Over Memorial Day weekend, my friend Tammie and I went to New York for the long weekend. After catching Matthew Broderick in The Philanthropist on Broadway (poor reviews in the NYT, but I enjoyed the banter, character development, and word play), eating at Clubhouse Cafe (buffalo burger with chipotle; simple steak frites; chocolate tart) that shares its butcher with Le Marais across the street, we headed downtown to meet up with some of my friends from my UWS days.
When winding down at around 5 am (take that, Boston!) after zipping from East Village to Meat Packing back to East Village in Sharon’s car (so rare in the city!), my friend Neima introduced the phrase “seal the deal” to so perfectly capture how I often feel — the need to eat a little tiny sweet, even if it’s just a spot of tea to finish off a meal. We ended the evening by toasting with little Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
This became the theme of the weekend. The next morning after brunch (with Romy too), Tammie, Yoni, Thierry, and I dropped by Magnolia Bakery on the Upper West Side for a little more sweetness.
After a little retail therapy downtown, I headed to Brooklyn with Meira to help out our friend, Ellie, aka, The Baking Architect, whom you’ve briefly met with her “Persian Delights” mishloach manot for Purim and her too-fussy-for-me “Irish” butter cookies, with a charity event. She and her sister Yali have been raising money for Yad Eliezer‘s Kol Kallah (translation: “voice of the bride”) program for several years – a fund that assists newly married couples in Jerusalem in establishing their new homes.
So, on the Sunday of Memorial Day, when many people were relaxing by their newly opened pools, or going to barbecues, or checking out the sales (um, guilty, in the morning), Ellie was rushing around the newly built home of her friend Suri, and organizing the cake and table decorating sessions that her sister, Yali, and 2 of their friends, Shevi and Miriam were giving
When Meira and I arrived at 6:30 to help set up for the 8 pm event, the buffet table was already set and there was almost nothing left to be done. Ellie had done it all.
Throughout the evening, there were four concurrent sessions, but since Meira and I, as the two B-school grads took it upon ourselves to oversee the Chinese auction (I felt a little bit like a booth babe), and we took our jobs seriously, we only allowed ourselves to attend one session. Given that I know Ellie as an architect, art historian, and designer by profession, and the Baking Architect by avocation…
… and that I had been drooling over her confections up for auction the entire evening …
… I had to go to her 15-minute session:
How to Decorate a Cheesecake (specifically, Crystallizing Pansies)
I attended Ellie’s session and am summarizing her tips for decorating a cheesecake, including very clear instructions on how to crystallize pansies that she adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine (this is the closest I could find online).
One of the problems in baking a cheesecake is that they often crack and fall after you take the out of the oven. Ellie talked about turning this problem into an opportunity, for example filling the crater with lemon curd, a strawberry sauce, or a chocolate ganache. She discussed making or purchasing fondant, coloring and rolling it out, and then cutting it into little flowers or other shapes to decorate cakes or petits fours in a very uniform way. One downside to fondant is that it can be expensive to buy all of the specialized equipment.
Crystallizing pansies can be done with with minimal investment, is a unique and very showy way to decorate desserts and while a bit time-consuming, you don’t need many to make a bold statement. In addition, you can store them for a long time (Ellie showed us some she had from a previous year!).
Supplies for crystallizing pansies:
- Pansy plant with firm petals
- 2 new small paint brushes with soft bristles
- 1/2 c superfine sugar (if you don’t have superfine sugar, you can make some by pulsing granulated sugar in the food processor until it is the consistency of a very fine grain – the key here is that you want the sugar crystals to be all the same size [to the naked eye...no science here] Over-process and you’ll get powdered sugar. Under-process and you’ll get non-uniform crystals that are too big)
- 1 egg white diluted with 1 t water
- wax paper
Pansies are technically edible in the sense that when they are not sprayed with pesticides, you can eat them. Apparently they taste like grass (I refrained from tasting). Since they have not been sprayed, of course, you do want to check carefully for bugs, especially under the overlapping petals and leaves. To guarantee that no pesticides are used, you could probably grow your own.
Prepare the flower: Cut a pansy flower from the plant as close to the stem as possible while keeping petals intact and check for bugs. Use one brush to clean off any dust or dirt on the pansy petals.
Prepare egg wash: Mix water with egg white in a cup.
Paint the flower: Dip the other paint brush in the egg white mixture and cover the back of the pansy flower. Quickly sprinkle superfine sugar onto pansy by rubbing crystals between fingers over the flower. Repeat process on the front of the pansy, being careful to cover overlapping petals. Do this one flower at the time. You can use tweezers as directed by Martha, but Ellie said that eventually this gets in the way and it’s easier and quicker to just use your fingers. DO NOT be tempted to just dip the flower into the sugar — this will result in a very thick coating and will not yield a pretty, glittery flower. Ellie made one flower, while speaking, in less than 3 minutes.
Dry the flower: Set pansies on wax paper and allow to dry about eight hours. Pansies will turn brittle when dried, and can crack, so be sure the do not stick to the wax paper when drying by shifting their position after 10 minutes, and then after another hour or so. You may have to add more sugar to wet areas.
Storage: Crystallized pansies should last for one year, stored in between layers of bubble wrap of wax paper in a container stored in a dry, cool place.
If you are interested in learning more about Yad Eliezer’s Kol Kallah fund, or would like any of these other recipes, including some great parve (non-dairy) cheesecake bites (recipe by Chaya Unger) or the amaretto petits fours pictured above, or these fabulous cheesecakes, contact The Baking Architect at Ellie.Levi@gmail.com or 347.922.8956.