Gathering a bouquet of floral flavors

If something has a flower flavor, I’m on it….like a bee. Recently I was exposed to some delightful imported Italian sodas flavored with, of all things, elderflower! I could not resist. It was a beautiful taste, slightly peachy and as soon as my little fingers could do their walking, I was looking for this flavor in any form. I ordered some elderflower syrup from Amazon. Imported from Austria, this lovely little taste treat can be dribbled in sparkling water, lemonade, iced tea and mixed in fresh fruit compote. I’m considering future ways to use it — most certainly in anything lemon!

When I find something unique like a rose geranium macaron, here, too, I’ll bite. This soft delicate sandwich cookie I found at a San Franciso bakery is made of meringue and sandwiched with cream, all flavored gently with that dusky sweetness of the aromatic rose geranium.

As April showers ended, bringing forth more flowers than ever, it set my imagination to wonder of floral flavors in foods. In the form of orange blossom, lavender and roses, I tested out some treats recently that carried just a subtle hint of bloom, and I considered other ways to make flowers a recurring part of the palate, as well as the table bouquet.

Orange Blossom Special

Made from the petals of orange blossoms, orange flower water’s deep yet subtle floral flavoring can be used in a number of ways:
— Infusing it in water or iced tea as a healthful drink.
— Blending it with honey.
— Using it in vinaigreetes or other salad dressings.
— Sprinkling over a “carpaccio” of thin slices of grapefruit, oranges and blood oranges.
— Baking it in cakes or breads (I have used it in my Day of the Dead bread, as well as an Epiphany Rosca de Rayes. I also recently used it in an orange pound cake, as well as the orange juice glaze poured over it.
— Mixing it in as a flavoring for creamy desserts, such as puddings, custards, panna cotta or ice cream.

A while ago, I found an irresistible recipe for a rice pudding with orange flower water and topped with pears and honey. Yum! Having not made a lot of rice pudding (yet loving it as a creature comfort food), I was eager to make this treat. Arborio rice, an Italian grain, is rounder and plumper than other versions. It seemed perfect for this homey dessert.

Why don’t I make more rice pudding, I thought, as I completed this easy recipe. It takes but a wee bit of time and the end result well-worth it. Not a lot of fancy ingredients, except for the flower water, which imparts such a soft, warmth to the creamy pudding,that you will wonder why there isn’t more orange blossom-infused deliciousness in your life.

Rice Pudding With Fresh Pears And Honey
From Bon Appetit magazine (
Makes 6 servings

Chef Sarah Ellsworth, the London Plane, Seattle, uses creamy bomba rice and orange-flower water to make an elevated rice pudding for her daughter—for breakfast: “It’s a weekend treat.”

1 cup bomba or arborio rice
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
5 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon orange-flower water
1 pear, sliced
â…“ cup chopped unsalted, roasted pistachios
Honey (for serving)

Bring rice, salt, and 1½ cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer until water is almost completely absorbed, 6–8 minutes. Add milk, return to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender and milk is thickened, 30–35 minutes. Add sugar and orange-flower water and cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute longer. Let cool slightly.

Serve rice pudding topped with sliced pear and chopped pistachios and drizzled with honey.

Lavender Love

I keep a lot of unusual items in my pantry, among them, a large jar of dried lavender buds. For cooking? you might ask. Absolutely. Lavender, that aromatic and heady herb, provides floral sweetness in a number of ways:

— As one of the cast members of herbes de provence (also including savory, marjoram, thyme, oregano and rosemary), lavender leaves provide seasoning for herb sauces, chicken and fish, pasta and breads.
— Lavender lemonade….what a treat! Steep lavender buds in hot water, then strain as a base to add your lemons and sweetener. You will drink it all summer.
— Lavender gives cookies and other baked goods, like cake or madeleines, an elegant twist. One of my favorites is a lavender shortbread (see blog entry of June 2014).
— Sweet treats, like ice cream or candy, are given depth with these herb-y buds.

A few years ago, I purchased a gourmet hot chocolate set that included a white hot chocolate infused with lavender and lemon. I’ll admit, I held off trying this one in lieu of the dark chocolate variations in the set. When I finally got to the white chocolate, I was so sorry I waited. Never has there been a more perfect combination of flavors — the sweet, buttery white chocolate, the bright twinge of lemon and that soothing lavender. It was a perfect nighttime cocoa (sadly, the company making it no longer does — why?). Since then, I’ve considered the possibility of a truffle with those same flavors.

