Many years ago, seduced by their mystery, romance and charm, I planted four bushes each of three varieties of Damask rose: the gloriously and exotically named Ispahan, Gloire de Guilan and Kazanlik. Although I happen to love the rough, matt leaves and ungainly habit of these old girls, they are given short shrift by many nurseries and gardeners because of this, and also because of their fleeting flowering season. But what a flowering season it is! These are the three main varieties used to produce attar of rose (rose oil) in Bulgaria and Romania, and their beautiful pale pink flowers are full of the most exquisite perfume; on a hot afternoon the scent hangs thick over the house and garden, reminding us all of their potency and their heritage.
The process of distilling attar of rose is centuries old, and begins with great cauldrons of water packed with kilograms of petals being simmered over a gentle heat. Alchemy at work. But we can have a piece of this magic too using just a bowlful of blooms from the garden and the same technique to extract not only the perfume, but the colour, the glorious colour, from the petals. You don’t need to use Damask roses for this recipe (although a few thrown in will excite the spirit and the senses); any highly perfumed pink or red roses will do, as long as they have not been sprayed.
I’ve played with many different ways of using roses in desserts and this sorbet is a standout because it is so simple yet charms in every way; the colour is unbelievable but is just what you would secretly hope for, the texture is creamy, and the flavour and scent heady and unmistakably rose-y. It’s magic, and a dream, and you can eat it.
Rose Petal Sorbet
Serves 6. If you want more servings, make two batches rather than doubling the recipe – in a large quantity you will never get the sorbet to freeze. You will need to start this recipe one day ahead.
A large mixing bowl of unsprayed rose blooms, petals removed, and sepals and earwigs discarded. While colour is not crucial (although the redder the roses you use the deeper the colour of your sorbet), scent is vital. If you don’t have scented rose petals, go and find some before making this recipe!
265 grams caster sugar
225 mls dry champagne or prosecco (Dal Zotto is perfect)
Place petals in a medium saucepan and add around 1 litre of water. Gently bring to a simmer over low heat and continue simmering until the petals have given over their colour and scent and the water is intoxicatingly bright with colour.
Strain into a clean bowl and measure 500mls of the liquid into a saucepan. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, and the sugar. Over a low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the champagne or prosecco and remove from the heat. Allow to cool and then chill for a few hours in the fridge or freezer.
Churn cold liquid in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. If you have any spare rose petals you could add a few at this point. They have a very slight hint of bitterness which is lovely against the sweetness and scent of the sorbet but less is definitely more in this instance.
This is a soft and delicate sorbet so once churned you may want to put it back into the freezer for a few hours before serving (although this is not essential).
Eat on its own, or to board a flying carpet for Damascus, place a spoonful in a small bowl or glass and top with prosecco and petals…
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