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Rosa Chinensis

It's Beijing's city flower and brightens the capital's major roads with a blaze of color. The rose also creates tourist attractions and is pretty good to eat, too, according to Pauline D. Loh.

The Chinese rose, rosa Chinensis, blooms with great abandon each summer. White, yellow, pink and red blossoms are a large part of the landscape in the sunniest season of the year from Beijing to Guangdong province's Shenzhen city.

But roses also grow wild in China and botanists acknowledge that there are at least four or five species in the genus that come from this country. If you are around Beijing, you would have also heard of Miaofeng Shan Rose Valley, the scenic attraction nestled on the Mentougou foothills in the northwestern suburb of the capital.

Every year in June, day-trippers flock to the area to admire the blooms and smell the roses on weekends and holidays during the annual Rose Festival.

They visit the ancient mountaintop shrines and pay homage to deities that have been worshipped for thousands of years. They stop at the farmhouse restaurants for an organic country meal and return with souvenirs like rose-petal jam and conserves, little rose-scented cakes and memories of a flower paradise.

The Mentougou rose petal jam is famous for its lasting floral scent. According to the flower farmers, flowers that are just starting to bloom are the best for making jam. They are harvested in the morning, just after the morning dew has evaporated and before the sun gets too strong. These blossoms are then slowly cooked with traditional brown sugar or white sugar.

These days, however, the best jam is made from cane sugar. The brown sugars are no longer pure, according to the farmers, and may have flour added, which makes the petal jam murky.

It's a long, slow process, and the cooking darkens the petals but retains and concentrates the perfume. I find that the best jam is very thick and almost caramelized, and not at all watery. There is also rose petal jam made with honey, and that's good with toast and butter but not so suitable for baking or cooking.

There are lots of uses for the rose petal jam, and I have baked with it, made sweet soups with it and even made a layered cake with it in the style of the flaky spring onion pancakes.

You can also fill little glutinous rice balls with it, making the famous yuanxiao or tangyuan that is served at festive occasions, such as weddings and birthdays.

But my favorite recipes are shortbread with a rose petal jam filling and thumbprint cookies filled with a thimbleful of jam. There is something about the combination of good butter and the scent of roses that will turn teatime into an occasion. The tub of cookies my husband brought to the office disappeared so quickly he came back asking for more.

The cookies are now part of my weekly baking cycle, at least until I run out of my supply of rose petal jam. But there is always more waiting at Miaofeng Shan every year.

Recipe | Rose Petal Jam Shortbread

Ingredients (makes 24 large or 36 small cookies)

200 g chilled butter

2 egg yolks, beaten

2 cups plain flour

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons rose jam

1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Sesame seeds


1. Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces and drop them directly into the bowl.

2. Using cool fingers, gently rub the butter into the flour, tossing them in the air as you go to "aerate" the mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3. Add the beaten egg yolks to the bowl and stir to bind the mixture until it just comes together. Do not knead as that will raise the gluten and make the shortbread tough.

4. Pinch off a small ball of dough and place a pinch of rose petal jam in the middle. Roll up again into a ball and place on a papered baking tray. Press to flatten the ball slightly.

5. Brush the tops of the cookies with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

6. Bake in a pre-heated 180 C oven for 20 minutes, removing the shortbread when it turns a light golden color. Cool and keep in airtight containers for about a week.

Recipe | Thumbprint Cookies with Rose Petal Jam

Ingredients (makes 24 cookies)

200 g butter, softened

150 g castor sugar

2 whole eggs, beaten

0.5 cup milk

2 cups plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons rose jam


1. Sift flour and baking powder together.

2. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time.

3. Fold in sifted flour and add a little milk in between. Chill dough until it is firm.

4. Pinch off chestnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into a ball. Press down the center with your thumb, creating a depression. Fill with rose petal jam.

5. Place cookies on a papered baking tray and bake in a pre-heated 180 C oven for 20 minutes. Cool and keep in airtight containers. Eat quickly as these are richer cookies and may not keep for too long

Recipe | Rose Petal Jam Pancakes

Ingredients(makes 6 pancakes)

200 g plain flour Water

100 g softened butter or vegetable oil

6 tablespoons rose jam


1. Add enough water to the flour to make a soft dough. Knead until it feels silky and soft. Allow it to rest for at least an hour.

2. Divide the dough into six pieces.

3. Roll out a piece of dough as thinly as possible and brush with softened butter or oil. Spread a spoonful of jam on top.

4. Roll up the dough from the furthest edge, gently stretching the roll as you go.

5. Curl the roll of dough like a snail shell and flatten with the palm of your hand, keeping the tabletop floured as you go. Roll out the flattened disc to a thin pancake.

6. Lightly oil a non-stick frying pan and fry the pancake over medium heat, flipping it as the pancake turns color.

7. Dust with icing sugar and serve quickly. Great with a hot cup of Chinese tea.

Recipe | Red and White Sweet Soup

Ingredients (serves 4)

8 dove or quail eggs

4 teaspoon rose petal jam

100 g lotus nuts, soaked

50 g sweet apricot kernels or nanxing

Honey to taste

Rose petals for garnish


1. Place the eggs in a pot with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Let them cook for 10 minutes and immediately rinse the eggs under cold running water until totally cooled. Peel carefully and set aside.

2. Wash soaked lotus nuts and check to remove the bitter shoots, which hide in the middle. Place the cleaned nuts and sweet apricot kernels into boiling water. Turn down the heat once the pot boils and simmer until the lotus nuts are soft.

3. Add the rose petal jam and stir to dissolve. Add the eggs and a little honey to taste.

4. Serve in small bowls with fresh rose petals for garnish.

Food notes:

In traditional Chinese medicine, dove eggs are believed to have detoxifying qualities. Both the lotus nuts and the apricot kernels clear the lungs and nourish the bronchial system. If you do not like the aroma of roses, you can substitute with candied osmanthus.

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