In this issue we’d like to approach a very broad topic, namely the use of flowers, herbs and leaves in the pastry kitchen. The seed idea for this article was our reaction from sampling so many desserts with gratuitous use of these ingredients. Although we ‘eat with our eyes’, in the modern sense, ingredients without taste purpose should have a limited role on the plate.
In pursuit of something better (aka ‘evolution’), we immediately disregard conventional sources and look to the specialists for inspirational ingredients. One primary source for us is The Chef’s Garden (www.chefs-garden.com) because they focus on the needs of chefs by providing amazing, sustainable and ethically grown edible plants. “It has always been our feeling that a garnish used just for garnish really isn’t appropriate,” states Farmer Lee Jones. “If it doesn’t enhance the flavor of the dish, it’s better not to add something to the dish.”
Another notable source is Rare Tea Cellars’ (rareteacellar.com) ‘Rare Gourmet’ line with unique offerings such as violet sugar, chamomile, and chrysanthemum. We’d also recommend premium ingredients from Terra Spice (www.terraspice.com), such as herb and floral extracts and the dried whole hibiscus flowers utilized in this month’s column.
Flowers are beautiful, and the current trend in pastry for naturalism creates a fresh, colorful look. That said, the guest experience can be diminished without a flavorful dessert underneath. It’s good to consider classical uses of flowers like lavender (infusions in custards and ice creams), and dried roses (to scent sugar and shortbread) as a guide to focusing the flavor to the center of a dessert. We favor the use of toasted dried flowers to infuse flavor that is a bit more complex and less like perfume. Fresh flowers are a viable option when selected with their beauty and taste in mind. The citrus-sour taste of fresh citrus begonias are an excellent example of a colorful (pink/orange) floral that imparts true flavor to a dessert.
When utilizing herbs, there are many tried and true examples using conventional basil (licorice), thyme (herbaceous), and rosemary (strong floral/astringent). One very unique herb is Chef’s Garden’s micro lemongrass (technically a sprout), which offers a delicate, pronounced floral lemongrass aroma and flavor without the woody and astringent flavor often extracted when working with mature lemongrass. It can be frozen and used in infusions without any loss of intensity. Their popular bright and citrus flavored lemon balm is available year-round and likely the most versatile herb gently adding a fresh note to almost any dish. We’ve used the lemongrass and lemon balm together in our Lemongrass Tart to enhance our remix of the eternal classic. Their freshness uplifts the lemon citrus foam and earthy edamame to elevate the dessert into the realm of fine dining.
We have worked with root beer (root beer aroma, peppery flavor) leaves in the past with pleasant results, and have been excited by the results of using red hibiscus (sweet tart citrus), sweet potato (balanced sweet notes) and in particular kinome, which boasts a minty aroma and ‘tingle’ for dessert menus. The leaves are excellent ‘candied’ as in our ‘Material Handling: Squashed’ column from last year. When using leaves for flavor infusions, cut and bruise the leaves for best results.
We’ve combined Opal basil, Terra Spice’s dried hibiscus flowers and hibiscus leaves to create a flavorful pre-dessert ‘Hibiscus drenched Tree fruits’.
So while working with lovely flowers, leaves and herbs in the shop, experiment a bit with integrating those items in the dessert in various ways. This approach will not only yield more flavor for the guest, but inspire pastry chefs to evolve in a flavor-first direction.
Find 'Material Handling: Flowers, Herbs, and Leaves' recipes in the DessertProfessional.com Recipe section or click the links below.
JMPurePastry is a Chicago-based pastry solutions group specializing in high quality, well designed products for the restaurant, baking and hospitality industry. The duo is also responsible for the multiple Emmy® Award-winning Chicago Restaurant Pastry Competition video series. For more information, visit www.JMPurePastry.com.