Plan B is the looming question for fashion models. Rather than joining her confreres in acting class or hoping to launch her own fashion label, Kristel van Valkenhoef of Wilhelmina New York and Elite Paris is setting her sights on a sugarcoated future.
Raised in Utrecht, in the center of Holland, she’s been modeling since she was 16 (discovered at 14, when her sister submitted her snaps to a contest, she was told to come back after high school graduation). That was more than a decade ago, and Kristel is still traveling the world—currently working for Céline and Helmut Lang, among others. But recently she’s also been moonlighting as a baker and candy maker who uses botanicals as her signature embellishment.
Kristel tells us she learned to make meringues from her mother: “She was the creative mom; baking was our way to relax together, and still is.” As for her love of growing things: “My dad comes from a long line of farmers, and I have green fingers; I think it’s a little bit in my genetics and a lot in the way I was raised.” On modeling jobs, Kristel shared her kitchen experiments, and her new venture Botanic Bakery was born. Here’s a sampling of her creations (and read on for a recipe for her floral meringues).
Photography courtesy of Botanic Bakery.
So far she takes on large orders only and has received a slew of commissions from the fashion world, including Jill Stuart, Prada, The Row, and Wilhelmina Models, but Kristel says she’s happy to field all queries: “To be honest, I’m still surprised by how well my concept has been received. To be able to dedicate myself to both careers, I pretty much never sleep.” She works out of her kitchen in Brooklyn and in the commercial studio at Brooklyn Floral Delight in NYC’s East Village, a kindred-spirit operation specializing in succulent cakes and cupcakes.
Pansies, violas, and roses are Kristel’s favorite culinary flowers. She grows her own indoors (hydroponically) and out—”without a doubt, violas are the easiest”—and off-season works with an organic supplier.
She uses a butane torch, sculpting tools, tweezers, and brushes to make her creations. (Peruse YouTube for instructional videos—there are many on edible flower lollipops and even several on agate candy.) For sourcing tools, molds, and extracts, Kristel recommends online site Craftsy, and says she loves browsing the baking supply shops on Paris’s Rue de Montmartre, such as Déco Relief and Mora. Her go-to for last-minute necessities is NY Cake.
Feeling inspired? Below is a recipe from Kristel, and see her latest creations at @botanicbakery.
Yields 20 to 30 large meringues and up to 200 minis
These are super cute on top of cakes and cupcakes or by themselves. I usually have a batch around because they always come in handy.
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon floral extract, such as orange blossom, elderflower, lavender, or rose
- Food coloring (optional—use only gel or powdered varieties; liquid-based will throw the meringue off balance)
Preheat oven to 175 degrees and line baking sheets with Silpat mats or parchment paper.
Add eggs and sugar to a clean, 100-percent-grease-free bowl in a bain-marie, and gently whisk. When sugar is dissolved, start mixing at medium speed and gradually increase to high until stiff-peak stage (you can hold your bowl upside down at this point and the meringue will not fall out).
Add in the vanilla and floral essence, and coloring if you’d like. Be careful at this stage not to over-whip!
Place the meringue in a piping bag (a Wilton M1 piping tip is ideal), and pipe on a baking sheet on top of dried violas or sprinkle on some crushed edible petals.
Dehydrate in the oven for an hour and a half to three hours (depending on the size). To prevent from cracking, let the oven cool completely before taking them out.
Here are some more straight-from-the garden recipes: