It’s just a couple of weeks now until the next Royal wedding between HRH Prince Henry of Wales and Ms Meghan Markle and as they have already announced that their cake will feature fresh flowers, it’s a safe bet that this ever-popular trend will stick around for a while longer, much to both the delight and frustration of cake designers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some spectacular designs which can be created safely with fresh flowers (I had a stunning arrangement for my own wedding cake), but it seems that no matter how much designers shout about food safety, the power of Pinterest always wins and we’re asked to replicate designs which are fundamentally unsafe. That said, flowers have been decorating cakes since cake began so I’m hoping to set the record straight with some info, warning and general safety essentials to help the B2B. If you really want to use fresh flowers, do it safely!!
So to begin…why are fresh flowers (potentially) bad?
Decorations inevitably come in contact with the edible part of the cake, especially if the cake is buttercream-covered. Many venues also routinely decorate the ‘cut’ cake with the leftover flowers to make it look pretty… thus, they are in direct contact with what you eat….now think of this…
- A lot of fresh flowers are toxic (i.e. poisonous). Sometimes it’s only parts of the flower (the stamen, sap, petals), but, either way, it’s bad. Would you put poison on your cake?? No? So toxic fresh flowers shouldn’t go there either. Symptoms can range from nausea and vomiting, to itching/blistering where contact has been made with the skin (or worse) if ingested. Most people will now say, ‘well, I’ve never heard of anyone dying from fresh flowers on a cake’, well, neither have I (although I have heard of hospital admissions). But why risk it? While I’m no botanist, some of the most common toxic flowers include:
- Gypsophelia is disputed and contentious amongst cake designers but I personally have read enough to put it in the ‘toxic’ category.
- Sadly, many of these are very popular wedding flowers. For more information, have a look the Royal Horticultural Society… https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/Profile?PID=524
- Most (I stress most, not all) fresh flowers these days are mass produced – they are treated with pesticides and fungicides to make them last and look good. Even ‘organic’ flowers get treated. These treatments both permeate the flower and sit on the surface, meaning the treatment touches the edible cake. Again, if you fancy spraying your dinner plate with ‘rose shield’, go ahead [joke – do NOT spray your plate with rose shield!!]…otherwise, be aware that commercial chemicals designed for horticulture are not designed for human consumption.
- Have you ever looked in a florist’s bucket? Or in the stagnant water in the tubs of supermarket flower sections? Well, this is what your flowers (which will be inserted in your wedding cake) have been sat in. That is all I think needs to be said here. This picture is actually pretty good compared to many I’ve seen but there were still a few dead leaves, bit of plastic and weird residue in the water…
- We all know that flowers provide vital habitats for wildlife, but many insects live IN our flowers, especially in the tightly nestled petals of some of our favourite bouquet blooms. If you don’t want any surprise visitors emerging when you cut your cake, make other plans!
But…I saw this design on Pinterest and it’s sooooo perfect!!
Just because you saw it on Pinterest, doesn’t mean you can have it for your REAL wedding cake…not if you want to eat it anyway. Cakes used for styled shoots are not designed to be eaten so who cares if toxic flower goo permeates the sponge? This also applies to supermarket magazines advertising ‘DIY’ wedding cakes and cake TV shows. I regularly see premium supermarket brands’ magazines showing ‘styling suggestions’ of fresh hydrangea or calla lilies – some of the most toxic plants out there. Just because a brand you trust implies it’s OK, does not mean that it is.
But I really want to use flowers…
Ok, so, if reading all the above isn’t putting you off, there are basic precautions that you MUST follow. And by ‘must’, I mean that if you are serving a food product, you must ensure by law that it is safe. Read on for 5 basic rules and tips…
1 – NO TOXIC FLOWER MUST COME INTO CONTACT WITH EDIBLE CAKE. EVER.
End of. Use non-toxic species or, if a toxic breed is absolutely ‘necessary’, use artificial tiers for that arrangement and make up the servings with kitchen cakes. This is even more of a concern if you are going with a ‘naked’ cake or a coating which is sticky and likely to adhere to the properties of what it is near to (think pollen falling off a stamen).
2 – USE ORGANIC FLOWERS DESIGNED FOR THE FOOD INDUSTRY
I’ve found most florists are not able to trace the provenance of their flowers or their growing conditions. This is not the fault of the florist (they are not training to be food handlers after all) who buy from wholesalers for the mass market. Their flowers are not designed to be eaten. There are a couple of companies which provide edible flowers such as Maddocks Farm. This is really where you should be looking.
