Candied Blossoms and Flower Perfumed Syrup

Andy describes how seasonal blossoms can be captured in sugar.

If you love spring as much as I do, you may agree that it always seems to come and go quicker than it should. One week, I was strolling under pink clouds of cherry blossoms, and the next, the petals had all floated away from the branches. I didn’t have time to be dismayed though, when richly perfumed purple lilacs had begun to steal the show. The season always seems to play out like a vaudeville show of flowers, with one beautiful act following the next.

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A few weeks ago Victoria wrote about salting cherry blossoms, but you can also use sugar to capture the delicate flavors of spring. If you have never tried candying flowers before, it is extremely easy, and after you’ve done it once, you will find the task an irresistible way to extend the season of flowers like jasmine, lilac, rose and honeysuckle, to name a few. This spring, for instance, I found myself longing to preserve the beauty of sweetly scented violets, which are common in my area in the springtime. And since I had so many, I decided to candy them and make some perfumed syrup. My instructions below call for violets, but use whatever favorite edible flowers you can find, from pansies to roses.

Dainty violet blossoms, encrusted with sugar, make a beautiful garnish for a dessert, and a very pretty decoration for a cake. Or you can simply eat the violets as candy, which is what I typically do. They taste like fresh grapes, with a subtle hint of the powdery raspberry flavor one finds in violet candies, like Choward’s violet mints.

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The idea of eating violet flowers might seem odd, but violets have been used medicinally and as a culinary ingredient for centuries. If you sometimes cook with rosewater or orange flower water, then cooking with fresh flowers like violets is a real treat, and a fun adventure. Just as with any herb, the possibilities are endless. You could crush these flowers with sugar to make a softly fragrant sweetener for tea or lemonade, or even add the blossoms fresh to a salad.

Since violets have an especially delicate, sweet perfume, they are exceptional when used in conjunction with sugar and little else—too many strong flavors will overpower the subtle fragrance, but a neutral base like sugar will make the flavor of violets sing.

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Candied Violets

You can use this recipe to candy other edible flowers, such as roses, pansies, carnations, nasturtium, honeysuckle, jasmine, lilac, marigolds, clover, and orange blossom. The results are equally pretty and very rewarding. Store-bought candied flowers are intended for long storage, so they have added colorants and aromas. The beauty of the homemade variety, on the other hand, is the purity of the natural flavor.

To begin, you will need a small paintbrush (designated for food use only), an egg white, some superfine or caster sugar, and your desired amount of violet flowers, with the stems attached. If you don’t have superfine sugar, simply pulse regular granulated sugar in a food processor for about a minute. The result should be sugar with a slightly finer grain which will stick to the violets better than regular granulated sugar.

Since the flowers are so delicate, they cannot stand any more than a gentle wash before being used.

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1.  Beat the egg white in a small bowl until frothy, about a minute. Then, grasping by the stem, paint the front and back of all the petals with a thin layer of the beaten egg white.

2. Place the violet flower on the sugar, and use a spoon to scoop the sugar all over the front and back of the violet petals. Once the flower is coated with the sugar, place it gently onto a sheet of wax paper to dry overnight.

3. Once the flowers seem stiff and completely dry, snip off the stems, and store the violets in a sealed airtight container. They should keep for a while in a cool, dry place, but I would recommend using them as soon as possible.

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If you happen to have a windfall of violets though, making violet syrup is a real treat. The thick, sweet syrup is stained the most gorgeous shade of purple imaginable. I find commercial soft drinks too sweet for my taste, but a drizzle of this syrup into a glass of sparkling water is extremely refreshing. It is also great to add as a sweetener to green teas (iced especially), as it accentuates the natural violet-like facets of the tea. My favorite way to use it though, is to drizzle the syrup on top of a panna cotta, where it adds a beautiful, light fruity floral flavor, similar to the taste of the crystallized violets. Use your imagination—the possible uses for this syrup are endless!

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Violet Syrup

Makes about 2 cups

As with the candied violet recipe, you can follow the instructions to make other floral syrups with fragrant flowers of your choice. This recipe can easily be scaled up or down.

