Stop and eat the roses: Blossoming trend finds flavor in favor
Cornish Game Hen with Pomegranate Glaze with Rose Petal Sauce.
Persian Love Cake with Candied Rose Petals
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The roses in Paris started blooming in April last year," says Alisa Blatter. "There was an unexpected heat wave, and all the chestnut trees were already in blossom. As our family strolled though gardens and parks, I couldn't help humming, 'April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom.' Floral scent was everywhere. It was magical."
Alisa, my neighbor and friend, tells me about her exuberance in the City of Light. "My stepdad and mother rented a flat for a two-week trip to Paris, a reprise of past business trips. They invited me, Josh [her husband] and Max [their young son] to join them. I brought along a sheaf of recipes from home, knowing that I would be cooking from the markets and having new taste experiences.
"I'm in love with fine French pastries and cookies. I went directly to Pierre Herme's patisserie, a jewel-box bakery on Rue Bonaparte with a shop in front and a tea room in back. The displays and decorations were exquisite, but I was on a quest to sample Parisian-style macarons [one "o"]. They are a sandwich of two coin-sized meringue-like cookies, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, with a layer of flavored cream in between. They are heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth concoctions and insanely good. They have nothing in common with the coconut cookies that Americans know as 'macaroons.' I bought a box of mixed-flavor macarons. The chocolate was wonderful and the pistachio was divine, but I was captivated by the rose."
A day or so later, Alisa returned to the tea room and ordered the Ispahan, the confection that catapulted Pierre Herme into pastry chef stardom. Ispahan is a type of macaron, but in this case, the 4-inch-wide cookies are flavored with rose water and tinted a beautiful shade of hot pink; the cream is lightly flavored with rose petals; lychee and raspberries are layered onto the cream for a delicate balance of flavors and textures.
Then rose showed up again. "My third rose encounter, at the Institute of the Arab World, was an Italian soda with rose syrup," she said. "I started to crave rose flavor in any form. It almost became an obsession."
Alisa's attraction to the scent of roses comes partly from her love of baking and cooking, but perhaps also because she is a master gardener, having earned that designation at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, here in Pittsburgh.
I had my own rose epiphany. But with me, it was from Netflix.
I rented "Like Water for Chocolate," a movie based on the book by Laura Esquivel. It is a tale of magical, sensual romance in Mexico. Tita is forbidden by her evil mother to marry Pedro, her true love. Pedro, willing to sacrifice pride to be near Tita, marries her elder sister so that, by custom, he can live in the family household. Tita, poor baby, is left to put her emotions into her cooking. When Pedro gives Tita a bouquet of roses, her furious mother insists she discard them. Instead, Tita puts the full force of her bottled-up passion into a recipe. She creates Quail with Rose Petal Sauce. Desire is in every bite of the petal-laced crimson sauce, and it finds its way into the emotions of everyone at the dinner table. The dish so inflames a third sister, Gertrudis, that she bolts from the table, stripping off her clothes as she flees from the house. The heat from her steaming body is so intense that it ignites an out-building.
Look, it's a movie. Don't overthink it.
Rose petals can do that, I thought? Quick. Where can I get some?
Long story short, Alisa and I were inspired to try our hands with rose, comparing notes as we went along. How seductive to imagine that our feelings and emotions would mingle with our food as we cooked for our husbands. But first, we did some research.
Roses have been used for centuries in medicines, perfumes, cosmetics and food. Rose water, distilled from water and specially potent roses, is a clear, sweet-tasting, aromatic liquid. Classically, it is made using fragrant Damask roses, which were first grown in Iran and Bulgaria but now are found in Spain, Italy and France. Still, the Middle Eastern countries remain some of the largest producers of rose water.
I checked in with friends. Do you use rose in cooking?
• "We use rose water and rose syrup as a flavoring in many of our sweets, much the way Westerners use vanilla," says Najat Nazarian. She and her husband, Henry, run a Lebanese food business in East Pittsburgh. "Rose water added to syrups flavors many desserts. My baklava is different from the Greek style because I use a lightly flavored rose syrup instead of honey. I also make a Croatian-style baklava with a rose-flavored pastry-cream filling instead of ground nuts."
• "One thing we specialize in is rose petal jam," says Ponny Conomos, a member of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Mt. Lebanon. "We use it as a spoon sweet, often as a greeting for guests."
• "In Tunisian cooking, the combination of black pepper, cinnamon and rose buds is also called baharat, which simply means spices," said cookbook author Paula Wolfert in an e-mail. She will include it in a recipe for lamb shanks in her book on Mediterranean clay-pot cooking, coming out next year.
Rose flavoring is gaining favor in Europe and America, and it looks as if it is ready for prime time as a culinary ingredient here in the West. I attended the Summer 2007 Fancy Foods Show in New York, where rose was in the air. Here are some tastings and sightings.
