Last month, there really was nothing better than “May flowers.”
I knew going into what I called my “foraging month” that I had to make a dessert. I’d always wanted to candy flowers, and with spring’s arrival, it was the perfect time to harvest some violets for a batch of cupcakes.
Violets seemed the logical choice. I knew they were edible. And I’d seen more than one recipe explaining how to candy them.
But what a pain in the ass.
It was a lot of work, trying to coat these little flowers in egg wash and sugar. Because they are so delicate, I had to paint the egg wash on then gingerly dust them with sugar. But I, of course, was too heavy handed and had difficulty separating the petals, which prevented the egg and sugar from drying and crystalizing properly.
And so my first batch was a failure.
A few days later, I visited a Boy Scout camp, where the edges of the forest teemed with flowers, including a small purple one I asked the grounds keeper about. He had no idea what it was, nor whether it was edible (come on, Scouts …), but he did do a taste test on the spot.
He could have died. Alas, the only reaction included him spitting out the plant and shaking his head vigorously. (Seriously, though, don’t eat something if you don’t know what it is.)
Luckily, my phone had a signal out in the middle of nowhere and Google helped me zero in on the species, which I determined to be geranium.
I didn’t have quite the same reaction as the grounds keeper when I tried the flower. Really, I didn’t find much to complain or write home about. It tasted slightly bitter, just barely.
Good enough to candy. I knew the sugar would override the faint flavor and I hoped the bigger petals could bear the coating better.
The geraniums, too, were a pain in the ass.
But they were sturdier. And after an hour of prep work and about a day of air drying, the flowers were candied and ready for prime time atop a honey-lavender cupcake.
This honey-lavender cupcake … I had my doubts.
I hate honey unless it is incorporated in other recipes or better to say, for me, it can never be the star of the show or primary ingredient. And lavender … well, you’ve smelled soap, right? Who would eat that?
It was exquisite. No, really. Fresh out of the oven, these are possibly the closest thing to tufts of heaven.
I almost couldn’t believe it. A lick of batter left me thoroughly disgusted. The honey was cloyingly sweet and the lavender, I don’t even have words.
Baking, however, tempered the honey and lavender. The result was an airy, sweet yet savory cake.
I prefer them fresh from the oven. Warm, they are addictive. Cooled, they are just as tasty, but I find that after sitting, they become a little more dense than I like. But that is a minor complaint.
Throw on a honey-mascaropone frosting and it’s a match made in heaven.
Honestly, you’re missing out if you don’t try these soon. Here’s my recipe, which is altered from one I found at Better Homes and Gardens.
Honey-lavender cupcakes with candied geranium
Fair warning: The cake recipe makes 15-18 cupcakes in my experience, so you may want to double it if you plan to feed more.
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk
8 ounces mascarpone cheese (room temperature)
3 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
1/8 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 cups powdered sugar
24-36 geraniums (make sure they have not been treated with chemicals)
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup super fine sugar
Dried lavender (optional)
You will need to make the candied flowers at least a day before you plan to serve the cupcakes. It’s fairly simple (although painstaking): Coat the petals in egg wash (egg white, no yolk, with a few drops of water mixed in) and dust with sugar to coat. Let dry on wax or parchment paper at least 12 hours, if not longer (definitely longer for me).
Note: I left a little bit of the stem on to better handle the flowers. Just snip that off after the sugar has set.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper cups.
Grind the lavender into powder. Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl; mix in lavender.
Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar, vanilla and honey, and beat until well combined. Add in eggs, one at a time. Then mix in flour mixture and milk, beating until it’s becomes a slightly thick batter.
Spoon batter about halfway up into the cups. Bake about 18 minutes (depending on the size of your cupcake pan and how full the cups are, this may more or less time). Check with a toothpick. If clean, remove from oven and let cool.
In large mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese and butter together until smooth. Add in honey and vanilla and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar gradually, about a half cup at a time. I recommend about 2 cups of sugar, but add more if you like yours sweeter.
It doesn’t take much frosting to balance the savory cupcake, so I’d recommend being more conservative with the amount of frosting you use. Of course, I’d also say screw the flowers, slather that frosting on a still-warm cupcake and down that bad boy. (Think breakfast or brunch.)
But if you’d like to go for the pretty display for guests or a party, top with the candied flowers and sprinkle on the dried lavender before serving (doesn’t hold up as well in the refrigerator).