I adore floral flavourings; elderflower, lavender, orange blossom and jasmine, but my favourite of all is rosewater. Rosewater has a long and illustrious culinary history. It is a stalwart of Middle Eastern and North African cooking, also featuring in Indian cuisine. When used with restraint, rosewater gives a characteristic flavour and alluring fragrance that takes you straight to the edge of the Med.
Rosewater is the leftover liquid or hydrosol remaining when rose petals and water are distilled together for the purpose of making rose oil, so it is a bi-product. It is also relatively cheap and easy to obtain from delis or wholefood shops and has a reasonably long shelf life, so it is always handy to keep in the store cupboard and a little goes a long way.
Bulgaria produces an estimated 85% of the world’s rose oil and hence is also a key producer of rosewater. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful country a couple of years ago. It was a conservation trip to look at how the Bulgarian government manages areas of high conservation value in national parks and other protected sites in Bulgaria, focussing on the Stara Planina in the Balkan Mountains, central Bulgaria, particularly the Central Balkan National Park. The beech, oak and hornbeam forests are stunning, as are the high alpine meadows. These habitats hold impressive numbers of rare species of invertebrates, higher plants and fungi and I was fortunate to see a diverse range of each.
Coincidentally, driving south from the Balkan Mountains, we travelled through the Rose Valley. This valley is world famous for growing roses and for centuries has been the centre for rose oil production in Bulgaria. We stopped near the town of Kazanlak, centre of the rose oil industry and walked through the rose fields at the peak time for harvesting, early in June.
The intoxicating scent of the beautiful pink damask roses was everywhere. Honeybees covered the flowers, pollen baskets full, contributing to honey production, another industry that had formed a common sense symbiosis with rose oil production.
Rosewater is a versatile flavour and can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. It is more aromatic and flavoursome uncooked, but still retains the essence of its aroma and character if cooked.
I have been including rosewater in numerous recipes recently, experimenting in order to get the flavour balance right. Having some good quality Turkish delight in the house (rose flavour, of course), I decided I wanted to make Turkish delight ice cream, one of my favourite flavours, but always such a rare find in all but the most comprehensively stocked gelaterias.
My expectation was that this would need careful addition of a little rosewater to the cream, as the Turkish delight was pretty pungent with rose flavour. To balance this, and again having a look through Ottolenghi, I found the perfect accompaniment – pistachio meringues, a hint of rosewater included.
This is also a thrifty strategy since ice cream uses copious amounts of egg yolks and meringues egg whites, so the recipes marry economically too. The pairing of a cooked and uncooked rosewater sweet treat commenced.
This recipe is from Ottolenghi, his first book. The Ottolenghi outlets in London are famous for their meringues, so after looking at the images, and anticipating capturing some of my favourite flavours within, there was no point in resisting…
The first thing the recipe states is that a good free-standing mixer is essential. Following the demise of my 1960’s Kenwood Chef, I was without such a gadget. I didn’t have much choice but to get on with it using my handheld mixer, which was pretty awkward, but worked.
The recipe suggests dolloping the meringue onto the plate of crushed pistachios and rolling it around. This sounded like something you would need to be well practised at to master, and I didn’t even attempt it as I could only imagine how inelegant it might look. I opted for the safer option of sprinkling / throwing the pistachios on / at the meringue after spooning them onto a baking sheet!
I cut the recipe ingredients by half. I thought the quantities were excessive (10 egg whites) and by halving, I could neatly use almost all of the egg whites left over from making the ice cream. This made about 12 moderately large meringues.
Heat the oven to 200oC initially
Turn down to 110oC for meringues
300g caster sugar
150g egg whites (about 5 large eggs)
1 tsp rosewater
30g finely chopped pistachios
- Place the sugar on a baking sheet lined with parchment and heat in the oven for about 8 minutes until hot and dissolving at the edges.
- When the sugar is almost ready, on high speed, mix the egg whites until they start to froth, about 1 minute.
- Pour the hot sugar slowly over the egg whites. Once all the sugar is added, add the rosewater.
- Whisk on high speed for 10 minutes or until the mix is cold.
- The mix should be stiff and silky. Taste to check flavour and add more rosewater, to taste.
- Turn the oven down to 110oC and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, sticking it in place with a bit of meringue mix.
- Dollop the meringue onto the paper. Yotam recommends the size of an apple, mine were a bit smaller, about apricot size. They expand a lot during cooking so leave enough space between them.
- Crush the pistachios using a food processor and sprinkle over the meringue.
- Place in the oven for about 2 hours.
The meringues should be firm outside and a bit soft in the middle. They will keep for a few days in an airtight container.
Turkish delight ice cream
After much deliberation, last Christmas we gave a present to selves of an ice cream maker. The Cuisinart professional model we have has a built-in compressor, so is pretty straightforward to use and no need to freeze the bowl beforehand. You can make this recipe without an ice cream maker, it just requires regular hand churning of the mix as it sets, which can be a time-consuming commitment.
The Man Named Sous would not mind me saying that he is pretty obsessed with ice cream. I must admit, I was fairly ambivalent to most and pretty selective about what flavours I consume and from where. Home made ice cream is a revelation and extremely decadent. It should be accompanied by some sort of portion limiter and health warning as it contains shocking amounts of egg yolks, fat (in the form of cream) and sugar. Oh well, everything in moderation, you only live once, and other similar excuses for indulging oneself.
For this recipe, I used a basic custard as I would for many other ice creams. I favour the recipe and methods used in ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz, so have adapted from that. Surprisingly, this marvellous book does not have a recipe for Turkish delight ice cream or my other all time favourite flavour pistachio (to be visited another time).
Makes about 1 litre.
250 ml whole milk
150g caster sugar
500 ml double cream (!)
pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp rosewater
natural red food dye (optional)
8 pieces of Turkish delight, cut into small chunks
A little icing sugar
- Warm milk, sugar and 250 ml of cream and salt in a pan and remove from heat once sugar has dissolved.
- Pour the remaining 250 ml of cream into a large bowl and set a sieve over the top.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture onto the egg yolks then scrape back into the pan.
- Stir constantly over a medium heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
- Pour the mix through the sieve onto the cream add the rosewater and a couple of drops of natural red food dye (if using) and leave to cool and refrigerate.
- Once chilled, churn in an ice cream maker for about 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop up the Turkish delight and roll the small pieces in some icing sugar to coat them so they don’t clump as you add them to the ice cream. Fold the pieces into the ice cream when it is ready, just before you freeze it.
The meringues and ice cream worked well together and would probably have been enhanced by the addition of fruit. Mango, plum, peaches or strawberries would work, either fresh or in a coulis.
Next aim is to make my own Turkish delight.