I once found elder growing on our property. I came upon the single straggy specimen while clearing a patch of the hillside to plant fruit trees. It was struggling in the dense overgrowth and I had hoped that its new situation of light and air would help it along. But the following summer, and the one after, when our lives filled with other priorities, the wild reclaimed the orchard and swallowed up the elder.
After that, I considered cultivating elder on a more hospitable part of the yard— there are many ornamental hybrids with unique characteristics for the home gardener and elder enthusiast. For now, I'm happy to harvest flowers and berries from the naturalized specimens that grow abundantly along the roadsides of Northwestern Connecticut.
For most of the year, elder's dark green foliage blends in with the understory and is hard to spot. But there's a two to three week window, just after the last of the June strawberry harvest and just as the first blueberries ripen in July, when elder bursts into bloom, and elderflowers become like beacons to bees and foragers alike. That's when I stop to pick flowers from the dozens of mature trees that I pass on my daily travels, leaving enough behind to return for ripe berries in late September.
Elderflowers have a musky honey aroma that is both fruity and floral. Picked early in the morning (when most flowers have a heightened scent), they smell to me of muscat grapes. That may be why I like my elderflower cocktail with moscato wine instead of champagne, and certainly what inspired this bavaroise, served with St Germaine-glazed blueberries and honeycomb candy.
Ambrosia often refers to an orange and coconut concotion, but can also be used to describe something that is particularly delicious and nectar-like— a fitting description for this dessert.
elderflower moscato bavaroise
2 egg yolks
40g St Germaine
60g creme fraiche
1 sheet gelatin, softened in cold water
200g heavy cream, chilled and whipped to soft peaks
Cook the moscato and sugar to 100C/212F. Whisk together the yolks, St Germaine, and creme fraiche. Slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the yolk mixture while whisking, then transfer to saucepan and cook over medium low heat until bubbly and thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the drained gelatin until dissolved. Cool to room temperature, then fold in the whipped cream. Pour mixture onto a parchment lined sheetpan and spread to an even thickness of 2.5cm/1". Chill for 2-3 hours, until set.
elderflower white chocolate shards
100g white chocolate, melted
2.5g freshly picked elderflower blossoms, plus more for garnish
Spread the white chocolate on parchment or silicone in a thin, even layer. When it has cooled, but not yet solidified, sprinkle blossoms over top of chocolate, pressing lightly to adhere. Chill until chocolate can be peeled from parchment and broken into shards. To preserve the color/integrity of the blossoms: do not freeze or assemble more than 30 minutes in advance of service.
St Germaine glazed blueberries
65g St Germaine
25g unsalted butter
Bring the St Germaine to a simmer and whisk in the butter. When the mixture returns to a simmer, add the blueberries. Toss well to coat berries and continue cooking over gentle heat for a minute or two, just until they are warmed through. Keep warm until ready to serve.
honeycomb candy (see recipe here), broken into shards
To serve: Using a long, offset spatula, and a single motion, cut and scoop up a 2.5cm/1" wide slice of the bavaroise. Drop onto a serving plate, right of center. Embed upright shards of the elderflower white chocolate alternately with the honeycomb candy. Sprinkle the blueberries to the left and over the top of the bavaroise, then drizzle some of the glaze over the top of berries. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh elderflower blossoms.