July 1, 2018

5 tips for freshening up beverages and desserts with edible flowers and floral flavors.

A Floral Flourish

Edible flowers add flavor, color to beverages and desserts.

Operators are bolstering their menus with dessert and beverage items which leverage the flavors, aromas and fresh visual appeal that flowers and flower-based ingredients can offer. In citing floral flavors as one of the top trends for 2018, Whole Foods Market said petals can lend "a subtly sweet taste and fresh aromatics" to dishes. In addition to their flavor and aroma, edible flowers also add colorful flourish to beverage and dessert options, as seen in the following dishes:
Lavender Yogurt

Lavender Yogurt

At Olmsted in Brooklyn, N.Y., lavender adds both color and flavor to the restaurant’s signature dessert.

Blood Orange Dessert

Blood Orange Dessert

At Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs Resort, baby pansies and borage garnish this dish, which includes blood orange curd, toasted meringue, vanilla crème, shortbread, blood orange caramel, and lime purée.

Rose and Basil Cake

Rose and Basil Cake

This signature cake from Rose & Basil in New York is flavored with rose water and passion fruit.

Corn Polenta Cheesecake

Corn Polenta Cheesecake

This dish from Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs Resort features corn on the cob pudding, gooseberry marmalade, goat’s milk foam, poppy seed streusel and bruléed duck egg yolk, with marigolds and lavender.

Floral Tea

Floral Tea

Edible flowers can add flavor and color to teas.

Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

Many Middle Eastern desserts include floral flavors, such as Turkish Delight, a chewy candy made with rose water.

Floral flavors have long been cherished by chefs for their ability to imbue beverage and dessert offerings with a range of tastes and aromas.

Although traditionally featured in spring and summer recipes, floral flavors are increasingly being used to enhance dishes year-round. Whole Foods Market named floral flavors one of the top trends for 2018, and the edible flower industry has experienced a surge in demand of late, according to a recent report in Restaurant Hospitality. The article attributes the increasing popularity in part to online recipes and television cooking shows which highlight the use of botanicals in cooking.

Flowers can be incorporated into beverage and dessert menus in several different ways — as flavors in syrups or infusions, candied to add sweetness and a visual flourish, or whole as a garnish atop a cake or cocktail, for example. Among the most popular flowers used by menu makers are orange blossoms, rose petals, lavender, violas, pansies, bachelor buttons, calendula, marigolds and nasturtiums.

Following are five tips for using floral flavors and ingredients in beverage and dessert options:

   1. Find the Right Pairings

Diners sometimes need to be drawn into floral flavors, which can be facilitated through the right ingredient pairings, says Ioana Holt, founder and chief executive of Rose and Basil, a New York café known for its artfully crafted desserts.

“You have to decide to commit to the ingredient,” she says. “By that I mean that you pair the floral ingredients with either familiar or exotic ingredients in order to create something which awakens memories of food, thus taking the floral ingredient out of the olfactory realm and bringing it into the culinary one.”

For example, Holt cites dishes that pair rose flavors with passion fruit, or lavender flavors with dark chocolate. Among the most popular flower-flavored dishes at Rose and Basil, she says, is the café’s signature Rose and Basil cake, made with rose water crème patisserie, a whipped cream rose frosting, passion fruit and rose petal dust.

   2. Add a Splash of Color

Subtle flower flavors can be complemented with a splash of floral color to enhance the fresh experience of dessert items.

At Olmsted in Brooklyn, chef-owner Greg Baxtrom’s signature dessert is frozen yogurt with lavender honey, which features frozen yogurt from the farmers’ market topped with a simple whipped lavender honey.

After using a special technique to whip the honey into a creamy meringue-like consistency, the white peaks of the dessert are topped with fresh purple flower petals from the garden, he says.

Likewise, legendary Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse is known for sprinkling candied rose petals on its spring menu dessert options to create stunning visual and taste experiences. In her “Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook,” chef-founder Alice Waters suggests selecting rose petals for their color and beauty, and then coating them with lightly beaten egg whites before dipping them in superfine sugar. They should be allowed to dry in a cool place for two to three hours or overnight.

Other flower petals that are often candied and used in dessert recipes include pansies, borage and dianthus.

   3. Blend Blossoms and Beverages

Floral flavors can add unexpected flavors and visual excitement to a wide variety of beverage options, from cocktails and other adult drinks to teas and smoothies.

At Rose and Basil, the café’s Flower Bubbles — prosecco and flower infusions with a rose on top — are offered in orange blossom, rose, lavender and elder flower varieties. In addition, the café’s wines served with rose blossoms garner a lot of positive feedback from customers, Holt says.

“The rose blossoms add to the experience of wine drinking, elevating it another notch,” she says.

In Mexico, dried hibiscus is often used in such beverages as agua de Jamaica — also known as hibiscus tea — according to a recent article in Food & Wine magazine. Dried hibiscus is also featured in syrups or as a dessert garnish in Mexico, Food & Wine says.

   4. Draw on International Cuisines

Consider the global use of floral flavors as a basis for creating exotic, authentic desserts. Rose water and other floral flavors are a staple in the Middle Eastern cuisines of Israel, Turkey and North Africa, for example.

At Shiraz Kitchen, a Persian restaurant in Elmsford, N.Y., customers rave about the Saffron Ice Cream made with a vanilla base flavored with saffron and rose water. The ice cream appears in multiple desserts, including an ice cream sandwich, and as an accompaniment to the restaurant’s popular Faloodeh, which is made with frozen rose water-and-cardamom-flavored rice noodles, served with a side of sour cherry syrup.

Another dessert on the menu at Shiraz is Turkish Delight, a chewy candy made with rose water and offered with either mixed nuts or rose petals.

   5. Modulate the Flavors

Some flowers can have an intense floral flavor that needs to be used judiciously.

Anthony Bucco, executive chef at Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex, N.J., likes to incorporate foraged flowers and even invasive plants such as dandelions into his dishes. He recommends using marigolds and dandelions in infusions to minimize some of the bitterness of the flowers.

“We’ll do something like a dandelion ice cream with a first-of-the-season honey,” he tells Restaurant Hospitality.

Steven Greene, executive chef at Herons, a restaurant at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C., who likes to use edible flowers in pastry, cautions against using too much of some flowers to avoid overpowering a dish.

“Try not to use the whole flower,” he advises in the Restaurant Hospitality article. “I use the petals, so the flavor isn’t overwhelming.”