Flower power can sneak up on you.
One bite of a lavender truffle from Christopher Elbow Chocolates and you wonder “what is this?” The floral note in the rich caramel center, enrobed in dark chocolate, whispers of perfection.
Clean-smelling lavender isn’t only for spa and bath and the linen closet, it pairs well with a certain constellation of flavors. Steep a teaspoon or so of dried lavender buds (harvested from your own garden or culinary lavender from Penzey’s) in warm simple syrup or cream, covered, for about 30 minutes. Use it to make a summer garden lemonade or a homemade caramel. A little lavender in a blackberry crisp makes the blackberries taste deeper, more purple, more interesting.
Rosewater, the distilled essence of fragrant rose petals, does something wonderful with fresh strawberries. The good news is that fresh strawberries are readily available. The bad news is they often don’t have much flavor, since they’re bred for durability and size rather than deliciousness. But sugar the strawberries and mix in a teaspoon or two of rosewater (available at Middle Eastern markets, Dean & DeLuca, and cake decorating shops) and the strawberries taste like the tiniest, most aromatic French frais de bois.
As Sarah Lohman noted in her recent Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, rosewater was the flavoring of choice for American cooks and bakers, well up into the 19th century, because it was something a good gardener could make at home. William Penn’s wife, Gulielma, used it to flavor cheesecake in 17th-century Philadelphia. It deserves a comeback now.
Orange flower water, the distilled essence of the blossoms of an orange tree, has been a favorite flavoring in Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine. Natasha Goellner of Cirque du Sucré and Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott says adding a little orange flower water to honey makes all the difference in her signature Beehive Cake. The flower essence makes honey taste, well, honey-er. London chef Yotam Ottolenghi uses orange flower water in vinaigrettes to give salads a lighter, brighter taste. It’s also delicious stirred into pastry cream for a cake filling.
A syrup as well as a liqueur (Rothman and Winter Crème de Violette) made from fragrant purple violets, crème de violette, might seem like something your great-aunt would like. But the soft, vanilla-like flavor with the aroma of baby powder does great things in craft cocktails like the Aviation, or desserts like panna cotta, soufflés, crème brûlée, macarons, and pastry cream. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is celebrating 90 vibrant years on this planet, in part because she regularly delights in her favorite violet cream-filled chocolate candies.