Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Scent of Heaven

Since laying my hands on a stash of lavender, I have not only made gâteau au yaourt scented with lavender sugar but dug out my reserve of rosemary sugar from last summer and used it in a white chocolate cake over the weekend. Flushed with success, I am now hooked on baking with flowers, herbs or sugar scented with their perfumed natural oils.

Thanks to the resurgence in tea culture, usage of Earl Grey, Jasmine and Matcha in baking is suddenly de moda (I can never bring myself to say muy fashion for not only I but Guillermo would cringe). Lavender which has always featured in Provençal cuisine is now part of any chef's repertoire. The quintessentially English elderflower is also enjoying a revival. So while the foodie world is all excited following this undeniable trend, it has prompted me to speak up for a "little guy", Osmanthus (桂花)

These fragrant flowers are a close relation to the jasmine family. They are grown in China for culinary purposes as much as for its thick, sweet scent. Tea is probably how most people would get to meet this flower outside of Asia. The Chinese city of Nanjing is known for its osmanthus scented roast duck. However, it is the scented sugar that is getting my attention.

Osmanthus preserved in sugar, like lavender in Provence, is heavily featured in the sophisticated but generally sweeter Shanghaiese cuisine. A small amount of flowers with its scented sugar is often used to fill glutinous dumplings so when one bites into a hot gooey dumpling, a burst of delicate floral molten sweetness coats one's palate. My favourite is a signature Shanghaiese dish – lotus root slices stuffed with osmanthus flowers and glutinous rice steamed in osmanthus syrup. Heaven should smell like this.

These flowers are grown in a warm temperate climate so it should be able to find a home in Buenos Aires. A friend has an osmanthus tree in her house but it has not yielded one bloom in the three years since she planted it. Well, we shall live in hope...

It turns out I am not the only one missing the fragrance of osmanthus, I have recently stumbled across a French food blog by a Chinese girl living in Paris – Lorraine Délices. She has chosen to capture the distinctive scent in some biscuits and gorgeous photos.
(Note: Lorraine has been having a lot of problems with those bad apples in the blogging world who, shall we say, "liberate" her creations and claim as their own. For this reason, I won't be translating her recipe; I feel it's best that I provide you with the link to her post.)

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