April 14, 2008

sweet violet cupcakes

With Spring unfurling her rainbow hues, my garden is now carpeted with sweet violets, their frail purple blossoms a florid blaze.
Dating back to Roman times there has been evidence of violets being put to culinary use. In Rome they would welcome the Spring with 'Violetum' - a sweet violet wine, and why not? Like other plants, violets too are not without their medicinal properties. Folklore has it that the plant is good for all sorts of ailments from sore throats to headaches, to moderating anger, and even curing cancer. Violet blossoms are, in fact, higher in Vitamin C than any other domestic green vegetable, and also contain Vitamin A! Tea made from the entire plant is used to treat digestive disorders, whilst new research has detected the presence of a glycoside of salicylic acid (a natural aspirin) which affirms its use for centuries in many countries as a herbal medicinal remedy.
There have been recipes for using violets through the centuries, but the violet became particularly popular with the Victorians and Edwardians. A 'Violet Tea' was a Spring event, held when the flowers were in bloom. As violets are such delicate flowers, the Edwardian Violet Tea was presented in suitably elegant fashion. All food was especially light and miniaturized, with bite sized scones and sandwiches flavored with violet jelly or crystallized violets.

The violet is such a beautiful and evocative flower that I was inspired to use those delicate blossoms from the garden. Of course, my thoughts immediately turned to cupcakes! I was also reminiscing over the sickly sweet, but very addictive, 'Parma Violets' that I remember eating as a child. You can still buy them, but I haven't had any for years!

So, I started by baking a batch of cupcakes using a basic sponge mixture and adding lots of vanilla (I decided that anything else might overpower the delicate violet flavour) I wanted a flat topping that would frost the cakes with a slight crunch, so I used Royal Icing and added crushed Parma Violets to it. This produced a lovely pale lilac colour, and also, not surprisingly, tasted like Parma Violets....rather like a grown up and more sophisticated version of the candy! Finally, to decorate the cupcakes how could I better nature, so I picked fresh violet blossoms from the garden and crystallized them with a glimmering coating of fine sugar. They looked so pretty, a bit like ethereal butterflies.

The tender violet bent in smiles
To elves that sported nigh
Tossing the drops of fragrant dew
To scent the evening sky.
(Elizabeth Oakes Smith 1806-1893)

Sweet Violet Cupcakes
(by Alfie)

Sponge mix

100g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
100g butter softened
2 eggs
1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder

Royal Icing
1 egg white
1 teaspoon lemon juice
icing sugar
3 packs of Giant Parma Violets

For the cupcakes, beat together all of the ingredients for 4-5 minutes until well combined and pale and fluffy. Spoon into cake cases but don't overfill - you only want the cakes to come about two thirds up the case when they're cooked.

Bake in a moderate oven Gas 5 for about 20-25 minutes until they are risen and spring back when touched. Take out and leave aside to cool.

When the cupcakes have cooled, cut the dome off the top just to flatten them out a bit so the icing will sit better. Then make the icing.

To make the icing, lightly whisk the egg-white and lemon juice in a clean bowl just to break it up a little, then beat in icing sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is thick but it will still find it's own level. If you add too much icing sugar and it becomes too thick, just add more egg white to thin it down again. Crush the Parma Violets - I found the easiest way to do this was in a pestle and mortar. Using the food processor made too much fine powdery dust!. Then mix in a little hot water to make a paste. Stir this into your icing and then pour carefully into the cake cases. Leave to set - preferably overnight.

Decorate with the crystallized flowers - attaching them with a little more egg-white


nicisme said...

I haven't had those little sweeties in years either. These are beautiful cupcakes Alfie, shame to eat them!

Ginny said...

Those look amazing! Gorgeous!

Aran said...

Hi alfie! Thanks for stopping by my blog. what a surprise to find that you also used violet in your recipe. the cupcakes look divine, those sugared flowers are so cute!

Pixie said...

Your cupcakes looks so elegant; suited enough for a wedding! Beautiful!

taste memory said...

I love this....how beautiful and tasty of a concept.

The taste of violets are intriguing in food - I still buy those retro violet candies in the shiny purple + silver packaging, it reminds me of my childhood.

I love your website, look forward to more reads!

LyB said...

I've never tasted anything made with violets before, I didn't even know they made candy with them! Those cupcakes are works of art, truly. And I can't help but be reminded of some bit of Shakespeare I learned in High School:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk roses and with eglantine.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Marija said...

Your cupcakes are beautiful!

Lovely blog you have.

Hillary said...

I think those are the prettiest cupcakes I've ever seen, and I read about a lot of cupcakes! WOW.

linda said...

They look fairy tale like, very pretty!

cookinpanda said...

I've never heard of these candies, but they sound fascinating. And the cupcakes look delicious. I'm just learning how to bake, and this is wonderful inspiration... incorporating old favorite candies. Thanks!

Angela said...

Beautiful cupcakes Alfie. I love parma violets. A friend's Mum when I was younger used to make sugar coated rose petals as well as violets and they were lovely.

Antonia said...

What beautiful cupcakes these are - just gorgeous!I agree with Pixie that they would be wonderful all stacked up on tiers for a wedding.

diva said...

i've never had parma violet but i have had it as a vodka shot. in my opinion, it's quite a sickly, acquired taste! however, these are the most beautiful, simplest cupcakes I've ever seen.
i love what you've done with the violets. they do look like ethereal butterflies. gorgeous!

Helen said...

Ooh these look fab! I love anything Violet themed as one of my little girls is called Violet. Thanks for posting - I will be trying! Hx