I infused warm heavy cream with lavender buds and lemon zest in a tea diffuser, then poured that warm cream over white chocolate chips, allowing them some melting time before stirring the mixture to smoothness. Once the white chocolate base had chilled, I scooped out spoonfuls to roll into balls. Once those were chilled, I coated them all in more melted white chocolate. A sprinkle of some lavender buds, along with some sparkling purple sugar for decoration and textural crunch, and I had a beautiful little truffle.

Sweet and buttery, just enough lavender and lemon to make me recall my fondness for that cocoa, these decadent little bites would make beautiful gifts for the chosen ones….

White Chocolate Lavender-Lemon Truffles
Makes 1 dozen

16 ounces white chocolate chips, divided in half
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
Sparkling sugar (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, 1 tablespoon lavender (reserve teaspoon for later) and lemon zest.

Place over low heat and bring to a simmer.

Remove from heat and pour through a strainer to remove lavender and zest.

Place 8 ounces of the chocolate and butter in a bowl, pour the warm cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for a couple of minutes. Stir the mixture until melted and smooth. Finely chop about 1/2 teaspoon of lavender buds and blend into ganache. Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Using a small scoop or tablespoon, scoop out balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Chill balls in the refrigerator.

Melt remaining chocolate in a small sbowl over a double boiler or carefully (in 30-second increments) in the microwave. Dip chilled truffles in the melted white chocolate and place on sheet. Sprinkle with remaining lavender buds and sparkling sugar, if desired. Keep refrigerated until served.

A Rose(water) in May

I’ll be the first to admit that the taste of rose is not everyone’s cup of tea — I’m guessing it makes them feel as if they are eating a perfume, a soap or a potpourri. Not me! I like a cup of tea made of dried rosebuds, rose-flavored cake and frosting (see my very first blog entry!); I love to feel the cooling and aromatic effect of drops of rosewater in my water (to drink and splash on my face). I’ve bookmarked recipes for raspberry-rose jam and rose breakfast buns.

But what has strangely captured my heart (and apparently also that of young Edmund in in C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia”) is Turkish Delight. I was lured by pretty little cellophane bags of the stuff tied up with a pink ribbon on display at Miette bakery in the San Francisco Ferry Building. Perfect little pink gummy squares coated in powdered sugar filled the bags. Upon tasting, I discovered their rosewater sweetness and was hooked. It was such a simple yet unique dainty, elegant treat! Flavors can range from other fruits and herbs (like mint), but the standard traditional kind tastes like rose.

It’s all purchasable online, too, of course, but it occurred to me that it might be a do-able candy project. I’m a bit fascinated by candy making. Sugar and water can be transformed into such a wide variety of confections!

Here too, sugar and water, along with lemon juice,x become the hot start for this cool candy. A sizable amount of plain gelatin and cornstarch provides the chewy factor. After a reasonably short cooking time to allow all to thicken, I added vanilla, a generous amount of rose water (3 teaspoons) and enough red food coloring to provide a deep pink hue.

After a long cooling time and a dusting of powdered sugar and cornstarch, the slab of delight can be cut into squares of diminutive bites that are bursting with flavor. An aromatic gumdrop-like confection, rose lingering in the nose, along with on the tongue.

It made me consider the many flavor possibilities of future batches: orange, cranberry, pineapple, peach…

But always with at least a little rose added.

Turkish Delight
Adapted from “The Splendid Table” (

1 2/3 cups superfine sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
4 packets powdered unflavored gelatin
2/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons rosewater
Pink food-coloring paste
Generous 1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
Sunflower oil, for brushing the saucepan

Pour the sugar into a medium-size saucepan and add the lemon juice and 1 1/4 cups of water. Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring gently to a boil.
Mix the gelatin with 1/2 cup of the cornstarch and 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons water and add to the saucepan. Stir constantly until the gelatin has dissolved, then continue to simmer very gently for 20 minutes until thickened.
Mix together the remaining cornstarch and the confectioners’ sugar. Lightly oil a 8-inch square baking pan with a depth of 1 1/2-2 inches and line it with plastic wrap. Lightly dust the plastic wrap with some of the cornstarch mixture, tipping out the excess.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool. Add the rosewater, food coloring, and pistachios and pour the mixture into the baking pan. Spread level and let cool for at least 4 hours at room temperature or until completely set before cutting into squares and dusting with the rest of the sugar-cornstarch.

Blogger’s Note: I used a few drops of liquid red food color for this recipe. I mixed the color and the rosewater in while the mixture was still warm. I also used cooking spray, rather than sunflower oil, for pan. I left the pistachios out of my batch, but I’m eager to try them next time!

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