Crystal tops: spring flower cupcake toppers
This year’s warm weather has brought a bevy of beautiful blossom to our trees and hedgerows much earlier than usual. It’s a great opportunity use wild flowers to add a bright and breezy bit of colour to your baking that’s as springy as a frolicking lamb. Though it’s too early for the usual rose petals, don’t miss out on early spring beauties.
Crystallised flowers are a bit old-fashioned, but in a totally gorgeous way. And as the early blossoms don’t, for the most part, have as strong a scent or flavour as the later summer flowers, it’s all about the look. These are decorations you won’t find in your kitchen shop as they’re too delicate to transport. But make use of the flowers now, and they’ll keep in an airtight box for weeks.
Gently paint primroses or violets in a little beaten egg white and lightly sprinkle with caster sugar, ensuring the front and back of the flower is completely coated. Set the flowers aside to dry on some greaseproof paper for at least 24 hours, then store in an airtight container. It's crucial to let them dry completely before sealing up, or you’ll have soggy blossom.
The texture of crystallised flowers is beautifully light and crisp – there’s no hint of chewy petal in there. But the colour and shape is retained, down to the butter yellow centres. I used them to top Dan Lepard’s wonderful carrot cupcakes with cream cheese icing. Many flowers, including apple, plum, blackthorn (sloe) are technically edible and suitable for crystallising.
It's worth pointing out that it's illegal in the UK to dig up wild primroses, and over-picking can be damaging to the population - so take as little as you need and always get permission from the land owner.
Violets pack the most flavour punch and have a long-standing friendship with chocolate – try them in Nigel Slater’s Chocolate sea salt snaps for an flavourful spring variation. If you’re up to your ankles in violets, it’s hard to resist the purple majesty of this amazing syrup. Richard Mabey in his seminal work, Food for Free, references this 15th century recipe using violets as a flavouring for rice pudding but that sounds as old-fashioned as a pair of granny’s bloomers.
Primrose and rosemary flowers
Equally purple, but more sophisticated, rosemary flowers carry the same heady pine flavour that is in the leaves. When chopped up and baked they have no discernable difference to the chopped up leaves, as I found when trialling a rosemary flower shortbread. Alternatively, infuse the rosemary leaves in warm double cream for chocolate truffles, with a crystallised rosemary flower on top.
Later in the year we’ll have the more robust elderflowers, hawthorn blossom and roses to steep in boiling water or sugar syrup, but for now the delicate spring flowers can adorn our cakes in ladylike style.
Crystallised flowers – beautiful or too passé? What are you foraging for this time of year?