Edible gold leaf has a long and decadent history – it’s not known which was the earliest culture to indulge in eating gold, but as soon as any society learned to beat gold thinly enough to make gold leaf, you can probably bet that they ate food coated with a layer of gold.
The ancient Egyptians definitely gilded everything else so they probably had gold coated food, but it’s a fact that both the English Tudor dynasty and the Renaissance Medici family had a taste for puddings and heated wines that contained flakes of gold.
Working With Gold Leaf
Working with edible gold leaf is demanding. The effects are quite stunning, but achieving them requires steady hands, patience and a lot of practice and as the gold leaf is not cheap, this can be a costly technique to master. It can be easiest to start by using gold flake, which comes in a shaker, and mastering its use as a topping for cakes or an ingredient in them. Bear in mind that if you cook with gold flake, it’s a superb conductor of heat (it’s simply very fine quality gold, mixed with silver) so you may find that you have to adjust baking times downwards a few minutes to compensate for the gold in your recipe.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the way gold flake affects your baking, you can move onto gold leaf.
You need to pick a cool, dry and still environment in which to work. Heat, moisture and breeziness can all make it difficult to work with a leaf of gold as it will be inclined to fold, wrinkle or break. Some patissiers do their gold work in a chill room, just to avoid damaging the gold. Make sure your hands are dry and cool and that your equipment is dry too.
- Food quality gold leaf
- A soft pointed tip paintbrush, well washed
- A flat topped brush (similar to a blusher brush) or a small fan brush
- Cotton gloves
- Greaseproof paper
- 125ml of water with 1 teaspoon of icing sugar dissolved in it
- Sharp knife
- Butter knife.
Decide what food you are going to coat – it can be easiest to start with something cool, dry and regular in shape such as an almond.
Put the food item on the greaseproof paper and put on a pair of thin cotton gloves. Using the pointed brush, gently apply some sugar water to every surface to be coated.
With the knife, cut a piece of gold leaf large enough to cover the item to be gilded. If your leaf has an adhesive backing, peel it up before cutting, if it is simply layered between rough paper, cut before lifting. Lift the cut gold leaf using the tip of the sharp knife to lay it on the blade of the butter knife.
Moving slowly, so that it does not blow off the knife, lower the gold leaf onto the nut. Tap very lightly with the flat topped brush to get the gold leaf to adhere to the top surface of the nut and then turn the food item over, using the sharp knife, and with the blunt knife and the brush, press the loose gold leaf down over the underside of the nut. Tap gently with the brush to ensure the gilding sticks to the sugar water.
Once you are sure the gold leaf has fully adhered to the food, you can burnish it, using the brush to polish the gold to a high lustre.
There are many ways to use edible gold leaf in Cake Decoration – one of the most striking is to gild certain items, such as violets, grapes, rose petals, and to intermingle them with ungilded ones to obtain a contrast.
Alternatively, gold leaf can be applied crusting Icing Types, but it’s not really suitable for fondant work, as the residual moisture in fondant icing can cause beads of moisture to swell up under the gilding like blisters.
Gold leaf works particularly well with white icing or black, but can fail to have much of an impact with yellow toned cake icing.