Conceptual chefs, food designers, and self-taught bakers have long dabbled in the art of creating trompe l’oeil dishes and desserts that expand the definition of a plant-based diet with imaginative creations such as edible soil, cactus-shaped ice pops, and cupcakes topped with house plants. Inspired by the collection of succulents on her kitchen windowsill, baking blogger and artist Heather Baird decided to create a charming edible terrarium made of cake and candy that is simple enough to whip up at home and looks a little too real to eat.
“I'd seen versions of edible succulents that cake decorators were fashioning from fondant in magazines and online,” Knoxville, Tennessee–based Baird told me in an email. She started experimenting with presentation ideas until she hit on the idea of the terrarium. “There was no denying its charm,” she said.
Baird bought a book on DIY terrariums “to help understand their key components, all of which were pretty simple to mimic with edibles,” she said. Since “all terrariums begin with a container,” she said, she chose airtight kitchen storage jars.
The bottom layer of the edible terrarium is made from candy-coated chocolate rocks, followed by a layer of crunchy cacao nibs, and then a third layer of “potting soil” made from crumbled chocolate cupcakes. She topped it off with “candy clay” succulents made from melted candy discs and corn syrup that she rolled out, cut into shapes with a fluted pastry wheel, and fashioned into simulacra of plants.
“Chocolate rocks and cacao nibs were a natural choice for the pebble and charcoal layers (and easy to source),” she said, “and the chocolate cupcakes for ‘top soil’ were easily made at home.”
Baird said she avoided using fondant for the succulents. “As an avid cake baker and decorator, I've discovered that many people don't enjoy the taste of fondant,” she said, “so I used a simple recipe for candy clay. It is easy to manipulate and tastes delicious with the terrarium's other chocolate components.”
If you want to learn more about how Baird made the terrariums, which will keep three to five days in airtight jars, check out the recipe and how-to post on Etsy’s blog.