Lifting the senses with lavender

Lav01We all know of lavender’s aromatherapeutic and cosmetic advantages. Try pulling yourself away from a lavender-scented candle or just dare yourself to be stressed out when you have the soothing fragrance of lavender on your skin. It’s heavenly. But if you have never tried eating lavender in some form, now’s the time, as culinary lavender is readily available to be used in any number of creations. Herbes de Provence, an aromatic blend that includes lavender, as well as rosemary, fennel and other herbs, can be used in many savory breads, sauces, fish and poultry. But on the sweet side, lavender alone adds something so unique, a real sensory pause for the taster and a lasting lilt for the taste bud.

Aroma Ice Cream Therapy

Lav02As the weather warms, my thoughts are never far turned from my ice cream maker. Oh, the many possibilities! What flavor would launch the churning season? I had marked a number of frozen treats I’d hoped to make in David Leibovitz’s delightful book, “The Perfect Scoop,” but one standout seemed to be at the top of the list. Lavender-Honey Ice Cream. Dear me, the notion of these flavors was enough to send my senses spinning! I could only imagine how this ice cream would taste.

Anyone fearful of ice cream making, thinking that a trip to the store is the best bet, needs to take the plunge — buy an ice cream maker and get on with the business of making it yourself. Relatively simple, you have more control over the end product and the freshness and purity of ingredients. Make ice cream now!

lav03For the Lavender-Honey Ice Cream, I first had to make the lavender honey, which was done by warming the honey and infusing it with dried lavender buds, which should steep for at least an hour. Here I must reveal that I have already made THREE batches of the Lavender Honey Ice Cream (I gave one quart away as a gift), and after the first batch, I decided that I wanted more honey flavor, so I increased the 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup in my second two versions. To each his own taste…I recommend trying Leibovitz’s recipe in its original form here and then adjust to suit yourself.

lav04The most complex part of most ice cream recipes is the making of a custard, which, once you’ve done it is not terribly complex at all, but a necessary step for the richness of the frozen dessert. MIlk is heated with sugar and salt, then added to egg yolks, then the egg yolk mixture is cooked until it is to the desired thickness (coating the back of the spoon). It is strained, then in this recipe, added into heavy cream into which the steeped and strained lavender honey has been added. More lavender buds go into this mixture and it is chilled over an ice bath, then chilled again overnight in the refrigerator.

lav05Strain this mixture into a bowl, then pour into your ice cream maker to freeze. I added a few of the lavender buds back in (some folks might be too squeamish to chew on a little blossom, but shame on them). In about 15 minutes or so, the ice cream chills up to a lush soft-serve consistency. I have to confess, this is probably the most ideal time to eat the stuff. Why wait? Except there is too much to consume at this stage, so, into the freezer it goes.

The ice cream is very creamy; the first taste is all warm honey, then a secondary note of that unmistakeable floral flavor. It was like a layered fragrance in a bowl, most satisfying.lav06

Lavender-Honey Ice Cream
From “The Perfect Scoop” by David Leibovitz (2007)
Makes about 1 quart

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup dried or fresh lavender flowers

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

5 large egg yolks

Heat the honey and 2 tablespoons of the lavender in a small saucepan. When it’s warm, remove from heat and let steep for 1 hour. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the cream into a large bowl and place a mesh strainer on top. Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavor as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the cream. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as your stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lavender flowers and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, before churning, strain the mixture, again pressing the lavender flowers to extract their flavor. Discard the flowers and freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Blogger’s Note: I increased the honey to about 2/3 cup and added some lavender flowers back into the mixture just prior to freezing.

Blooming Baking

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There are a few beautiful things about shortbread. First, the ingredient list is mighty short (get it?). Second, the recipes are usually very easy. The third thing that makes shortbread an ideal sweet is that, with its simple basic components of flour, sugar, salt and butter, it can be a blank canvas into which to add other flavors and textures, like nuts, extracts and herbs. What versatility!

