Sunday March 25, 2012
At the bakery where I used to work, we invented something called Mediocre Powers. Our go-to goofy conversation to let our pent up baker imaginations run wild, or weird at least. Mediocre Powers have a legitimately supernatural element, but constrained by such limited utility they wouldn’t even make the X-Men’s D-list. A person with a Mediocre Power would not trigger a Fringe Event or warrant an investigation from Mulder and Scully.
My Mediocre Power gave me the ability to taste with my fingers (code name: Gourmittens). It had obvious perks, imagine the calories saved!, but also crippling limitations. I’d have to wear a pair of gloves lined with strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups to save myself from the unpleasantries of the daily grind.
In real life, my sense of smell might qualify for a mediocre power. When I hug someone, I can reconstruct their day like some chick on a cheesy forensic TV show: hint of locust, walk in the park…lingering patchouli, ah! you ran into our friend Elle…greasy flour, a stop at the doughnut shop across town. As mediocre powers go, it’s the mediocre-ist. I can only identify the scents of the people I know and the places I’ve been.
At work, however, it almost qualifies as super. I can puzzle out the flavors in Soft Batch Cookies after merely huffing the bag for a few minutes or work nuance of Lucky Charms into panna cotta without using any actual cereal. As with all powers, mediocre or otherwise, it comes at a cost. A Bath & Body Works can fell me at 50 yards, perfume is my Kryptonite.
And yet I have a fascination with perfume. Or the idea of it anyway. Our sense of smell informs our experience of taste to such an extent that understanding the mechanics of perfume would seem to inevitably lead to understanding the mechanics of taste (but not love). Unfortunately for me, the only thing perfume inevitably leads to is a migraine. So I appreciate it from afar, reading about head and heart notes, the fragrance wheel, olfactive families and the myriad ways a perfumer can preserve a scent. Enfleurage, a technique wherein a perfumer uses fats to capture fragrance, has always intrigued me as a unique intersection of smell and taste.
Enfleurage relies on purified beef tallow and lard to absorb the complex scents of various blossoms. But does it also capture their flavor? The flavors of lavender, lilac, orange blossom, rose, geranium and hibiscus all have found their way into the pastry kitchen via dried petals and powders, liquors and waters. But could could I use enfleurage to capture the taste of flowers less readily available?
Specifically, I wanted to make a cherry blossom enfleurage. In Japan, you can buy sakura essence, cherry blossom extract, to flavor all sorts of baked goods and custards. I’ve never found it sold in America and the Japanese sites selling it don’t accept foreign credit cards. Some sources say this sakura essence derives from the leaves rather than blossoms of a particular kind of flowering cherry tree. Some say chemists synthesize it in labs from other sources altogether. I don’t know. Certainly it doesn’t come from enfleurage, but with cherry blossoms exploding all over Lexington, I couldn’t resist giving it a shot.
I’ve signed up for a lot of labor intensive, harebrained pastry experiments in the past, but this proved the most ludicrous. I became a literal glutton for punishment. I wanted the taste of sakura badly enough to get up early every morning to clip cherry blossoms at their peak. I arranged the flowers between plates of glass smeared with clarified butter and let them simply be. Each morning, I’d leave the fat untouched and swap out the old blossoms for new. I don’t know how a perfumer determines saturation, but I just kept going until one morning I found no more blossoms to clip. In the end, I steeped the spent blossoms in cream and scraped up an ounce of scented butter. One ounce.
The cream didn’t taste like much, a little grassy. And the butter. Oh, my measly twenty eight grams of butter. It had a flavor so elusive even plain white bread overwhelmed it. Truly food for thought, something I could only think about, not use. I wound up cutting it with a tiny splash of simple syrup and savoring it one tiny taste at a time.
It had obviously floral characteristics, a distinct minerality and a flavor not unlike watermelon, but fainter than a dream. It didn’t work out like I’d hoped and didn’t translate into any desserts I could put on the menu, but I had fun trying.
If you have cherry blossoms of your own you’d like to preserve, I’d recommend candying them. The crystallized blossoms have a bittersweet, vegetal flavor but their gorgeous appearance outweighs their lackluster flavor.