• SENCE, a delicate-tasting rose nectar brand, bottled in flasks of pastel pink, is being touted as the hottest beverage. Pour over ice and garnish with a lime wedge. In its "O List," Oprah Magazine named SENCE the best gift of the holiday season. Katherine Tait, co-owner of the company, says the demand for rose products is so strong, they will introduce sorbet, gelato, rose-infused chocolate and candies in 2009. SENCE is not yet available in Pittsburgh.
• SENCE already has partnered with Domaine Carneros by Taittinger in a launch of its Brut Rose. Other rose-infused liquors are coming out, too. At home, the rose nectar can be added to prosecco, vodka, tequila, sake and soda water.
• An article in the May 2006 Journal of Food Science cited rose petal tea as an antioxidant-rich beverage. Celestial Seasonings Teas already introduced Vanilla Strawberry Rose flavor.
• A few months ago, Saveur magazine published a recipe for Rose Napoleons. The New York Times food pages weighed in with Pomegranate-Rose Cream Meringues.
Rose today is a fresh and contemporary flavor.
Remember the last time someone doused in heavy perfume or aftershave walked past your restaurant table? It disrupted your dining experience. Just as too much scent is a put-off, so is too much flavor. Rose flavor is potent, so for best effect, use it discreetly.
Think of rose as a feminine, pastel flavor. Most people either love it or hate it. A few two-bite rose confections would be ideal on a bridal or baby shower dessert buffet.
Rose's best pairings include raspberries, pistachios, cardamom, lychee, chocolate and pomegranate.
Alisa Blatter and I cooked and puttered. Here are our favorite uses and recipes.
• Rose preserves: Serve as a spoon sweet. Spoon onto warm, buttered brioche at breakfast or tea time. Use as a filling for white cake layers, then frost the cake with whipped white frosting or whipped cream and garnish with fresh rose petals.
Sources: Mediterranean and Middle Eastern groceries such as Salonika and Stamoolis in the Strip District. From $2.50 to $5 a jar.
• Rose syrup: Paula Wolfert makes her own: Place 3 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Skim the surface, then add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and simmer 10 minutes. Add 1 scant teaspoon rose water, remove from the heat and cool. This keeps in the fridge for months. Makes 2 cups. Or buy a bottle and add a teaspoon of syrup to champagne, stir a few drops into lemonade, hot or iced tea, or use a few drops to flavor buttercream or whipped cream.
Sources: Groceries such as Salonika and Stamoolis in the Strip. A 20-ounce bottle is about $4.90.
• Rose water: Add a few drops to simple syrup and brush over cake layers. Use instead of, or along with, vanilla extract in white or yellow cakes. Add just a bit to buttercream or whipped cream for icings and frostings.
Sources: Most better groceries such as Giant Eagle.
• Rose petals: Use only organic, food-safe petals in recipes. Add a petal atop a tiny dessert, and float a petal in a beverage. Scatter dried rose petals on frosted cupcakes. Mix a handful into homemade ice cream as it freezes. Strew your dinner table with fresh petals for a luxurious look.
Sources: Whole Foods Market sells organic red roses, $14.99 a dozen. Know your supplier or grow your own.
• Rose chocolate: Knipschildt chocolatier makes the Chocopologie 80 percent Ghana Omahene bar with an intense, rich dark chocolate blended with rose buds. $8.95 per 4-ounce bar. Les Amis Savories Rose, morsels of dark chocolate infused with rose, $7.50 per pound. Rosewater heart, white chocolate with rosewater ganache. $1.25 per bon bon.
Source: Mon Aimee Chocolat, the Strip District.
• Rose cream: Pipe rose-flavored pastry or whipped cream filling into lady locks shells, then dip ends into chopped pistachio nuts. Sandwich two mini-meringues with a layer of cream, and garnish with a candied rose petal or silver dragee. Make a raspberry tart: Bake a buttery tart shell, spread on rose cream, place raspberries on top and glaze them with melted and cooled rose preserves.
• Rose cocktails: In general, rose and amaretto go well together, and rose nectar, amaretto, and brandy, in equal proportions, make a surprisingly light and vivacious after-dinner drink. Rose with bourbon creates a delicious Manhattan. Rose and gin make for a mellow combo in a rose-tinted version of the Singapore Sling. Vodka and rose don't work as well; the vodka seems to bring out an almost metallic quality.
And finally, an homage to the recipe that started it all.
Fresh out of quail, I was unable to recreate the "Like Water for Chocolate" sensuous Quail with Rose Petal Sauce. Instead, I created Cornish Game Hen with Pomegranate Glaze and Rose Petal Sauce. Although my husband didn't rip off his shirt and flee from the dinner table, he loved the dish. He also suggested a post-prandial, um, dessert.
First Published May 8, 2008 12:00 am