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How to cook with edible flowers

How to cook with edible flowers

Organic gardener Jo Facer and head chef Erin Bunting run a fork-to-fork supper club and fledgling cooking and growing school, The Edible Flower. Here are a couple of simple and delicious recipes from their new cookbook

Carnation and blackberry cooler


This syrup recipe makes a delicious cocktail or mocktail

I find that you can extract the flavour from even not particularly scented carnation by making a syrup. The petals also give up their colour in the boiling water, so if you use coloured flowers you end up with a beautiful pink or red syrup that looks and tastes amazing in a cocktail.

"If you use coloured flowers you end up with a beautiful pink or red syrup"

I often use frozen blackberries, since they cool the cocktail as you make it. It works well without the vodka, too, but you might want to add a splash more syrup to taste. 

Serves 2 

For the carnation syrup

(makes about 400 ml/13 fl. oz)

15 g (1⁄2 oz) carnation petals (about 30–40 flowers) 

300 g (101⁄2 oz) sugar 

For the cocktail

50 g (13⁄4 oz) fresh or frozen blackberries 

a few basil leaves, plus extra to garnish 

100 ml (31⁄2 fl. oz) vodka (optional) 

juice of 1 lime 

300 ml (10 fl. oz) sparkling water 

a couple of carnation flowers, to garnish 

Method

1. To make the syrup, put the petals in a bowl or jug, pour over 300 ml boiling water and leave to infuse overnight, or for at least 12 hours. 

2. Strain the resulting liquid into a small pan and add the sugar. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat and simmer for a minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then pour the syrup into a bottle or jar and store in the fridge. It should last for a couple of weeks in this way; for longer storage, I recommend freezing it. 

3. To make the cocktail, put the blackberries and basil in a cocktail shaker or jug and crush together with a cocktail ‘muddler’ or the end of a wooden spoon. Add 80 ml dianthus syrup, the vodka and lime juice, and shake or stir well. 

4. Put ice cubes in two highball glasses and strain half the mixture into each glass. My cocktail shaker has a coarse strainer that means some, but not all, of the blackberry bits end up in the drink. If you like, you can use a sieve (strainer) to strain the mixture and then add a little of the crushed blackberries back to the drink. Top up with sparkling water and garnish with basil and carnation flowers or petals. 

Edible flower cake with sweet geranium, blackcurrant and vanilla


You can use this cake recipe with a variety of pressed edible flowers

Pressed edible flowers make beautiful, delicate decorations for cakes, and are special enough for a celebration cake or even a wedding cake. You can use them with their stems to create a flower garden-style decoration, as I have done here, or take them off their stems to create more abstract patterns. Do plan in advance, as flowers take a couple of weeks to press.

"Pressed edible flowers make beautiful, delicate decorations for cakes, and are special enough for a celebration cake or even a wedding cake"

This recipe could have gone almost anywhere in this book because I use a range of pressed flowers and leaves for decorating cakes. Roman chamomile presses beautifully and looks gorgeous on a cake, but other favourites include lavender, calendula, daisies, violas, and small, simple dahlias. 

Serves 12–16 

For the cake

225 g (8 oz) caster sugar 

4 large sweet geranium leaves, roughly chopped 

225 g (8 oz) butter, at room temperature 

4 large eggs, whisked 

225 g (8 oz) self-raising flour 

2–3 tbsp milk

For the buttercream icing

225 g (8 oz) butter, softened 

550 g (1 lb 33⁄4 oz) icing sugar, sifted 

2 tsp vanilla bean paste, or the seeds from one vanilla pod 

2–4 tbsp whole milk or single cream 

200 g (7 oz) blackcurrant jam or another jam of your choosing 

To decorate

pressed edible flowers, about 30–40 stems

fresh edible flowers and leaves (optional) 

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/370oF/Gas 5. Butter and line two 15 cm loose-based cake tins. 

2. Pulse the sugar and geranium leaves in a food processor until the leaves are finely chopped and the sugar turns bright green. 

3. Cream the butter until smooth, using a stand mixer with the beater attachment, or a wooden spoon and a lot of effort. Add the geranium sugar and beat on low speed until it is combined, then beat on high speed for three-four minutes, until light and fluffy. This will take longer if you are beating by hand. 

4. Add a spoonful of the whisked eggs and beat on high speed until the mixture is smooth and combined. Keep adding the egg and beating until all the egg is incorporated. For the last couple of additions, add 1 tbsp of the flour as well, to stop the mixture from splitting. 

5. Fold in the rest of the flour. I use the stand mixer at very low speed, but you can also do this by hand. Mix in the milk. The mixture should be thick but still drop slowly from a spoon. 

6. Weigh the cake mixture equally into the two tins. Smooth the tops and make a small indentation in the middle of each to counteract a domed rise. 

7. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until the cake is just starting to come away from the edge of the tins and a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins for about ten minutes, then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. 

8. Cut the cakes in half horizontally, as evenly as possible, so that you have four separate layers. 

9. Now make the buttercream. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed for five minutes. 

10. Sift in the icing sugar in a couple of batches, along with the vanilla, and beat on low speed until incorporated. Turn up the speed and beat on high for another three minutes. Add half the milk or cream and beat again. If you need to, add the rest of the milk or cream; the icing should have a spreadable consistency that still holds its shape. If there are too many big air bubbles, reduce the speed and beat on low for a minute or two. 

11. Fill a piping bag with three quarters of the buttercream. Dot a little buttercream on to the plate or cake stand you are using. (The cake will need refrigerating after the first coat of buttercream, so make sure the plate or stand fits into the fridge.) 

12. Put the first cake layer on the plate, remembering how the next layer lines up. Pipe on a swirl of buttercream and use a palette knife to spread it out about 1 cm thick. Now pipe a thin circle of buttercream around the top, about 0.5 cm (1⁄4 in) in from the edge. This will be a barrier, to keep the jam from leaking out. Spoon one-third of the jam inside that line and spread it out. 

13. Repeat with the other layers. For the top two I always turn the cakes upside down, so that I end up with a bottom layer on the very top – this gives a cleaner edge. 

14. Once all the layers are assembled, do the crumb coat. This is a layer of icing that locks in the crumbs and evens out the surface before you do the final coat of icing. Pipe a zigzag of icing all the way around the cake, taking the zigs and zags to the top and bottom of the cake. Then use a palette knife to spread it out. Some areas will be thicker than others; the idea is to create a smooth cylinder of cake, filling in any gaps and imperfections. Finally, spread icing on top of the cake. Make sure the whole cake is covered in icing and there are no bare patches. Refrigerate the cake for 2 hours (or overnight) to set the icing. 

15. Beat the remaining buttercream again for a couple of minutes until it is soft and creamy and will spread easily. Using a palette knife, spread it over the sides of the cake in an even layer, then smooth the surface using the palette knife or a cake scraper, if you have one. Dollop the last of the buttercream on top of the cake, use the palette knife to spread it out and then create a swirl on the top of the cake. 

16. Now the fun begins. Arrange the pressed flowers on a work surface and start to select flowers to decorate the cake. To attach a pressed flower to the cake, hold it gently against the buttercream and press it in very lightly. Add flowers until you have decorated all the way round the cake and are happy with the result. If you want to reposition a flower, just peel it off and smooth out the icing using the warmed palette knife. 

17. Keep the cake in a cool room until you are ready to serve. Just before serving, you can decorate the top with fresh edible flowers and leaves. For larger flowers, use a cocktail stick or narrow skewer to make a hole in the top of the cake and gently push the flower stem in to hold it in place. 

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