But enfleurage? Better left to psychos and professionals, I fear.
crystallized cherry blossoms
52 comments and counting
Mar 25, 2012 · 1:16 AM
@Melody, I tried that too! Unfortunately, the volume of flowers needed to do it just isn’t feasible for the small scale. You need an ounce of petals for every half pint of liquid? I did the reading on it last year and attempted a micro batch, but it just didn’t work; super bitter, not much flavor. A quart of petals weighs something like 8 grams. It’s ridiculous, they’re like air.
Mar 25, 2012 · 12:23 PM
Your attempt at trying to capture the essence is anything but mediocre! Some might say, “get a life”, but I say, “what a life”!! Bravo to you for attempting this.
On another note, reading about your medicre power made me think you would enjoy the book “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”. It is about a young girl who discovers she can taste the emotions of people through the food they have prepared. An unbelievable premise, to be sure, but very thought provoking!
· saltandserenity · http://www.saltandserenity
Mar 25, 2012 · 12:56 PM
Ohhhh my god. Your maniac search for the flavour/scent of cherry blossom/sakura totally matches my ridiculously maniac search for violet essence, or extract, or ANYTHING to use in baking at the moment. It’s driving me crazy.
I love parma violet candies and I snatched up as many as I could in England but those didn’t last very long and now I want morre and I want to make violet macarons. Argh. (bangs head on wall) You don’t have any idea where I could get my hands on some to feed my addiction by any chance do you?
And best of luck in your quest for getting sakura essence! I must admit I’ve never tried anything sakura flavoured but I bet it’s a lovely.
OH and a little very interesting tidbit. So I downloaded this french, very badly translated, macaron app for my iphone. I then watched the very badly translated video of this patissier making macarons. And then I gasped. She says explicitly to, once you have your meringue beaten, to add your almond flour mixture to a stand mixer (if you have one) with the paddle attachment for exactly 2:30 minutes on the lowest speed. I wonder if it works? Her macarons (although they likely could have been premade by some of her lackeys) looked pretty dang good.
Mar 25, 2012 · 1:40 PM
@saltandserenity, what a great title for a book!!
@Jackie, you know, I was totally thinking that while I watched the episode! Have you read/seen Perfume? I feel like Fringe was drawing heavily from that. So glad it’s back after yet another break, though. I enjoyed their take on scent.
@Eve, how was your trip, dear? I have a pastry friend in Germany who is trying to perfect paddle-macaronage. I’ve tried 3 or 4 times, but have always been met with failure. I feel sure it can be done, somehow, but I have not mastered it.
As far as violets go, search out creme de violette. It’s a violet liquor with a very clean, potent flavor. I’ve used up to a half ounce of it in macarons with great success, and have splashed way more into blueberry pastry cream. Alternately, if you have any restaurant friends, you might ask them if they’d order violets for you. At work, I have access to flower wholesalers and can get organic violets by the quarter pound!
Mar 25, 2012 · 5:55 PM
Stella, this does sound like the type of work only someone with your expertise would dare attempt. The candied version is so gorgeous I would be feel more than happy with these! Better luck next time (I don’t really know you but somehow I can imagine you might have another go at it), at least you already know what your facing. Congratulations, now I understand how you got the name for your blog
Mar 25, 2012 · 8:28 PM
You can get cherry blossom flavoring at this store online! Here is the link:cherry blossom flavor.
It’s FDA approved to be eaten! And they have violet as well for you Eve! They also have honeysuckle, hibiscus and chrysantamum!
And they take paypal!
Mar 25, 2012 · 9:57 PM
@Tesei, haha, if my blog were actually named after my traits, it’d be called Crazy Tart. lol. If nothing else, the crystallized flowers were at least a visual hit and a way to preserve the memories of spring just a little longer. Maybe you’ll make a batch of those.
@Brandee, Oh now you tell me! Where were you six weeks ago??!? But seriously, thanks for the link and info, that’s splendid. You’re a doll.
