I can think of few better ways to celebrate spring in the kitchen than by introducing a little floral sparkle to your cooking.
There is plenty of fun to be had in whipping up something a little bit special, enhancing basic recipes by harnessing the magic of these beautiful and fragrant ingredients.
A surprising number of flowers are edible, particularly if you have your own garden and can therefore guarantee that they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals.
During the summer, have a go at growing nasturtiums (delicious peppery leaves that work well in salads, and bright marigold petals for garnishing desserts and other dishes), roses (the petals are very versatile, particularly in sweet recipes) and borage (these delicate purple flowers are especially lovely frozen into ice cubes to decorate summer drinks).
Although these aren’t around until later in the year, you can still use easily available flower ingredients to brighten up your cooking.
Rose petals are available dried from Middle Eastern grocers and online, while orange blossom water and rosewater are widely available concentrated floral essences and add a dash of mysterious, alluring fragrance to a versatile array of dishes.
Dried lavender can be found online and from some good delis, and you only need a tiny amount to give your cooking a hint of Provence.
Saffron, the highly prized stamens from crocus flowers, is a beautiful way of adding colour, richness and a subtle musky fragrance to both sweet and savoury dishes.
Here are a few suggestions for making your family's day with some edible flower power:
- Add a couple of drops of rosewater to the whipped cream in a Victoria sponge for a delicate, quintessentially English treat. This works particularly well with raspberry jam in the filling. For even more floral flavour, use rose petal jelly instead of jam. Ice and scatter with unsprayed rose petals, if you can find them, or dried rose petals if not.
- Soften some salted butter, then add a teaspoon of honey and a couple of drops of orange blossom water. Whip using an electric mixer (or muscle power and a wooden spoon!), put into a pretty ramekin or serving dish and chill in the fridge. Serve alongside pancakes, waffles, croissants or crumpets for a special breakfast (serving in bed optional).
- Decorate the top of a Middle Eastern-style yoghurt cake using a sprinkling of dried rose petals and slivered pistachios. This looks beautiful, like a casket of jewels.
- For a classy dinner, serve cooked tagliatelle in a sauce of cream, a little saffron, black pepper and finely chopped shallots. Toss with ribbons of smoked salmon, cooked prawns or – if you’re feeling really extravagant – scallops. Garnish with lemon juice and chopped parsley for a quick but indulgent treat.
- Saffron can also be used to infuse the milk for an enriched bread dough, which you can then turn into hot cross buns, a plaited brioche-style loaf, or a spiced fruited bread for breakfast.
- Simmer thinly sliced oranges (leave the skin on) in a syrup of water, sugar, honey, orange blossom water and crushed cardamom pods for half an hour or so, until completely soft. These candied oranges can then be used to decorate cakes; they look particularly beautiful if you use blood oranges.
- Add a couple of drops of rosewater to a yoghurt tzatziki or raita to serve with spicy grilled meat, for a quick but exotic dinner.
- A smidge of dried lavender is absolutely gorgeous in a simple shortbread recipe. These can be baked in rounds and packaged in bags tied with ribbon for a lovely homemade gift. Lavender also has a wonderful affinity with apricots, so try it in dried apricot flapjacks or in a tea loaf.
- Add orange blossom water and honey to a salad dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss with rocket and watercress, slivered dates, crumbled goat’s cheese and toasted almonds for a fantastic and refreshing salad; great with grilled meat or roasted vegetables.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes, she is studying for a PhD on children’s literature and the Arthurian legend at the University of York.