I am enamored of lilac. Her scent on warm spring evenings evokes the happiest of memories. For over a decade now I have attempted to capture her glorious scent in baking and every year I learn yet another lesson about her culinary intricacies. Through trial and error, I discovered what perfumers knew long ago, lilac’s intoxicating fragrance is notoriously difficult to preserve! Then two years ago, inspired by an ancient perfumery technique, I created this Lilac Shortbread for Gather Victoria Patreon – and it comes as close to lilac perfection as I ever have been able to get! And it was so simple.
This Lilac Shortbread borrows from the scent preservation method called enfleurage. Because lilac’s volatile oils do not fare well with heat extraction, blossoms were pressed into fat to make lilac perfume. So I wondered could you use the same method for cooking? Like with butter? Well, I’m happy to report you absolutely can. (And you can watch the video on how below!)
You can find quite a few lilac recipes here (just search lilac). Over the years I’ve tried to circumvent heat i.e. making raw lilac sugar and cold infusing lilac in cream. And while I always enjoyed the results – that intoxicating scent of lilacs warm on the branch – still wasn’t all there.
But somehow – even with baking – this long infusion of blossoms pressed into butter captured more of lilac’s fragrance than I ever thought possible. That said, lilac’s scent is truly ephemeral and fades quickly. The cookies are best in the hours just after they’re baked! By the next day, only a whisper of lilac remains. Time for a Lilac Tea Party!
For those unfamiliar with lilacs (how can that be?), there are dozens of species, Himalayan, Korean, Chinese, Persian, and many European and North American cultivated varieties. All lilac blossoms, pink, purple, white, and mauve are edible but it is the older vintage varieties that have the most scent. Use your nose!
Harvest on a warm sunny afternoon and once home, begin with removing each tiny lilac blossom from its stem. These bits can become rather vegetal when cooked and interfere with the lilac flavor.
You’ll find the recipe for the Lilac Shortbread below and then a video below that demonstrates my home version of enfleurage. I’m sorry the video is so long. I just got a bit rapturous & carried away with the Magic of Lilacs! You can cut to the chase at 2:50.
P.S. Yes, you probably can do a vegan version with coconut butter.
- 2 cups of butter
- 2 cups of prepped lilac blossoms,
Prepare your “enfleurage” lilac butter as per the video below. Hopefully watching the video will make the following notes clear:
- You will need to press one cup of fresh blossoms to press into the butter. After 24hrs, you will sieve off the spent blossoms from the softened butter. Then, using the same butter, you will press in the second cup of blossoms – double infusion. Then you will sieve off the blossoms again – and now your lilac butter is ready for baking.
- The most important thing to remember is that no air should be able to get in between or around the lilac pressed into the butter (otherwise they will brown and go off) so wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Now I normally hate using plastic wrap, but in this instance, it is the only thing that will do.
- You’ll need two containers exactly the same size, as one will be placed on the top of the other. Use one container for your lilac and butter and use the other empty to press down on top of the wrapped lilacs and butter, further sealing the container. ( As I said, hopefully watching the video will help this make sense!)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cups of pre-prepared lilac butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Line baking sheets with parchment. Whisk together flour and salt. Beat lilac butter for 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar, and continue to beat until pale and fluffy, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Slowly add flour mixture, and blend into the butter, scraping sides if necessary, until flour is just incorporated and dough holds its shape.
Turn out dough, forming into two balls. Wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll out 1 ball to ¼ thickness. Cut out shapes using a cookie cutter, and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until golden and firm. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Eat as soon as possible.