Mar 25, 2012 · 11:38 PM
I second saltandserenity’s recommendation for “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” – it really reads a lot like what you’re describing here.
· Kate · http://www.katesshortandsweets.com
Mar 26, 2012 · 12:02 AM
Your experiment is fascinating! With solvent (fat, water, alcohol, etc.) extraction you get only that part of the aroma that is soluble in that particular solvent (that’s why we sometimes fry spices, sometimes boil them). Only a very small part of the sakura aroma is oil soluble, I suppose. But it’s more complicated still: the brain interprets the aroma of food in the mouth based on its tongue-taste. Weird. For example, smell an avocado, then eat it with salt (taste interpreted as meat), with lemon juice (interpreted as fruit), then with oil. This is also why a little salt brings out the flavour of chicken broth yet counteracts excessive sweetness in desserts. And perhaps why your sakura-in-oil is enhanced by sugar syrup?
Mar 26, 2012 · 12:39 PM
I tried the same sort of thing with violets last year, although I tried to make an extract by infusing them in vodka for six months. Unfortunately, even after such a long soak, it just tasted like vodka, with unappealing wilted flowers at the bottom. There’s a reason why these things aren’t more common…
· Hannah · http://www.bittersweetblog.com
Mar 26, 2012 · 6:05 PM
this is incredible! wow I’m speechless and inspired.
· Abby · http://www.seaweedandsassafras.com
Mar 26, 2012 · 8:39 PM
Wow – what an incredible treat. Gorgeous!
· Kiri W. · http://www.healthyfoodietravels.net
Mar 27, 2012 · 10:23 AM
@Kate, I’ve got it on my Amazon wish list! Gonna forward it to the local bookstore and see if they’ve got it/can get it. Sounds like my kinda book!
@Jim, thanks for the knowledge bomb, fascinating! I’ll have to try the avocado like that, when I eat it fresh I tend to always just it the same way (wasabi & soy). I’m curious to see what my brain thinks next time.
@Hannah, hahaha, I did that too! I had a sad jar of vodka and cherry blossoms in my pantry for a few months (from an experiment last year) and kept waiting to see if it got tasty, but it just got sadder and sadder. I have a friend with a chemistry background who’s promised to help me try my hand at steam distillation sometime this year, maybe with violets since the sakura are gone.
@paintandpaprika, aw, thanks so much! I haven’t read Perfume, but I saw the movie (which is what I linked to in the last paragraph under “psycho” . The movie was super unsettling, but I was fascinated by the setting.
@Abby, thanks so much, but in real life it was such a let down. A pretty one at least!
@Kiri, we’ve got nature to thank for their good looks.
Mar 27, 2012 · 12:01 PM
It’s beautiful at least! I have some creme de violette that I brought back from France on a whim, but couldn’t figure out what to do with it…I’m not a very adventurous baker. I’ve been thinking lately that I need to try to make your macarons…maybe I’ll use it there!
And I need to read your comments more often for book suggestions!
· Mindy · http://www.theworldinmykitchen.com
Mar 27, 2012 · 12:59 PM
@Mindy, oh, I’m jealous! It’s so hard to get a hold of the creme de violette here, I have a bottle and I’m portioning it out very strictly because our distributor doesn’t know when we’ll have it again. I love using it in plain vanilla ice cream for a solid floral note and the hint of purple it lends, also really nice in panna cotta and buttercream. But my favorite is in a blueberry tart, which I posted about last year.
Mar 27, 2012 · 5:56 PM
Eve- there’s a fantastic confiserie in France called confiserie Florian that has loads of violet products (jasmine and rose as well) including syrups, candied petals, and the most unearthly, delicate jams known to man. They’re not cheap, and shipping here to the states is a bit much as well, but about once a year I make a small order and try to make it last as long as possible. Link: Confiserie Florian
· KosherCorvid · http://fourntwentyblackbirds.wordpress.com/
Mar 28, 2012 · 5:48 PM
@Brandee, thanks so much. I’m always happy to meet another fan of flower desserts.
