You Can Actually Make Syrup from a Lilac Bush. Here's How.
One of my favorite summer scents is lilac. For me, it is the essence of summer, and I can literally bury my face in a tree and feel released. So, you can only imagine my delight when I found out that lilac blooms are edible. I love a subtle floral flavor in baked goods and cocktails: Rose water, rose syrup, rose petal conserve, dried rose petals, orange blossom water, and violet syrup all have places in my pantry. It's always wonderful to discover how to add their beautiful notes to my dishes without going too far.
Many home cooks shy away from working with floral flavors because it is all too easy to go too far, and then what started as a gorgeous cake or custard becomes more of an edible Yankee Candle. When cooking with these flavors you want delicate hints of flowers, not full-on potpourri.
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Meet your new favorite floral flavor: lilac!
Lilac is actually one of the best flowers to start with, since as intense as its scent can be, the flavor is actually quite subdued. I love to make a syrup with the blooms, which can then enhance my drinks and desserts all year long. You can add a splash to iced tea or lemonade for a sophisticated sweetener or stir into sparkling water for a very elegant soda. A splash in your champagne makes a take on a Kir Royale that is next level, and it can go in any cocktail that calls for crème de violette.
Drizzled over vanilla ice cream, you have an instant dinner-party worthy dessert. Or stir into powdered sugar to make a glaze for an almond cake. Toss fresh berries in it to give them a little lift, or fold into whipped cream to top just about anything. Once you have a bottle in your fridge, you'll find a million ways to use it!
How to make lilac syrup
You can make this syrup with any color lilac flowers; if you want to enhance the color, a drop of purple food color or a few blackberries added to the steeping will give you a gorgeous hue.
NOTE: Be sure to wash the lilac blossoms well and check for bugs, dirt, and debris, then carefully remove from the stems, leaving none of the green parts, which can be bitter.
2 cups cleaned and prepped lilac blossoms, tightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 drop purple food color or 4 large blackberries (optional for color)
1. Pack the lilac blossoms into a large jar (add the blackberries or food coloring if using)
2. Bring the water and sugar to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour the hot sugar syrup over the lilacs and stir well.
3. Cover the jar and let steep between 3 hours and overnight.
4. Every lilac bush is different; some will give more intense flavor than others, so I check about once an hour to see how the steeping is going. When you get the flavor you want, strain the solids out, stir the lemon juice into the liquid, and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 6 months.
Bonus: sugared lilac flowers!
You can, if you like, create sugared lilac flowers with the spent blooms after straining. Spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan, sprinkle generously with granulated sugar, and bake for an hour at 150° until dried and crisp. Store in an airtight container in a cool place and use to garnish desserts or drinks.