Chef Steve Cumper whips up a scrump­tiously sweet brunch dish with a sur­pris­ing added in­gre­di­ent: pre­served pe­onies!

I CON­FESS I had never heard of pe­onies un­til I be­came chef at the Pi­geon Hole cafe, a Ho­bart in­sti­tu­tion. But, since its own­ers, Richard and Belinda We­ston, also pro­duce the largest crop of pe­onies in the South­ern Hemi­sphere at Brighton, 25-min­utes north of Ho­bart, it didn’t take long to catch on.

Belinda told me that, af­ter a tax­ing day har­vest­ing pe­onies and notic­ing the blan­ket of petals on the ground, she de­cided to have a crack at pre­serv­ing them, as you might with rose petals. Af­ter sev­eral at­tempts, she was happy with the re­sult and the jelly be­gan ap­pear­ing in the cafe among her other pre­serves. It flew off the shelves. Cus­tomers were en­chanted by the nov­elty, as well as its lus­cious colour, heady aroma and unique taste.

It didn’t take me long to find in­ter­est­ing ways to use this de­li­cious and un­usual prod­uct, but per­haps the most suc­cess­ful is this recipe. The in­spi­ra­tion came from a cafe in Brunswick, Vic­to­ria, in the early ’90s.

The in­dus­tri­ous owner, com­pelled to be in­ven­tive by the red tape sur­round­ing kitchen com­pli­ances, built his small menu around toast­ed­sand­wich presses, which re­moved the need for a full-blown kitchen.

One of his dishes, Turk­ish bread with labne (drained yoghurt cheese), bas­tourma (air-dried and spiced beef) and rose­hip jelly, paid homage to lo­cal Turk­ish and Le­banese com­mu­ni­ties. It res­onated with me, as it was in­ven­tive, sim­ple, de­li­cious and rep­re­sented mul­ti­cul­tural city liv­ing.

The only prob­lem with pe­onies is the short grow­ing sea­son (Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber), so you’ll need to put the pe­tal to the metal if you want to make this jelly. They are also the flower du jour for wed­dings, so you could al­ways leap up and catch the bou­quet!

Place petals in a large bowl. Cover with 4 cups boil­ing wa­ter. Set aside overnight for flavours to in­fuse. Strain liq­uid through a fine sieve set over a large saucepan. Dis­card petals. Place saucepan over a high heat and bring to boil. Stir in lemon juice and pectin and boil for 1 minute. Add su­gar and stir un­til dis­solved and mix­ture comes to boil. Re­duce heat and sim­mer for 5 min­utes. Re­move syrup from heat.

Pour hot liq­uid into 4 ster­ilised jars (1-cup ca­pac­ity), leav­ing a 1cm gap at the top of each. Se­cure lids, then turn up­side down for 15 min­utes to seal. Turn jars right-side up and cool for 24 hours be­fore us­ing the jam.

To make labne, place yoghurt, su­gar and vanilla seeds in a bowl and stir un­til com­bined. Line a fine sieve with muslin or clean kitchen cloth set over a large bowl. Spoon yoghurt mix­ture into cloth. Loosely cover and place in re­frig­er­a­tor overnight to strain. Dis­card liq­uid. Place labne in a bowl. Cover with plas­tic wrap and then re­frig­er­ate un­til re­quired.

To make brioche, place 100g but­ter and milk in a large mi­crowave-safe jug. Mi­crowave on High for 30–40 sec­onds or un­til but­ter melts and milk is hot. Whisk yeast and 2 ta­ble­spoons su­gar into milk mix­ture and set aside for 10 min­utes or un­til frothy. Place flour and salt into a large bowl. Add yeast mix­ture and two-thirds of the beaten egg and stir un­til a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured sur­face and knead for 10 min­utes or un­til smooth. Place dough into a clean, greased bowl, cover with plas­tic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 40 min­utes or un­til dou­bled in size.

Pre­heat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm x 10cm loaf or bread tin. Knock back dough, turn onto a lightly floured sur­face and form into a log shape. Place into pre­pared tin and set aside for 25 min­utes or un­til well risen. Brush re­main­ing beaten egg over bread. Bake for 30–40 min­utes or un­til golden. Leave to cool in tin for 10 min­utes be­fore trans­fer­ring to a wire rack. When cool, cut brioche into 2cm-thick slices.

Whisk re­main­ing eggs in a shal­low dish. Com­bine re­main­ing su­gar and cin­na­mon in a shal­low bowl. Melt re­main­ing 100g but­ter in a large fry­ing pan over a medium heat.

Dip brioche slices in egg and cook for 2 min­utes each side or un­til golden. Sprin­kle toast with cin­na­mon su­gar and top with a dol­lop of labne and pe­ony jelly. Sprin­kle with chopped pis­ta­chios to serve.

* Pectin is avail­able from spe­cialty food stores and select su­per­mar­kets.

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