The French writer Gerard de Nerval once penned, “Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.” For local baker Antonia Craighill, who has relied on her acute senses to build a self-made confection career, the perfect combination of ingredients can coax this “soul” from spring’s most visible symbols. As spring blooms in Billings, Craighill has perfected several specialty cupcakes using edible flowers to echo the aromas, tastes and spirit of the season.
“I use floral products because it brings spring and summer to your aura,” Craighill says. “It lights that spring feel.”
Craighill, who has run Velvet Cravings in downtown Billings for half of the last decade, says she likes to bake for the seasons. In the spring, the key is flowers.
One such dessert that she enjoys creating is a rosewater and strawberry cupcake. For these cupcakes, a made-from-scratch vanilla batter is baked and topped with a unique frosting. The icing combines strawberry and rosewater. However, as Craighill will caution, it takes a sharp eye and nose to choose just the right dosage of the effective rosewater ingredient. Too much, she says, and the cupcakes will taste “soapy.” The final product, when done right, is a soft pink topping with a light, buoyant taste.
“The floral scent of rose and sweetness of berries pair well,” she says. “It’s a good combo. If you add white wine, it makes it a trifecta.”
Another fragrant dessert she turns to in the spring is lavender honey cupcakes. Because of the potency of lavender, Craighill likes to begin with a basic white batter so as not to overpower the senses and she builds flavors. She uses a buttercream mixed with honey and sparingly tops it with lavender—again, relying on the subtle hues of honey and lavender to tickles the senses.
“You’ll be able to smell the lavender first,” she says. “Then the creaminess of the buttercream on top sets it off.”
For customers who want a little richer experience, Craighill creates a chocolate hibiscus cupcake. By itself, hibiscus releases a powerful smell similar to raisins or licorice. Craighill drops this flower directly into the thick chocolate batter to create a strong base. Then she brings out the flower’s undertones by adding a buttercream and hibiscus topping. The result is a bold mixture of chocolate, smooth cream and strikingly delicious hibiscus.
Of course, Craighill also has a flowery treat for caramel lovers: sea salt caramel calendula cupcakes. These treats use bright calendula flowers, or marigolds, to add a bittersweet accent. A delectable balance of sweet and salty, this dessert consists of a vanilla base and a salty caramel cream topped with calendula.
When the day’s baking is done, whether the customer prefers the scent of rose, light lavender, strong hibiscus or bittersweet calendula, Craighill knows flowers are the key to invoking the feelings of spring. And, as the ground thaws in Billings, the pans in Craighill’s Velvet Cravings will be speckled with flowers, drawing out the tastes, scents and spirit of spring.