Making Elderberry Syrup

This week, my boys and I foraged for wild elderberries (in French, sureau or baie de sureau). We tracked down a few of the deep purple clusters by our neighborhood castle and many more alongside the lake. In the spring, you may remember us picking elderflowers, and now is the season to harvest the berries.

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During one of our berry-picking expeditions, the three of us climbed over a small stone wall and headed into an area where people don’t usually walk. Just my luck, while we’re all picking at the elderberry bush, some parents from my son’s school strolled by and gave us very puzzled looks—especially when I tried to tell them my plans for the late summer fruit. My explanation in French probably had something to do with it, but I swear I heard one of them say “terrible”—different pronunciation in French, but the same meaning. I really should spend less time cooking, and more time studying the local language…

Please note: Elderberries should not be eaten raw. Apparently the uncooked berries contain a cyanide-like chemical. Like its flowers, elderberries are also used for medicinal purposes, such as treating cold and flu symptoms.

While I saw elderberry cake and muffin recipes online, I decided to play it safe and make syrup—in part to make sure the berries would cook long enough to no longer be toxic! I found a quick and easy recipe from David Lebovitz and modified it because I only had about 2 cups of berries. Unfortunately, I may have overcooked it because the consistency is a little more like molasses than syrup, but it still tastes good.



The sweet-tart elderberry syrup reminds me of blackberries, but with its own unique flavor. I’m planning to use it on pancakes and crêpes or mixed in with some soy yogurt for my son. And, my husband and I want to try the syrup in post-children’s bedtime gin and tonics. In the meantime, I decided to throw 3 tablespoons into a Bundt cake. Why not?

With a mild elderberry flavor, the egg/dairy/nut-free Bundt cake looks more like a chocolate cake instead of the purple cake I had hoped for. The boys love it though. I gave them small pieces to try at lunch yesterday, and they both wanted seconds and thirds. Next time, I’ll likely incorporate some chocolate—either cocoa powder in the cake or a chocolate glaze.


We’re crossing the Röstigraben this evening to attend a Swiss beer festival on Sunday. For those in the US, enjoy the long weekend. Bon week-end, everyone!


Introducing Milk, Elderflower Syrup and (Soy) Yogurt Cake

With our most recent food challenge behind us, I’m back to cooking and baking sans milk. Following our allergist’s protocol, we’ve started introducing a small amount of milk to our son every day at home, and it’s a huge improvement. For the last four days, I’ve mixed exactly 10 mL (2 teaspoons) of cold cow’s milk into his morning cup of soy milk. Each time, he’s developed a few red hives around his mouth, but thankfully that’s all—even though it freaks me out every time.

We’ll continue doing this for the next month as long as he isn’t sick, as it could change how his immune system reacts to milk. If all goes well, we’ll eventually increase his daily dose. This process will continue for one year, at which time we’ll repeat the food challenge.

Before the food challenge last week, I made the most wonderful cake (see recipe below). I hoped it would be the topic of my last blog post. How could I continue Dairy-Free Switzerland if my son had outgrown his milk allergy? Even though he’s still allergic, I’m thankful we’ve learned his tolerance for milk is relatively high—as long as we keep the quantity very low. So, I won’t be shutting down Dairy-Free Switzerland just yet…

Springtime Elderflowers

After my recent cooking adventures with foraged plants, I was excited to receive a small bunch of fragrant elderflowers. The petite white flowers came with my friend’s recommendation to use them in syrup. What new creations could I make with elderflower syrup?


From what I’ve heard, the Swiss often use elderflower syrup in drinks—both with and without alcohol (it’s very refreshing in a G&T). Many recipes for elderflower syrup call for citric acid, which acts as a preservative. Instead, I found a quick recipe without citric acid, which means we’ll need to use it before it starts to ferment! After my husband made it, we discovered Coop sells elderflower syrup or “fleurs de sureau,” which has a little more color than our homemade version and a slightly more pungent flavor.