@KosherCorvid, okay, you’ve totally piqued my interest! I am loosing myself in the selection….Thanks for sharing!
Mar 29, 2012 · 11:03 AM
@martha, I totally know Cailon!! What a good guy! I’m going to have a white chocolate strawberry “soft serve” on the menu (it’s ice cream with LOADS of booze in it which keeps it soft, but not actual swirly soft serve). With strawberry fruit roll ups and strawberry chantilly. Sort of a monochromatic ode to spring.
Mar 29, 2012 · 11:55 PM
@martha, it would be a blast! You two have fun and next time I’ll try and tag along. I'm wild for the strawberry ice cream sundae on the menu right now... (insider tip!)
Mar 30, 2012 · 1:12 AM
If it comes down to it, I have an old classmate stationed in Japan who is willing to take orders & ship goodies State side for me. I haven’t been able to think of anything that I NEED & utilize my cousin in Germany, instead, for treats.
Hm…wonder why I never contacted my relatives in Korea to do the same? Korea is my motherland, technically, but my heart longs for Germany with the unique tastes and smells of my childhood.
I even set up awkward wording because in my head because I’m thinking “mein Mutterland.”
· Melissa · http://nytefalle.com/blog
Mar 30, 2012 · 4:32 AM
Okay, since no one else seems to have noticed, it really looks to me like the flowers you used are from ornamental cherry trees, as opposed to fruiting trees. My sour cherry tree, for example, has white flowers with much narrower petals. There could be significant differences in flavor from different varieties of cherries, particularly non-fruiting vs. fruiting. The ornamentals are bred to look nice, and they put all their energy into big, blowsy flowers. The edible cherry’s flower wants only to attract a pollinator—and puts its energy into producing nectar and scent to that end.
For example, if you were trying this with roses, you would most certainly be trying with rose species noted for their flavor/scent—i.e. Damask roses or Cabbage roses (R. damascena and R. centifolia) as opposed to, say, the rose types used for the floral trade, which look nice, but often have little scent. And from those fragrant species, producers of rose oil likely choose varieties selected also for flavor and scent. Sooo, my point is, maybe the problem is not with the method, the problem is with the material.
If you decide next year to go hunting down flowers from fruiting cherries, however, you may want to make sure you collect under cover of night. The trees’ owners might not be so thrilled to lose significant portions of their potential harvest since flowers=cherries, eventually.
Mar 30, 2012 · 6:57 AM
Great article! I like you point of view here. I also like your writing style. It appears to me to be persuasive and I like that. I truly enjoyed this.
· Online Flowers To Mumbai · http://www.fnp.com/fnp/flowers-to-mumbai/--clI_2-cI_1192-.html
Mar 30, 2012 · 1:08 PM
@Melissa, what a cool heritage! I think you should definitely take advantage of your buddy in Japan too.
@Kelly, sharp eye! A good theory, but my flower choice was intentional. Cherry blossoms in the Japanese sense (sakura) are the non-fruiting prunus serrulata, valued for the beauty and scent of their blossoms. What we think of as a cherry tree, prunus avium and prunus cerasus, they call sakuranbo and are considered totally different. All forms of edible sakura are derived from the serrulata.
For my experiment I used two different prunus serrulata cultivars. Enfleurage is an art which I have no practical experience with, which probably was my ultimate problem. It’s probably best done with bushels of blossoms rather than handfuls.
Update: lol, I see by the time I’ve posted my reply, you’ve replied again. Ha!
@Mumbai, um, yes. Very persuasive.
Mar 30, 2012 · 3:29 PM
@Stella-I am totally into the floral flavors, and I am a trained horticulturalist, so I just had to go looking around to see what I could find in English on Sakura flavor. I find it interesting that so much of what I read refers to salt-preserved flowers. I wonder if the fermentation process enhances the flower flavor in some way that pure enfleurage or even distillation does not. Anyway, I will have to see about ordering some to taste. I know it’s not the same species, but my fruiting cherry is about to bloom, and I will have to sacrifice a fruit to see what the flowers taste like. They don’t have much scent, so maybe not like much. Apple blossoms, OTOH, have a wonderful scent…hmmm…
Mar 30, 2012 · 5:03 PM
@Aja, I have been dying to see it! Didn’t know it was on Hulu though, hurray!!!
