Chocolate Leaves

Now that the frosting has been cleaned up, my new A-yi has come and made the mess just a memory, and the cakes enjoyed thoroughly, I can revisit the trials and tribulations of making the stupid but lovely looking chocolate leaves.

So, I learned while making the red wine cinnamon cake that I really, really hate frosting, which was only reinforced when I made the buttercream over the weekend, and I am really, really bad at making dessert look pretty (I knew that before, but this just reaffirmed that knowledge).

But I had stumbled across an idea, while searching for inspiration, that seemed simple enough to execute: creating chocolate leaves. The description was simple enough: take some leaves, wash and dry them, paint them with melted chocolate, let them cool, then peel the leaves off. And it’s much easier to artistically arrange these on a plain bed of frosting than it would be for me to magically become amazing at piping frosting roses and swirls (trust me. I’ve tried. It is…ugly).

Well, it’s a little bit more complicated, or maybe I just mess everything up, because the damn leaves took me several attempts. First, I tried with mint. I couldn’t find a paintbrush at any of the stores I went to (seriously, only the chinese character horsehair brushes, which aren’t really well-shaped for this purpose) so I bought a cheap makeup brush to use (Honestly. No paintbrushes. Kids in China are deprived). I lay the mint out on a saran wrapped cutting board and painted each one with a layer of chocolate and then placed the board carefully in my freezer. A few hours later, the chocolate had hardened. But the leaves were wilted and frozen and weak, ripped apart instead of peeling off, and the chocolate layer wan’t thick enough, and melted if I so much as looked at one.

Then I thought, well, maybe it’s the freezer, maybe the leaves don’t like being frozen. I could be patient this time and chill them in the fridge. So I picked up some basil leaves at the market and washed and dried and laid them flat and painted them with a thicker layer of chocolate.
Utter disaster. The basil leaves started curling up the moment I put the chocolate on them, chocolate spilled over the edges, when it hardened in the fridge the basil leaves wouldn’t peel off, none of them held distinct paint shapes, and it was very messy and annoying.

But I didn’t give up. I really wanted those chocolate leaves, damnit. So after going to the supermarket and taking a look to see if any of the vegetables were sturdier than basil (none that were nicely leaf-shaped), I made my way to a florist shop. I bought a couple roses, because I’m pretty sure those leaves aren’t toxic, but they didn’t have very many leaves on them, so I also bought two branches of round edged, thick leaves (hoped very profoundly that they weren’t toxic). I let the leaves soak in water for a long time, washing with fruit-and-vegetable soap, and changing the water three times, just in case of any lingering pesticides. Then I dried them in a salad spinner, patted them with a paper towel, and lay them vein side up on a wrapped cutting board.

I melted chocolate in a saucepan on low heat, careful not to burn the chocolate or let it seize up and get all gritty. Once it was 70% melted, I removed it from heat, stirring briskly so that the last solid lumps soon melted. Let it cool for a few minutes. Then I brushed on a thick layer on each and every leaf. The rose leaves and the mystery leaves did very well, the chocolate stayed on the leaf, after each leaf had cooled slightly, I brushed a little more on the center rib to make sure the ende result wouldn’t crack. I put the tray in the fridge overnight, and in the morning, the leaves mostly peeled right off (a few of the rose leaves left a bit of themselves embedded in the chocolate, which I had to pick off). Third time is the charm! I kept these very carefully separate from each other in a tupperware in the freezer, until use on the cakes.

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