3 – CLEAN YOUR FLOWERS
If you can’t do ‘2’ above, always wash any flowers which are coming into contact with the cake carefully but thoroughly and check for ‘hidden protein’ (i.e. insects & bugs).
4 – PREPARE ARRANGEMENTS
There is two things you are trying to prevent when you prepare stems for insertion into a cake:
- Leaking goo from the stem itself penetrating the sponge (eeeuw)
- Toxic/dirty/general nastiness coming into contact with the edible sponge/cake covering
To the best of my knowledge, the only ‘fully approved’ mechanism for safely inserting flowers is to tape them together using floral tape and then insert the arrangement into a posy pick.
There are some wax-based products out there which claim to do the job – I’m personally not convinced after my own experiences where the wax flaked off when the stems bent as I was inserting the flowers into the cake. I can see it working for really stiff-stemmed flowers and those which have already been taped and wired but, for anything else, I’d go for the ‘old school’ method.
A more modern technique which, I have used myself on a few occasions is to wrap the flowers individually in tape, then cover that in CAREFULLY folded tinfoil and squeeze. Fill the end of a straw with a blob on fondant and insert the prepared stem into the (open) end of the straw. The tape and foil double-ensures no drippage. The foil must not be damaged/split or it will be useless. The straw provides the food-safe barrier and the fondant blob prevents contact between the taped flowers and the cake at the end (that said, even if that fails, foil is food-safe anyway). Either way, you’ve taken every precaution and the odds of contamination are negligible.
Unless the flowers are ‘food safe’, you should also try to add a protective barrier or paper, foil or film between the flowers and the edible components. Greaseproof paper works well for ivory cakes, cellophane for white/colored designs.
No matter what happens, NEVER (I’m making hand gesticulations here while writing this), repeat NEVER simply snip off a flower head and stick it in a cake. I’ve seen it done several times on TV shows and (proper edible flowers notwithstanding), it is wrong, disgusting and illegal in the UK because it breaches food hygiene regulations. TV shows are for watching, not necessarily for actual eating.
5 – RESERVOIRS ONLY GO UNDER THE CAKE
A lot of delicate and really luscious arrangements need water to keep them looking their best – that means a reservoir. Reservoirs must never be placed above edible cake in case they drip onto the tiers below. Not only is there an obvious hygiene issue, but water will cause serious damage to any fondant-covered or royal iced design (it won’t look too good mixed buttercream or ganache either).
OK, so I’m feeling deflated at this point…where can I use fresh flowers??
FLOWER PEDESTALS!!!! These can add such an unbelievable ‘wow’ factor to your cake with the total flexibility of having whatever you want because they are below the edible components. Nothing to drip, nothing to fall. If you want flowers on the rest of the design, heed the above guidance or, even better, have your designer make sugar versions (which are technically edible). Have you considered artificial flowers which can be thoroughly cleaned and prepped in advance? We’ve created several flower pedestals in the past – take a look at our wedding cake gallery for some ideas!
ARTIFICIAL TIERS… If you want a fresh flower topper, use an artificial top tier. While you still must be aware of items falling onto the edible tiers below, you are at reducing direct contact. Trim flower stamen or anything which could fall.
PROPERLY PREPARED, EDIBLE FLOWERS…There are companies which specialise in these types of flowers which can look incredible. Just be prepared to be creative with your designs 🙂
So, that’s all I can say about fresh flowers on wedding cakes. My aim is to provide a ‘best practice’ approach for fellow designers and, especially, the brave bride who is contemplating recreating a look herself. This is a subject of contention amongst cake designers, all of whom will have their own policies so don’t be surprised if your designer requires you sign additional disclaimers if you want fresh flowers on your wedding cake.
For now, I’m off for a cuppa and to wonder what Meghan and Harry will choose for their design!
If anyone has any questions, feel free to drop me a message on Facebook, or send me an email 🙂
Lots of love – S xx
Today’s blog post is courtsey of Sarah Osbourne of Simplicity Cakes by Sarah.
Simplicity Cakes by Sarah specialises in luxury wedding cake designs. Based in Swindon, we regular deliver throughout Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and beyond. We use the finest quality ingredients to create commissions which taste as spectacular as they look and our end-to-end service makes ordering your bespoke wedding cake stress-free and enjoyable.
Phone: 07796 224 591