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FRONT BURNER: Rose water, extract a fragrant addition to recipes

by Kelly Brant | May 29, 2019 at 1:50 a.m.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/KELLY BRANT Cardamom Cake With Strawberry-Rose Water Buttercream

Rose water is one of those ingredients I've always appreciated in something prepared by someone else, but I've shied away from using it in my own preparations. I tend to omit it entirely or simply double up on something else — usually vanilla or almond extract — in the recipe.

But earlier this month I picked up a bottle and have been using it — quite sparingly — with delightful results.

Rose water is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

There are two types of rose water with culinary uses. One is actual water that has been flavored with rose petals. It can be made by distilling, steaming or simmering. It has a delicate, fragrant flavor and can be used by the tablespoon.

The other is more like an extract. It is made from rose oil and includes propylene glycol and alcohol. It is used by the drop. That's what I bought and used.

The first thing I made with it was a batch of roasted strawberries — 2 ½ pounds capped and sliced strawberries, ½ cup sugar, juice of 1 lemon tossed together and roasted on a baking sheet for 30 minutes at 350 degrees — and I stirred about ⅛ teaspoon of rose water (extract) in after roasting, but before transferring to a jar. They were divine! These distant cousins (both members of the rosaceae family) taste wonderful together.

Next I added a couple of drops to a pitcher of homemade lemonade. And most recently, I combined it with strawberries (again) in a buttercream frosting.

Rose may be too floral of a flavor for some palates, especially when it is the dominant flavor. I suggest adding a single drop and working up from there.

Rose water was once much more common in American cookery, until vanilla became the flavoring of choice.

If you've bought vanilla beans or extract in the past couple of years, you likely noticed the exorbitant price tag. The high prices are due to a variety of factors but mostly because extreme weather devastated much of the vanilla crop in Madagascar in 2017 and it takes a vanilla orchid three years to mature enough to produce pods, so the new plants that replaced the wiped out plants still have another year of growing before they'll produce vanilla beans. This coupled with increased demand has led to vanilla beans costing as much as silver — $475-$500 per kilogram and $471 per kilogram, respectively according to the most recent numbers I could find.

For comparison, a 4-ounce bottle of Nielsen-Massey Rose Water (extract) costs about $14; a 4-ounce bottle of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract costs about $26 or more depending where you shop.

Perhaps it's time to reconsider and appreciate the culinary qualities of the rose.

Cardamom Cake With Strawberry-Rose Water Buttercream


2 ⅔ cups cake flour

½ to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon PLUS 1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups milk

½ cup vegetable oil

5 egg whites


1 (1-ounce) package freeze-dried strawberries

1 cup butter, softened

4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Pinch salt (omit if using salted butter)

A few drops to ⅛ teaspoon rose water (extract)

Milk or half-and-half as needed

Chopped pistachios, for decorating

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 (8- or 9-inch) cake pans with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cardamom, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the milk, oil and egg whites and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Divide batter among the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, or with a crumb or two attached.

Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes, then loosen the edges by running an offset spatula or plastic knife along the sides, turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

Set aside a few pieces of freeze-dried strawberries. Pulverize the remaining berries to a fine powder in a blender or food processor; set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar, the salt, rose water and the pulverized freeze-dried strawberries. Beat until smooth and creamy, adding a tablespoon or two of milk as needed to create desired texture.

To assemble:

Trim domed tops from cakes to level, if necessary. Place one cake layer on a cake stand and top with about a cup of frosting, spreading it in an even layer to the edge. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down, and frost top and sides of cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle with pistachios and reserved freeze-dried strawberries.

Makes 1 (2-layer) cake.

Food on 05/29/2019

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