Lately I’ve been yearning to return to my site’s namesake and bake with flowers again. It was the cookies with nasturtiums that started it all, followed by recipes with lavender, rose, hibiscus, and even petal-flecked tea (both herbal and black). But it’s been awhile. As for new dessert-bound flowers, I found myself craving the flavor of those delicate violet candies made overseas, and wondered if I could find the living flowers that they mimic. I pictured a vibrant, blooming violet plant beside me as I candied its fragrant petals or steeped them into a delightfully perfumed syrup. It was all so romantic and picturesque.
But then I started my hunt for violet plants, and was quickly reminded of how little I know about flora. I found a variety of violets, but none with the signature scent I sought. So I posted a question on an online hotline, whose kind green-thumbed readers were quick to point me in the right direction. Before I knew it, my lush green Parma violet plant was at my side. There was only one problem: not a single blooming flower! And after months of tending to my plant with great care, I’ve accepted that its hidden baby flowers are simply not ready to bloom.
So instead of turning to the source behind the candy I’d been craving, I decided to celebrate the candy itself. I visited a favorite store and bought four different types: candied violet petals, tiny French jawbreakers, translucent flower-shaped pieces, and a beautiful tin from Italy full of little matte morsels. While each kind had its own qualities, I decided on the latter for my violet dessert. Its somewhat chalky texture proved perfect to powder and sift into batter and icing, and its flavor was distinct and delicious. I also used the milder candied petals for decoration (and ultimately savored the other kinds).
Violet Candy Cupcakes (makes 12-14 standard sized cupcakes)
TO PREP THE CANDY:
- Three 1.4 ounce (42 gram) tins Pastiglie Leone violet candy originals
In three batches, place candies in the bowl of an electric spice grinder (a.k.a. blade coffee grinder). Grind well, for several minutes. Hold lid on tight and gently shake grinder as you go. Stop when a fine powder has formed. You should have about 1 cup powdered candy when done.** Set aside.
FOR THE CAKES:
- 1 medium lemon
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup powdered violet candy
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 small to medium eggs
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
Rinse and dry lemon, then zest with a fine grater. Set zest aside for cake batter; set lemon aside for glaze. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with 12-14 paper liners. In a large bowl, beat the oil, sugar, and powdered violet candy until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in completely after each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt over the oil mixture. Begin to stir, slowing adding buttermilk as you go. When batter is even, fold in the lemon zest.
Carefully transfer batter into lined cupcake tin, being as tidy as possible and resisting the temptation to fill cups more than halfway. This will ensure that the baked cupcakes have room within the paper liner to hold the glaze. If you have at least 12 cupcakes, you’re on the right track. Bake cupcakes for 12-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out free of wet batter. Set cupcakes on a rack and let cool completely before glazing. If not glazing right away, store cupcakes covered at room temperature (not chilled).
- 1 lemon (from batter recipe above)
- 2-3 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1 and 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2/3 cup powdered violet candy
- candied violet petals to decorate
Juice the lemon and strain the juice. Measure out 1 tablespoon strained juice and set it aside (use the rest as you wish). Into a medium bowl, sift the powdered sugar and powdered candy. Add the tablespoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons buttermilk. Whisk until smooth. If glaze seems too thick, gradually add another tablespoon of buttermilk, whisking well. (If little granules of candy are present and you prefer a smoother texture, mix with an electric mixer for several minutes, beating out the pieces.) Use immediately, or cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.
With cupcakes completely cooled, top each one with glaze by the spoonful. Fill paper liners to the rim, letting icing reach edges, but not overflowing. Immediately place a candied violet petal in the center of each. Let cupcakes sit at room temperature for at least an hour before attempting to move or handle them — otherwise, the surface of the glaze will form cracks. Keep at room temperature and eat within 6 hours. (If you must store them longer, refrigerate the cupcakes. Note that the glaze will become wetter and the cakes will firm up when chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
Perfect with a cup of afternoon tea, violet candy cupcakes offer a delicious (albeit distant) nod to the flowers behind them. Their tender, lightly lemony crumb and burst of sweet, perfumed glaze prove to make a well-balanced and beautiful duo. Fragrant with floral goodness, they are both delicate and satisfying. While I still hope to create a dessert with fresh Parma violets someday, I’m truly delighted to use my luscious little candies in the meantime. Flowers and candy: what’s not to love?
**Maybe next time… If you’re leaning toward a smaller amount of candy and prefer a milder floral flavor, feel free to replace some of the glaze’s powdered candy with more powdered sugar. Most of the violet flavor comes from the glaze; the cakes offer just a whisper of violet, while the icing is distinctively floral. If you want a stronger violet flavor in the cakes themselves, replace some of the batter’s granulated sugar with more powdered candy. Finally, if you prefer a more solid, crisp glaze than the texture shown here, start by whisking an egg white into the glaze’s dry ingredients, then very gradually add lemon juice and buttermilk by the teaspoonful, until desired texture is reached.