@Kelly, okay, I’m loving the nerdery you’re bringing to this, so cool! I wish I could harness your horticulturalist powers in my future experiments. Japanese cuisine employs a ton of salt-preservation, so it may just be one of their go-to methods. I think traditionally, sakura are used in savory applications moreso than sweet, but during my time in Japan I saw far more sweet than savory sakura treats. I think it’s more of a modern phenomenon.
I’d love to get in on some apple blossoms, my parents have six trees on their property, maybe this summer I can try again with new flower!
Mar 30, 2012 · 11:59 PM
That was a seriously delicious delightful dessert experience! WOW! Heaven pure eyes rolling in the back of our heads ahhhh heaven. We had the strawberry ice cream, panna cotta, which i’ve never had before, divine. And the pistachio giaduja rooibos caramel. UHHHHH I wanted to roll over and show my belly goodness. Thanks Stella, you are a baking Goddess. I gotta learn those skills.
Mar 31, 2012 · 12:11 PM
Me? Nerdy? Why you don’t say?
My nerdiness knows no bounds, really—thinking about dandelion or honeysuckle or even elderberry flowers. Three years in Germany and I still can’t really say I like anything made with elderberry juice, but this year perhaps I will try to do something with the flowers.
Mar 31, 2012 · 2:10 PM
@martha, I’m sooo happy to hear you had a good time! Did I hear it was your birthday….? Recipe for the caramel and gianduja coming soon.
@Kelly, I love elderflower liquor, but I haven’t had any access to the flowers themselves or any berry based products. Oh, the woes of baking in Kentucky. We have a lot of great things, but a lot of limited access too. Elderflower and rhubarb go especially well together….
Apr 02, 2012 · 11:49 AM
Eep, I got busy and didn’t have time to use the computer all of last week – sorry I couldn’t reply sooner!
The trip was fabulous. Lots of eating and cooking and baking and drinking hehe. I sought out a few “best ofs” in London and tried loads of gelato, went Harrods (that place is insaaane) and felt like a rat trapped in a giant maze, visited a few spice shops and a great book store in notting hill BUT they didn’t have
old English cookbooks.
And of course now I’m having post-trip depression lol but I might be going back again this year – another opportunity to smuggle back ingredients (and 20 pounds of books and magazines)!
Thank you for the tips on the violets – I shall check the liquor store next time I go, I also have St. Germain on my list. It sounds like such a lovely liqueur.
And as for making macarons in the mixer – that’s such a shame! Life would be so much easier if you could just set a time and let the mixer take all of the guess work out of the folding.
· Eve · http://sweeteves.wordpress.com
Apr 03, 2012 · 5:15 PM
@Eve, get around to the St. Germain stat. Just the smell of it sends me into fits of joy. Glad you’re home safely, having never been to England it’s lovely to travel vicariously with you.
Apr 03, 2012 · 10:34 PM
Yes, another bday cailon was threatening to get me a cake and being a bit of a dessert snob I said please don’t and then he said he knew you and I TOTALLY changed my mind. Can’t wait to go back to 310 and treat some friends to a divine experience. Gotta try making panna cotta too
Apr 04, 2012 · 4:08 PM
What a cool experiment! Too bad it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped, but the candied cherry blossoms are too sweet for words. I too have an awesome sense of smell, which can be wonderful and terrible.
· The Cozy Herbivore · http://thecozyherbivore.blogspot.com
Apr 04, 2012 · 4:51 PM
@martha, haha, glad to know I’m a game changer.
@The Cozy Herbivore, happy spring to you too!
Apr 14, 2012 · 11:25 AM
I love reading your blog- just discovered it recently! I gave you the Versatile Blogger Award on my blog.Keep on writing!
· Yael · http://www.yaelsyummies.blogspot.com
Apr 15, 2012 · 12:05 PM
@Yael, you are too sweet, thank you!
