As children growing up in the botanical bounty of the Midwest, many of us can remember playing with flowers, herbs, and lots of weeds for our make-believe games. In her new book, Botanical Baking, celebrity television baker Juliet Sear tells us we can not only look at, smell, and play with roses, orchids, zinnias, snapdragons, and many other flowers, and herbs, but also eat them. Decorating a butter cookie or a simple cake with crystallized flowers adds a whimsical and lighthearted touch that enhances your food.
But bakers beware: You must know where your botanical items are coming from for fear of poisonous insecticides and fungicides, and you need to be certain your blooms, leaves, and herbs have not been misidentified (and are actually edible), writes Sear. Then you can go back to having your floral fun.
Sear shares her expert techniques in each playful recipe, and whether your creations turn out like the photographs or end up a bit more … rustic … they are sure to taste delectable and wow a crowd.
These delicately flavored cookies are the perfect addition to afternoon tea or an evening garden party. The dough easily stores for baking later on, and the baked biscuits will last up to two weeks.
Makes: 25-30 biscuits
Prep time: 30 minutes
Chill time: 2 hours
Bake time: 25 minutes
- 8 3/4 ounces white caster superfine sugar
- 1/2 ounce dried lavender
- 9 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 12 3/4 ounces plain all-purpose flour
- purple food coloring dust (Sear suggests the brand Sugarflair Aubergine)
- 1 egg white
- fresh edible violas in a variety of colors
- plastic wrap
- sharp knife
- small paintbrush
- food processor
- electric mixer
Make the lavender sugar by blitzing the sugar and lavender in a food processor until the lavender has been reduced to a fine dust. Cream the sugar, butter, and vanilla bean paste until pale and fluffy. Mix in the flour to create a soft dough.
Split the dough into two equal portions before rolling each half into a round tube with a diameter of 2 inches. Wrap each roll of cookie dough in plastic wrap and chill for two hours or up to two days.
After chilling, unwrap the dough and cut 3/8-inch thick slices. Add in the food coloring dust to the remaining lavender sugar until it turns a lilac color and roll the edges of the dough slices in it. Line your baking trays with parchment paper and bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes.
Take the biscuits out of the oven and brush the tops with a small amount of egg white, immediately press the violas into the center of each biscuit, then seal the flowers in place by brushing on another layer of egg white. Pop the cookies back in the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.
Spring Flowers Bundt Cake
With a pretty Bundt pan and some crystallized flowers, this elegant cake infused with orange will be sure to please the eye and the palate. Straightforward and simple, Sear elevates the classic Bundt cake to a sophisticated eye-catching dessert.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 35-45 minutes
- 9 ounces butter
- 7 ounces plain all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 ounces ground almonds
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 8 ounces golden caster superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
- zest of 1 orange
- 4 medium free-range eggs
- 7 ounces confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- zest of 1 orange
- 2-3 teaspoons water to loosen to desired consistency
- crystallized flowers
- electric mixer, or bowl and mixing utensil
- Bundt pan
- pastry brush
- piping bag
Begin by preheating the oven to 335ºF. Then brush the Bundt pan with melted butter, dust it with flour, and shake out the excess—cake spray will work for this as well. Set aside.
Combine the butter, sugar, zest, and flavorings and cream until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Gently beat in the eggs one by one until completely incorporated. In a separate bowl combine the almonds, flour, and baking powder and mix until evenly distributed. Gently add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
Evenly pour the cake batter into the Bundt pan, and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until cooked through. Use a cake tester in the center to check. Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool on a wire rack. Mix the ingredients for the icing together so that it becomes dripping, but not runny, in consistency. Pipe the icing onto the cooled cake so that it flows down the crevices and design of the Bundt. Finish the decor using the crystallized flowers.
How to crystallize flowers:
With a very soft fine paintbrush, cover every inch of the flower, every petal, front, and back with either egg white, chickpea water (aqua faba), or food grade Gum Arabic dissolved overnight in vodka.
Carefully sprinkle superfine white caster sugar all over the flower—every little bit—so it sticks to the brushed-on liquid. Shake off any excess sugar because if there is too much sugar adhered to the petals, the flowers may distort and flatten.
Place the flower onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Let it dry. It may take a few hours depending on room temperature. Store them carefully in an airtight container in a dark location.
