Lavender state of mind

July 10, 2015

Lavender Meringues w lavender

It’s not that I don’t have enough work from and in the garden already. Every week now, another fruit or vegetable needs to be harvested and processed. And yet, after visiting The Lavender Farmette, a local lavender farm, for my guest blog column at Fig Bethlehem, I just had to make some treats with lavender: Lavender Meringues, a favorite of ours and a great way to use up leftover egg whites. And, for the first time, Lavender Ice-Cream based on my standard ice-cream recipe.

I cannot grow lavender myself because the winters on our hilltop are too chilly and windy but being a committed locavore I feel lucky that I can get it from a local source.

Lavender Rice Pudding2

What makes lavender so irresistible? I think it is because even after more than a decade of gardening, I still marvel about living in a climate where I can grow both things that tolerate sub-zero winter temperatures, such as red and black currants and gooseberries, and annual crops that require hot summers, such as cantaloupes and watermelons.

In the middle of the winter, when we are cooped up in the house because of icy roads and several feet of snow, I would sound much less enthusiastic about our local climate!

My basic method for all the recipes below is to grind a portion or all of the sugar with the lavender blossoms in the food processor. This gives desserts, baked goods, jams and jellies an intense lavender flavor. I prefer this to having small bits of lavender blossoms in the food.

It is a dusty affair. You should insert the food processor pusher into the tube, or cover the opening with a piece of paper towel, and stand back so you won’t inhale the fine dust. If the lavender is very strong in flavor, you might want to reduce the amount specified in the recipes.

Lavender biscotti1

The other thing: I do not use any food coloring. I have seen many photos where foods with lavender are a pretty light purple. Adding nothing but lavender imparts no or very light color to the food, and it defeats the purpose of making something from scratch and with as few and as natural ingredients as possible, only to add chemicals later to make it visually more attractive. And if I absolutely want to add a bit of color, like in the icing for the Lavender Biscotti, I use blueberries.

So here are the lavender recipes I have accumulated over the years.

Lavender Ice-Cream w Lavender1

Lavender Ice-Cream

2 cups (480 ml) milk (I use 2%)

3 eggs

1 tablespoon culinary lavender

1 cup (200 g) sugar

2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream

1. Process ¼ cup (50 g) of the sugar with the lavender blossoms in a food processor to a fine powder.

2. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour.

3. Strain the milk through a fine sieve into a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed over a pot with simmering water. Add the eggs and the remaining sugar and beat lightly until well blended. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and coats a spoon, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and chill overnight.

4. The next day, add the heavy cream and stir well to combine. Prepare the ice-cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 12 servings

Lavender Meringues in bowl

Lavender Meringue Kisses

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 tablespoon culinary lavender

4 egg whites (about 1/2 cup), at room temperature

¼ scant teaspoon cream or tartar

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (100 degrees C), or the closest lowest possible oven temperature. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Process half of the sugar with the lavender blossoms in a food processor to a fine powder. Add the remaining sugar and process until the lavender is ground as finely as possible. Sift the sugar into a large bowl.

3. Add the egg whites and the cream of tartar and beat with an electric mixer until very stiff and glossy.

4. Fill half of a pastry bag with a large star tip and pipe small kisses onto the lined baking sheet. Leave about ½ inch (1.25 cm) distance between each. Refill the bag and proceed as described.

5. Bake one baking sheet at a time on the medium rack in the preheated oven for about 1 hour. While the first baking sheet is in the oven, make sure to put the second one in a dry place free of cooking smells and dust. After 1 hour in the oven, check for doneness. The kisses should feel no longer sticky and easily detach from the parchment paper. Continue baking until that point is reached. Depending on the size of the kisses, this may take another hour. When done, turn off the oven and prop the door open but leave the baking sheet in the oven for at least 30 minutes, or until the oven is cooled down.

6. Carefully remove the kisses from the parchment and store in airtight containers. Bake the second sheet the same way.

Makes 60 to 70 pieces

Lavender biscotti2

Lavender Biscotti

1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender blossoms

2/3 cup (130 g) sugar

2½ to 2¾ cups (350 to 385 g) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

3 eggs

3 tablespoons honey

Icing (optional):

2 to 3 cups (225 to 340 g) confectioners’ sugar

½ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

2. Process the sugar with the lavender blossoms in a food processor to a fine powder.

3. Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

4. Put the sugar in the food processor together with the lavender blossoms and process with the pulse function until the sugar is fragrant. Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add honey and vanilla extract.

