How to Make the Best Elderflower Champagne: A Simple Recipe
Everything you need to know about making elderflower drinks is in this article. You'll find...
- recipes for an alcoholic elderflower champagne and an alcohol-free cordial
- safety instructions and useful tips should you need them
- information and must-know facts about fermentation
- a video on how to make elderberry wine.
All of these drinks have that unique delicious elderflower flavour. Enjoy!
You can make a delicious champagne from elder flowers right now as the blossom from this unusual but common tree is coming into its own. The creamy, lemony-sweet-smelling flower heads can be easily identified and it doesn't take much time to pick a few, plop them in water, add a few basic ingredients and bottle their essence!
The following recipe is very easy to follow and you should be able to produce a vintage product within 7 - 10 days. This recipe makes roughly eight one-litre bottles of elderflower champagne. If you don't fancy the bubbly stuff, you can also make a smooth cordial, just as flavoursome but non-alcoholic.
Picking the Flowers
People out in the English countryside picking elder blossoms. What could be a more idyllic scene? It sounds charming and it's a fun thing to do, but there are common-sense things to think about so once you've managed to find a dry, sunny day (yes we do have them in England, about eight times a year), you'll need a basket or bag to collect the flowers.
If you don't know what an elder tree looks like, check out the Sambucas nigra box below, and the photos should help you identify the right tree.
You'll need about ten heads for this recipe, that's all. Remember:
- choose a mature tree away from the road so that the flowers are pollution-free
- pick flower heads that look fresh and are not discoloured or half-eaten
- shake them to get rid of insects and bugs
- try not to decimate the tree by picking too many flower heads
- don't disturb nesting birds
- watch out for bees and wasps!
Ingredients - Makes 8 bottles (1 ltr each)
- 10 elderflower heads, stalk-free and clean
- 8 litres warm water, to dissolve the sugar
- 5 lemons
- kilogram white sugar
- 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- pinch yeast
- Pour 8 litres of warm water into an exceptionally clean large pot or container.
- Add a kilogram of white sugar and stir in until dissolved.
- Add zest of 5 lemons then cut in half, squeeze and juice. Add the juice and lemon halves.
- Add 4 tablespoons of white wine vinegar.
- Add the 10 flower heads then gently stir the whole pot for a couple of minutes until mixed.
- Cover with clean muslin or towel and leave to ferment in a safe, cool space. After 24 hours, check for telltale signs of fermentation- bubbles and foam activity. Stir each day to encourage activity. Add a pinch of yeast if necessary. Don't forget to remove the flowers after 1/2 days!
- Leave safe to ferment further for 4/5 days then sieve and decant into strong sterilized glass bottles. As the fermentation continues, release excess pressure in the bottles by turning the screw top every so often.
- After one week, you should have your champagne. Serve chilled from an ice bucket.
- Please read through the useful tips below for more advice and information.
- Use special brewer's tablets (I used Campden's) to clear murky champagne: You'll have to follow instructions for tablet use.
- Chilling the bottles well before serving and opening slowly keeps the fizz active.
- If you use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity, make sure it reaches 1010 before bottling.
- Sterilize bottles at 75 degrees. Clean thoroughly then pop in oven.
- Move your champagne mix to warmer space if there is no fermentation. Add a pinch of yeast.
- To slow fermentation down, put bottles in fridge.
- Use one or two more flower heads for extra flavour. But be prepared for more fizz during fermentation.
- Use dextrose sugar instead of white sugar and a brewer's barrel instead of a pot.
- The longer you leave the bottles, the less sweet the brew will be, as sugar turns to alcohol and the champagne becomes 'dry'.
- Pick the flowers in full sun for best results.
- Alcohol content should be around 3-5% for your champagne.
- Should your ferment turn vinegary (which means the alcohol has oxidised), you have made a type of wine vinegar! It could be used for dressings if the taste is good. If your bottles weren't sterilised properly this could also turn it vinegary.
- Use a fork to remove the elder flowers.
Fermentation produces a build-up of bubbles as the yeasts break down the sugars. By following these safety tips you should be able to produce a great drink and stay safe!
- leave an expansion gap at top of bottle when decanting your brew
- keep the bottles safely stored in a well-aired, locked shed or space
- put the bottles in bags and then in cardboard or wooden boxes
- check daily or twice daily for pressure: release screw top slightly if pressure is high and the bottles 'tight,' aka 'burping the bottles'
- do not let children or pets near the bottles.
Cordial is made in much the same way except there is no yeast involved and therefore, in theory, no alcohol present in the end result!
- 8 litres boiling water
- 10 flower heads
- 5 lemons/oranges
- white wine vinegar
- kilogram white sugar
Clean the flower heads in water, and place in the pot with the sugar and lemons/oranges and vinegar. Pour boiling water into pot, stir until mixed, then cover securely and place in a cool safe space. Give the mixture one day for fusion. Strain and pour into sterilized bottles then chill. Enjoy with sparkling water, ice, lemon and fruits!
Sambuca nigra: elder trees are common all over Europe and will grow happily by the roadside, in a hedgerow, on waste land, or on the edge of a wood. You can test to make sure you've got the right tree by taking a leaf, crushing it and smelling the strong savoury/smoky odour. The flowers have a sweet honey-like scent bordering on the fruity. In September and October, you'll see the large bunches of dark elderberries weighing the tree down as the season progresses. From these comes the rich juice, said to be medicinal.
Make Elderberry Wine
© 2012 Andrew Spacey
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