Lavender, its bushy hedges wafting a delicate scent in the winter sunshine, is one of my favourite herbs. It is hardy, smells wonderful, cleanses the air of viruses and repels insects. All these virtues and you can bake with it too! I was going through my recipe books yesterday, looking for something new to try in the biscuit baking line and saw a recipe for Lavender Heart Cookies. Every time I’d glanced through the book it had always intrigued me, but I'd never tried it before, as the idea of using lavender in baking seemed a little bizarre...interesting but probably getting results of 'yuk Mum, what are these bits?'
Anyway, in the spirit of culinary adventure, I thought I'd have a go. The ingredients were minimal - butter, sugar, flour and flowers! Lavender florets. So off I went to pick the lavender. Not much was required, just two tablespoons of fresh florets (the little purple flower bits off the main stalk), so I had a nice therapeutic moment selecting the best stalks from my lavender hedge, which is still producing new flowers despite it being the middle of winter here. Then came the mixing all the ingredients together into a crumbly dough, which is more crumb than dough, but eventually did all work together. After its rest in the fridge, I tentatively rolled out the dough, still crumbling madly, but it was eventually persuaded to stay together by an insistent rolling pin. I churlishly refused my youngest daughter’s offers of help in cutting out the hearts...mean of me, I know, but this was my journey of exploration not hers, this time!
They came out of the oven, fragrant and golden. The moment of reckoning drew near. Children, scenting new baking, gathered around. The girls uncritically tucked in, my son, the conservative connoisseur, turned away, but changed his mind at the appreciative noises around him. A cautious nibble and he was convinced – I was not trying to poison them...!
Here's the recipe in case you'd like a culinary adventure too!
Lavender Heart Cookies
90ml/6 tablespoons caster sugar
175g/6oz plain flour
2 tablespoons fresh lavender florets
Cream together the butter and 60ml/4 tablespoons of the sugar till light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and lavender and work it in, kneading with your hands till it comes together into a soft ball of dough. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface. Stamp out the cookies with a heart shaped cutter (alternatively a fluted-edged round cutter). Makes about 18 with a 5cm/2inch cutter. Put carefully onto a lightly greased baking tray and sprinkle the remaining sugar onto the top of each shape. Bake at 200C/400F for about 10 minutes till golden. Leave the cookies on the tray for 5 minutes, before putting on to a cooling rack.
So my experiment was deemed a success. The adults, later that evening, also liked them. ''Elizabethan'' suggested my sister-in-law, and "packaged in a pretty box they'd make a great gift". I have to admit here that, given the choice of a chocolate biscuit or a lavender one, the children would unanimously vote for chocolate, but the fact that they considered them edible at all, when they knew they had flowers in, is pretty high praise for this recipe. I was the one who surreptitiously finished them off the next morning with my tea. That fragrant flavour on the palate, clean yet sweet, was irresistible!
Copyright 2006 Kit Heathcock