Kaye Hartman’s roses are a rich scarlet, and they never wilt.
They produce a sweet scent, more like sugar and vanilla than floral essence.
They’re silky to the touch, but if held in sweaty hands, they’ll melt.
That’s because Hartman’s flowers aren’t really flowers at all. They’re hand-crafted plant replicas, made with an edible, clay-like product called gumpaste and sold to wedding cake makers and brides across the country.
“Surprisingly, it’s a pretty big industry,” she said.
Petal Crafts, Hartman’s six-year-old business, is housed in a small second-floor studio in Montrose about a mile from her Glendale home.
The two-room studio, which serves as an administrative office, a production station and inventory storage facility, is packed with about 500 boxes. Each of them is delicately packed with one of a dozen varieties of gumpaste flowers, which in turn are wrapped in a bubble wrap and gauze.
“They’re very fragile,” she said.
There are simple roses; intricate, double pink peonys; and delicate orchids.
Each started out as a lump of gumpaste — a malleable substance comprising powdered sugar, egg whites and gelatin. On their way to becoming mirror images of freshly cut flowers, Hartman runs the gumpaste globs through an electric pasta maker, which rolls them into a smooth, flat slab.
Using custom-made plastic “cutters” — much like cookie cutters — Hartman proceeds to slice the outline of a flower and then discards the trimmings.
Folding the petals around a pre-made gumpaste bud, Hartman starts to bring the slab to plant-like life.
Then she repeats the process, for up to six hours for the most detailed flowers, she said.
Monotonous maybe, but Hartman says the process is cathartic.
“It’s kind of therapeutic in some ways,” she said. “Because it’s crafts, and I really enjoy doing it, especially when I’m doing it for myself and not being ordered to do it.”
It’s a process that baker Raul Silos, a former student of the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena who took free classes from Hartman, now applies to some of his pastries, he said. Silos is among a group of aspiring bakers, cake designers and generally curious epicures who have attended gumpaste flower workshops in Hartman’s studio in the past few years.
“It’s very hard to find someone like her, and for her to teach us how to do her own business is a really nice thought that she would do for other people that are just starting,” Silos said. “My school, which was very expensive, she made my school more worth it. I learned a lot from her.”