cover image

Photo courtesy of Sidra Dahhan

A Taste of Home: An Ode to Orange Blossom Water

As a pandemic baker, I wanted to venture away from overly rich, dense desserts. One ingredient provided the perfect vessel for experimentation. It was floral, citrusy and aromatic. When used right, it was subtly powerful. It was orange blossom water.

Sep 26, 2021

As seemingly the entire world filled their kitchens with freshly baked banana breads and quick loaves in the spring of 2020, I wanted to join in on the baking craze. I started out by making cookies and muffins, then experimented with scones and cinnamon rolls. It was a much needed distraction from global events. Around a month into baking, however, I reached a point where I wanted to change things up and diversify flavors. I don’t come from a family of sweet tooths, so this culinary shift was probably much appreciated by my family after their struggle to finish off the sickly sweet apple pie I had baked the week prior.
I knew I didn’t want to abandon my role as a dessert chef, but I had to move away from the heavy chocolate and caramel decadence I was stuck in. I needed something new — maybe an ingredient that would shake things up. What could enhance a dessert without being excessively sweet on its own? How could I get away from rich, dense flavors? Something fragranted, something powerful … something like orange blossom water.
Orange blossom water is a prevalent ingredient in various regions around the world, including the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. It is produced from the distillation of bitter orange tree blossoms and is aromatic and flavorsome. Its floral, fruity scent makes it a popular addition to perfumes and natural skincare products, as well as a traditional cooking ingredient.
The subtle intensity of orange blossom water was a familiar flavor to me because of its abundance in Arabic sweets and desserts, but it was never a common ingredient in my household. So when I bought a bottle, I discovered a whole new world of cooking.
As I found out, and you will too, even though it may seem subtle as a flavor on the surface, orange blossom water adds a magical touch to the simplest of recipes.
Orange Blossom Coffee
A quick way to elevate a good old, plain cup of coffee.
¼-½ Mug of strong, brewed coffee
Dash of orange blossom water
½ Mug of milk (2%, Soya, Almond or Coconut)
Mix the coffee and orange blossom water together.
Pour cold or steamed milk on top of the coffee and enjoy!
An adaptation of a traditional Syrian milk pudding recipe with a colorful garnish. Feel free to play around with ratios.
1 litre whole milk
5 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup fresh cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp orange blossom water, or to taste.
Almond slivers
Maraschino cherries
Mix a bit of cold milk with the cornstarch until it dissolves. Add the mixture to the rest of the milk in a large, nonstick pot and whisk to combine.
Place the pot over medium-high heat and continuously stir with a wooden spoon.
When the mixture begins to heat up, turn down to medium heat and add the cream, sugar, vanilla and orange blossom water.
Continue stirring for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken. It should be able to coat the back of a spoon. It should also be smooth, not clumpy. If it starts to boil, lower the heat. Keep scraping by the sides to avoid getting the mixture stuck.
Remove from heat and pour the mixture into small bowls. Let it cool at room temperature.
Cover the tops of the bowls with plastic wrap or a tray and place in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours.
Garnish the little bowls with pistachios, almonds and a maraschino cherry and serve.
As someone new to cooking and baking, I feel excited when I find an ingredient that has the potential to become a staple in my cabinet for years to come. Orange blossom water has the distinction of being something that inspires me to experiment with flavors and potentially create new recipes in the future. After all, there’s a reason it’s popular in so many different cuisines!
Sidra Dahhan is Senior Columns Editor. Email them at
gazelle logo