“Deep violets, you liken to The kindest eyes that look on you, Without a thought disloyal.”
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Flowers in food, have you ever given it a second thought? In the East, flowers are more commonly used in cuisine than in the West. This harks back to the olden days when food was scarce, so enterprising housewives started experimenting by adding blossoms in their cooking. I'm quite sure there were several tragedies along the way, just so that we are able to enjoy eating the flowers we know to be safe today.
Over here, you will find Thai and Chinese food are often the ones infused with a variety of flowers. The dishes range from sweet to savory, but flowers are found in beverages and herbal remedies too. A few of the most used flowers off the top of my head are chrysanthemum, jasmine, cherry blossoms, peonies, chamomile, ginger flower, osmanthus, hibiscus, rose and many others. Growing up on predominantly spicy (but flower-less) Malay cuisine, I've had to slowly get used to tasting flowery flavors in my food. Now, however, it's an acquired taste I couldn't possibly live without and I make sure there's always some dried edible flowers in my pantry for hmm... cravings and experimentation.
Today's ice cream recipe uses a different form of the flower very often used in French cuisine - the violet. I would love to have used fresh violets in this instance if I could only get hold of them. But necessity is the mother of invention (was it Plato who said this?) and in the absence of fresh violets, I used violet candy. A friend who had recently returned from Paris dropped off a bag of Ladurée goodies (thanks, M!) and amongst them were these amazingly floral violet candy. They were naturally fragranced and colored, and were even shaped as little violet flowers...how truly adorable is that?
According to Brigitte Mars, a professional American herbalist, the essence of violet flower "helps those that feel lonely, increases openness and helps shy, aloof people that want to share but feel overwhelmed". Not my reason for making this ice cream, of course, but isn't it helpful to know for the next time you feel ridiculously unloved and alone? Just go and get yourself a bunch of violets!
You can spot the chunks of fresh peaches and violet candy in there.
It didn't take me long to figure out that the juicy, hint of mango-ey peaches would go very well with the sweet, aromatic violet. I also had to somehow finish that bowl of soft, white peaches that seemed to be ripening on the counter quicker than I could say "boo". I got Diva D to help me smash the candy into chunks and slice up the peaches (my nick around here is the Great Delegator). We made a custard cream out of blended peaches and introduced peach chunks into the ice cream via a peach-violet compote. Oh, and because I really like my crunchies, the crushed up violet candy were sprinkled into the semi-frozen concoction just before it went into the ice cream container.
This is such a delightful marriage of ingredients, and you don't have to wait for generous friends to go shopping in Ladurée on your behalf to be able to make this. If you can get hold of fresh violets, by all means use them and just add sugar or sweetener to the custard. Otherwise, I read about such a thing as violet sugar, but if like me you can't make your own at home, you can probably buy it online at sites like this one (a word of warning, it costs a bomb!).
Finally, one of my favorite singers is Jill Scott, I just love her voice to bits! And her relaxed style in this video puts Alpha-me to shame, it really does...
4-5 small white peaches
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 small white peaches, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons crushed violet candy (or violet sugar, if you can get this)
1 tablespoon water
Extra Violet Candy
1/3 cup violet candy, crushed (or violet sugar)
1. To make the Peach Custard, slice peaches and remove seeds. Sprinkle with sugar on top of slices and roast or broil peaches for about 10 minutes until soft.
2. Process roasted peaches with 1/2 cup milk and salt in a blender until smooth. Strain, pour into a pan and bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons milk and cornstarch until well combined. Add the cornstarch slurry to the hot milk and return saucepan to heat. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to a custard-like consistency. Leave to cool down to room temperature.
4. Whisk chilled cream for a few minutes, then add to the custard and stir until well combined. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or 45 minutes in the freezer. Note: Custard can be chilled, covered, in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
5. Make the Peach-Violet compote by bringing all the ingredients to a bowl on medium heat. Crush the sliced peaches slightly with a fork and leave the compote to cool completely.
6. In the meantime, crush extra violet candy into small chunks using a rolling pin or mortar and pestle. Set aside.
7. Pour the chilled custard into the ice-cream maker and freeze according to the instructions of your ice-cream machine. When the ice cream is nearly frozen (about 15-20 minutes), add the peach-violet compote and crushed violet candy into the bowl of the ice cream maker and churn for about 30 seconds to distribute the fruit and candy through the ice cream. Transfer to a container and freeze until ready to serve. Remove from freezer and let stand for 10 minutes until softened before serving.