Elderflower is the flavor of the season, thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their boundary pushing wedding cake. The flavor, often in the form of a syrup or cordial, comes from the flowers of the elderberry bush—which is common is Europe and North America, and in season in late spring, generally mid-May through June. In the US, elderberry syrup, made from berries of the same bush, has become a popular alternative remedy for colds and flus, but elderflower cordial remains a mostly European summer refresher. That seems poised to change, with royal wedding-inspired sodas and syrups on the market. Here’s how to drink—and eat—elderflowers this summer.
Where to get it
The UK’s Woodland Trust has a great guide to recognizing elderberry bushes, which range in size from low and shrubby to 5 or ten meters (up to 15 feet) high, if foraging is your thing. You can also make your own elderflower syrup to use all year, or buy it online, no foraging required. St. Germain is a delicious elderflower liqueur and bar staple to keep around, or for a non-alcoholic version, try Trader Joe’s lemon and elderflower soda, or this version that Walmart will ship.
Elderflower has a lush flavor that nicely balances fruit and floral, sort of like a raspberry or lychee—it’s easy to love. St. Germain makes wonderful cocktails, especially when combined with gin, vodka, or sparkling wine. It’s also the kind of spirit that makes you seem like a better bartender than you probably are, which is always nice. If you’re working with elderflower soda, fill a glass with ice, add one ounce of your choice, gin or vodka, then top with your soda. Or, make a white wine spritzer by pouring three ounces of sauvignon blanc or vino verde over ice, then topping with soda. If you’re using syrup, add one ounce of syrup on top of the spirit or wine, then top with seltzer.
The royal wedding cake required 500 eggs and nearly 50 pounds of flour. The buttercream featured elderflower cordial made from the trees at the Queen’s residence in Sandringham. If you want to create a smaller, and surely less pedigreed version, complete with elderflower buttercream and lemon curd, Nancy Birtwhistle, a Great British Baking Show winner, has a great recipe.
There are plenty of other options if you don’t want to get quite so involved. If you’ve made or bought elderflower syrup, just add a few tablespoons to the whipped cream for your strawberry short cake, angel food cake, or trifle. This would also work for creme anglaise or cream cheese frosting. Or, make a lemon or vanilla cake and then drizzle several tablespoons of syrup onto the warm layers as they cool to add moistness and flavor. You can use St. Germain, too—don’t worry, that teeny-tiny amount of alcohol isn’t going to get anyone drunk.
Elderflower fritters are a very special spring treat, something like a funnel cake crossed with fried squash blossoms. The fresh blossoms are coated in a light batter, fried, then dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar. Now that is a showstopper.