at this time of year are considered a popular, edible $2.50 alternative to a Valentine’s Day bouquet.
“It’s a boyfriend and girlfriend thing,” Morelia explains. “The boy likes the girl and he gives it to her and she gets all surprised and goes, ‘It’s so pretty!’ Then the boyfriend says, ‘Do you want to be my girlfriend?’” Then, presumably, Cupid shoots his arrow and either the girl eats the gelatin flower or sticks it in the refrigerator where it can keep for up to a week.
A quick perusal of YouTube (where else?) reveals at least a dozen video tutorials on 3-D gelatin, a decorative artform with its origins in Mexico (although another school regards Japan as its birthplace) and involves gelatin molds, a melon baller, syringes, eyedroppers, a lot of hot water and flavored milk-based colored gelatin injected with different sized needles.
The credit for the beauties carried at La Mascota, though, goes to Mimi Guzman of Los Angeles, who began selling artistic gelatins at swap meets and now teaches classes around the country in the craft.
If you're interested in having a portrait of a friend or loved one etched in a sheet of gelatin, then Guzman is your gal.
“I can do people. I can do birds. At Christmas, I do poinsettias.” (No doubt, tarantulas, too, which are another common subject of flavored gelatin sculpture.)
What was her most complicated creation?
"I made a [portrait] of the Virgin Mary. It was 14 inches wide. It took 12 hours."