where the wild things are. salted and pickled cherry blossoms

The bright weather this past week, though a bit cold, has really making me think spring! Pretty soon the West Village will be flush with blossoming Magnolias and Quince and Cheery blossoms. It is one of my favorite times of the year in New York and always reminds me of home. 

For me the seasons have always been marked by the comings and goings of botanicals. It is a little harder to notice these changes in New York unless you have a back yard or a country escape. To get your fix, you can visit the Green Market or make time to visit the Botanical Garden, which is just spectacular in the early spring and summer. You can also set out to explore one of New York's beautiful tree lines streets like many in the West Village or Brooklyn.

Recently, I needed salted cherry blossoms for a shoot and when the Internet came up empty (you can order them fro Japan but it would have taken too long) I have to admit I had never heard of them! I turned to Heidi Johansen from Bellocq Tea Atelier. I knew that if any one had a stash of salted blossoms it would be her!! Heidi is kind of magical and she produced these mysterious salty pink flowers of nowhere!

Now that the season is upon us, I have decided to create my own stash.

Sakura tea, or salted cherry blossom tea is often served at weddings or other auspicious events in Japan. It has a delicate salty and sweet flavor. It is fragrant and woody. The saltiness obviously comes from the salt but the sweetness is imparted through the flowers natural flavor and additional soaking in Plum vinegar.

Salted Cherry Blossoms 

2 cups of fresh cherry blossoms.

IF you have a  cherry tree in your yard you can pick from there or you may be able to pick up some branches from your local farmers market but be sure to ask if they are natural and pesticide free. You will want to pick them before they are full bloom when they are buds to a little more than half bloom. 

6 tablespoons of Japanese pickling salt

6 tablespoons of Plum vinegar

Wash the blossoms and set on a paper towel or kitchen cloth to dry. Gently pat until all the water is removed from the blossoms.

Place in a pickling croc or a shallow terra cotta croc.

Place a plate or a lid on top of the flowers. You will want this lid to fit nicely in your vessel. (I used a plate)   Then weigh it down with a weight of some sort. I used a river stone. You can buy a fermentation croc or you can use a vessel that you already have and weigh it down with a homemade weight.

Leave it in the fridge for two days. The salt and the pressure of the weight will force any liquid from the blossoms. 

After two days remove them from the fridge and drain off any excess liquid. My blossoms did not express much liquid.

 After draining any excess liquid. Place the blossoms in a glass bowl and add the Plum vinegar.

 Cover  and Refrigerate for another three days.

After three days strain the flowers through a sieve to remove any vinegar. Spread them out on a baking sheet covered in parchment.

Sprinkle thoroughly with pickling salt and set on your counter in the sun to dry or outside in a protected spot.

Allow drying for two or three days.

When the flowers are completely dry they are done. they will discolor a bit.

Store in a glass jar and cover tightly. They are preserved will last indefinitely.

Finally you can enjoy a cup of Sakura tea!

Boil some water and drop three or four petals in your teapot.

Don't be shocked! It is salty! It is an acquired taste!

Sakura Rice.

Rinse a handful of blossoms to remove excess salt.

Add to your rice in a rice cooker or on the stove. The blossoms will impart a lovely pink color to your rice.

 Here are some more ideas on what to do with salted cherry blossoms.

Below is a recipe from T Magazine

Salted Cherry Blossoms Adapted From Uni Sashimi Bar

2 cups rice vinegar¼ cup sugar½ teaspoon kosher salt1-inch piece fresh ginger, smashed1 umeboshi plum (available at Japanese markets or health-food stores)½ teaspoon grenadine syrup8 ounces cherry blossoms, or other edible blossoms.

1. Combine all ingredients except the cherry blossoms in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

2. Put the cherry blossoms in a heat-resistant container and pour the just-boiled liquid over them; stir gently to submerge the flowers completely in the liquid. Cool, cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator for at least three days before serving. The pickled blossoms will keep several weeks in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Some other ideas..

Chop afew of the blossoms up extra finely and use as a special salt.

I am also thinking Salted Cherry Blossom shortbread?

Need to experiment with this one. 

This beautiful tea pot and cups from Jessica Niello at The Perish Trust

winter citrus coffee cake.

Winter Citrus Coffee Cake

 I have been out West on vacation this week and finally have a moment to post this cake I made during the last (and hopefully final) snowstorm of the winter in New York.

I am calling it a winter cake but you could easily substitute any other fruit for the citrus and it would be just as tasty. I am thinking strawberries in the summer. I love winter citrus. It is always a bright spot long about February when the days seem as though they might never get longer. I was inspired to make this cake while working in San Francisco this past January. In the mornings before heading to the studio we always made a stop at Tartine. One morning we decided to cheat on Tartine and try a new place calledCraftsmen & Wolves just down the block from Tartine. It has a sleeker vibe than Tartineand at first I wasn't sure about all the pastries carefully and purposefully lined up behind the glass. We ordered a scotch egg and a small coffee cake with candied citrus and espresso topping.

Needless to say they were both stellar. So this is my attempt at recreating that cake. My heart is still with Tartine, their ham and cheese croissant is out of this world. I am a savory person in the morning more so than sweet. I think that is why this cake appealed to me in the first place with it’s salty espresso top and the bitter citrus inside. If you find yourself in San Francisco, you must try both places, neither will disappoint.

Candied Citrus

I used a recipe from Martha Stewart for the candied citrus peels, as I had never made them before.

This recipe seemed straightforward and simple.

You can use any citrus you want. 

I used a variety of pink grapefruit, blood orange, bergamot lemon etc.

Scrub the citrus well to remove any residue.

2 grapefruit

2 oranges

2 lemons

1-cup sugar

With a sharp paring knife, slice off ends of grapefruits, oranges, or lemons. Following curve of fruit cut away outermost peel, leaving most of the white pith on fruit. Slice peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

In a medium pot of boiling water,  (enough to generously cover the peels) cook the peels until tender, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer peel to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet; spread in a single layer to dry slightly, about 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1-cup sugar and 1 cup water to a boil over high, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel and boil until it turns translucent and syrup thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer peel to wire rack, separating the pieces as needed. (As always with boiling sugar, BE CAREFUL!)

While the candied citrus is cooling make the batter.

WINTER CITRUS COFFEE CAKE WITH ESPRESSO TOPPING

2 cups all purpose white flour

1/2-teaspoon kosher salt

1-teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl and set aside

In another bowl mix the wet ingredients.

1/2 stick of softened butter 

1/2-cup crème fraise

2 eggs

1-cup sugar

The juice of half a grapefruit ( if your batter seems at all dry add the juice of the other half)

Mix on low speed until combined

Add

The 2 cups of candied citrus peel and gently mix in by hand.

 Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until just combined.

Use a 9 inch round cake pan or 9 inch a cast iron skillet

Grease the pan or skillet

Place 1/2 batter the batter in the pan or skillet

Spoon some of the topping over the batter

Add rest of batter

Spoon remaining topping over the batter

Topping

1/2 stick butter

1-cup flour

1/2-cup dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons of espresso fine grind

1/4-teaspoon fleur de sel

Combine all ingredients for the topping in a bowl and mix by hand with your fingers until the topping has the texture of cornmeal. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes; or until done.

The beautiful ceramics used in this story are from West Coast artist Jessica Niello. I picked them up in San Francisco at The Perish Trust.