Ingredient Spotlight: Fiori di Sicilia

As I'm descending back into my writing flow, I've set some time aside for reading through various Google Docs full of words I've jotted down in spasmodic moments of inspiration over the last several years. Occasionally, a file has surprised me with decent writing. Others are annoying because I stopped writing suddenly just as it got good, and now I have no idea what the point of that particular article was going to be. Seriously, I couldn't have wrapped up that thought? I've also read through some fun posts from years past, including this one about Hazel Mountain Chocolate: a place that has a lot to do with today's chat about my latest discovery that everyone-but-me seems to have known about: Fiori di Sicilia!

F di S (can I call her that? Are we cool enough for that?) is a traditional Italian extract; a blend of citrus, floral notes, and vanilla. Anyone who has smelled it can tell you, the scent is like the soul of an orange-cream popsicle. The exact formula is a closely-guarded secret but I don't care what's inside. It's just so good. Bon Appetit recently ran a whole article on it by a woman who claims she wears F di S as perfume. I can't say I blame her.

Delightful fragrance and perfume-use aside, what do you do with Fiori di Sicilia? Research turns up a great many options: this extract is a traditional suspect in panettone, a welcome addition to Bundt cakes or brioche, probably extremely sexy in a good ice cream base. I added some to the Swiss meringue buttercream of my Mamma Mia-inspired birthday cake. I imagine that introducing F di S to all your favorite baking recipes would be a classy move. I mean, wait till you smell it.

My first introduction to this beautiful flavor happened a few years ago at Hazel Mountain Chocolate's cafĂ© and bakery in Ireland's Burren area. I had ordered a slice of carrot cake and then sat there eating it and marveling at the cloud-like tangy frosting (I'd never seen cream cheese frosting that wasn't sort of sludgy and weak-kneed), tasting of vanilla and subtle orange. The flavor was so different from orange zest, yet definitely orange. What was it? And how did they get their cream cheese frosting to defy gravity? I needed to know, but I stupidly didn't ask then. I went so far over the ensuing years as to look up the cookbook published by Hazel Mountain to see if they'd included their carrot cake recipe; couldn't find it. I did eventually discover how to make cream cheese frosting like theirs (Bravetart's recipe, no competition). Still, that elusive, elegant flavoring haunted my memories and I just knew that one day I'd find out.

In February a very random (but fateful) thing occurred: my boss handed me a hardback novel with a picture of a cake on the cover. Her father-in-law had given this book to her to give to me, having heard that the nanny enjoyed making cakes. Totally random, a little weird, but very nice.

The book turned out to be a b-grade novel from the 90's about an amateur baker - a hobbyist really - who deals with her growing anxiety about her husband's lay-off and subsequent midlife crisis by baking cakes, eventually launching a business of her own and finding her passion (and an income). I probably enjoyed the book a little more than I should have, considering it was no relative to Good Fiction. I suppose that I recognized a little bit of myself in the main character's tendency to undersell her skill and confidence. But what I recognized even more was the floral-vanilla-citrus flavor described in one passage of the book. The main character poured a bit of Fiori di Sicilia into a bowl of cake batter and waxed eloquent about it.

Could it be?  I grabbed my phone to google this magical-sounding elixir and found that King Arthur Baking stocks it. Then I texted my sister-in-law and demanded her opinion. She'd been with me in Ireland on the occasion of the Inexplicably Delicious Carrot Cake episode. Was this the flavor? Had I found the holy grail for which I'd been searching in all other carrot cake research ever since that day? We thought so. Then, for some stupid reason (probably saving up to pay for our impending wedding), I never bought it. And the mystery continued till my birthday when the mailman dropped off a bottle of Fiori di Sicilia (from my sister-in-law) on my front step.

I ripped open the package, unscrewed the bottle's lid, and inhaled deeply: undeniably a match. Then I unceremoniously doused myself in it. Its scent was how I imagine the Amalfi Coast might smell on a June day at 5 PM when the colors of each building are gleaming in the sun as if lit from within and you're driving with a Cary Grant lookalike along a cliff  and possibly you're holding an Aperol spritz or (alternately) an unexplained plate of cacio e pepe while Georgianna Darcy's theme from the 2005 Pride & Prejudice crackles over the radio and life is just iconic. My immediate impulse was to smell as much like this bottle of extract as I could for all the remaining days of my life, amen. The gastronomic possibilities honestly didn't even factor in that moment.

At this point I've settled down about the whole thing enough to notice stuff like, "You should probably be light-handed when pouring this extract because what is a delicate flavor when used correctly could be tiresome when overdone." In other words, you want to be Grace Kelly, not Jennifer Coolidge. In addition, Fiori di Sicilia is not as much a team-player as vanilla. I wouldn't add this to a recipe where other flavors were supposed to be the star. For example, it would be an incredible leading lady in creme brulee or a cheesecake, but would not be as advisable in a mint-chocolate brownie that called for vanilla extract. Savvy? I trust your good judgement on this one. As the applications are pretty much endless, I'm not including a recipe with this blog post. However, I will be sharing my Hazel Mountain-inspired carrot cake recipe very soon and you can be sure Fiori di Sicilia will crop up in that context!

I hope you can get your hands on a bottle of this truly delightful ingredient. It's a fun thing to keep in your fridge (I almost said "pantry" but it has to be refrigerated upon opening), and provides opportunity for a fresh take on old recipes. Besides, in a pinch it makes a very good perfume. 

P.S. Do you like the illustration? As I don't have access to a good camera right now, I'm toying around with illustrations rather than/along with photos for certain posts. 

1 comment

  1. I love everything about this blog post! It had me laughing and nodding my head the whole way through. (The portion about reading old drafts is so very relatable. I've been doing the same thing now that Camp Nano over and done.)

    I don't know that I've ever had anything flavored with Fiori di Sicilia, but now I'm dying to try it. I must have some, however dear the cost!

    P.S. I love the little illustration, it's charming.