Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lilac Madness

Lilacs might be my favorite flower. Their scent is so marvelous. Every spring, they just make me so happy for the two weeks or so they are in bloom. I have three lilac bushes in my yard - one light purple, one white, and the third has the most amazing dark purple blossoms with a white edge around every petal.

I've seen crystallized lilac blossoms, each tiny blossom individually dipped in egg white, then in superfine sugar... they're beautiful, but way too labor-intensive for me. So I thought I'd try out a few other lilac concoctions, like lilac sugar, lilac syrup, and lilac-infused vodka.

To make lilac-scented sugar, I read that you should layer the blossoms with granulated sugar in a jar for three days, then sift out the blossoms (any longer and the blossoms start to turn brown and get yucky). I put the cap on the jar, and when I opened it up, the sugar was moist from the water in the blossoms. Maybe you could avoid this problem by leaving the lid off, but then it seems like the scent might not soak into the sugar. Also, it was not very strongly scented, so maybe I needed a lot more lilac blossoms. So, hmm. Not exactly a success.


To make lilac-infused vodka, I soaked the blossoms in vodka for 24 hours. This did not turn out well at all. When I opened it up, the blossoms had turned brownish, and it smelled and tasted funky. Maybe it just needs a much shorter soaking time.


The final concoction, lilac syrup, turned out fantastic! I combined 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup packed lilac blossoms, and simmered it on the stove until the blossoms were just wilted, 5-10 minutes. There are a few key things to know about this process...
  1. Some say not to wash the blossoms because you wash off some of the fragrance, and this kinda made sense to me since the fragrance is so delicate. So at the end I strained the syrup through a few layers of cheesecloth to filter out any dust that might have been on the blossoms.
  2. You can't boil the water first and then add the lilacs, because they will wilt immediately and turn the syrup really bitter. They need time to infuse at lower temperatures before they wilt.
  3. In fact, don't really let it boil at all, just come right up to boiling and stop.
  4. You really must take it off the heat and strain it immediately, as soon as the blossoms are wilted. If you taste it before this point, you will notice it already tastes like lilacs. As soon as it starts to develop a vegetal, sort of grassy smell, it's starting to get bitter.
After straining out the blossoms, it actually came out a pale greenish color, so I added a frozen blueberry and cooked it a little longer to make it a nice lavender color. Interestingly, the syrup doesn't really smell like lilacs, but it tastes like they smell.

We made a wonderful lilac cocktail:

2 oz. gin or vodka
1 oz. lilac syrup
1/2 oz. lemon or lime juice

Shake with ice and garnish with lilac blossoms. The acid turns it a lovely shade of pink. I liked the gin and lemon juice version best. But maybe that's because I used Hendrick's gin, which is delicious on its own.
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