Try this elegant spin on a classic, from Elly McCausland's award-winning cook book
This week, we’ve been inspired by Cornish gardens and all things botanical – from drawing to cookery.
So we asked Elly McCausland, writer of Botanical Kitchen: Cooking with fruits, flowers, leaves and seeds, to share one of her favourite recipes – a classic made interesting with spices and flowers. Her dishes mix the familiar with the exotic and this refined little biscuit is guaranteed to make an occasion of your afternoon tea.
Elly says of her recipe, “These delicate biscuits are inspired by the truly exquisite rosebud and cinnamon infusion they serve at Honey & Co. in London. They will make you feel like you’re at the Ritz, daintily nibbling a platter of sweetmeats while sipping tea from wafer-thin bone china with your little finger sticking out. The combination of rose and cinnamon feels like eating a fairytale. For another delightful floral version, swap the rose for a tablespoon of dried lavender.”
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees/ 150 degrees fan/ gas mark 3. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Put the caster sugar in a mini chopper or food processor. If using dried rosebuds, remove the green stalks. Add the buds or petals to the sugar and blitz until flecked evenly with tiny rose fragments. Alternatively, you can do this with a pestle and mortar but it will be more time consuming.
Using and electric mixer of hand whisk(or bowl, wooden spoon and lots of muscle power) cream the butter, salt and cinnamon together on high speed for a couple of minutes. Set 1 tablespoon of rose sugar aside, then put the rest in the mixer and beat on high speed to combine with the flavoured butter. Sift in the flour and add the semolina, then mix until just combined and you have a soft dough.
Flour your work surface and roll out the dough to about 5mm thick. Using a scone cutter (or similar), cut rounds of the dough and place them on the baking sheet with at least 2.5cm between each biscuit. The dough is quite fragile so move it carefully.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden, then remove the shortbreads from the oven and place on a cooling rack. While they are still hot, sprinkle them evenly with the remaining sugar. Leave to cool before eating them.
70g caster sugar
1tbsp dried rosebuds or petals
120g butter, softened at room temperature
A generous pinch of salt
1tsp ground cinnamon
120g plain flour
Want to learn more about growing and cooking with botanicals? Read our Q&A with Elly to discover her top tips.
Why botanicals? What is so special about them?
When you think about what makes a certain dish special, or what distinguishes different world cuisines from one another, it often comes down to botanical ingredients. Different herbs, spices, flowers and fruit can change the whole character of a dish, and be used to add twists to a whole host of different recipes. They are, of course, nature’s gift to us.
Why are you interested in the way these ingredients have been used in the past, and have featured in the literary/cultural imagination?
I think that’s probably my background as an academic and researcher – I always want to know why ingredients are used in a certain way or are prominent in a certain place. I am fascinated by the history of food and its role in culture, so I love to find out – and tell – the stories of individual ingredients.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start using more botanical ingredients to spice up their cooking?
Start by discovering the wonders of a herb and yoghurt dressing. Blitz any herbs you have lying around, even if they’ve gone a bit sad-looking, in a food processor with some Greek yoghurt, lemon juice and zest, a little honey, salt and pepper and a pinch of sweet smoked paprika. It is absolutely glorious on any kind of grains (bulgur, couscous, barley, spelt) and excellent on a salad of dark leafy greens like kale (I add crumbled chorizo or fried halloumi, green apple and toasted seeds). This is a great way to concentrate and enhance the flavour of herbs and add them to all manner of dishes. I’d also say, when beginning, to experiment with what goes with what. Niki Segnit’s book ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ is so good at advising on this.
What is your most inspirational food destination?
Thailand. As you may notice from the rapture with which I speak of everything in the Tropical Fruits chapter of the book, cuisines and ingredients from southeast Asia are my favourite of all time (I’d put Vietnamese in there too as one of my top five world cuisines). I love the way Thai food balances its flavours so expertly, and the delicious ways in which it incorporates some of my favourite botanicals (fruit like pineapple and papaya; makrut lime leaves; galangal; ginger…etc). If I could include another destination, I’d say Syria – I was lucky enough to travel there in 2010 and a lot of the dishes I tried on that trip have stayed with me. Within Europe, I’d actually say Austria. I’ve been very inspired by a lot of the poppy seed dishes I’ve eaten there.
What are your top five botanical ingredients?
An excellent question and one I like to think about in idle moments. Makrut (kaffir) lime leaves, lemongrass, lemon verbena, pineapple (so versatile, in both sweet and savoury dishes) and blackcurrants.
What advice would you give to a cook who wants to start growing their own botanical ingredients?
Invest in a grow light or grow pod for your kitchen worktop and plant some herb seeds. This gives you much more reliable conditions than dealing with the weather, but of course if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or allotment, then that will work too. If you have a greenhouse, you can grow chillies very successfully. Berries like gooseberries and blackcurrants grow well in a garden, as does rhubarb. I live in a flat so have limited outdoor space, and I grow herbs in a grow pod on top of my freezer – this means I can have them all year round, not just in summer. You can also grow exotics like makrut (kaffir) lime and lemongrass – a small potted plant will grow quite well on a windowsill if you mist it regularly (they like humidity). I’ve even grown kumquats rather successfully in a conservatory.
If this post has sparked your culinary creativity, you can buy Botanical Kitchen here.