5. Mix 2½ cups (350 g) flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the eggs and mix well.

6. Divide dough in 2 equal portions. With floured hands, shape two logs each about 12 inches (30 cm) long, adding the rest of the flour as needed if the dough it too sticky.

7. Place the logs on the prepared baking sheet at a good distance from each other. Pat the logs into a loaf form. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until firm and lightly colored. Let cool on a cake rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

8. Cut the loaves diagonally into ¼-inch slices with a bread knife. Spread them on the baking sheets in a single layer. Bake for 7 minutes in the preheated oven, then turn them over and bake for 7 minutes on the other side. Let cool on a cake rack.

9. For the icing, put the blueberries in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil while stirring, and cook until the blueberries pops and release their juice. Strain the juice and mix it with enough confectioners’ sugar to a thick icing that does not run off the spoon.

10. Drizzle the icing onto the biscotti in a zigzag pattern, or fill it into a pastry bag with a fine round tip. Let harden the icing completely before placing the biscotti in an airtight container.

Makes 40 biscotti

Apricot Lavender Jam with Scones 

Apricot Lavender Jam

4½ cups (900 g) sugar

1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender blossoms

3½ pounds (1.6 kg) ripe apricots

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 package Sure Jell for less or no sugar (pink package)

1. Process ½ cup (100 g) of the sugar with the lavender blossoms in a food processor to a fine powder.

2. Wash and halve the apricots and remove the stones. Chop the apricots finely and mix them with the lavender sugar and lemon juice in a plastic or glass bowl with a tight-fitting cover. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Mix ¼ cup (50 g) of the remaining sugar with the Sure Jell and add it to the apricots. Pour the mixture into a large saucepan and mix well. Slowly bring to a full rolling boil that does not stop bubbling when stirred. Add the remaining sugar and stir well, also scraping over the bottom of the pan, to fully dissolve the sugar. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

4. Fill the piping hot jam into sterilized jars placed on a damp kitchen towel, leaving about ½ inch (1.25 cm) headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp piece of paper towel to remove any drips. Place the lids and the bands on the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

5. Let cool and set for 24 hours without moving the jars.

Makes 8 half-pint jars

White Wine Lavender Jelly 

White Wine Lavender Jelly

I used Chardonnay but any other white wine will work for this jelly. If you start with a semi-dry or sweet wine, the jelly will be sweeter.

5 cups (1.125 ml) white wine

2 cups (400 g) sugar

1 tablespoon culinary lavender

1 package Sure Jell for less or no sugar (pink package)

1. Process ½ cup (100 g) of the sugar with the lavender blossoms in a food processor to a fine powder.

2. Mix the lavender sugar with the wine in a large bowl and set aside. Measure out 1½ cups (340 ml) of the wine into a small saucepan and cook uncovered over medium heat for 20 minutes, until the wine has reduced to ½ cup. Add this to the rest of the wine and stir well. You should have about 4 cups. Strain through a fine sieve. You can omit this step but then your jelly will be more cloudy; with fewer lavender particles, it will be clearer.

3. Pour the mixture into a large saucepan. Add the Sure Jell and mix well. Slowly bring to a full rolling boil that does not stop bubbling when stirred. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Put a small amount of jelly on a cold small plate (I put it in the freezer for a few minutes) to make sure the jelly sets.

4. Fill the piping hot jam into sterilized jars placed on a damp kitchen towel, leaving about ½ inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp piece of paper towel to remove any drips. Place the lids and the bands on the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

5. Let cool and set for 24 hours without moving the jars.

Makes 6 half-pint jars

Photos by Ted Rosen

Spring syrup lineup

May 29, 2015

Sweet Woodruff Syrup

There is something magic about making your own syrup from things in the garden in the springtime. You start with a handful of leaves or blossoms (free of any chemicals!), a few cups of water and sugar, and end up with a taste so intense that you do not need more than a sip to flavor a non-alcoholic drink or a cocktail. A bottle will last well into the summer, and it keeps even longer if you seal the bottles by processing them in a boiling water bath.

Our house is a soda-free zone so a glass of ice-cold seltzer water with syrup is a real sugar boost. When we come back inside after hours of gardening, sweaty and exhausted, there is nothing more refreshing.