50 g (approximately 1.8 ounces) violet flowers

250 mL (1 cup) water

500 g (1lb, 2 ½ cups) granulated sugar

Grasping the green part where the stem meets the flower, pull the petals off each violet and set the petals aside in a bowl, discarding the rest of the flower stem. Next, boil the water and pour over the violet petals, stirring for a minute to combine. Cover bowl, and let sit for twenty-four hours to ensure maximum flavor.

The next day, uncover the bowl and drain the liquid from the violet petals through a mesh strainer. Press and squeeze the petals out to extract all of the liquid. Begin warming the liquid over a double boiler (a heatproof mixing bowl sitting atop a saucepan filled with boiling water), adding all of the sugar and stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Once dissolved, remove syrup from heat, allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator.

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Where to Find Fresh Violets: The hardest part about cooking with violets is often finding the violets themselves. The best violets to use are Viola odorata, a species otherwise known as the sweet violet. They are native to Europe and Asia but may also be found in parts of North America. This variety is also sometimes cultivated and can be found at gourmet and specialty stores. So, to be safe, make sure you use violets (or any other edible flowers) that have not been treated with any herbicides or pesticides. If you have a garden, violets (perfumed Viola odorata variety included) are easy to grow.

Where to Find Candied Flowers: If you can’t find edible flowers to candy yourself, look for the ready-made kind at gourmet stores, spice shops, and pastry stores. Amazon.com, Dean & Deluca, Kalustyan’s, markethallfoods.com, and other specialty stores offer a variety of candied blossoms, including rose, mimosa, and lilac.

Photography by Andy Gerber

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35 Comments

  • Geneviève: Wow, I never heard of candied flowers before. It’s a new world that’s opening to me now! It’s seems so fun to do. I might try it ! Thank you for sharing! May 15, 2013 at 7:52am Reply

    • Andy: Yes, certainly do try it, if you get a chance! I had a lot of fun, and plan to try this with some other types of flowers this summer. There are so many wonderful kinds to choose from! May 15, 2013 at 12:52pm Reply

      • Geneviève: At my job we sell german little rose buds and, I think I’ll try it with them. They are dry (it’s for putting them in tea) but I’m sure, it will still be good (just more crispy, I guess). What do you think? May 21, 2013 at 2:15pm Reply

        • Andy: Yes, you could certainly candy dried rosebuds, I don’t think that would be a problem at all. They would probably make for an especially pretty dessert garnish. May 21, 2013 at 7:18pm Reply

  • maja: Look at the colour of that syrup! And those candied violets look so fragile! Fantastic! Now I want my birthday cake with candied petals.

    I’ve already made my batch of rose syrup but I am not so happy with it. I’ll try again with an antique pink rose. And I will definitely try to make some jasmin syrup once it starts blooming :) Thank you so much, Andy. May 15, 2013 at 8:29am Reply

    • Andy: The color is really exquisite, and it is one of my favorite things about making violet syrup. Considering how many artificial dyes are used in packaged foods today, it feels really fulfilling to make something with such a rich, naturally occurring purple hue. And candied petals, no matter what kind of edible flower they come from, make even the simplest cake look fantastic.

      Do let me know how your rose syrup turns out next time. I really want to make a syrup with roses, I can just imagine how pretty and delicious it would be. May 15, 2013 at 1:01pm Reply

      • maja: It really all depends on the quality of petals. The older the the breed the better aroma it will have. I made one last year with a Turkish rose bought directly from a garden of a wonderful old lady and it was fabulous. The one I used this time was pretty scented but once cooked lost quite a lot unfortunately. Just make sure your bag with petals can perfume the whole room and you’ll have great results. :) May 15, 2013 at 4:04pm Reply

        • Andy: Thank you for all your helpful tips and recommendations. I’ll keep them in mind when I make rose syrup. And I think your last tip sums it all up beautifully: “just make sure your bag with petals can perfume the whole room.” Love it! Thanks! :) May 15, 2013 at 6:27pm Reply

