flower cream with fruit

Flower-Scented Cream Cheese

Imagine eating a light, sweet cream cheese that tastes like flowers.

Sounds divine, doesn’t it? Like a dish from the Belle Époque,  a dessert that a  tender and temperamental chef would invent to persuade  a reluctant sweetheart. Something Colette might have eaten in a Paris café, spoonful by dreamy spoonful, while planning her next novel.  But you don’t need to conjure up a time machine to eat flower-scented cream cheese. You can make it yourself, with almost no effort.

It takes little effort, but does require infusing the cream with the chosen edible flower or herb overnight, in the refrigerator. You need to start it a day ahead. Then there are so many ways to use it. Spoon it into a pavlova; spread it between cake layers; cover fresh fruit with it.

That’s how I like flower cream cheese best: simply spooned over fresh fruit. Right now, mangoes and cherries are in season in Israel, and they feature in the photos. The infused cream is also delicious over sliced peaches, whole soft berries, or whatever fruit you like best.

My favorite flower/herb for flavoring the cheese is Pelargonium graveolens, the edible, rose-scented geranium.

rose-scented geranium image

Meet a rose-scented geranium, straight from my garden. My “garden” is only a small balcony filled up with potted plants. Among the pots is a rose-scented geranium, there for culinary purposes more than for its small, pink flowers. Crush a leaf, and a heady, sweet, rose-like aroma arises.

Scented geraniums make fragrant tea and sorbet. Cocktails like daiquiris and gin and tonic gain certain delicate flair if you crush a few leaves in the glass. And baked goods get an aromatic lift from a few leaves placed at the bottom of the baking pan. But my favorite way of enjoying scented geraniums is to  infuse a few leaves into sweet cream and cream cheese for a simple but exquisite dessert based on summer fruit.

Not every geranium is edible; in fact most aren’t. To identify edible varieties, buy a start from a good plant nursery, or crush a leaf to see if the delicious, rose-like fragrance arises. Use the botanical name when ordering the herb, to avoid mistakes: Pelargonium graveolens.

It’s a hardy plant that tends to take over. One of my neighbors absent-mindedly allowed it to fill his yard. I loved it; I’d just go over and pick all the flowering stems I needed.

image scented geranium

Then without warning he yanked all the scented geraniums out and replaced them with some boring bushes. His yard must have been unbelievably perfumed that day. I hope he regrets it… I do.

But don’t limit yourself to this geranium if you have other fragrant herbs at hand. A long sprig of basil or lemongrass, or lemon verbena, or a couple of bay leaves, or a sprig of  lavender, or some mint… any fresh herb that combines with sweetness makes this infused cream. You’ll need 2 tablespoons of fresh, crushed herb. If using bay leaves, which are surprisingly good in sweet food, use 2 medium leaves.

The cream cooks briefly in the top of a double boiler. When was the last time anyone saw a conventional double boiler? I just set a pot over a larger pot with boiling water in it. It doesn’t need to sit in the boiling water, just on top of it.

Note: In Israel, imported commercial cream cheese is really expensive. I make my own by dumping two (200-ml.) containers of sour cream into a clean kitchen towel placed inside a colander and a plate underneath the colander. The whey will  drip through the towel. I leave it out on the kitchen counter, covered with another towel, for 6 hours. The result is a nice, thick cream cheese; a bit softer than Philadelphia but serving the purpose very well. You can get a firmer cheese leaving the sour cream to firm up overnight, but then it should  drip in the fridge (on top of a bowl to catch the drips).

image mango with infused cream

image cherries infused cream cheese

You cannot imagine how light, and fresh, and aromatic fruit tastes when combined with this flowery cream cheese. The quantity made here should easily cover 8 servings of fruit.

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