I have a passion for flowers that, I would say, is about in equal measure to my baking obsession. So, naturally, I love to combine the two whenever possible!
The tradition of using flowers in the kitchen is nothing new; interestingly the Romans sometimes flavoured their wine with roses and violets. There are many interesting floral recipes from medieval times and flowers were used in the kitchen for centuries.
Seemingly the tradition rather went out of favour during Victorian times… and then in came artificial flavours and colours. (It is wonderful these days to see the return of natural food colourings, widely used now in baking and confectionery and in our cakes in the bakery.)
Many of the flowers we grow in our gardens are edible: roses, lavender, pansies, violets, primroses, pinks, sweet geraniums, borage and even the humble garden daisy. Little packets of fresh edible blooms can be found in some supermarkets, as can rose and orange blossom water and lavender sugar (though the latter is easy to make at home).
They are all there to transform your summer baking, puds and salads, too. However, do remember that shop-bought flowers intended for general display are not suitable for cooking, as they have been sprayed with pesticide. And remember that some flowers are poisonous, so please stick to those specified!
In this recipe I have crystallised several roses from my garden and even a few daisies from the lawn! Tumbling over the cake, with a selection of summer berries, I hope you will agree it is fairly stunning and so simple to do.
Bring your summer salads, puddings and salads alive with a sprinkling of rose petals, marigold petals and pansies.
Do look out for a book to be published in September by Frances Bissell called The Floral Baker. Not only are the recipes easy to follow, but Frances explores the use of flowers as flavourings in her cakes, pastries and breads in an original way.
To crystallise flowers
1 egg white
a selection of dry edible flowers and leaves (see above)
Lightly paint each flower, petal or leaf with egg white, covering every surface. Sprinkle over the sugar with a teaspoon, again covering every surface, then shake off excess, place gently on baking parchment and leave to dry for 12-24 hours.
Maximum impact with just a bit of effort and a wonderful centrepiece for any special occasion, even a small wedding. Everything on the cake is edible: crystallised roses, dog roses from the hedgerow, daisies, cherries and currants. For children, cover with sweets or biscuits. Just use your imagination!
FOR THE TOP TIER (15CM, SERVES 6); MIDDLE TIER (20CM, SERVES 8); BASE TIER (25CM, SERVES 16)
175g (225g; 550g) unsalted butter, really soft, in pieces, plus more for the tins
175g (225g; 550g) self-raising flour
1 tsp (1; 2) baking powder
3 eggs (4; 8), lightly beaten
1 tsp (1; 2) vanilla extract (or seeds of ½/½/1 vanilla pod)
175g (225g; 550g) golden caster sugar
FOR THE FILLING
100ml (200ml; 300ml) clotted cream, whipped
4 tbsp (8; 8) jam of your choice, plus more to stick
icing sugar, to dust
FOR THE DECORATION
crystallised flowers (see below)
200g cherries with stalks
150g redcurrants with stalks
3 round thin cakes boards: 15cm; 20cm; 25cm
8 dowelling sticks
30cm cake stand or serving plate
Follow the instructions for Classic Victoria Sandwich, filling, in turn, a 15cm deep round cake tin, two 20cm sandwich tins and two 25cm sandwich tins with the batter. It’s best to make the batter and bake the cakes one batch at a time.
The batter in the 15cm tin needs to be twice as deep as that in the other tins. Bake the 15cm cake for 50–55 minutes (because it is very deep), the 20cm cake for 25–30 minutes, and the 25cm cake for 30–35 minutes. Cool, turn all the cakes upside down and fill (see below), cutting the small cake in half horizontally to do so.
Attach each cake to the right-sized cake board with a blob of jam. Check they are all level and, if not, trim them level with a serrated knife. At this stage they can be stored in the fridge for quite a number of hours, ready to be assembled a few hours before required. Dust all three cakes with icing sugar.
Insert four dowelling sticks vertically into the largest cake, spacing them apart to form a square sitting just within where the middle cake will rest. Push each stick down on the board until it will go no further, then mark with a pen about 1mm above the surface. Remove each stick, score where it is marked with a knife and snap. Replace the sticks into the holes. Repeat for the middle tier.
To stack the three cakes, simply place the largest cake, still on its board, on to a cake stand or serving plate. Place the middle tier on top, checking it is exactly in the centre, then add the top tier.
Now the cake is all ready for decorating. And this couldn’t be simpler. Once you have crystallised your flowers (see below), simply arrange them on the cake with the cherries and currants. (A few carefully placed cocktail sticks can be useful to drape the fruit from.) You will have to decorate the cake on site, as it cannot be moved once the flowers and fruits have been arranged.