          • Karen: Also, add some lemon juice whenmaking rose syrup or jam. I don’t know why, but when you add lemon juice the color deepens. You only need one lemon.
            If you decide to make rose jam or jelly, use the liquid (not powdered) pectin, if you use pectin. May 22, 2013 at 5:04am Reply

            • Andy: Thank you for your many helpful tips! Between you and maja, I’ve learned so many wonderful tricks for making rose syrup. It’s funny you should mention the lemon juice making the color of the rose syrup deepen. If you add an acid like lemon juice to the violet syrup, the syrup turns from deep violet to bright pink! It’s due the anthocyanins in the pigment that makes the violet petals purple—I guess you could say they are like nature’s Litmus paper! May 22, 2013 at 9:48pm Reply

  • Sulin: This is beautiful! I will have to try and find some violets to grow in my Ontario garden. :) May 15, 2013 at 9:21am Reply

    • Andy: Violets are such a pretty flower to grow. Certainly make some room in your garden for a little patch of them! May 15, 2013 at 1:04pm Reply

  • nikki: Andy, this is great! Thank you so much! I love Violets and remember them on top of cream cakes, candied! Or the candied violets in little tins! Just love having the recipe!
    I got myself some violet essential oil as I have not found a perfume that really smells of violet, not even Violetta di Parma. I wonder which violet perfume Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, used as it is widely described in narratives about their lives….
    Again, thanks for the fun article and great colors and photos, Andy! May 15, 2013 at 9:26am Reply

    • Andy: Violets are so enjoyable, both to look at and to eat! The best part is, making your own is much less expensive, and you can make as many as you need without a lot of special ingredients or equipment. Plus, it feels really fulfilling to create something so pretty.

      I agree, I’ve never found violet perfumes to evoke the fresh flower for me either. I do like violet notes though, for their light softness. And it’s funny, I was thinking the same thing about Napoleon’s wife. I would love to smell whatever she wore! May 15, 2013 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Alyssa Harad: What a gorgeous post! I just made some apple blossom water last weekend by simply floating the blossoms face down overnight, as one does to make jasmine water. I wonder if they would have withstood the boiling water in your syrup treatment? We certainly had enough of them–a whole branch of the tree fell so there were armfuls and armfuls to do…something…with. You could smell them all through the house. Heaven. May 15, 2013 at 10:13am Reply

    • Andy: Apple blossom water sounds exquisite! I adore the scent of apple blossoms, and I can just imagine they must add an incredible perfume to the water.

      And you bring up a good point. If the flower seems too delicate, you could always try just soaking the flowers overnight in some water, without boiling it first. If the water seems infused enough for your liking the next day, you can proceed with the rest of the steps in the same manner. Enjoy! May 15, 2013 at 1:16pm Reply

  • Amer: Mind blowing article! Eating flowers sounds so exalted right? I was wondering, are all flowers edible or are there some that would have adverse effects upon consumption. Sweet pea comes to mind with its very sweet fragrance but I think its coumarin content might be too high to be considered safe. May 15, 2013 at 10:41am Reply

    • Andy: No, not all flowers are edible. Some incredibly fragrant ones, like lily of the valley, are downright poisonous, and are dangerous to consume. I’ve never heard of sweet peas being edible. I just did a quick search online though, and it seems that they too are poisonous. So, definitely use caution and make sure the flowers are edible if you try either of these recipes.

      Fortunately, so many other wonderfully perfumed flowers are edible! Jasmine, honeysuckle, roses, violets, lilacs, mimosa…. :) May 15, 2013 at 1:24pm Reply

  • Austenfan: This sounds and looks delicious. Most of my violets are gone. I may try this with elderberry flowers once they are in bloom. I have bought that syrup in shops. Organic food stores tend to have it. But it would be great to make some myself. May 15, 2013 at 4:59pm Reply

    • Andy: If you do try the elderflower syrup, let me know how it comes out! That sounds delicious! May 15, 2013 at 6:24pm Reply

  • Karen: Every year I make either rose jelly or rose syrup. The first year that I made lavender jelly, it won Best of Show at our local county fair! I was so excited. Flower jellies are really wonderful to use as a filler in sugar cookie sandwiches or as a topping on a pound cake.

