For many years roses have been associated with love, and that is never more apparent than on Valentine’s Day.
Roses have been cultivated as ornamental plants in the Mediterranean, China, and Persia as far back as 500 BC. Today there are many thousands of hybrids and cultivars, most of which are prized for their showy petals and fragrance.
In addition to their decorative qualities, these flowers can also be used in food. Historically, roses bore a red fruit called a rose hip, which has been bred out of many modern cultivars. Rose hips are commonly used to make herbal tea, soup, jelly, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages; they are especially prized for their high vitamin C content. Rose petals are also used in food—when I was traveling in India a decade ago, one of my hosts served me rose petal jam with breakfast. The petals can also be used in or as a decoration for cakes, cookies, ice creams, and chocolates.
Rose flavors and scents can be extracted for a delicate addition to food. Rose oil, also known as attar of roses, is steam-distilled from crushed petals in an ancient Persian technique. It takes approximately 2000 roses to produce one gram of oil. Rose oil produced through solvent extraction is known as rose absolute. The process of making rose oil creates a by-product called rose water; when mixed with sugar it becomes rose syrup. Rose products are widely used in Persian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian cuisines; they are also used in perfume, cosmetics, medicines, and religious rituals.
This rose-scented cake is based on a recipe I found on Epicurious.com. Using whipped cream as a frosting makes for a perfect, airy Valentine’s Day confection.
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon rose water or several drops rose oil
2 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, whole or ground (optional)
Candied or fresh organic rose petals, for decoration (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Butter two round 8-inch cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line pans with parchment paper and butter parchment.
3. In a large bowl mix flour, cornstarch, half the sugar, cardamom, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks (place egg whites in another large bowl, set aside), water, canola oil, and lemon zest.
5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.
6. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly add the other half of the granulated sugar and beat until whites resemble thick marshmallow fluff.
7. Carefully fold egg whites into egg yolk batter in 3 additions.
8. Divide batter between pans and bake for 25 minutes or until cakes are golden brown, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Cool cakes in pans on rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pans and cool to room temperature.
10. To prepare whipped cream, beat cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gently add powdered sugar and rose water/oil and beat until peaks form.
11. Place one cake, bottom side up, on platter. Cover with 1 cup of frosting. Gently place second cake on top, bottom side up. Spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake.
12. Chill in the refrigerator for between 1 and 4 hours.
13. Before serving, decorate the cake with rose petals and pistachios.