How to Use Edible Gold Leaf

Last year, I made a birthday cake for a friend and I randomly bought some edible gold leaf sheets to decorate the cake with. It was a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and I just thought it might make it feel extra decadent to top the cake with chocolatey things coated in edible gold leaf. At the time, I hadn’t really used gold leaf sheets to decorate food with. I had used non-edible versions for craft projects though, so I figured how different could it be. And although they certainly are similar as far as the look and some aspects of application, I found them to be much more challenging as they seemed to be even more delicate and, well, tricky to use.
So although I would not really consider myself an expert exactly, I do have a few tips I thought I might share with you on how to use edible gold leaf because it is such a FUN thing to use to decorate cakes or other special occasion foods.
First off, what is edible gold leaf? There are plenty of brand options out there, but the one I’ve purchased before and liked is Barnabas Blattgold. It is actual gold, and whatever brand you purchase it is usually marked as "edible" when it’s high enough quality to be consumed safely. The gold leaf you can buy at craft stores (not in the baking section) or things that are not clearly marked as edible I would avoid. Some gold leaf contains copper or other metals that are not safe to consume, while pure (high quality) gold leaf is.
Since it is usually 24 karat or very high quality, it is also fairly pricey. Since I am not a professional wedding cake baker or something along those lines (where I am paid to decorate cakes for occasions), I tend to use edible gold leaf as an accent, rather than covering an entire layered cake. But you can use it however you like.
One question I had (so if there are any doctors or medical professionals reading this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments) is if edible gold leaf is safe for pregnant women to consume? I had one friend at the party where I served my edible gold leaf cake who was pregnant and I realized I really wasn’t sure on that. We figured better safe than sorry, and like I said, the whole cake wasn’t covered or anything, so it was easy to avoid. But I was curious about that.
There are a few tools that are super helpful when using edible gold leaf. You might want to wear gloves (as the oil on our hands, even clean hands, will stick to the foil and can easily mess up your design). I also use a very fine bristle brush, like a makeup brush. Of course, it’s good to have a separate brush (don’t use a makeup brush you already use for your makeup). A small steamer can also be helpful, to apply a very thin layer of water to frostings or fondant. Or you can also use a very fine paintbrush (again, don’t use one that has been used with paints already) to apply water or other ingredients.
For frostings, fondants, or chocolate coated items, steam or use a paintbrush to apply a very thin layer of water. You don’t want a lot, just a very small amount. This will give the edible gold leaf something to stick to. Then fold back the paper of the gold leaf booklet, careful not to touch the leaf with your hands (even if wearing gloves) and gently apply to the area. Then use your larger brush to gently brush away any excess.
For smaller items, like cupcakes or cookies, you can sometimes hold the item and apply it to the gold leaf (sort of the reverse of the above). The goal is always to touch the gold leaf as little as possible.
You can see more photos of this in this post, where I am using craft gold leaf but the process is the same.
If you want to apply edible gold leaf to a cocktail glass or other non-porous object (where water may not stay in place well), I add just a little honey or corn syrup to the water and then brush that on before applying the gold leaf.
Any extra flecks or pieces can be used in drinks or as small accents on top of cupcakes or truffles. It’s a pretty expensive item (at least compared to sprinkles), so waste not friends! What do you like to use edible gold leaf on? xo. Emma