The news feeds are pretty dead on this spring equinox morning, and the newscasters are calling for up to a foot of snow on the heels of the white rabbit and it's odd habit of laying eggs.
So as a reminder that it really is spring (no, really! Ignore the coat of frost on your car this morning and the blizzard this afternoon...) I've decided to post a recipe that I consider summertime aromatherapy for your mouth.
Quite a few flowers are edible, which is why they're used so often as garnish. I'm considering picking up an ice-cream maker one of these summers in order to experiment with jasmine or lavender sorbet. I've found recipes for marigold iced tea, stuffed squash blossoms, and violet punch over the years and have been intrigued enough to want to try them.
The cautions in using flowers to cook with are that you must be sure that the particular flower is edible. Some hybrids become toxic where their natural counterpart was edible, and vice-versa. You must also know the origins of that particular plant. Nurseries and flower shops generally sell hothouse flowers sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers that were never intended for food crops. If you can find a small home-town nursery that's willing to swear blue that they only use organic fertilizers and no pesticides, that may be a safe place to obtain plants. Trusted friends might also be willing to let you use their organic cutting-gardens for the kitchen (especially if you share!). roadside stands and farmers' markets are often a good source, but be sure to particularly ask about chemicals. The best sources, of course, would be your own garden or a store that sells flowers specifically for eating. Try the specialty international stores. The Indian Grocery store in town sells rose water and orange blossom water. So does the health food store, although you should make sure it's edible-grade and not just for cosmetics.
Another consideration is that since flowers aren't a regular food for most people, you must be sure to use caution when it comes to allergies. If you're allergic to ragweed, for instance, avoid chamomile as they're in the same family. Start small with only a few petals at a time before making an entire salad, and pay attention to your body's reaction.
Also, too much of any flower can make you sick, due to generally increased alkaloids or acids. Don't make an entire salad or meal from flowers. They're intended to be accents and garnishes, not a main dish. Some, like squash blossoms and okra, can work well in quantity, but not all. Some flowers have medicinal properties, in which case they should be used sparingly or not at all. St. John's Wort, for instance, can interfere with heart medication. The name of the game is research, just like when introducing any exotic ingredient into your cooking.
These rose cookies are best to start the day before you need them so they can chill/dry overnight or more before baking.
For the cookies, you'll need:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp rose water
2 cookie sheets covered with parchment paper (baking section of grocery store)
Extra sugar (for rolling)
For the candied rose petals you'll need:
1 red rose (at least 30 petals, pesticide/fertilizer free)
1 egg white
1/4 tsp rose water
1/2 cup super-fine sugar (really fine cane sugar works well)
wax paper over a rack or cookie sheet
watercolor paintbrush (invest in a nice one that won't shed bristles in your food!)
With electric mixer, beat the softened butter until creamy. Add sugar and continue to beat until creamy again. Add egg, vanilla and rose water, continuing to beat.
Turn the mixer down to the lowest setting and add flour and salt. Scrape down the sides as you mix so that everything is incorporated. Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap so as to prevent air from drying it out, and put in the fridge. This will need to chill for 2-3 hours at least, but since the rose petals will need a day to dry, best to just leave it in the fridge overnight.
To make the petals:
pour a layer of sugar in the bottom of a bowl
beat the egg white with the rose water until just frothy
remove the petals from the rose, and carefully remove the white part of the petal near the base (it tastes bitter)
Using the tweezers, dip the petal into the egg white. If it doesn't coat completely or coats in more than a thin layer, use the paintbrush to even it out. You're not "battering" the petal, just providing a very light layer of glue for the sugar.
Hold the petal over the sugar bowl with the tweezers, and sprinkle a pinch of sugar over each side
lay the petals in a single layer on the wax paper to dry
let them sit for 12-36 hours to dry completely, then they can be stored up to a few days in an airtight container.
Make sure the rose petals are dry! If not, put them in the oven at about 175 degrees F for an hour or until dry.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 F
Pour a layer of sugar on a plate or bowl, at least 1/2 inch thick
break off chunks of dough about 1-2 tablespoons and roll in your hands to form a ball. Drop it in the sugar and roll it to coat.
Use the bottom of a small glass (shot glass or wineglass with a small base) to flatten the center of the cookie.
lay a candied rose petal in this flat area, pressing it gently into the dough
lay the cookie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
repeat until sheets are full, leaving a 1" gap between cookies
Bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes, checking after 12 minutes to watch for color change. They should be slightly darker than the dough, but not browned around the edges. For a more even bake (unless you have a super-fancy oven, which I shall hypnotize you into giving to me) turn the sheets around half-way through baking to bring the back rows to the front.
Transfer to a cooling rack, or loosen from the parchment to keep from sticking.
These can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, although they serve best at room temperature so you don't get that "solid butter" aftertaste.
If your mother /grandmother isn't a chronic dieter, this makes a great mother's-day present. Especially if you're short on funds.