Dried Flowers Chocolate Bark
Made with dried flowers, this is a botanical delicacy that isn’t as dependent on the seasons. Straightforward yet beautiful, the bark makes a great holiday gift or well-wishing surprise. As white chocolate tends to be very sweet, this pairs nicely with a rich, dark cup of coffee.
Makes: 13 by 9 inches of bark
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooling time: 1-2 hours
- 1 pound 2 ounces good-quality white chocolate
- dried flowers of your choice, variety of whole and crumbled
- 13 by 9 inch baking tray lined with greaseproof parchment paper
- bain-marie or a microwave-safe bowl
Gently melt the white chocolate using either the bain-marie or the microwave on low-medium heat for 30-second intervals, stirring the chocolate until it is just melted. Pour the chocolate onto the tray.
Softly tap and maneuver the tray to even distribute the chocolate, and to get rid of any bubbles. Use the dried flowers as decoration, and then allow the chocolate to cool. Break or cut the chocolate into pieces and serve.
Making dried flowers:
Arrange the flowers on paper towels on a tray so that they do not overlap or touch. Let them sit out exposed to the air in a dry, dark place. Depending on size, they will be dried in a few days.
You’ve heard of the cronut, the tasty combination of croissants merged with doughnuts. Unfortunately, croissant dough is an immense pain to make, but choux pastry? Home bakers can easily do that. Choux pastry is what you’ll find cream puffs, éclairs, and profiteroles made out of. It’s light, airy, and slightly chewy. Filled with the custardy crème diplomat and topped with fresh flowers, these chouxnuts are the epitome of stunning elegance.
Makes: 15-20 chouxnuts
Prep time: 1 hour
Bake time: 25-35 minutes
- 4 eggs yolks
- 2 1/4 ounces sugar
- 1 ounce plain all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 10 fluid ounces milk
- 8 fluid ounces water
- 3 3/4 ounces butter
- 4 3/4 ounces plain all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces free-range egg
- pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons caster superfine sugar
Chantilly Cream (Base for Crème Diplomat):
- 10 1/2 fluid ounces heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- 10 1/2 ounces frosting sugar
- water and food coloring of your choice
- edible flowers of your choice
- baking trays
- baking parchment
- circle for drawing round
- large plastic piping bag
- medium to large round nozzle
Preheat the oven to 375ºF, line two baking trays with parchment paper, and make the choux paste. Combine the water, sugar, salt, and butter in a pan on the stove and heat until it’s completely melted. Add the flour and beat thoroughly on the heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan easily.
Put the dough in a bowl to cool for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the egg, beating well until the choux is the correct consistency: stiff, but dropping from a spoon with ease. Transfer the choux paste into a piping bag with a medium to large round nozzle.
Draw circles the size of your choice onto the parking parchment, then flip it over and pipe the choux pastry over the drawn lines. Put the baking sheets in the oven. Before closing the oven, spray water onto the base of the oven to create a steamy environment that will help the pastry rise.
Do not open the door while the choux bakes to prevent the dough from collapsing. After 25-35 minutes, remove the chouxnuts from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. Use a small knife or skewer to poke a small hole in the base of each chouxnut to let the steam out. Let them cool upside down on the wire rack.
Make the crème pâtissière. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and flours together until the mixture is pale and thickened. Bring the milk to just boiling in a pan on the stove, and then whisk it into the egg mixture. Pour the whole mixture back into the pan. Stirring constantly, heat the mixture until it is thick and boiling. Pour the pastry cream onto a tray and cover it with plastic wrap touching the crème pâtissière. Put the tray in the refrigerator to cool.
Once the pastry cream is cooled, make the Chantilly cream, which is basically a fancy whipped cream. Whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form.
To make the crème diplomat filling, gently mix the crème pâtissière into the Chantilly cream until smooth, light, and fluffy.
Using a small knife, poke a hole into the base of each chouxnut. Pipe the cream into the pastry until each chouxnut feels full. Let them sit.
To make the icing, combine the sugar with water, one teaspoon at a time, until you have a thicker icing. If using food coloring, add it in at this stage.
Using a piping bag, cover the top with icing, as you would for a doughnut. Gently tap their surface to help the icing settle. Finally, decorate with edible flowers of your choice.