Thursday, June 17, 2010

the scent of lavender

My bar review course is driving me around the bend.

The material is much as I expected: dull, tedious, pedantic and mind-numbing. I didn't expect that the lectures would offer me a whole new definition of stir-crazy, however.

It's a given that I'll start getting distracted as soon as the weather starts to warm up, but sitting through hours with singing professors, professors who tell rambling, irrelevant anecdotes, and professors who make appallingly bad jokes has made me desperate to flee class. (The fact that my course location is in a building where the thermostat is set at a temperature more suited to chilling meat than cooling people also doesn't help.)

Tuesdays are the bright spot in my week. On Tuesdays, I'm packed up and ready to bolt even before the lecture winds down. On Tuesdays, I head to the Copley Farmers' Market on foot. The walk is long enough for me to work off some of my restless energy, and being out in the sunshine gives my body temperature a chance to climb back up to normal levels.

My purchases at the market have largely been what you would expect in June: garlic scapes, beets, young zucchini, and plenty of strawberries. A few weeks ago, however, at the stand run by the Herb Lyceum, I also picked up a packet of dried lavender.

Like basil, lavender is a herb that makes me think of summer and sunshine, a herb whose scent alone is enough to brighten my mood.

Though dried lavender is most frequently used in sachets for freshening linen (the name comes from the Latin lavare, meaning "to wash,") it can also be used as a seasoning herb.

Lavender goes nicely in savory dishes with lamb or goat's cheese, but it can be put to striking effect in sweets and desserts. A little lavender is enough to make for powerfully aromatic sablés, delicately perfumed ice-cream, and hauntingly fragrant caramels.

A bonus: lavender also has calming effects - perhaps enough to make me less stir-crazy during lecture.

Lavender Sablés

(Makes three dozen two-inch sablés.)

Melt one stick of butter in a saucepan over very low heat. Stir in one tablespoon of dried lavender blossoms. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring into a mixing bowl and chilling in the fridge until no longer liquid, but still somewhat soft.

Cream the lavender butter with a quarter-cup of white sugar. Stir in a generous pinch of salt, followed by one egg yolk. Add one cup of flour a quarter-cup at a time, working it gently into the mixture until you have a soft dough. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Lay out a sheet of wax paper and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Place the dough on it. Cover with another sheet of wax paper, and roll out to a one-eighth-inch thickness. Remove the top layer of wax paper, and use a two-inch cookie cutter to stamp out rounds. (Dough scraps may be gathered, re-chilled briefly, and rolled out again.) Place the rounds on the baking tray. If you like, you can sprinkle the sablés with sanding sugar to decorate.

Bake for fourteen to fifteen minutes, or until golden in color. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Meyer Lemon-Lavender Ice-Cream

(Makes one-and-a-half cups, give or take.)

Stir together half a cup of milk, half a cup of heavy cream, a quarter cup of sugar and a generous pinch of salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, then add a tablespoon of dried lavender blossoms. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, beat three egg yolks until smooth. Set a fine-meshed sieve over the bowl.

Pour the lavender-infused cream mixture through the sieve. Stir until well-combined, then pour the egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan.

Wash the bowl and strainer; dry thoroughly. Pour another half-cup of heavy cream into the bowl, and add the zest from one Meyer lemon. Set the strainer over the bowl again.

Return the saucepan to the stove; cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about a yogurt-like consistency.) Pour this custard through the strainer, and stir to combine with the cream in the bowl.

Cool the custard in an ice bath, or chill in the fridge.

Once the custard is cold, pour into an ice-cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's instructions. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of lavender flowers. Lavender sablés go well on the side.

Lavender Caramels

(Makes anywhere from sixty to a hundred, depending how large you cut them.)

Line a deep baking sheet or baking tray with parchment paper.

Pour one cup of heavy cream into a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in a tablespoon of dried lavender blossoms. Place over low heat; once the cream reaches the temperature of a warm bath (stick your finger in to check), turn off the burner. Strain out the lavender blossoms; keep the cream warm.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine one-and-a-half-cups white sugar, a quarter-cup of golden syrup, and a quarter-cup of water. Place over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, the mixture will start to bubble rapidly.

Let the mixture boil until it turns golden in color, then whisk in five tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of salt. Whisk in the lavender cream.

The mixture will continue to bubble away; once the bubbles start forming and breaking more slowly, stick a candy thermometer into the mixture. Cook until you hit 240F, then remove the pan from the burner and pour the caramel into your parchment-lined pan.

Allow the caramel to cool until it is barely warm to the touch. Cut the caramel into squares or logs with oiled scissors or a knife. Let the caramels cool fully, then wrap in wax paper. Store in an airtight tin.


Cakelaw said...

I love all of these lavendar recipes, especially the caramels. It is amazing how law lectures can be mind-numbingly boring, so you just want to chew your arm off for light relief. I find the practice of law much more interesting than the lectures, but I have been lucky in that I have gotten into an area of law that interests me AND I have managed to stay in-house for the last 6 years. Hang in there for now - you never know your luck.

Kelly Rich said...

'Tis the season for major aromatherapy. I should be reading for my 50-Book Exam (first year comps of sorts), but instead am prancing about with garlands of basil (not unlike a queen, o basil queen!)

Thanks for the lavender cookie recipe. They sell lavender at the farmer's market, and while sachets are certainly nice, I do happen to enjoy things I can eat. I'll try it out.

Best of luck with the bar!

adele said...

Kelly - I'm planning baking projects between practice exam questions. I maintain that I retain lecture information better if I cook while I listen. :P

Link has been updated, btw.

Lindsey @ pickyeatings said...

I love these, and again wish I had an ice cream maker. Do you have any lavender drink recipes? I'm actually attempting to grow some in my herb "garden" although there are no flowers on it just yet...

adele said...

Lindsey - I believe it's possible to make ice-cream without an ice-cream maker if you're willing to take the mixture out periodically and stir as it freezes.

I don't have any lavender drink recipes per se, but you can infuse simple syrup with lavender, which I think would go well in homemade lemonade, or maybe mixed with seltzer for an unusual Italian soda. :)

~~louise~~ said...

I'm sorry you're having such a long drawn out session with silly Idiosyncrasies, Adele. I'm sure you will do exceptional with the bar.

Have I ever told you how much I adore lavender? My plants are just beginning to bloom. I can not wait!!! I love all of these recipes although, I am leaning toward the Lavender Caramels. They sound sinful!

I believe wine can be made with lavender flowers. I'll have to check. I have a wonderful recipe for Lavender Rose Angel Food Cake I wouldn't mind sharing:) I also found a link for Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Grapefruit Frosting @ Baa, Baa Cupcake. They sound good don't they? You can also make sorbet with lavender flowers. Oh my I could go on and on. You made a GREAT buy!

Thank you so much for sharing...Good Luck with the bar.

Don't forget, You're Invited to the Picnic Game and "strutting your stuff" with the letter S. Oh goodie:)