Of all the flowers one could associate with Japan, from the chrysanthemum of the royal throne to the short lived morning glories and the ume which marks the official start of spring, the sakura or cherry blossom is the flower that most captures the hearts of the people. A stark black skeleton of a tree stretching limbs skywards, wreathed in soft pink garlands that delicately flutter from its fingertips creating a carpet of blush snow underfoot- one of the most celebrated images signalling the progression of the seasons, and catching a glimpse of this natural wonder has been a national obsession since the eighth century. Poetry is composed, love is declared and sake is drunk (often in excessive quantities) as people party in the shade of the cherry trees and take part in one of Japan’s favourite pastimes- Hanami, or ‘looking at flowers’. School children, salarymen, old ladies, weather beaten fishermen, celebrities and priests alike all stop to view the beauty of the sakura blossoms, and like the ethereal blossoms themselves, contemplate the fleeting nature of existence and the meaning of life.
The sakura petals are used in all manner of foods, from the salted preserved flowers pressed into cookies and wagashi, to brightly coloured syrups added to lattes and ice creams. The flower itself has a complex but delicate flavour and a hint of bitterness somewhere between the sour cherries that one would assume it tastes of, and its close cousin the almond; even when eaten, this most philosophical of flowers manages to echo Japan’s cultural beliefs.
As our tribute to these beautiful blossoms that herald the forthcoming warmer weather, we’ve composed a parfait dessert combining sweet, sour, bitter and creamy elements along with cubes of soft sponge cake and brittle shards of nutty caramel- the perfect sundae to eat whilst reclining on the floor, wishing you were in the shade of a gnarled old cherry tree. Although there are a lot of components in this recipe, they can nearly all be made in advance and stored until needed, meaning that a tasty reminder of spring can be whipped together in a matter of minutes.
Sakura petal jam ingredients
- 100g cherry blossom petals
- 100g caster sugar
- 200g jam sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- Carefully sort through the cherry blossoms to ensure there are no insects or tough woody pieces of stem, then place the petals with the caster sugar into a large non-reactive bowl; massage the petals gently with the sugar until they start to soften, then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave overnight to macerate.
- The next day, after the blossoms have softened and started to become syrupy, put the jam sugar into a large saucepan along with 300ml water and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Cook the syrup for five minutes until it starts to thicken, then add the massaged petals along with their sugary liquid and the remaining ingredients, and continue cooking for another ten minutes.
- Test a spoon of the jam on a cold saucer- it should quickly set to a soft gel texture that moves slightly when tilted; if not, continue to cook for another couple of minutes, testing again after this time. Whilst still hot, remove most of the cherry blossoms from the jam with a strainer leaving only a few floating in the syrupy liquid- this improves the mouthfeel of the finished jam and prevents it becoming overly bitter. Pour the hot jam into a sterilised 500ml jar, place the lid on loosely and leave to cool completely.
Sakura jelly ingredients
- 100g sakura petal jam from above recipe
- 2 leaves gelatine
- Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water and leave to soften while you prepare the liquid for the jelly. Pour 180ml water into a small saucepan together with the sakura petal jam, and stir over a low heat to melt the jam and combine fully. Bring the cherry blossom liquid to a gentle simmer then turn off the heat.
- Squeeze out the excess water from the gelatine then add the soaked sheets to the warm syrup. Stir well to make sure the gelatine is fully dissolved, then divide the jelly mixture between four serving bowls. Leave to cool to room temperature, then put the bowls in the fridge to set firm.
Mini sakura meringue ingredients
- 50g egg white
- 100g icing sugar
- pink gel food colouring (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 95°C. In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy; spoon in half of the sugar, whisking until it is combined, then add the second half and continue to whisk until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
- Transfer the meringue into a piping bag with a floral shaped piping nozzle. If using food colouring, paint random stripes of the gel inside the bag before you add the meringue. Pipe out small floral shapes onto a lined baking tray, making sure to leave at least two centimetres between each floret- this amount of egg white should make around fifty to sixty bite-sized meringues.
- Slide the tray of meringues into the oven and cook for around fifty minutes, before turning off the heat and leaving in the oven for six hours or overnight to dry thoroughly. When cooled fully, the mini meringues can be stored in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.
Almond praline ingredients
- 100g caster sugar
- 25g flaked almonds
- Spread the flaked almonds onto a baking tray and toast in an oven preheated to 165°C for five to six minutes, until the flakes start to turn golden. Watch the almonds carefully as they can turn from golden brown to scorched in a matter of seconds if left unattended. Remove from the oven and allow to cool whilst you make the caramel.
- Put the sugar into a shallow pan with two tablespoons of cold water; swirl the pan to start to dissolve the sugar, and place over a low heat allowing the granules to slowly liquefy. As the sugar begins to melt, continue to swirl the pan to make sure that the caramel colours evenly. Don’t be tempted to stir the caramel with a spoon as this can lead to crystallisation, ruining the texture of the finished praline.
- When the caramel has reached a medium golden colour, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the toasted almond flakes. Pour the praline mixture onto a baking tray lined with a silicone sheet and leave to set until hard.
- Sakura jelly from above recipe
- Almond praline from above recipe
- Mini sakura meringues from above recipe
- 60g sakura petal jam from above recipe
- 600ml double cream
- 50g icing sugar
- 500ml vanilla ice cream
- 200g sponge cake (store bought is fine or you could use the cake from our recipe for Strawberry Shortcake)
- 125g sakura an paste (sweet white bean paste flavoured with salted cherry blossoms)
- 50g white chocolate buttons
- 1 teaspoon matcha
- Whip the cream until it starts to thicken, then add in the icing sugar and whip again until it reaches the soft peak stage. Put a heaped tablespoonful of the whipped cream into the sakura an paste and mix well to loosen the bean paste slightly making it easier to work with, then put the plain whipped cream and sakura an into separate piping bags ready for piping later.
- Using a rolling pin, break the almond praline into shards, reserve the most attractive pieces for garnish, and continue to break the rest into small pieces (we like to grind some to a powder in a pestle and mortar to give even more variation in texture). Remove and discard any crust from the sponge cake, then slice it into bite sized cubes.
- When you’re ready to serve the parfaits remove the jelly lined bowls from the fridge. Layer all of the ingredients on top of the jelly in whatever order takes your fancy, saving the cream and the matcha powder until the end. Crown each parfait with a swirl of whipped cream, and dust with a flourish of the matcha for a final accent of springtime colour.
Serves 4 people.