Jun 14, 2012 · 6:06 PM
I for a 10 ml bottle of Sakura Essence on Amazon, but there are several people on eBay that sell things from Japan. I’m thinking that maybe contacting one of the sellers might get you some. One of the things I found on ebay (in addition to the 10 ml bottle) is Sakura Cherry Blossom Loose Tea. Interesting. Love the blog.
Jun 15, 2012 · 10:10 AM
@Debi, how exciting!! These must be recently listed items because I regularly troll Amazon/Ebay looking for just this sort of thing! I’m so excited to see that they’re being offered now, thanks for alerting me!
Jun 16, 2012 · 6:25 AM
I have the same problem with perfumes (and anything scented!) as you – it is a chemical sensitivity. Lots of them. Perfumes are synthetic now, have been for a long time. So are flavors, even ‘natural’ ones – that’s how those flavor chemists earn their living… perfume chemists too; they synthesize flavors/scents in labs (mostly in NJ) and use any combination of around 4,000 different chemicals – and most are really not safe. They are all proprietary formulas, so nobody really knows what is in them. Be careful of flavored teas, the vast majority are flavors – chemical cocktails, not the real deal. Perfumes used to be essential oils, not only safe but antibacterial and antifungal and a few other ‘antis’ as well, and guess what? Those don’t bother me in the least. Perhaps you too? When perfumes were real essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances, the perfumers were known for their excellent health and ability to withstand disease during a time when it ran rampant. Those who study such things attribute it to the healing, preserving and disease fighting capabilities of the essential oils used.
You can use organic essential oils for flavorings, too, they’re nice and strong! Just to let you know, many flowers do not have any essential oil, like violet, hence the market for synthetic. Rose is horribly expensive, but it can be found, and you can even make your own. Citrus is cheap and plentiful, especially orange. I love peppermint!
Essential oils are soluble in oils. Hydrosols are much cheaper, water soluble, but also less strong. Maybe someone has cherry blossom hydrosol online? You can make your own essential oils and hydrosols with a counter top set-up (alembic distiller). I hope I’m not telling you what you already know, if so, please excuse me, just an experimenter trying to help since you’ve already helped me with your great info and site.
Take care, Molly
Jun 16, 2012 · 1:41 PM
@Molly, thanks so much for all the extra information!! At work, I’m more likely to flavor things through infusions rather than with extracts. But I do have tiny jars of orange and almond oil that I use for things that don’t lend well to infusing.
Our bartender is a chemist and was going to help me set up some sort of distiller so I could make an eau de violet. Trouble is, it’s hard to find that many violets! Wish you could be there with us, it sounds like the kind of project that’d be right up your ally.
Jul 13, 2012 · 4:56 PM
Wonderful post! I’ve been desperately looking for sakura sugar and flavoring! Do you still live in Kentucky? I just graduated from Georgetown College near Lexington and I live only a few hours away from Lexington. So cool to finely hear from someone, who bakes and posts on a blog, near to where I live. I’m on a sakura hunt and I hope to be doing some serious sakura baking! Let me know if you hear anything more.
Aug 25, 2012 · 6:49 PM
You might get better results if you use a more classical flower that’s already traditionally captured via enfleurage. Something like jasmine, or rose maybe?
You might also find some kind of commercially prepared product, created for perfumers. I know that for example roses can be bought as rose essential oil but also as butters. (I have no idea if those are dairy type butters, in fact I doubt it.) But since a lot of natural scent ingredients are edible or used as flavourings, it might be an interesting area to explore.
Check out http://www.fragrantica.com and you should find some indy perfumers in your area. I bet they’d love to talk to you and do some experiments!
Aug 26, 2012 · 12:27 PM
Hi Wordbird, thanks for the links and extra info! Unfortunately, my interest in enfleurage is pretty much limited to trying to get my hands on sakura essence, haha.
Mar 15, 2013 · 7:18 PM
No wonder you’re an “Amazing” Bakery! Thanks for sharing your source, I appreciate it! I'll know where to look next time I need sakura in my life.