Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"O" is for Osmanthus: Explorations in Cake

Osmanthus is an ingredient that is gradually becoming familiar to the American palate. The dried blossoms are redolent of apricot, lemon and blonde leather, the later of which may seem unusual to the uninitiated palate. Saffron has the same animalic quality as osmanthus, but its leather note is rounded out by impressions of hay, honeyed musk, and almonds. How an ingredient is used in food preparation determines the way we perceive its flavor. The leatheric aspect of osmanthus is easily tempered when the blossoms are used to flavor tea or fowl, but osmanthus is especially delicious and well-tamed when used to make an infused sugar for pastry.

Making an infused sugar using osmanthus is quite simple. Dried osmanthus blossoms are combined with coarse grade sugar. The two ingredients are then ground together and allowed to macerate for at least a week. Glass Petal Smoke's recipe for Osmanthus Teacake makes use of this technique so you can experience the flavor of osmanthus. There's an added health benefit too; osmanthus blossoms are rich in carotenoid antioxidants. Go ahead. Have your cake and eat it too.

Osmanthus Teacake
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd 
Serves 9-12

·      2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
·      ¼ cup golden flaxseed meal
·      1½ teaspoons baking powder (non-aluminum)
·      ¼ teaspoon baking soda
·      ½ teaspoon sea salt (non-iodized)
·      ½ cup raw cane (or turbinado) sugar for infused sugar
·      ½ cup dried Osmanthus petals for infused sugar
·      1 cup low fat, low sodium buttermilk (room temperature)
·      1 tablespoon almond extract
·      2 large eggs (slightly beaten, room temperature)
·      cup sweet unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
·      3 ounces golden raisins

Directions for Making Infused Sugar:
·      Layer sugar and flowers in a spice grinder or mini food processor.
·      Grind ingredients together making sure that the sugar remains crystallized (over-grinding produces a powder). The result should be a sugar evenly tinged with the color of the flowers.
·      Store in a sealed glass jar until ready to use.

·      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
·      Grease one 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan (or three 5.75 x 3 inch loaf pans) with cooking spray.
·      In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add sugar and flaxseed meal, blending well.
·      In a medium sized bowl, mix eggs, melted butter and extract.  Add buttermilk and incorporate.  If using dried fruit, add it to the wet mixture.
·      Make a well in the center of the bowl with the dry ingredients and add wet ones.  Combine wet and dry ingredients together, folding gently with a silicone spatula.  Be careful not to over mix.
·      Pour batter into prepared pans and spread evenly.  Bake for 45 to 55 minutes (30 – 35 minutes from smaller loaves), or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. 
·      Cool for ten minutes.  Remove from pans and place on wire rack to continue cooling.  Refrigerate or freeze for future use.  The large loaf yields 10-12 slices, the smaller loaf yields 5-6 slices.

Dried Osmanthus Petals are available online from TeaSpring. The quality is superb and any flowers not used for baking can be infused with green tea for a delicious drink. Ten Ren Tea also carries Osmanthus, but dirt and particulate matter show up in this brand and it is not recommended.

Photograph of "Listening to Osmanthus," by Michelle Krell Kydd.