Embracing the seasons is often difficult to do in grey, slushy March. But spring is a different story. Spring is easy. The months of May and June offer something new and colourful on a daily basis. In the early days, crocuses display purples and yellows. Daffodils and tulips are soon to follow. Then, everyone counts down for the display of pinks and whites from cherry and apple trees. Lily of the valley quietly flourishes in shade and wetter weather only revealing itself if one takes a moment to slowdown and peer under a heavy, green leaf. The perennial tries to compete with lilacs to perfume the area.
Since moving to the city of Kingston, I have come to know lilacs much better. The colours range from white and light blue to richer magentas, purples and pinks. They seem to take their turns blooming, allowing one another to be showy for a while rather than coming out at the same time. The deeper the flower colour, the richer and sweeter the scent becomes. This makes May and June the best months to walk around the city.
I’m not sure exactly what it is about the soil and climate, but it is a place where lilacs thrive. Kingston is in growing zone 5 which provides adequate climate for the shrub. In addition, it is known as the limestone city of which, it is possible that the limestone could increase the pH value of the soil. More importantly though, the abundance of these plants is likely due to an interest in planting them. It seems that they have been a resident favourite for many years. Long ago, hands that took the time to plant these shrubs so that all could enjoy. Large and mature shrubs are found in most parks. Light purple and white lilacs were commonly planted along the roadsides and highways leading to the city. And, farmhouse laneways are lined with the shrubs making the entrance to the farm rather grand.
Like all flowers, blooming times are fleeting. They urge us to seize the moment. Perhaps to slow down or forage some flowers to bring them indoors and enjoy the somewhat haunting scent. Better yet, they remind us that the world is beautiful even when times are difficult or confusing.
This shortbread recipe was inspired by spring but also developed add beauty into a cookie that could seem stuffy or boring. I chose to include a variety of lilacs and pansies to decorate the cookies with. You may wonder, why include the pansies? Well, the first time I made these, I noticed that the lilacs did not hold their colour once baked. While their shape is lovely, I wanted to have that purple colour associated with lilacs and spring in general so I baked the larger pansies in addition to the lilacs. One of my daughters helped me cut and choose the flowers. I rolled and cut the dough and together, my daughter and I decorated the cookies with the petals. As soon as the cookies were finished baking, I sprinkled them with lilac sugar.
Pressed Lilac Shortbread
Makes: About 25 cookies
Time: 2 hours (no resting time required but, lilac sugar must be made beforehand)
1 cup + 2 tbsp (253 g) unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
2 ½ cups (313 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (85 g) cornstarch
1 tsp fine grained kosher salt
Lilacs and pansies*, rinsed and dried
1. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
2. Cream the butter and sugar using a handheld mixer or stand mixer (paddle attachment) until light and fluffy. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and mix again.
3. Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt together. Fold into the butter mixture. The mixture should just come together.
4. Now for the fun part. Lightly flour your work space and roll the dough to an 8mm (1/3 inch) thickness. Cut with desired cookie cutter. Artfully arrange the lilac flowers on the top of the cookie. Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with lilac sugar immediately after taking them out of the oven. Let cool on a wire rack.
Best served with a pot of herbal tea in the afternoon.
*Ensure that you identify your flowers correctly and that they are chemical free.
** Adapted from the wonderful, Lori Stern.