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Lavender

May 22, 2007

Cookie Lavender: Lavender Shortbread recipe

lavender shortbread

"Is this cookie lavender?" Sarah looked up from her herb snipping with a big grin. "I hope it's cookie lavender!"

Most people probably associate lavender with soap or maybe perfume, but not cookies! Who has ever heard of lavender cookies?

Well, let's start with the obvious: yes, they smell like lavender! (and butter, if that helps) The scent is either intoxicating or...well, off-putting might be an appropriate term. I have taken these to several parties and I love the reactions.

PurpleenglishflutterbySome people smell them and immediately get the lavender scent. I can tell because the response is usually a skrinched nose accompanied by a moment while a polite way of ask if they contain...umm, err, soap is sought. (Seriously, I can see the wheels whir. The thought goes: "These smell like soap! OMG! I can't say that? But she knows how to cook! How could she...but she must have tasted one...but...SOAP!" So far, I haven't laughed, but it is getting harder.)

Others simply can't identify the scent.

Every once in a while, a sniff is met with an arched eyebrow, and an inquisitive glance. Those people get a special little note in my internal list of people I can suck into tasting weird creations. Err, I mean recipe testers!

One bite, however, and the cookies have gained a fan. Never fails. These tender little cookies are melt-in-your-mouth buttery with a delicately floral taste. Nary a hint of soap.

There are several types of lavender commonly available, but for culinary uses, English Lavender is what most cooks choose. Most other lavenders are too strong, being either more camphorous than sweet or simply overwhelmingly flowery.

Interestingly enough, English lavender is actually not a scientific designation of lavender. This common name refers to a number of lavender species with the most common being Lavandula angustifolia officinalis, which is most common and prized for its sweet scent and flavor along with superb oil quality. The Lavandula angustifolia species "Hidcote," "Munstead," and "Melissa," along with Lavandula intermedia "Provence" are amongst the favorites for cooking.

Although only a handful of lavenders are suitable for culinary uses, there are a number of others that definitely deserve a spot in your garden. Some of my favorites are:

spanish lavender

Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) has lovely bracts, often called "rabbit's ears" or "wings," making it one of the showiest garden lavenders. I have half a dozen different Spanish Lavender species, including several shades of purple and one or two pinks, but this yellow lavender (said to smell of lavender and rosemary) is going on my endlessListOfThingsIWant right now!

French lavender (Lavandula dentata) has finely-toothed leaf edges and small, pale purple flowers. It is another attractive, and less common, plant for the garden.

Lavandin (Lavandula intermedia) is a hybrid cross between L. angustifolia and Lavandula stoechas with particularly long flower stalks. Lavandin is commonly used for perfume oil and is also common in gardens.

Woolly lavender (Lavandula lanata) has silver leaves and dark purple flowers, making it a beautiful landscaping plant.

Sweet Lavender (Lavandula heterophylla) is an oddly named plant as it is far too camphorous to use in cooking. It is one of the tallest lavenders, however, with spikes of up to 4 feet.

Cookie Lavender (Lavandula cookieus), which isn't a species, but should be, is usually Munstead, but occasionally Melissa, or even Alba, grown in my front garden bed. Soon in Sarah's garden too.

Continue reading "Cookie Lavender: Lavender Shortbread recipe" »

September 02, 2006

whb: Lavender sugar

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. . This week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging is being guest-hosted at The Inadvertent Gardener.

LavsugarMany people have used vanilla sugar, and more than a few have some in the pantry (jar+vanilla bean+sugar+time=magic), but few have lavender sugar. Indeed, most folk I say "lavender sugar" to look at me blankly. This is too bad and something I think should be remedied immediately. Fortunately the solution is simple: jar+lavender buds+sugar

Lavender is lightly sweet, and adds a vaguely floral note to food. Too much can be cloying, or "soapy," something which using scented sugar helps avoid. It's hard to go overboard because your food gets too sweet long before it gets too lavendery. It's perhaps the best complement to berries out there, bringing out the berriness without dulling the flavor (as vanilla sometimes does). I use it to macerate berries for shortcake, in whipped cream, even in the shortcake. It's also great in sugar cookies and other lightly flavored treats.

If you buy lavender, make sure you get culinary not aromatic as the latter may have oils or other non-tasty things added. I pick mine from the garden — just when the buds are showing color, but before the flowers open — and use them fresh. As you can see from the picture, I'm not the most particular about cleaning out the papery part of the bud, but you could be if you have nothing else to do with your time.

I use about 2 tablespoons of buds for a quart jar of sugar and let it sit for a month before the first time I use it. I seldom use more than 1/2 a cup at a time so I just top off the sugar, shake it every time I take some out and it goes on forever. Well, almost. I usually add more lavender when I have a fresh harvest.

When using the sugar, you can pass it through a strainer to remove the buds or leave them in. I usually strain it for things like whipped cream or sprinkling on berries, but leave the buds in if cooking the sugar in something. You can also toss the sugar with buds in a food processor to grind it up a bit, which is what I do for lavender shortbread (recipe to be here soon).

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