Last weekend, my 8-year-old niece came over for a cupcake-making date. Or, to be more precise, a cupcake-decorating date. In classic little girl fashion, she was less excited about the long process of mixing batter and filling tins than she was about getting down to the far more important business of making something pretty. Her mom and I are both into natural cooking and healthy eating, so I wanted to find ways to decorate the cupcakes that didn’t involve processed items like colored sprinkles. I found the perfect solution at the farmer’s market, in the form of edible flowers.
There are many kinds of edible flowers. In fact, most herbs produce a flower, so you’ll have tiny flowers if you grow basil, oregano, thyme, dill, lavender, and other herbs. Perhaps surprisingly, many common vegetables such as broccoli, squash, and fennel have flowers, too. Some flowers, of course, are nothing more than flowers-edible varieties include nasturtiums, roses, pansies, and violets. In regards to taste, not all edible flowers are particularly sweet, and many are downright spicy, such as arugula, broccoli rabe, and chives. But the flowers are beautiful, and they may just give kids a new appreciation for plants and the natural world, without encouraging the hyperactive sugar rush of so many processed ingredients.
After the cupcakes were baked, we spent nearly two hours decorating them, using the flowers to top a delicious frosting that I’d made using white frosting and a strawberry/rhubarb simple syrup (see below). The cupcakes were a wonderful vehicle for my niece’s creativity, each one a 2-inch canvas on which she could create whatever image she liked. She concentrated quietly the entire time, never getting bored with the task at hand; in fact, the only time she took a break was when her Mom and Dad showed up, and she had the chance to proudly show off her handiwork.
In addition to edible flowers, here are some other ideas for natural, low-sugar cake decorating:
- Lightly dust frosted cupcakes with unsweetened cocoa powder
- Roll the edge of frosted cupcakes in ground nuts - pistachios are a colorful choice!
- Use dried fruit like currants, unsweetened coconut flakes, or chopped dried apricots as a garnish
- Cut paper stencils of simple shapes like stars, hearts, or circles. Position the stencil over a frosted cupcake and fill the empty space with ground nuts or dried fruit, or dust with cocoa powder.
- Make shapes with thin slices of fruits such as apples, peaches, and apricots
- Use fresh berries, one of the prettiest decorations of all!
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To make naturally pink frosting: Cook two cups of strawberries and two cups of rhubarb with one tablespoon sugar and three tablespoons water until soft, about 10 minutes. Strain out as much liquid as possible, then pour the liquid into a pan and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon,1-2 minutes. Cool completely, then stir two tablespoons of the syrup into one cup of your favorite white frosting recipe.
You can find edible flowers in some natural food stores in the produce section, or you may find them growing in your own backyard. If you purchase roses or other commercially grown flowers for decorating, ask if they are grown without pesticides and make sure they are safe to eat.
Here is a simple and tasty cupcake recipe from Rachael’s sister Maria:
Yellow Cake or Cupcakes
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups light cream
- 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 large eggs
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven.
In large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and blend with an electric mixer on low until combined. Then, turn the mixer to high speed for 3 minutes.
Pour the batter into greased and floured pans. For a 9-inch x 13-inch rectangle, bake for 40-45 minutes; for 9-inch rounds, bake for 30-35 minutes; for cupcakes, bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top springs back when touched or a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Louisa Shafia is a cook with a passion for healthy eating. She recently penned Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of seasonal recipes and eco-friendly advice on food. To watch her cooking videos, see her recipes, and find out about her cooking classes, go to lucidfood.com.