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Nancy B’s Guide to the Perfect… Botanical Bakes

From rose-petal cake decorations to sausage rolls stuffed with juicy berries, Nancy B shares five ways to bake with botanicals.

This week, Bake Off has once again presented us with something very different, which is exciting!

Once I started thinking about the theme, ‘botanical’, I realised that flowers, herbs and fruits already play an enormous part in my baking and cooking.

Here are five delicious ways to bake your cake, bread or pie – using nature’s own flavour enhancers.

Ingredient: The Lemon

Lemon is one of my favourite baking ingredients and features regularly in my recipes. It has a clean, fresh flavour – dominated by citric acid – and works well in both sweet and savoury bakes. You can use lemon to partner other citrus fruits for a strong flavour, or to complement herbs such as parsley and coriander. The possibilities are endless.

Technique: The Homemade Flavouring

There is something about flavour extracts that I try to steer away from. I do use vanilla, rose and almond extracts but most others I feel have a falseness to them. For a solid lemon flavour – without the use of lemon extract – finely grated zest and juice is the obvious solution, but sometimes lemons fail to produce much juice. My tip is to pop zested lemon halves in the microwave and blast for 30 seconds at a time until the lemon softens and is warm to the touch. Then squeeze the fruits and much more juice will come out. If you want to intensify the flavour, boil the liquid in a small saucepan to reduce by half.

Style: The Rosy Finish

Think about the decoration of your finished bakes. When I was a child, a pastry leaf on a pie was the only indication that the filling was savoury – sweet pies had no decoration at all. Cakes were very plain and bread was just bread. Today baking is much more fun and I always think the decoration is your shop window for what is inside. A cake with classic rose and pistachio flavours, for example, could be decorated with chopped pistachio nuts and dried rose petals – or fresh ones brushed with a little egg white and dusted with icing sugar. Pies and breads, meanwhile, can look very appealing with a citrus glaze or a sprinkling of herbs.

Common Problems: The Flavour Fail

The most common problem when adding flavour is getting the balance just right. Too much rosewater and your bake will be almost inedible, tasting of bubble bath or soap. Too little fennel, parsley or thyme and you may just as well not bother. Too much rosemary and your baking will take on the flavour of Christmas trees! Remember: dried herbs start to lose their pungency once opened. I’m not suggesting you throw them away but you may need to add more to get the flavour coming through. Also, as a general rule, if a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you only have dried in the house then use half the quantity. Fresh herbs carry less flavour than dried.

New twist on a retro classic: The Herb & Berry Sausage Roll

Sausage rolls have been around for years and years but there are many flavour variations to try. If you’re thinking of making your own, start by buying a good-quality sausage meat. Chop a couple of tablespoons of fresh herbs such as parsley, sage and thyme; then crush and chop eight juniper berries (to 500g sausage meat). Add this small handful of deliciousness to the sausage meat and your finished bakes will be amazing.

@nancybbakes won Great British Bake Off 2014. Since then she’s travelled from Cornwall to The Shetland Isles, baking and entertaining fans.

Learn more about her food and her travels on her blog.