Resisting passing fads and imported sweets, we cannot conceive of a Christmas finale without their roscón de Reyes. Present already since the beginning of December in pastry shops, the rise of panettone has helped a little to return it to the dates that belong to it, in bakeries, supermarkets, and also in homes. The orange blossom water is one of its basic ingredients, a product with an older history than the roscón itself, the quality and proper use of which is key to its success.
Although its more remote origin is linked to the Roman Saturnalia, the tradition of the roscón de Reyes as we know it today is much more recent, as it did not become popular until the end of the 19th century. And yet, it is a true Christmas icon that crowns the holidays, with a flavor so characteristic that its mere aroma already awakens innumerable memories and sensations in people of all ages. And orange blossom water is largely responsible for that Pavlov effect.
What exactly is orange blossom water?
Orange blossom water is a distilled aromatic essence of orange blossom, name that designates the flower of the orange tree. Specifically, for this product orange blossom of the variety Citrus aurantium, the sour or bitter orange tree very typical in Andalusia, especially in the Seville area. The word, which means white flower, comes from Arabic, and is that its preparation and use for food, cosmetic and medicinal purposes was extended by Islamic culture.
To prepare this essential water, a distillation is prepared. The operation is simple: a container with water is heated to a boil, generating steam, which passes through the orange blossom, heating it and taking it with it the aromatic substances of the flowers. The water vapor, now well loaded with fragrance, continues its course to condense and go back to a liquid state, settling in another container.
The result is a transparent but very fragrant water, floral but with a bitter point; the intensity can vary according to the concentration of the distillation and the quality of the flowers, but in general it is a very intense product, to be used in small quantities.
Its historical evolution until the roscón de Reyes
Orange blossom water has been used for centuries by different cultures, very widespread in the mediterranean regions, linked to the own cultivation of orange trees and other citrus fruit trees. It is mentioned in very old written sources and cookbooks, both for the preparation of sweets and savory dishes and drinks, as well as various remedies.
It is a very recognizable aroma in the kitchen of the North Africa and the Middle East, basic in the Arab confectionery, especially in the Moroccan and very combined with almonds and other nuts. It is used directly to flavor masses such as the exquisite gazelle horns or to prepare sweet syrups that accompany, for example, the curious baghrir crêpes.
We also find it in Greek gastronomy, under the name of anthonero (ανθόνερο), in Algeria (Ilma Zhar), Tunisia (Ma Zhar) or Malta (Ilma Żahar). In many regions they maintain the use of orange blossom water as perfume or to refresh hands as part of the routine of washing these when entering the houses or during the service of tea.
Also due to Arab influence, it is a very present aroma in the pastries and cuisine of the France more Mediterranean; It is used in a kind of brioche called pogne de Romans or the peculiar bread gibassier, in addition to cookies, madeleines and cakes. The Spanish they took this ingredient to the New World, and there is also its very widespread use in traditional Mexican elaborations, such as the bread of the dead, or Argentina and its sweet bread, also associated with the Christmas festivities.
In Spain it is mentioned in old cookbooks prior to the roscón de Reyes, to flavor drinks such as the primitive horchata without tigernut, or torrijas. Its application for the bread of the Epiphany has been present since the beginning of it; We can verify this with the first written recipe for it, ‘El arte culinario’ by Adolfo Solichon (1868), digitized by the National Library.
The truth is that the true madness that the roscón de Reyes awakens today, with that obsession to find the best in each city, author variants or the love of preparing it at home, did not begin until a couple of decades ago, most likely motivated by the rise of networks. Until then, it was very difficult to find orange blossom water for domestic useEven professionals only found it produced for cosmetic or medicinal uses, dispensing in pharmacies.
As homebrewing became popular, cheaper versions of this product began to appear, waters enriched with artificial aromas and preservatives that facilitate its conservation, but with a lower aromatic quality, less delicate. Of course, much cheaper.
How to use it in the kitchen
The orange blossom water can be consumed without problems directly without having to go through any previous cooking. It is important, however, to ensure that you have a product for food and non-cosmetic use, which is still found in pharmacies and drugstores.
