Orange blossom extract, rose water, dried lavender… they all sound delicious in the cake. But how do you do it without everything tasting of potpourri? From celeb chefs such as Eric Lanlard to cookbook authors like Hannah Miles, the baking world has gone crazy over cornflowers and helpless over hollyhocks.
And if you think eating flowers is all a bit hippy, just remember you’re already eating them. Artichoke, broccoli, and cauliflower are all flower buds and in Mexico and the Middle East, they’ve been cooking with flower waters for yonks.
So can I eat all the flowers?
No. So put your knife and fork down and pay attention. Some flowers are actually pretty toxic and can give you a very sore belly. Do a quick Google search and you’ll be able to decipher what’s edible and what’s not, but never eat anything if you’re not sure. Here’s our pick of the bunch…
Cornflowers And whatever you do, just don’t eat a daffodil.
To pick or to buy?
Sadly it’s not just a matter of picking up a cheap bunch of flowers from your local florists. Flowers for eating need to be not chemical and pesticide-free, as well as edible in the first place. The good news is they’re easy to order online. But if you’ve got your heart set on picking your own, get them off the beaten track and not from the side of the road where traffic and dogs can contaminate your foraging.
Water, extract, oil? The list goes on…
Yes, it’s all a bit confusing. But whatever you use, use it sparingly. Here’s a whistle-stop tour:
FLOWER WATERS are usually a distillation from the blossoms and pretty strong. The most well known is probably rose water but it’s not just for Turkish delight; try a few drops in these rosewater meringues.
FLOWER OILS are pressed from the flowers themselves and completely pure (with no alcohol or water added). They’re also pricey (though you dilute them before you use them); we found a small bottle of chamomile oil on sale for about £97! Ouch.
EXTRACTS are diluted oils, often with alcohol which is used to draw out the flavor. A few drops are all you need.
And the whole flowers?
Yep, you can use those too. Dried lavender buds are more subtle than lavender extract and delicious if you don’t overdo it, in scones and cakes. Crystallized violets are exceptionally pretty (and tasty) too while colorful edible petals can be used to make ‘flowerfetti’ much cooler than sprinkles.
Typically stems and the inner parts of a flower are very bitter remove these if you’re using whole heads.
And for absolute beginners?
Start with a flower sugar such as lavender and use less caster sugar in your basic recipe. Or add a few drops of orange blossom water to a simple chocolate cake. Floral jams and marmalades are an easy twist on a Vicky sponge but you could just top a cake off with some daisies or electric blue cornflowers you don’t have to eat them!