Until last week I knew precious little about elderflower. I knew I liked it in gin and tonic and sometimes even Prosecco, and that others less booze-driven than me pop it in their squash.
But that was it.
I didn’t know that it arrives to our English hedgerows in late May, and that for centuries the arrival of elderflower has marked the start of summer. I didn’t know that it is a plant richly woven with mystery or fairies of folklore, and most importantly I didn’t know how good it tastes in cake.
This all changed last Wednesday when Elfie and I were invited to go baking with Belvoir Fruit Farms and Celebrity MasterChef’s Lisa Faulkner, and were challenged to create our own cakey delight with that plant I’ve always got a little bit confused with Cow Parsley.
Belvoir (pronounced Beaver thanks to early Brits struggling to get to grips with the French accent – snigger) Fruit Farms is a company that’s a real British success story. They started making Elderflower cordials and pressés 30 years ago which was when the MD Peveral Manners’s mother, Lady Mary Manners, would infuse the blossoms they’d picked from wild Elderflower trees around their farm.
The business has blossomed from 500 bottles in 1984, celebrating it’s millionth bottle off the line in 2014 and this year harvesting an incredible 60 tonnes of Elderflower. Despite such success the recipe has remained the same however, and is still the one given to Lady Mary by her friend Lady Astor of Cliveden.
Which is all incredibly British, isn’t it?
Elfie and I arrived hungry to our baking lesson in London, excited to whip up some treats with Lisa. We were delighted to see lovely Lucy of Lish Concepts also cooking, with gorgeous daughter Darcy, and worked together to put together the fairly technically challenging Madeline Hot Air Balloons.
I have to say I was dubious at first, normally eschewing any kind of flower in my food (wtf is it with sticking overpowering Rose or Lavender in my ice cream? Stop it!). But I was pleasantly surprised with just how subtle and light the taste of Elderflower is in these cakes, particularly in the icing (which I MAY have had more than my fair share of).
Lisa demonstrated the recipe to us first, one she was commissioned to create especially for Belvoir’s Elderflower season. When she says it’s the taste of summer she’s absolutely bang on – these little treats are sunny days in cake’s clothing. Delicious.
This recipe isn’t for the faint-hearted. There’s a helluva lot of whisking needed to get the required amount of air into the batter, best done with a hand whisk or, even better, a stand mixer. The elderflower cordial is folded in with the dry ingredients and melted butter, just before you stand the batter.
We created little hot air balloons with our Madelines, using flapjacks as the basket and icing to decorate – some better than others ;) See if you can spot mine – this one below was my very best attempt and it was eaten almost immediately.
I’ve re-produced the Madelines recipe below with kind thanks to Belvoir Fruit Farms and Lisa – let me know if you give them a go. We’ll be making them again as soon as possible (and that Elderflower will be back in my Prosecco, too!)
70g melted unsalted butter (plus 20g extra melted butter for greasing)
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
125g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1tsp baking powder
2tbsp Belvoir Elderflower Cordial
For the icing
150g icing sugar
1tbsp Belvoir Elderflower Cordial
a squeeze of lemon juice
Cocktail sticks and flapjack squares for the ‘baskets’
- Whisk the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. This can take 10-15 minutes – the whisk should leave a ribbon trail on the surface of the mixture when you lift it up. It needs to almost double in volume.
- Lightly fold in all the other ingredients. Leave to stand for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, brush the madeline tray with melted butter, leave to set, then dust with a little flour, knocking off any excess. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees c.
- Gently spoon or pipe the madeline batter into the moulds and bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden.
- Allow to cook in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Mix the icing sugar with the cordial and lemon juice until you have a smooth pipeable icing.
- Divide into 4 and add food colouring as you wish.
- Add to the piping bags and snip a small amount at the top to pope thinly.
- Pipe over the madelines to create patterns.
- If you wish, use cocktail sticks inserted into the base of each madeline to create hot air balloons with a ‘basket’.
Huge thanks to Belvoir Fruit Farms for a lovely day of baking this half term :)