Kitchen tip: Edible and candied flowers (and a bonus recipe)

Flowers may not be the first ingredient you think of when garnishing a dish, but they're perfect for adding bright color -- not to mention flavor -- to a host of sweet and savory recipes. Sprinkle tender buds in salad, laminate pastry sheets with colorful petals, or stuff whole blossoms with any of a number of fillings. The options are almost endless.

If you decide to add flowers to a recipe, make sure that the flowers are indeed edible. Like mushrooms, some flowers can be harmful or even poisonous if eaten -- be sure you know what you're playing with before adding any flowers to a recipe.

Likewise, make sure the flowers haven't been sprayed with any pesticides. If you're picking from your own garden, make sure it's from a spot your dog or cat can't mark as its own.

You can often find edible flowers in the produce section of well-stocked grocery stores and gourmet markets; if purchasing flowers, be sure to buy them from produce suppliers (flowers from florists may have been sprayed with pesticides).

Freshly picked flowers should be used the day they're harvested because they can wilt quickly. Purchased flowers can keep up to several days, tightly wrapped and refrigerated.

The New Food Lover's Companion gives a great list of options in its edible flowers entry:

"Some of the more popular edible flowers are: the peppery flavored nasturtiums; chive blossoms, which taste like a mild, sweet onion; pansies and violas, both with a flavor reminiscent of grapes, and perfumy, sweet roses. Other edible flowers include: almond, apple, borage, chamomile, lavender, lemon, lovage, mimosa, orange, peach, plum and squash blossoms, chrysanthemums, daisies, geraniums, jasmine, lilacs, marigolds and violets."

Candying flowers will help to preserve them, and the sugar gives the flowers extra sparkle in the right light. The process can be a bit time-consuming, but that extra time and attention can make for a product far superior to candied flowers you might buy at a specialty store.

To candy flowers, using a fine paint brush or a spray bottle, paint a thin layer of egg white over the flower petals on all sides (if you have any health concerns, you can rehydrate dried pasteurized egg whites, which are safe to consume), thinning the white if needed with water to make it easier to brush or spray. Then sprinkle the flower on all sides with colored sugar (to color sugar, add a little food coloring to a bowl of sugar, whisking to fully incorporate), the colored sugar will help the flower retain its color after it has dried and the natural color fades. Shake off any extra sugar and leave the flower to dry on a nonstick surface, then store at room temperature in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Check out the photo gallery above for additional tips and photos from a recent wedding cake I made garnished with home-candied flowers.

Cooking is fun — at least it should be! No matter how long you’ve been in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn, whether it’s a simple twist on an old technique, or a handy tip to save time and energy. In this series of short videos, I demonstrate a variety of kitchen tips, ranging from how to hold a chef’s knife for maximum control to using a spoon to peel fresh ginger. If you have any gadgets, kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

BUTTER CUPCAKES

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: 20 standard cupcakes

1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar at medium speed until the mixture is light and airy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the sides as needed for even mixing.

3. With the mixer running, mix in the whole eggs, then the yolks, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Mix in the vanilla until just combined.

4. Mix in the combined dry ingredients and sour cream, alternating between the two (one-third of the dry, then half of the sour cream, in stages) until both are thoroughly combined, being careful not to over-beat.

5. Evenly spoon the batter into 20 lined cupcake pans; the batter should fill each liner two-thirds to three-fourths full. Bake the cupcakes, one pan at a time and in the center of the oven, until the cupcakes have risen and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking.

6. Remove the pan to a rack to cool before frosting the cupcakes. The cupcakes are best eaten the same day they are made.

Each cupcake: 185 calories; 3 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 9 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 64 mg. cholesterol; 151 mg. sodium.

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

Total time: 35 minutes

Servings: Makes about 6 cups, enough for 2 to 4 dozen cupcakes

Note: This recipe works best with a stand mixer; the large whisk allows the buttercream to achieve better volume and stability than with a hand mixer.

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon corn syrup

5 egg whites

3 cups (6 sticks) butter, cubed, room temperature

1. In a heavy-bottom medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with one-half cup water and mix together to wet the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until a candy thermometer inserted reads 238 degrees. Immediately remove from heat to stop the cooking process.

2. While the sugar is cooking, beat the eggs to soft peaks in a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer.

3. With the mixer running, beat the sugar syrup into the egg whites to form a meringue and continue beating until the meringue cools to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes. (It is important that both the meringue and butter be at room temperature or the buttercream will separate.)

4. With the mixer running, beat in the butter, 1 to 2 pieces at a time, until all of the butter is incorporated. The buttercream can be made and refrigerated, covered, a few days in advance but should come to room temperature before it is used (beat the buttercream once more just before using to make sure it is emulsified).

Each 2 tablespoons: 129 calories; 1 gram protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 12 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 31 mg. cholesterol; 8 mg. sodium.

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