You just have to have be very careful with the quantity to use, as we have already mentioned that it is a very intense concentrated ingredient, whose potency may vary depending on the brand. It is normally added in measures of tablespoons (15 ml) or teaspoons (5 ml), incorporating the wet ingredients of a dough or diluting it in liquids. If it is heated, for example for a syrup, it is recommended not to bring it to a boil.
In addition to flavoring the roscón de Reyes, we can use this fragrance in other sweet and savory bakery doughs, and any confectionery preparation in which we are interested in highlighting a fresher and more floral touch, from cakes to muffins, cookies or truffles. A small amount will give a very special aroma to a simple syrup of water and sugar, or combined with honey; It is perfect to accompany crêpe-type doughs or pancakes, also pestiños or torrijas, or to moisten the interior crumb of stuffed cakes.
Small drops can be added directly to a cup of tea, coffee or other infusion, hot or cold, or increase the amount to make cocktails and play with its aroma in combination with other related ingredients, such as orange juice itself, a bitter, mint leaves or herbal liqueurs.
In salty recipes the easiest thing is to add the orange blossom water to dressings, sauces and vinaigrettes; simply combined with lemon juice and a little oil, it will be a delicious dressing for salads, vegetable dishes, creams or grilled meat and fish. In the same way, we can test it for macerate vegetables and fruits, for example for a fruit salad, or in the preparation of preserves such as pickles, salty and sweet pickles, or jams and compotes.
The natural orange blossom water is very sensitive to contact with air and also at high temperatures or sudden changes. Once the container is opened, it is advisable to always keep it closed and keep it in the least cold part of the refrigerator, such as the door. It will gradually lose aromatic power over time.
Luca de Tena La Giralda orange blossom water, preferred by experts
While some professionals have decided to do without the candied fruit to decorate their roscones, rare is the workshop that resigns to the unmistakable aroma of orange blossom water. The consumer has that fragrance well etched in their memory and could be very disappointed in its absence, no matter how much it was before a bun of exquisite quality.
In an effort to recover precisely that quality and traditional character, the leading experts in the sector take more and more care both in the preparation (adding sourdough and with slow fermentations) and in the ingredients. That is why professionals seek avoid artificial scents And, today, the product that triumphs is Luca de Tena La Giralda’s orange blossom water.
It is used by reputable bakeries famous for their roscones, such as El Horno de Babette, Isabel Maestre or Moulin Chocolat. Ricardo Veléz, at the head of the latter, tells Direct to the Palate what they were the first in Spain to contact the Sevillian firm to acquire its product for pastry purposes, since at the beginning of this century the production was focused on parapharmacy.
Vélez and his team were clear that natural orange blossom water was essential to recover the origins of the roscón de reyes, which had been devalued by industrializing production and by resorting to poor-quality ingredients and artificial essences; this has caused the public’s taste Roscones have become customary that “taste like cologne”. Despite initial reluctance, Moulin Chocolat began working with La Giralda as a supplier, and many other professionals followed.
The Sevillian brand did not take long to realize the vein it had by promoting its product also for domestic purposes for the general public, both for the roscón de Reyes and for other sweets and many more elaborations, recovering its mythical image and historical name for turn your blue bottles into an icon of the pastry shop.
The history of the firm Children of Luca de Tena dates back to the 19th century, and by the middle of that century various perfumery products were already being produced under the name of The Giralda, including orange blossom water. The brand was officially registered in 1899, although years later the company would be dissolved, passing into the hands of new owners who continued the legacy of the founders.
For many years, orange blossom water was marketed especially for therapeutic and medicinal purposes, as it was a very popular remedy as a calming and “sedative of the nerves”. Even today it is a product widely used as a relaxant, also in the form of essential oil. Luca de Tena orange blossom water is sold today in small bottles for domestic use and in larger formats for the professional sector.
Where to buy orange blossom water
As we mentioned, orange blossom water is now a …