Elderflower Pots de Crème with Rhubarb Compote

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As June dissolves away into the first humid and hot days of July, the elder flowers start to bloom. They are everywhere. Along every roadside, looking up from every moist ditch, surrounding the borders of every pond and every lake. Everywhere. Cloud like sprays of cream-colored blossoms ablaze in the strong summer sunshine, filling the still sticky air with the breath of their sweet honeyed perfume. A smell that is of summertime. A smell that is magical.

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The elder flowers are a sign to me, one of those subtle markers that signify a certain time of year, that mark out the sensations that belong only to one small stretch of time in the calendar. Now the elders are blooming I think to myself, it is that time of year. It seems more revealing, more elucidating, somehow, than saying it is the first week of July. 

Up close, they are like sprays of tiny, delicate stars woven together as fine as any lace. They make one think of moonlight. There are stories, legends, that if you were to fall asleep in the shade of an elder, you would dream of fairies and elves and magical things – and if you happened to sit under the elder on the eve of midsummer’s night, you might see the fairy king march by himself.

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It is easy to believe these stories, when you are filling your basket with those lacy blooms on a hot summers day, your fingers dusted with golden pollen, breathing in their sweetness. You really feel you might get whisked away to another world.

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We picked for sometime, this past weekend, my friend Shari and I. We picked until our baskets were full and our legs and arms scratched up by the brambles that surround the elders. Then we walked out into the little lake that they grow by, splashing ourselves with water and watching the sunlight glinting off the lake’s rippled surface. It was such a lovely day.

I brought my harvest home and set about thinking what I might do with it. Some I set aside to dry for tea, which I like to put in cold and flu blends for the winter time. Some I mixed into a little jar with sugar, for making elder scented cakes. Some I packed into a tall jar full of water, to gently infuse overnight in the fridge, for drinking cold on these hot days (an idea I got from Lucinda).

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And some I used to make these delicately flavored Pots de Crème – little jars of baked custard that I topped with rhubarb compote. The result was just what I was hoping for – light, creamy, delicately perfumed with the scent of the flowers and just sweet enough to oppose the tart rhubarb. A perfect desert for this very time of year. The elderflower time.

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Elderflower Pots de Crème with Rhubarb Compote

Ingredients

    For the compote:
  • 1 lbs rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup unrefined cane sugar
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial or liqueur (optional)
  • For the custard:
  • 2 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 4 medium-sized heads of fresh elder-flower blossoms
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
  • 1 egg plus 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup unrefined cane sugar

Instructions

  1. To make the compote, combine the sugar with a tablespoonful or two of water along with the elderflower cordial or liqueur (if using) and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rhubarb, letting the mixture come back to a full boil before reducing to a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the rhubarb has just begun to break down, but still has some texture (about 20 minutes) and remove from heat before stirring in the lemon juice. Place in the fridge and chill completely.
  2. To make the custard, preheat the oven to 320 degrees F. Place the milk into a saucepan and heat until just beginning to bubble, the remove from heat. Add the elder-flowers and vanilla and cover the pot, leaving to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
  3. When the milk has finished infusing, pour the mixture through a sieve or finely meshed strainer to separate out the flowers and vanilla pod. Check the temperature and be sure it is still warm the touch - if not, reheat gently.
  4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar in a medium-sized bowl. When the milk is ready, slowly pour it into the eggs, stirring all the time. Once it is well incorporated, pour the mixture into 4 cup-sized mason jars, filling them about 2/3 of the way full.
  5. Place the jars into a casserole dish or cake tin large enough to hold them without touching, and fill the pan with boiling water so that it comes about 1/2 way up the sides of the jars. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the custards are set and the middle only jiggles slightly when you move them.
  6. Let cool to room temperature and then place a small piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper on the top of each custard to prevent a film forming and chill them in the fridge for several hours.
  7. When ready to serve, top each custard with a spoonful of the rhubarb compote and a scattering of fresh individual elder flowers. Serves 4.
  8. Adapted from the recipe in La Tartine Gourmande by Beatrice Peltre.

PS For more elder love, you can read this post or head over to Whispering Earth for this lovely post

Comments

  1. you write the most beautiful way! you make the most beautiful things, what can I say!? =>

  2. Cathy says:

    Lovely post. Sounds delicious – one to file for next year, as our elderflowers are over now. (They must be about 4 weeks ahead of yours). I made cordial and liqueur again this year, but never thought to infuse them in milk… do you think ice cream would work?

  3. Lucinda says:

    As ever, your photos are both beautiful and mouthwatering! I love the one with the little jar with the flowers and spoon next to it.
    It really does sound like the most magical of days, I can just imagine you returning home with a little fey glint in your eye. :) My theory is that if you spend too much time with the faery trees, instead of being whisked off to faery land as the tales suggest, you bring a little of it back with you, as you have certainly done in this delightful post.
    I so agree that elderflowers (along with hawthorn blossom) are one of the most evocative markers in the year, though for us, June is their time.
    xx

  4. Beautiful photographs, missing elderflowers since I moved to the Southern Hemisphere.

  5. I learned so much about the elderflower from your two posts that the one you referred us to. I hadn’t heard of it until my daughter moved to England in April and wrote one of her posts about some granola that she bought that elderflower cordial in it. You inspire me to investigate this a bit more. Thank you!

  6. Michelle says:

    Lovely! Like summer snowflakes.

  7. Oh, looks wonderful. What a great idea and beautifully explained.

    Michael

  8. So this is what you call these delightful flowers I am seeing everywhere in the USA…I had thought they were a type of “Queen Anne’s Lace”. I am so glad to see they are edible as well. Thanks again for brightening my day so much with your delightful diary and recipes…much love always <3

  9. J. says:

    So much loveliness in this post. I miss the fragrance and taste of elderflowers, but thank you for bringing its beauty to life here!

  10. ourhomeinthewoods says:

    What a wonderful post filled with great ideas and elegantly presented.

    My white blooming elderberries are all finished but the pink elderberries (sambucus nigra ‘pink lace’) are all blooming now. Do you know if the pink blooms would also be appropriate for the same uses?