Unbelievable Bites: Edible Terrarium

Many years ago, I watched Heston Blumenthal, one of Britain’s most innovative (and perhaps crazy) chefs, serve an edible garden to his guests:

Ever since I watched that episode, and saw the guests’ surprised faces as they discovered that the entire garden was edible and consumed delicious ‘earth’, I have been fascinated with what I term ‘tricksy food’: food that isn’t quite what it appears to be.

The concept of the edible garden or terrarium, in particular, really fascinates me, and I have seen it become more and more popular, especially on the likes of Pinterest. I’ve never felt quite ready to make one myself, until this past weekend.  Introducing my version of the edible terrarium…

Layer 1 – Pebbles

Any greenthumb worth their salt would tell you that, when putting plants in a pot, you have to start with something to allow the water to drain away from the soil, usually small pebbles. I once had edible chocolate rocks that would have been perfect for this, but they are impossible to source in Cape Town, so I decided on using chocolate covered raisins and peanuts – they worked perfectly! Thrown into the bottom of two clear glasses, the terrarium was started.

Layer 2 – Moss

Of all the layers I was going to create, I really believed I would struggle with this one the most – I couldn’t wrap my head around how I was going to emulate that beautiful lush moss you find hidden in your garden.

Fortunately, I found a great idea on the Net: take any plain biscuit mix, dye it green (I highly recommend powder dyes; they come out much brighter, and don’t dilute the dough), spread it thinly on a baking tray and bake off until quite dry. Also, if they brown around the edges, don’t panic! It’s actually a good thing, as it adds a bit of contrast and realism to your end product.

Once the biscuits are cool enough to touch, you can crumble them up (don’t worry about smashing it all to tiny pieces – a bit of texture never hurts). I found that two large biscuits was more than enough for the two terrariums I made. Sprinkle a thin layer of your moss over your pepples.

Layer 3 – Soil

By far the easiest layer, you really just need chocolate muffins/cupcakes here. I used the Chocolate Mug Cake recipe from my previous post (although I did bake it in the oven this time, as I wanted to make sure it was thoroughly baked through).

Again, I crumbled these babies up and sprinkled a pretty hefty layer into each glass (in any pot plant, the soil usually makes up the majority of what’s hiding in the pot).

Layer 4 – Moss (again) and Garden

I added a final layer of ‘moss’ to my glasses, and then it was time to build the actual garden.

Butterflies

Since I’ve learned how to use it properly, I’m a pretty solid fan of fondant icing and gum paste; it is the most useful way of making shapes. I died a small batch of fondant icing bright purple, and cut out four small butterflies with a cookie cutter.

For a more three dimensional butterfly, take an A4 piece of paper and fold it half and half again lengthways, and prop your butterflies in the crease of the paper. As the icing dries, the ‘wings-up’ shape will stick.

I also didn’t want them to just be a solid colour, so I added a little gold powder to the wings.

Plant

Using fondant icing again, I dyed it a gorgeous lime green and kneaded it until the colour was fully incorporated. I think sprinkled a darker green colour onto the icing and kneaded it a few times until that hue started to streak through the fondant. It created a lovely spotty, and slightly more real, look to what would become the plants.

Rolling the fondant into a wide strip, I cut along one side (not quite all the way through), and then rolled the strip up and left the rolls in espresso cups to dry out a bit and keep some of the shape.

When placing your plant into your glass, you need to dig down through your moss and into your soil a little, to give it a sturdy spot. And feel free to add a real flower or two – pansies are the perfect edible addition to this project.

The end result?

What I would do differently next time

Of course, there are always lessons to be learned each time you make something for the first time; here’s what I’ll do differently next time:

  • I would dust my ‘pepples’ in an edible silvery dust, so they look a little more rocky, and to put a different colour into the terrarium – there was a little too much brown for my liking.
  • I would love to try a mint flavoured chocolate soil, just to really evoke the sense of being in a garden.
  • The combination of the cake and biscuit layers seemed a little dry, so I would probably split the cake layer with a chocolate icing or mousse layer – this is a decadent dessert, after all!
  • I am very keen to try making meringue toadstools, which I think would be the perfect final addition to the decorations on top.

Happy munching, folks!

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