Last autumn, I was trying to expand my repertoire of recipes that include floral flavors. While this is an easier task in spring and summer, when all fields and gardens are in bloom, there are not as many floral varieties that are thriving and blooming in the fall months of September and October. But chrysanthemums are one of those rare flowers that luckily do. Since chrysanthemums are so typical of Chinese culture and cuisine, I wanted very much to make a memorable and unique dessert for my family with them. Chrysanthemums are ridiculously hard to spell and pronounce, and so many people call them “mums.” Mums are actually known as the favorite flower for the month of November, and while they thrive in these northern latitudes of the US, they originate in China and East Asia, from which they spread to Europe. In China, chrysanthemums are the topic of a lot of poetry, and they are a symbol of autumn. The city of Kaifeng hosts a chrysanthemum festival every year. Most notably, the chrysanthemum is the city flower of Beijing, where Dan’s grandfather hailed from. Here in Minnesota, they are very abundant, and they display their lovely florets in a variety of colors ranging from purest white to daffodil yellow to fiery orange, lilac pink, and burgundy red.
If I didn’t mention this, I really should right now! Chrysanthemum tea has a whole host of health benefits: it helps reduces inflammation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, has calming properties, and is a good source of Vitamin A. In China, chrysanthemum tea is accepted as a great health drink. But for desserts, chrysanthemums have such a mild, delicate flavor that the dessert would have to be something creamy and mild so that it wouldn’t hide the floral notes. So for my creation, I decided to adapt a pots de crème recipe because I thought that would be the best palette for the chrysanthemum flavor to shine. I used honey instead of sugar, as chrysanthemum tea can often be sweetened with honey to heighten the chrysanthemums’ natural health properties. The pots de crème has a lovely silky texture that is rich, sweet, luscious, and mild. They make such an elegant dessert with almost minimal effort that can be made in advance. Styling these custards was perhaps the most fun part of it all, because you can use honeycomb and chrysanthemum flowers to decorate the tops, and it prepares people to seek the delicate floral flavor in the richness of the dessert, and also makes for an eye-catching presentation.
If you’ve never cooked with floral ingredients before, do not feel intimidated! I used dried chrysanthemum flowers that are used to make tea, and they are steeped into the milk, very much as if you were preparing a cup of tea. Like most herbal concoctions, it can be quite bitter if it’s not sweetened, but when mixed with the rest of the ingredients, the chrysanthemum imparts the floral taste and the honey takes away the bitterness. It really did make for a lovely autumn-flavored dessert and all 6 ramekins disappeared in under 24 hours in our household! I hope you will try this recipe, especially if you’ve never cooked with flowers before. This can be a good place to start. I have included a link in the ingredients where you can buy Chinese chrysanthemum tea, which essentially looks like dried chrysanthemum flower blossoms. Harney & Sons also has two kinds of loose-leaf chrysanthemum tea available online, royal chrysanthemum and wild chrysanthemum. In my recipe, I used the Chinese variety.
Chrysanthemum Honey Pots de Crème
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Chill Time: 4 hours or overnight
For the Pots de Crème
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
- ¼ cup prairie or clover honey, preferably the solid kind
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/8 tsp Celtic salt
- ¼ cup chrysanthemum flower tea
- In a small saucepan over low to medium heat, heat the milk until simmered. Add ¼ cup chrysanthemum tea. Stir well. Turn off the heat and let the tea steep for 5-6 minutes. After it has steeped, strain the tea using a fine mesh colander into a medium saucepan, pressing the flowers against the mesh with a spoon to squeeze out all the milk.
- Add the cream, honey, and salt to the medium saucepan with the chrysanthemum tea milk, heating over low heat until the honey has dissolved into the mixture.
- When the mixture releases steam, remove the saucepan from the heat and cool slightly.
- While the cream-chrysanthemum-honey mixture cools down, prepare your ramekins and baking method by preheating the oven to 300°F and having a roasting pan placed on the middle rack in the oven.
- In a kettle, bring 9 cups of water to boiling, which you will use for the water bath necessary to bake the pots de crème. Lastly, have 6 small ramekins on hand, where you will pour the pots de crème when it is ready, and set aside.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
- Slowly spoon the warm chrysanthemum milk into the yolks, 1 or 2 tbsp at a time, until you have added about 1/3 of a cup into them. Whisk constantly so that it is well-incorporated.
- Add the small mixture with the cream and yolks in your small bowl back to the saucepan. Stir in well and cook for an additional 1 minute over low heat until it’s all combined and warm to the touch.
- Remove saucepan from the heat and carefully pour the custard into the individual ramekins.
- Place each ramekin on the empty roasting pan in the oven and pour the boiling water into the roasting pan so that it surrounds the ramekins and comes about halfway up their sides. Gently push the roasting pan into the oven, making sure not to splash water into the custards, and bake for 45 minutes, until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly jiggly. A good way to test this is to jiggle the ramekin, and if the center jiggles with a very big ripple, they would need 5 to 10 more minutes in the oven.
- When the custards have been baked and look golden on the top and look slightly jiggly, remove the roasting pan with the ramekins from the oven, letting it cool at room temperature. When the water in the roasting pan has cooled down to room temperature, remove the ramekins from the baking pan and chill for 4 hours or overnight. Serve topped with honeycomb or plain, and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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