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).