Lilac love

This year, I’ve been experimenting a lot more with edible flowers and it’s like a whole new world has opened up to me. A colourful, perfumed, tantalising one, full of exotic flavours, colours and scents.

To me, lilac is one of the archetypal May flowers. Its heady, floral fragrance redolent of jasmine wafts from its gorgeous plumes of flowers in waves on a sunny day, enveloping you with its scent. Until this year, I’d largely just left this flower alone to bloom and do its thing. But no more! Because it tastes fantastic! My neighbour has a gorgeous lilac tree that overhangs into my garden by several feet, making all the flowers growing on my side of the shrub fair game. And there were a lot of them!

Some of them I have layered with sugar to make lilac sugar. I have a feeling it will be spectacular! Some of it is being made into syrup and some has gone into the recipe I’m sharing in this blog post.

Today Rayyan was invited to her first birthday party. Being gluten intolerant, I started taking cakes with me to birthday parties several years ago. I got tired of never having cake to eat! And now with Rayyan, I don’t want her missing out on cakes so the practice looks set to continue indefinitey! So I thought I would take advantage of all the lovely lilac flowers in my garden and bake them into cupcakes. The flowers are a bit fiddly to prepare as they need to be stripped off their stalks as the green bits are bitter in flavour. I found that the easiest way to do this is to pick your flowers in the morning, put them in a sealed Tupperware, and strip them in the evening. They wilt every so slightly and this makes them detach much more easily and doesn’t seem to affect the final flavour in any way that I’ve noticed.

These cupcakes are pretty special, one of those foods that you taste with all your senses. The first thing that hits you when you bite into them is the smell of lilac from the flowers sprinkled on top and in the icing. The cupcake itself is more subtle but the flavour is definitely there. Something floral and elusive that you can’t quite put your finger on, yet has you coming back for bite after bite. Sublime!

 

Lilac Cupcakes

130g Softened Butter
130g Caster Sugar
130g Doves Gluten Free Self-raising Flour (or plain GF flour with 4tsp baking powder added or normal gluten full self-raising flour)
1 lightly packed cup of Lilac Flowers
5 tbsp room temperature Milk (4 if non-GF)
2 large Eggs
1/4 tsp Xanthan Gum (omit if making this recipe with non-GF flour)
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract

Preheat oven to 190C.

Place your flowers and 50g sugar into a spice mill and blend into a paste

Beat your butter and sugar together using a stand mixer or beaters until light and fluffy. Add your lilac paste and beat thoroughly to incorporate. Add your beaten eggs one a time, beating thoroughly between additions. Add your flour, baking powder (if using) and xanthan gum. Beat slowly to activate the xanthan gum. Try not to beat air into it or your cakes will rise weirdly (fold in your flour if using non-GF). Add in enough milk to make a soft dropping consistency. You may not need all of the milk depending on the flour you use and how damp your lilac blossom is.

Divide your mixture between 12 cupcake cases and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a deep golden brown on top and skewer comes out clean when inserted. Leave to cool completely.

 

Lilac Glace Icing

1/2 cup lightly packed lilac flowers
1/4 cup milk
Lots of icing sugar.

Place your flowers and milk in a small saucepan. Heat until it just comes to the boil before covering it, taking it off the stove and leaving it to cool and infuse for at least 2 hours. The longer you leave it to infuse, the stronger the flavour.

Put about 1 cup of icing sugar into a bowl. Add the infused milk 1 tbsp at a time, stirring thoroughly between additions. You will need a lot less milk than you think so take it slow! You want your icing to be thick enough to not run off your cupcakes but thin enough to easily coat them.

To ice your cupcakes, the easiest way is to dip them in the bowl of icing one at a time, give them a swirl then lift out. Enough icing should be stuck on to coat the whole cupcake. Use a small knife (or a clean finger!) to smooth it evenly.

Sprinkle some lilac flowers on top and gently press them in to the icing so they don’t fall off. Leave the icing to set and enjoy!