"Roses are red, violets are..."
It's possible that all little girls are enamoured by flowers, especially the sweet-smelling ones, but I don't know of too many who actually went to the trouble to pretend they were a bee buzzing about gathering nectar. It took a special kind of imagination to pluck a flower and sip the microscopic amount of nectar in the base of the blossom, then pretend to be full after just a few. After all, a bee is a tiny creature, I reckoned. Wouldn't want to take too much.
Of all the flowers we had around our place, the lilacs were the most plentiful, along with clover. I never felt any guilt after picking one or two of those flowers. The violets, on the other hand, were never picked. That was the rule. Instead, you had to stoop down low to take in their amazing fragrance. Sometimes I nearly swooned from their heady scent (combined with the head-rush that came from standing up again). No one ever said I wasn't dramatic as a child, maybe even a little melodramatic.
Growing up, my mother often talked about fialky the violet-flavoured candies that were sold in Czecholslovakia when she was little. Over the years, I have searched high and low and bought every kind of violet-flavoured candy I managed to find, but none have come close to the fialky she remembers. It's possible that this is because they just don't make them like they used to, or it might be a case that falls under the "it's never as good as you remember" category. Either way, they've been a disappointment. We still give violet-themed gifts to one another whenever we find something new though. I've collected everything from soaps to creams to "linen mists" to chewing gum. With the exception of that ill-conceived last one (there's a reason the Wrigleys stuck to things like Doublemint and Juicy Fruit instead of branching out into florals), they've all been pretty satisfying. The latest find was a violet syrup that was given to me on my birthday. From the start, I knew I had to make something I could share with my mother. I decided to make éclairs.
These éclairs were a hit at the dinner party I brought them to. The violets that adorned them came from my mother's garden here in Montreal. I broke our rule because of the special occasion.
250 ml water
100 g butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
150 g flour
4-5 eggs plus one extra for the egg wash
Preheat oven to 450°F. Bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the flour in one shot and stir energetically with a wooden spoon until no flour lumps are visible. Mix until it forms a ball in the pot. Remove from heat. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing hard with your spoon, waiting until the dough comes back together before adding your next egg. Add enough eggs so that a line drawn in the center of the dough falls together slowly at the top. Place dough in a pastry bag with a tip. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and pipe either lines for eclairs, or dots for choux. Brush with a beaten egg and bake until they begin to turn golden. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake until they are uniformly beige in colour. Let cool on a rack.
250 ml creme fraiche
125 ml heavy cream
2 sheets gelatin, soaked
violet syrup, to taste
Heat a small amount of creme fraiche in a saucepan, then add the gelatin sheets to dissolve them. Whip the cream to medium stiff peaks. Mix the creme fraiche/gelatin mixture in with the rest of the creme fraiche, fold in the whipped cream, and add the violet syrup to taste. Err on the side of less to avoid alienating the non-flowerlovers. Pour into a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and let set in the frige for a few hours.
1 cup fondant
Pierce the bottoms of the choux pastry with a skewer two or three times, spaced an inch apart. Take the violet cream and insert the tip into each space, piping cream into it until you can see it is full. Repeat until all are full and place in the fridge.
Heat the fondant gently in a saucepan, adding violet syrup to help liquify it. Mix until it is shiny and barely warm. Dip each eclair into the fondant "top down" and remove excess with your finger. Place a flower on the eclair before the fondant sets. Repeat, and store the eclairs in the fridge until they are served.
Happy Mother's Day.