The Bitter Appeal of Orange Blossom Water

Infuse your baked goods with this water’s citrusy essence.

Fresh bitter-orange-tree blossoms are often distilled for their essential oils to make perfume. However, the process also creates a by-product widely used in Middle Eastern, North African, and European cooking: orange blossom water, or orange flower water. The water is pleasantly bitter, like orange peel, but intensely aromatic, and it is thus often used sparingly. While occasionally used in savory dishes, it's more frequently used in sweets such as baklava, the Lebanese rice pudding riz bi haleeb, Moroccan ktefa, and French madeleines and gibassier.

It can be an alluring substitute for vanilla in other desserts, too. To determine how much to use, we swapped some for vanilla in our Chewy Sugar Cookies—a neutral recipe that would allow us to discern subtleties—using half the amount, an equal amount, and twice the amount. All were delicious, but here's our rule of thumb: Substitute an equal amount of orange blossom water for vanilla for a subtle essence, 50 percent more for a discernible hint of bitter orange, and twice as much for full-bodied flavor.

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