Roses add a bouquet of flavor

This Valentine's Day, forgo a dozen roses in favor of using the flower to season some lovely dishes

  • These are desserts made with rose syrup from the Puffs and Pastries Bakery in Hampden. Left to right: Rose-infused rice pudding, rose pastry cream cake and chocolate ganache, rose pastry cream and fresh fruit tart, rose mousse eclair.
These are desserts made with rose syrup from the Puffs and Pastries… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
February 08, 2011|By Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

Sorry, Gertrude Stein, but you got it wrong with "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." The flower has a whole new identity: out of the bud vase and onto the plate.

Long used in Persian and Indian cooking, rose is a flavor not commonly found in American fare. But some creative local chefs and bakers are working it into desserts, drinks, even savory dishes.

Rose syrups, rose water and petals fresh, frozen and dried lend a surprising floral note to fruit-topped pastries and chocolate eclairs, strawberry mojitos and a couscous served with lamb.

"Roses are definitely one of the nice, fragrant, sweet flavors that can be a main ingredient," said Anisha Jagtap, chef-owner of Puffs & Pastries in Hampden. "For me, it's my favorite flavoring for a flower. … Roses are definitely one of the best edible flowers to try."

Born in the United States to Indian parents, Jagtap developed a taste for rose on a visit to India.

"First time I had it was as a little girl — rose petal ice cream outside a palace in India, touring around," she said. "It was so crazy. The ice cream wasn't even pink, but the rose petals were so bright and pink. … You would get almost half-pieces of fresh rose petal. You got this really sweet flavor."

Jagtap is eager to share that flavor with customers at Puffs & Pastries, which she opened on The Avenue in September 2008. But she knows Americans can be wary of rose, even if they don't blink at other edible flowers.

"It's easier for me to sell something that's lavender than rose — period," said Jagtap, who did a brisk, Groupon-fueled business in Lavender French Apple Pies at Thanksgiving. "People don't quite equate roses with eating. More so, people think of lavender as an herb and roses aren't. People's perception is it's a flower as opposed to something you eat."

But Jagtap seems to be cultivating a following for her floral favorite, particularly around Valentine's Day, when she uses rose buttercream icing on 6-inch heart-shaped cakes that resemble Conversation Heart candies. (Last year at Valentine's, she developed recipes for rose granita and rose sorbet for Taharka Brothers Ice Cream.)

All year at the shop, rose mousse fills butter cakes, eclairs and cupcakes. Rose pastry cream sits between squares of puff pastry and slices of mango, pear and strawberries. It's also sandwiched between layers of lavender cake in a confection known as Cinderella Cake. Rose also finds its way into a saffron-infused rice pudding. She plans to add a rose sticky-rice pudding with fresh mango and toasted black-and-white sesame seeds to the menu this month.

Jagtap gets that rose flavor from rose syrup made in India (Kalvert is one brand in her kitchen) and dried heirloom rose petals from France, which she'll sometimes steep in pastry cream or sprinkle atop treats for decoration. ("The French do a good job of clipping [the flowers] when they're light and bright," she said. "Otherwise, they can be bitter").

Rose water and syrups are still too out-there for Sparks-based McCormick to bottle them. The company website nonetheless has recipes for Lamb Kaftas with Rose-Infused Dipping Sauce, Field Salad with Strawberries, Kumquats and Rose Petals, and Apricot-Poppy Phyllo Purses with Rose Water Glaze. (The recipes, which call for rose water, direct home cooks to specialty stores or Middle Eastern markets for that ingredient.)

"We are watching the trend for rose flavor," said Laurie Harrsen, a McCormick spokeswoman, noting that the company declared rose and poppyseed a Top 10 flavor pairing in its 2008 "flavor forecast."

Chef John Walsh of Chef's Expression catering in Timonium will serve a Rosewater, White Chocolate and Raspberry Parfait as part of a Valentine's Day wine dinner at Gramercy Mansion. But his use of rose in desserts and savory dishes isn't limited to the holiday.

"I use it a lot when I do vegan weddings," Walsh said, describing a salad made of crisp micro-lettuces, rose petals and fresh strawberries in a vinaigrette made with rose water, shallots and a white balsamic reduction. "It's absolutely gorgeous."

He marinates fresh petals in rum overnight with basil and strawberries for mojitos. He also likes rose water in baklava and Thai black rice pudding. He thinks it works well with white chocolate and raspberries.

"It's an exclamation point," he said. "It's a sweetness. It'll never put you in a bad mood."

Walsh makes a lamb tagine with nuts and dried fruit and serves it over a bed of toasted couscous flavored with cinnamon, dried figs and rose water. The rose water helps bring out the many spices in the dish.

"It just enhances it to the next level," Walsh said. "It's like you're at a spice market. It really brings it out. When you smell it, you get hungry. You want to dive into it."

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