You know you’re well into the spring season when the lilacs start to bloom. Shrubs put on huge shows of beautiful flower clusters with an intoxicating floral scent that infuses the air. Like most spring blooms, their show is short-lived and only lasts a couple of weeks, and if you bring the cut flowers into your home they don’t last particularly long in a vase either. There’s a very specific kind of joy to be found in the fleeting nature of spring, and the Japanese have a phrase for exactly this: mono no aware (物の哀れ). The only option is to fully enjoy them now, acknowledging that soon they will be gone for another year. Personally, I find that so powerful! How much more do we notice about things and how much more enjoyment can we find when we know that the moment is only passing?
Lilacs are, of course, edible flowers and with their strong, punchy floral flavour they are fun to experiment with in recipes and as garnishes. You want to always make sure you’ve removed any green parts from the flowers before using as these will impart a really bitter flavour. Also, they don’t love a lot of heat which tends to kill all of that beautiful flavour, so the key is finding recipes that don’t require too high a temperature (which leaves jam out of the picture). Still, there are plenty of ways of preserving lilacs:
- Layer in a clean jar with caster sugar and allow the flavour to infuse while the sugar preserves the lilacs. The sugar can be used for baking or spooned into a herbal tea.
- Freeze them into ice cubes to pop into a spring G&T, iced tea or soda water.
- Candy the flowers by lightly brushing with egg white and dipping into sugar.
- Make lilac syrup: first make a simple sugar syrup with 100g sugar and 100ml water and warm over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then pour the syrup over 1 cup of lilac flowers and leave to steep for 48 hours. Strain through a muslin into a clean bottle and enjoy in cocktails, over pancakes or ice cream, or in a cup of warm milk in the evening as a “moon milk”.
This particular dish was inspired by the dark purple colour of some of the lilacs I found which made me immediately think of blueberries. I realised that the slight hint of citrus flavour of the flowers would go beautifully in a blueberry curd. The result is a sublime combination of soft lilac flavour in a zingy curd that has such a wonderful purple colour too. It’s beautiful spread on toast, or as the filling for these lovely tarts. I’m not usually one for fancy garnishes, but the more I work with spring flowers like lilacs that provide genuine flavour, the more this changes!
Lilac & Blueberry Curd Tarts
For the sweet shortcrust pastry:
- 225g plain flour
- 100g unsalted butter
- 25g sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 egg white
For the lilac and blueberry curd:
- 2 cups lilac flowers, all green parts removed
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/2 cup water
- 80g unsalted butter
- 200g caster sugar
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 additional egg yolks
Making the curd: prepare the curd at least a day ahead so that it has time to cool and fully set.
- Heat the blueberries with water until softened and completely falling apart. Allow to cool completely.
- Once cooled, blend together with the lilac petals. Option to cover and allow to sit overnight to infuse in a non-reactive bowl to get as much flavour as possible out of those petals.
- Strain the blueberries and lilac petals through a muslin cloth. Place into a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Add the sugar and butter and stir until melted and combined.
- Whisk the eggs and extra yolks and add to the bain marie. Gently heat for about ten minutes or until thickened to the desired consistency. Take care not to overheat as this will kill the lilac flavour and also “cook” the egg and you will get little white specks in your curd. If this does happen though, just strain again at the end to remove the specks.
- Once thickened, transfer to cooled sterilised jars and refrigerate until completely cool and set. It will keep for about a week in the fridge.
To make the tarts:
- Prepare the pastry an hour ahead: crumb together the butter and flour, then add the sugar and combine with your fingers. Add the egg yolk last and knead together into a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge until ready to use. Preheat your oven to 200C or 180C fan.
- When the dough is cool, roll out to about 5-6mm thickness and cut to size with a pastry cutter that fits your tartlet tin. Grease the tin and place the pastry discs into each well. Prick the bottoms a couple of times with a fork, line with a disc of baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven briefly, remove the beans and brush the tartlet cases with egg white. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until golden brown and cooked on the bottom. Place on a rack to cool.
- Fill each of the pastry cases with lilac and blueberry curd and decorate with fresh blueberries and lilac flowers.
These tarts are honestly a joy to eat with the soft curd, pops of fresh blueberrry and floral twist. I’d love to hear if you make this recipe and what you think of it! Have you used lilacs before? What do you like to do with lilacs?