I've always been a fan of roses, and enjoy burying my nose in their soft petals to inhale their heady fragrance, but until recently, I never really got the concept of rose as a flavor. I understand scents like cinnamon and clove as they apply to both body fragrances and baked goods, but for the life of me I couldn't imagine why I'd want to eat something that tasted like my grandma smelled.
Until recently, my experiences with roses in food came by way of cloyingly sweet desserts in Indian, Middle Eastern and North African cuisines and that was enough, I thought, to turn me off of it forever. All of a sudden, though, it seems like rose is the new pork belly and everywhere I look, chefs are playing around with its flavor in both sweet and savory applications.
My first introduction to a rose flavored food that I liked actually came about as a dessert that a client of mine insisted that I reproduce for her. Rose Ice Cream with Turkish Delight, Rose Petals and Fairy Floss seemed an impossible task (if for no other reason than I had no idea where to even begin,) but I somehow managed to convince the chef of Pearl Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia to share his recipe with me. After a week of searching for the right ingredients and converting from metric to standard measurement, I made the dessert. Much to the delight of my client, and me, the dessert was just as she had remembered. For me it was also the entry into a mystical culinary world where essence trounces flavor and the concepts of taste and smell meld to produce an intoxicating realm of potential.
A few months ago, it happened again as I was having lunch in a hip, little cafe in Greenwich Village. I ordered an iced tea and, upon my first sip, was struck by a subtle, yet familiar, flavor that I couldn't quite place. After a few more sips I realized that the tea was flavored with rose. I couldn't believe how delicious and refreshing it was. Unsweetened, the slight rose essence lingered at the back of my throat and each sip left me wanting for another. It paired well with my savory lunch, much in the way fruity iced teas do, and would have definitely paired well with dessert too.
Recently, as I was planning the menu for an upcoming dinner party, I fell in love with the idea of doing a vibrant red beet and strawberry salad. I thought that both visually and in flavor the two would be quite complementary. As I worked with the two main ingredients, trying to determine what might match well with them, I thought back to my recent positive experiences with the essence of roses and I decided to play around with a rose-water sorbet. The final version was simple, flavored only with tart pomegranate juice, rose water and a bit of sugar. The tart and fragrant magenta sorbet was an amazing accompaniment to the beets and strawberries. I topped the whole thing off with mint chiffonade, lime zest and shaved macadamia nuts.
As nice as the combination of rose and strawberry was in my salad, I think that perhaps I stumbled upon the ultimate combination when I was in Paris last month. At Pierre Herme, I bought a rather innocuous looking croissant with some dark pink sprinkles on top not sure what I was in for. When I got to the center I found that it was filled with an incredible, luscious raspberry-rose-litchi jelly. This flavor combination is an Herme signature, called Ispahan, and can be found in his patisseries enhancing macarons and pates de fruits as well. At first bite I got the raspberry and litchi, a perfect balance of tart and sweet. Then, just at the tail end of the bite, the essence of rose snuck up. It seemed to waft through the lingering taste of the fruit and grab onto the rich butter pastry, leaving behind a flavor combination unlike any I've ever had.
Needless to say, I am now a fan of rose as a flavoring and interestingly enough, my once strong aversion to lavender seems to be waning as well. I'm certain that there is a connection there.