Last week I read about peony jelly, and coming as it did on the heels of my lilac ice cream, I was excited to give peonies a shot. Our peony grows right next to one of the lilacs that I ravaged to make the ice cream, so given the lamentably short period of lilacular splendor it’s nice to know that other flowers can be used for similarly elegant culinary purposes. I’m not quite mentally ready to make jelly, though–it’s more of a mid/late summer thing in my mind–and since the lilacs all crapped out before I got to make crème brûlée with them I figured that peonies would work pretty nicely in their place.
The recipe was straight-up traditional, except that I infused the cream with peony petals, carefully picked and checked for bugs. Then I strained it, tempered the egg yolks (6 per quart of cream) and maple syrup/honey mixture, added a pinch of salt, and strained the mixture into the top of my double boiler. Now I know that these are supposed to be baked in a bain-marie, but I hate bains-marie and didn’t have time to futz around with the oven. So I whisked it until it attained a sexy thickness (the smell didn’t suck either) and then poured it into some shallow dishes. It took me an embarrassingly long time to choose which of my little geometric plates to use for this, but then that’s why I made them.
After a few hours cooling down and setting up in the fridge, they had attained that quivering quality which one looks for in a custard. We sprinkled them liberally with raw sugar and took the torch out of the very high cupboard where it lives. This was all a very big deal for a certain first-grader; the combination of dessert and fire was almost too much for him to handle. I found the torch to be a nicely macho counterbalance to the flowery nature of the dessert; I bellowed and swore like Danny McBride the whole time so my Son would learn how a real man makes a peony crème brûlée.
We garnished each one with a homegrown strawberry, since they’re just coming in. There’s something compelling about breaking the sugar shell with your spoon for the first time; the initial resistance gives way with both an audible and tactile crack, revealing the sensuous pudding beneath. Deflowering wouldn’t seem to be a wholly inappropriate metaphor here, especially given the flavor. And the peony was there, unmistakably, though a bit fainter than the lilac in the ice cream. This would have been improved with a spritz or two of rosewater in the custard, or perhaps a longer steep time for the petals. I still prefer lilac as a flavor, though this was a treat. Eating flowers is fun; capturing aroma as flavor opens up whole new realms of possibility for experimentation.