Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Make It Yourself- Rosewater

Part of the charm of living in England was living in a small village, well away from the air force base and all the American things, the hamburger place, the convenience store, the big grocery store (commissary). Adapting to life in rural England was very easy. I fell in love with the town of Stanton, where we lived, and surrounding bigger towns like Bury St. Edmunds, Thetford and Diss. There were no big shopping malls where we lived, and you had to travel a fair distance for a larger super market. We came to rely on the tiny grocery shop in Stanton for last minute items.

Because the weather was always so lovely the kids and I would often walk into town and visit the chip shop for lunch, the bakery for bread, and the grocery shop for a few items to complete a meal and a treat, like ice cream. Sometimes instead of ice cream the kiddos would opt for candy, and sometimes I would even have to join in. British candies are quite different from American candies. For one thing, the chocolate is much better quality. To me, growing up with a European family and always getting big boxes from Germany, I was raised enjoying the wonderful chocolates common in Europe, instead of the waxy tasting chocolate common here. One of my very favorite chocolates was Cadbury Flake. I can't even imagine how they make this unusual chocolate bar. It literally is a long bar of flaked chocolate, barely holding together. The first bite would often send a cascade of chocolate down the front of your shirt. There is absolutely nothing like that here in the U.S.

The chocolate was wonderful, and so was the caramel. Hard caramels and soft caramels, or toffees as they are called there, were a favorite of mine. Licorice All Sorts were fun, if you enjoy black licorice, which I love, but by far the most unique, and delicious candy I had while living there was something called Turkish Delight. Talk about different, Turkish Delight is a milk chocolate covered jelly bar. Yes, jelly. Not hard like gummy bears or crazy sticky like say, sugar coated orange slices, but a firmer version of a gelatin-like sweet jelly that's intensely flavored with rosewater. It's almost impossible to describe the flavor. It tasted like you think roses should taste. Floral notes, perfumey, subtly sweetened. It smells like roses and the dark chocolate heightens the flavor. It was such a unique and complex flavor it was surely created for adults. Paired with a light white wine, on the dry side, Turkish Delight is totally dessert worthy, and I've had a terrible time trying to find it now that I am back in the United States.

Sooooo hard to find but soooo worth it if you do.
As a baker I often experiment with different extracts and flavors- in cakes, fillings, meringues. In pastry cream. Citrus extracts such as orange or lime bring such a bright flavor to desserts that is a stark contrast to the warm and familiar vanilla. Spicy extracts add their own unique flavors, but I find myself continually gravitating towards florals. Flowers make lovely jellies, and they ar the perfect essences for baking too, especially rosewater. Rosewater can be a bit difficult to find unless you have a very well stocked market or specialty store nearby. Once you find this gem, you can use it in so many incredible ways both in and out of the kitchen. It makes a great facial toner, a lovely spritz to remove wrinkles from clothing, and in the kitchen you can use rosewater to bring a soft floral hint to so many things, baked goods, of course, ice cream, dairy foods like yogurts, cheesecake filling, frostings, beverages, cocktails. You can replace vanilla in most recipes and have a whole new flavor profile.

So we are going to make rosewater at home. There are a couple key things to keep in mind. First, choose roses that are fresh and brightly colored natural red or pink preferably.Red, pink and orange roses make the prettiest rosewater. Be careful to avoid roses that have had their color enhanced. When choosing roses, be sure to let the florist know they will be used in food so you can purchase roses that have not been sprayed with waxes and preservatives. I think you will find many larger florists in most cities keep food-safe flowers on hand, so be sure to ask. If you grow your own roses, or have a friend who gardens, even better! Our recipe calls for two cups of distilled water and 3 or 4 roses. These roses would be comparable in size to the typical long-stemmed variety you find in arrangements, so if you are using smaller roses from the garden, adjust the number accordingly.  Use only the petals, be sure you discard the rest of the rose, and choose very fragrant roses. You will be much happier with the result. Distilled water gives you a crystal clear finished product. If you don't have any you can use regular bottled or tap water but you might have a little cloudiness. And finally, I add a teaspoon of vodka to the finished rosewater. This acts like a preservative but is purely optional. You can omit the vodka if you like. 

Homemade Rosewater

3 or 4 fresh roses
2 cups distilled water
1 teaspoon vodka

Pull the petals from the roses and discard the remaining parts of the flower. Combine with distilled water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer approximately 30 minutes. The petals will become very pale and the water will take on the color of the roses.

Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vodka.

Allow mixture to cool slightly, then bottle. Store in a cool dark location.

Use your homemade rosewater in Turkish and Middle Eastern recipes, cakes, whipped cream, candies. It's delicate floral flavor will be subtle but you will know it's there. You can make a similar tincture from any edible flower, the brighter the color, the better the water will look.

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