    I always feel as though I am cooking for the fairy queen when I cook with flowers. May 15, 2013 at 9:08pm Reply

    • Andy: Wow! Best of Show! I wish I had the confidence in my creations to submit them to a county fair. They always seem like such fun, friendly competitions. And I know exactly what you mean, about cooking for the fairy queen. When I was making these recipes with the violets, I felt like I was creating such a delicacy. And really, I guess these floral treats are delicacies in a way. For me, cooking with flowers always feels so special, since it’s something that I don’t do on a daily basis. May 15, 2013 at 10:33pm Reply

  • Liz K: What a good idea. We always decorated sugar cookies in the spring with violas, rose petals, and scented geranium flowers when I was a kid. I never have occasion to go to that much fuss these days but candied geranium petals would be delicious! May 16, 2013 at 11:08am Reply

    • Andy: Yes! Another great way to use scented geraniums is by making geranium sugar, layering the scented flowers and leaves with sugar in a jar. As you said, great for sugar cookies! May 16, 2013 at 11:44am Reply

  • Nancy A.: Hi Andy,

    Violets are some of my favorite flowers. They shed an aura of sentimentality for some reason. And you are so right, hard to find is right — just arranged in a vase is enjoyable for me but adding this recipe is a new found way for any edible flowers. I know the green/farmers markets sells packaged flowers but I believe these are more nasturtiums and tossed in salads versus sugared. Correct me, if wrong. Thanks for the review! May 16, 2013 at 2:43pm Reply

    • Andy: Violets strike that same sentimental chord with me too. For me, they are like a symbol of remembrance of springs past, and never fail to bring back fond memories.

      Yes, violets are quite a challenge to find! You are correct, usually the the edible flowers you tend to find at farmers’ markets are fresh, not candied. May 16, 2013 at 2:52pm Reply

  • Tara Aveilhe: Beautiful recipes — and what great gift ideas! I just recently discovered Rotham and Winter’s Creme de Violette and been having a blast making classic cocktails with it — it’s so feminine and aromatic. May 16, 2013 at 3:47pm Reply

    • Andy: These do make great gifts! I would love to try cooking with Creme de Violette—I know Alyssa, who commented above, has a recipe for Creme de Violette scented meringue cookies on her blog. They sound really delicious! May 16, 2013 at 9:44pm Reply

  • Emma M: Lovely and unusual recipes, thanks for sharing these Andy. I love rose syrup, drizzled over red berries with greek yoghurt for summer breakfasts. I’ll definitely be trying it added to drinks and with panna cotta now too May 17, 2013 at 8:34am Reply

    • Andy: That breakfast sounds really appealing, with the syrup drizzled over berries and yogurt. A perfect way to transform a simple breakfast into something really special! For drinks, I love one of these syrups in an iced tea. May 22, 2013 at 4:30am Reply

  • Daisy: Both the candied violets and the syrup sound and look fantastic. Thank you, Andy! Am bookmarking this and will be on the lookout for fresh flowers at the Farmers Market. They had bunches of fresh chamomile today . . .

    Btw, your photos are gorgeous! May 27, 2013 at 11:22pm Reply

    • Andy: I hadn’t even thought of chamomile, but I think that it would make for some really delicious candied blossoms. Enjoy! May 28, 2013 at 5:05am Reply

  • MontrealGirl: Hi Andy, What a marvellous idea! I found a few pansies, nasturtium flowers and buds in the herb garden so I tried candying them and it worked like a charm. I was so thrilled! After I finished cleaning up (and flavouring the left-over sugar with vanilla for future use) I realized I had some fresh mint lying on the counter. I could have kicked myself for not having thought of candying the mint leaves at the same time as the flowers. Oh well, next time! July 1, 2013 at 3:51pm Reply

    • Andy: I’m glad to hear your flowers candied well! It truly is a fun and rewarding task. I haven’t candied my nasturtiums before, but I do love adding the petals to a salad. I have lots of fresh mint in my garden too—I think I may follow your cue and candy some this summer as well! July 1, 2013 at 11:48pm Reply

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