Rose-scented food has seduced characters from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Like Water for Chocolate. It's captured food writer Victoria Rowan, too, and she shares a recipe for rose-scented lemon cake.
The Rapture of Rose-Scented Cake
My favorite summer ritual is breakfasting on cake while reading a novel on my grandparents' cottage porch in northern Maine. The roses that edge their yard seductively perfume the breeze -- not hothouse roses, but the wildly fragrant rosa rugosa reminiscent of the floral tangles that protected Sleeping Beauty while she awaited her prince.
My cake of choice is a simple lemon bundt drizzled with rose glaze. It's the taste of summer -- delicious and decadent, a sensory conflating thrill.
Indeed, rose-scented food is popping up on many trendy menus this summer, though it's made cameos in some of my favorite books. Rose is a popular flavor for Turkish delight, the irresistible snack provided by the nefarious White Witch in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
And in Mexican author Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, a dish made from a bouquet of roses -- Quail in Rose Petal Sauce -- casts an aphrodisiac spell upon a young woman who becomes so hot with lust that when she showers to cool off, the room erupts in flames. As she flees, the soldier she fancies somehow receives her siren signal of distress, gallops by, scoops up her naked fabulousness, and makes love to her in the saddle without breaking the horse's stride.
Alas, I can’t guarantee that my rose-lemon cake will inspire dashing men to carry you away. However, I can promise that it's a universal crowd pleaser. I've served it to raves at bridal showers, a Mother's Day gathering, book club meetings and dinner parties of intimidating Gotham foodies.
In Maine, I regularly bake it for dessert in hopes that a small piece will survive for breakfast. Exotic and attractive enough to impress sophisticates, the cake is a blessedly simple bundt that can be made at the end of a day of vigorous outdoorsiness and will be done baking and cooling by the time everyone's cracked through their lobsters and finished their corn on the cob.
A few preparation, presentation and ingredient notes:
There's no need for a fancy, cast-iron bundt pan. I find cakes are more likely to snag in their ornate crevices, and because they retain heat, cast-iron pans tend to make a thicker crust to the cake. The cheaper, non-stick tin version found in many supermarkets works just fine.
Edible rose water can be found at health food stores as well as Middle Eastern and gourmet markets. Right before serving, you can give the cake a last-minute spritz so that it announces its arrival at the table in a seductive fog.
For decoration, harvest a small nosegay of blooms and put them in a small bud vase in the center. Sacrifice one or two for petals to scatter about the cake-stand and a few for each plate you serve. Roses are edible in their natural state, though they must be organic flowers that are free of pesticides.
If you're looking for more activities on a rainy summer day, when you finish your last book and you feel badly that there are tons of rose bushes outside your door tragically molting their beauty away, go ahead and crystallize the petals. I know a woman who puts a jar of the sparkling delicacies on her coffee table like so many edible geodes.
And for those who subscribe to what I consider the true mantra of summer -- "too much is never enough!" -- toast the cutting of the cake with a glass of pink champagne with a crystallized rose.
But be forewarned: As eating roses can provoke unpredictable raptures, share your fragrant concoctions with only your most dearly beloveds -- at least at first.
ROSE-LEMON GLAZED CAKE
The cake is adapted from a recipe in the marvelous cookbook The California Cook: Casually Elegant Recipes with Exhilarating Taste by Diane Rossen Worthington (Bantam, N.Y., 1994).
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (I recommend a Microplane grater)
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons (1 fl oz) rose water (more if desired, just add carefully to avoid a soapy aftertaste and balance with more sugar)
6 tablespoons (3 fl oz) strained fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. Sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder together in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
In a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about four minutes. Beat in the eggs, zest and lemon extract, and mix for two minutes.
Reduce the mixer to the lowest speed, add half the flour mixture, and mix until combined. Add half the sour cream, mixing slowly yet constantly, and then add the rest of the flour and sour cream.
Pour the mixture into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cake rack.
Next, make the glaze. Using a wire strainer, sift the powdered sugar into a small non-aluminum bowl. Add the juice and whisk to break up any lumps.
Place the cake on your cake plate (which must have a lip!). While the cake is still warm, using a long skewer (or just a toothpick), poke holes all around the top of the cake, stopping an inch or so shy of the bottom. Spoon-drizzle the syrup over the cake. If you have time, keep re-basting the cake with glaze that pools on the plate.
CANDIED ROSE PETALS
Petals from two organic roses
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
Enough granulated sugar to coat petals (have at least a cup)
Pinch off the bitter, white section at the base of each petal. Whisk egg white and water together. Dip each petal in egg mixture or gently brush both sides each petal. Place petals, convex side down to drain on wax paper.
When drained but still damp, sprinkle both sides with sugar. Shake off excess, place on fresh waxed paper and dry at room temperature for 12 hours. Store in covered container in refrigerator. Good for about a month.