26 May 2013

Elderflower Delights

Late May to Early June brings the bounty of elderflower blossoms. Here in Liguria, edler trees abound and a drive through the countryside will leave you with a landscape of these cream colored bursts of flowers.
Their aroma is nearly intoxicating and the mere sight of these delicate, adorable white blossoms, bunched together to create a perfumed umbrella is one of the loveliest sights of Spring.

There are many culinary uses for these delicate blossoms, ranging from simple fritters and baked goods to all kinds of beverages from cordials and liquors to syrup to a sparkling wine made by fermenting the blossoms in its own yeasty pollen. I was very interested in making sparkling Elderflower wine, but after some research on the process (including needing a cool dry place to store it where the container may actually explode) and my incredibly small apartment, it was just not practical for me to attempt it this year. If you are interested, please check a local friends' recipe for it on his blog.

I decided to make Elderflower Cordial and Elderflower infused vodka.

There are many versions available online for making elderflower cordial, and many of them require a dose of citric acid for preservation. The recipe I followed was from the UK's Good Food Channel

Elderflower Cordial
20 heads of elderflowers
1.8 Kilos sugar
1.2 Liters of water
2 unwaxed lemons
75 grams citric acid

You want to make sure to pick young, dry blossoms and just gently shake them to get any insects out. Do not rinse them.
The first step is to carefully snip the blossoms from the stems. It's not quite as tedious as it sounds because you can leave the tiny stems holding the clumps of blossoms together, you just want to avoid the the thicker structural stems.

This is an important step whether using the flowers or the eventual berries, as the stem is quite bitter and can be poisonous.

Once you have a nice collection of blossoms, your are ready to start. Place the flowers in a large bowl. In a pot, bring the water to boil, stirring in the sugar until dissolved. In the meantime, slice the ends off of the lemons, peel the zest into strips and add to the flowers along with the remaining lemon, sliced.

The original recipe calls for pouring the boiling syrup over the flowers and to let sit for 24 hours. I wanted to jar this cordial for longer-term storage, so I added the flowers and lemon to the pot of boiling syrup and continued to boil it for several minutes, then jarred it while still hot.
The outcome was absolutely lovely, although I wonder if letting it sit for at least 24 hours (some recipes say 48) would have made a stronger, more well-rounded flavor. I guess I will have to try this next year.

Elderflower Liqueur
1 bottle of high proof alcohol
about 30 flower heads
Optional simple syrup
This is incredibly easy to make! The process is the same as it is for all infused liqueurs like Limoncello, Fragolino, etc. Start by snipping  the blossoms from the stems and fill a jar or tall bottle with them. Pour the alcohol over to cover and leave in a cool, dark place for about a week or two. 

It is recommended to weigh down the flowers, as the top layer exposed to any air will oxidize and turn brown. This can be limited by using a tight necked jar, adding a few strips of lemon peel and/or weighing down the blossoms with another jar or plate. 

I used a bottle of vodka for this, although I do prefer to use Everclear because it doesn't impart any flavor, it just completely absorbs the pure flavor of what you infuse. Unfortunately, I can't find Everclear here. So vodka it is!

After the infusion, you need to strain the flowers out. It is good to strain the alcohol twice to remove the fine pollen that can cloud it up, but this is optional. I tried to strain it through a coffee filter (didn't have a tea towel to use), but it instantly clogged it and wouldn't drain. 

The infusion can be left as-is, or can be diluted with a simple syrup to make it more drinkable. The amount to use is completely up to your taste. If you like the sweetness of classic Limoncello, you can use equal amounts of alcohol to syrup. If you prefer it less sweet, than it's better to use 1/2 the amount of alcohol. To  make the simple syrup, boil equal parts castor sugar and water until completely dissolved. Add the cooled syrup to the elderflower alcohol, tasting for desired sweetness. 

I based this recipe on the one found here: 
Elderflower recipes are most often from the UK and you can find a plethora of tips, recipes and uses from many sites. Here is a site with great tips for getting the most flavor out of your blossoms, plus a lot of different information all gathered together in place:

What to do with your elderfower cordial? It is very common to mix the cordial with sparkling water for a refreshing summer sipper. I absolutely adore floral flavors, so I like to add it to different things I cook, from fruit clafoutis to fruit salad to syrup for my waffles. It is also lovely in a glass of chilled white wine, an unusual addition to summer cocktails or just dribbled over some vanilla ice cream. The important thing is to get a good sense of the unique flavor of elderflower. Then you can come up with all kinds of creative uses!

What's your favorite elderflower treat?

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