Whoever first decided that dropping a handful of lavender buds into a buttery shortbread dough, has my vote for genius. That sweet, simple cookie is elevated to something very elegant and very delicious. Lavender is the star, but not one who takes up the entire stage. And it’s very pretty, a ladylike cookie. A perfect teatime treat or wrapped up as a gift (another benefit of shortbread is that it has a fairly long shelf life…for as long as it exists).

A favorite lavender shortbread recipe is one that uses white rice flour, which, like cake flour is fine and adds an extra lightness and delicate texture to the finished cookie.

lav08Putting this shortbread together is a snap. Cream together sugar, butter and lavender buds (I also added some vanilla and have also used lemon zest), then add a mixture of blended rice and all-purpose flour. Dump all onto a parchment-lined baking sheet with sides and press out evenly lav09. For extra pretty shortbread, you sprinkle more lavender buds and sanding sugar (I use a lavender-colored sugar) across the top then use a smooth glass or rolling pin to even the surface. Prick the surface of shortbread top so it will not puff up too dramatically.lav10

Once baked to a light golden brown, remove from the oven, allow to cool a bit and cut into squares. It makes a lot. You must share. Put some in a pretty box or tin. Take a pan to work. But do save some for yourself. It melts in your mouth like the memory of a warm summer breeze in bloom.

Lavender Shortbread
Adapted from Sugar Bakery, originally posted on www.dailycandy.com
Makes 24 2-by-2-inch cookies

1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tbsp. for garnish
2 cups butter, softened to room temperature
2-1/2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers, plus1/2 tablespoon for garnish
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white rice flour
1/2 tablespoon salt

In a stand mixer or with a handheld beater, cream sugar, butter and lavender until light and fluffy.

Add flours and salt and combine until mixture just starts to come together. (the dough should be crumbly but stick together when squeezed.)

Line a 12-by-16-inch pan with parchment. Place dough in pan and break up any large clumps, spreading evenly.

Press dough down gently and sprinkle the remaining sugar and lavender flowers on top.

With a rolling pin or drinking glass, roll out the dough evenly. (Use a little additional sugar if the dough sticks to the rolling pin.)

With a meat tenderizer or fork, press indentations ito the top of the shortbread. (This prevents the shortbread from rising unevenly.)

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Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until shortbread is golden brown.

Cut the squares while still warm and remove cookies from pan when cool.

Blogger’s Note: I sometimes add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest during the creaming stage for added flavor to the cookies.

If you have lemons….and lavender

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Lavender and lemon are natural companions. The both have a similar tangy, pungent taste and smell. In a lotion. In a tea. Under a tree in lavender lemonade. I had been hearing about lavender lemonade for years. I’m a big fan of herbs and spices in both my hot and cold beverages (cinnamon goes into my ground coffee daily), and the thought of sipping that floral elegance carried by my favorite cold beverage was terribly appealing.

lav13And easy! My lemonade (adapted from an online version) begins with a simple syrup, made even simpler (and better) by the fact that it doesn’t use sugar. For a long time now, my sweetener of choice for most beverages (coffee, tea, etc.) has been stevia, a natural sweetener made from dried stevia plant leaves. I substituted one cup of stevia for the sugar mixed into two cups of water for the “syrup, “ bringing it to a boil, then turning off the heat. Dried lavender leaves are submerged in the syrup (I used a large cage tea infuser) and allowed to steep for a good while.

lav14I squeezed enough lemons for one cup of juice (about seven large lemons). This juice is then combined with the lavender-infused syrup and another 2 1/2 cups of water. It makes a uniquely colored, pinkish, silvery hued beverage. Chill. Serve over ice in a festive glass. This is beyond lemonade, something like a cross between tea and tart. Just try to not relax while sipping this beverage, cool, bursting with full lemon,humming with that undertone of lavender.

Lavender Lemonade
Adapted from Taste of Home (www.tasteofhome.com)
Makes 6 servings

2-1/2 cups water
1 cup stevia
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
2-1/2 cups cold water
1 cup lemon juice
Ice cubes

In a large saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. Remove from the
heat; add lavender. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Strain, discarding lavender. Stir in cold water and lemon juice. Chill.
Serve over ice.

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