Lemon Elderflower Yogurt Cake

I was hunting for a lemon cake I could supplement with our elderflower syrup and found this wonderful yogurt cake recipe from David Lebovitz via the Gluten-Free Girl Everyday by Shauna James Ahern. My son is fine with gluten, but he’s allergic to dairy and eggs. So I made a few quick changes, along with the addition of elderflower syrup. I know I always write this, but this is my new favorite cake recipe! Hope you like it too.


Dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/2  teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup elderflower syrup
1 cup soy yogurt
1/2 vegetable oil
2 tablespoons flax meal mixed with 6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon elderflower syrup

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Grease a 9-inch (23 cm) cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: sugar, syrup, yogurt, oil, flax meal mixture, lemon juice and lemon zest until smooth.


4. In batches, gradually fold in the dry ingredients to the wet ingredient mixture, just until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Do not overmix.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the cake’s center comes out clean.

6. Cool the cake for about 15 minutes. Then, run a knife around the cake to loosen it and gently remove from the pan. Peel off the parchment paper and let the cake cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack.

7. For the glaze, mix the ingredients together until smooth. Pour it in the center of the top of the cake. Using a spoon or spatula, spread the glaze and let it drip down the sides. Best enjoyed within 3 days; do not refrigerate.




I’ll be making another birthday cake this week. After last week’s baking disasters, I may delegate the task to my 5-year old. Hope you’re having a good week!

Chinese Pancakes and Maple Bundt Cake

My in-laws have been visiting us, and I’m sad to see them leave today. I miss having them so close by. We love Switzerland, but being far away from family and friends is the hardest part of living here.

With the extra pairs of eyes around to watch the kids, I’ve had more time to myself in the kitchen. Plus, there’s been a larger audience to test out my allergy-friendly cooking experiments. This week, I tried out two new recipes that I wanted to share.

Sher Ping Pancakes

My wonderful colleagues purchased a great cookbook for me as a going away present—Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes: The Best Recipes from the 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year (2011). I tried out a few recipes before we left, which were all delicious and easy. Yesterday, I tried another new recipe for our family lunch: Jamie Oliver’s Sher Ping Pancakes.

These Chinese pancakes took a little more time than I usually have, but they were still easy and tasted very good. I used a mixture of ground beef and pork, and substituted crushed red pepper in place of the Szechuan pepper. It’s a great make-ahead recipe; the pancakes would be perfect for a picnic lunch when it’s hard to find an allergy-friendly restaurant.

My generous brother-in-law purchased a huge jug of Vermont maple syrup for us, and my husband’s thoughtful parents hauled it in their suitcases to Switzerland. We haven’t seen maple syrup in the stores here, and certainly not a gallon of the grade B stuff we received. I took advantage of our syrup stockpile and made a bundt cake with nearly 2 cups of this very special ingredient. Here’s a modified version of a Vegetarian Times recipe:


Maple Syrup Bundt Cake


3 1/2 cups white or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups and 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sucre vanillé (powdered vanilla sugar, since liquid vanilla seems hard to come by here)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/3 cups water
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (or use the glaze recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Use non-dairy butter and flour to coat a 10-cup Bundt pan.

2. Mix dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in bowl.

3. Mix wet ingredients: maple syrup, oil, vanilla sugar, cider vinegar, and 1 1/3 cups water in a separate bowl. Stir in flour mixture until just blended.

4. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes.


Maple Syrup Glaze

I adapted this recipe from the Naptime Chef’s version because I didn’t have enough powdered sugar on hand.

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons dairy-free margarine
½ cup sugar

Mix ingredients together and warm slowly over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolve, it becomes smooth and thickens slightly. Cool glaze to room temperature. Then, use a spoon to drizzle it over the bundt cake.

Don’t forget! National Bundt Day is on November 15, 2012. I will be featuring three allergy-friendly bundt cakes—recipes to be determined…