In keeping with my propensity for seasonally informed ingredient selections, I’ve returned again this week to a widely foragable ingredient in the UK, due a bit later in springtime, with a plethora of uses. The elder plant offers up plentiful, tree-like stalks with bunches of delicate white flowers in April, May, and June, which are over- taken by its characteristic dark berries in early autumn. It’s important to harvest the blossoms after the buds have opened, and when clusters of yellow pollen are visible, but the flowers still smell sweet and fragrant—once the ideal window has past, they will begin to take on a sour, unpleasant odour. While it might at first seem daunting to craft your own ingestible concoctions from wild flowers, I find it exceedingly enjoyable to create something fragrant and delightful entirely from scratch, especially if you’ll be reaping the benefits of a single project for weeks or months to come. All the better if your artisanal exploits can be, as in this case, surprisingly straightforward. I’ve made sparkling wine and cordial with elderflower in years past, but the recipe I’ve included here is a simple syrup since it takes less time (for reference, elderflower ‘champagne’ and other alcoholic beverages take several week, or longer to ferment,) and is the most versatile, as it can easily be incorporated into floral cocktails, lemonades, as well as used as a flavouring in sweets, such as in the Swedish visiting cake. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for this cake is a childhood teatime favourite of mine. I was always struck by the elegant simplicity of the cake, which comes together in all of its rustic glory, with a moist lemony interior and nutty, slightly caramelised top, in just over half an hour. Greenspan’s name for the cake originated in the fact that a Swedish friend of hers had told her, over the cake (brought as an offering upon visitation) that it was the sort of cake that could be thrown into the oven when one saw their guests com- ing up the hill, and ready in time for coffee. A fika appropriate bake indeed. I’ve adapted her base to be vegan and flavoured with your homemade elderflower syrup. Of course, if you have commitment issues, or simply gravitate towards more instant modes of gratification, feel free to omit the elderflower, as it’s perfectly delicious on its own. Store bought elderflower syrup also works here- no one’s telling.
Homemade elderflower syrup:
Ingredients for 1 litre of syrup: 2 lemons 1 kg sugar 25g citric acid 15 stalks of elderflower
Directions: Shake off elderflower heads outside to ensure you have removed debris and insects, while retaining flowers and pollen. Bring 1 liter of water, as well as the sugar and citric acid, to a boil in a large pot. Slice rinsed lemons, without removing skin. Layer lemon slices and elder- flower in a large bowl or sealable container, before pouring the boiled mixture over, and closing tightly. Allow the syrup mixture to sit for three days at room temperature, stirring daily. After it has been left to sit, strain through a colander or sieve. Boil the infused syrup once more, before transferring to jars and/ or bottles, and use as desired!
Swedish Visiting Cake with elderflower syrup:
Ingredients: 180 g sugar, more to sprinkle on 1 lemon 2 flax eggs 1⁄4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon elderflower syrup, if using 120g plain flour 120 g/ 8 tbsp melted margarine or vegan butter 25g sliced almonds
Directions: Preheat the oven to 175 degrees celsius, and centre a baking rack. Grease the bottom of a cast-iron skillet or cake pan. Prepare flax eggs. For two flax eggs, combine 5 tbsp water and 2 tbsp flaxseed meal. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, until thickened Grate the lemon, and add the zest, as well as the sugar, to a medium bowl. Rub the lemon zest and sugar together by hand well, diffusing oils and aroma. Now, begin to whisk in the rest of the ingredients, starting with flax eggs, followed by salt, vanilla extract, and elderflower syrup, if using. Fold in flour with a spatula, and, finally, add melted butter. Transfer batter to prepared skillet/pan, topping evenly with sliced almonds and a sprinkle of sugar all over. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly browned and crispy on the edges. Allow to cool for five minutes, and, if you wish, decorate the cake with more lemon zest and elderflowers. Serve the cake warm or fully cooled, either right from the skillet or transferred to a dish.