Over the years I have tinkered with different syrups. Some I make every year. Each has its own unique taste, and I really cannot tell which one I like best.

Citric acid is added for preservation to prevent mold. If I only make a small amount because I know we will use it within a couple of weeks, I often omit the citric acid.

Fir tip syrup

Here are the syrups in chronological order of the harvest time (click on the link to get to the recipe):

Dandelion Blossom Syrup – The syrup with the most robust, “greenest” flavor, even if you use only the petals and none of the green parts, which I have resorted to after several trials.

Sweet Woodruff Syrup – The leaves of this shade-loving herb, which is more known as a groundcover than as an edible in the United States, makes syrup that tastes a bit like vanilla.

Lilac Syrup – The most flowery-tasting of the syrups.

Fir Tip Syrup

Fir Tip Syrup – The pine-y taste and smell gives away where this is coming from. In my native Germany it is used as a cold remedy but we like it so much that we drink it no matter what.

Elderflower syrup

Elderflower Syrup – Every year I debate with myself how many elderflowers I should sacrifice for the syrup because I also want the berries in September. Elderflower Syrup is used to make the trendy German cocktail Hugo.

Hugo

Lemon Balm Syrup – This is also used to make Hugo. Because lemon balm grows so abundantly all summer it is the least ephemeral of the raw materials, it can still be made later inthe summer but the leaves should be harvested before they bloom.

 

Photos by Ted Rosen

 

 

Jewels from the freezer

March 3, 2015

Gooseberry Tart

Last weekend we ate a portion of our crown jewels. That’s how I refer to the three quart-size bags of gooseberries that I put in the freezer last summer.

Stashed away between more humble freezer residents like Swiss chard, zucchini soup and blueberries, the gooseberries are my most prized frozen possession for a number of reasons.

First, the three gooseberries shrubs in my garden do not yield that much any more, about one pound each (I should maybe consider renewing them). Picking the gooseberries is difficult and painful. Even with gloves and long sleeves I always end up with bloody scratches on my arms and hands. The gooseberries are small and removing the blossom ends is time-consuming. And every year it’s a mad race against the critters that often get to the gooseberries before I can.

So why do all of this? Because I love gooseberries. I grew up with them in Germany and a summer without gooseberries is just not a real summer.

I had been pondering for a while what to do with the gooseberries in the freezer. I wanted to save them for a special occasion. Until a few weeks ago, using a whole bag of gooseberries for a gooseberry tart seemed a frivolous splurge. Then it occurred to me that in four months, if – and gardening is always a big if – we do not have a late frost during the bloom that decimates the harvest, and if the raccoons leave the gooseberries alone (the row of shiny CDs dangling from a wire taut above the shrubs worked great as a deterrent last year) there will be a new harvest of gooseberries.

So I made a Gooseberry Tart last weekend. Now I am down to two bags. I will use the second bag some time soon – for Gooseberry Relish, Gooseberry Chutney or Gooseberry Soup. The very last bag however I won’t touch until I have secured the 2015 gooseberries.

I just do not wish to jinx it.

Gooseberries

 

Gooseberry Tart with Almond Crust

The crust recipe is adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

Sprinkling some farina over the crust is a trick used in German baking to absorb the liquid from the fruit and prevent the crust from getting soggy.

Gooseberries are very tart. We like it that way but if you prefer it sweeter, add more sugar when you assemble the tart.

Crust:

½ cup whole unpeeled almonds

¾ cup pastry flour

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into cubes

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

Filling:

½ cup water

½ cup sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

1¼ pound frozen gooseberries

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons farina

1. For the crust, grind the almonds in the food processor to a fine meal. Add the flour, salt, sugar and butter and process to a crumbly consistency. Add the vanilla extract and 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water, just enough so that the dough holds together in a ball. Put the dough in a container with a lid or in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

2. For the filling bring the water and ½ cup sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Tilt the pan back and forth to help the sugar dissolve, do not stir. Add the frozen gooseberries and cook over low heat for 5 minutes until they are no longer hard. Do not overcook them, as they fall apart easily.

3. Gently place the gooseberries into a fine colander or a sieve set over a bowl to catch the syrup. Let the gooseberries drain for 5 minutes, then strain the syrup back into the saucepan. Add the ginger and cook, uncovered, until reduced to a thick consistency. Set aside.

4. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan, preferably one with a removable bottom. Roll out the dough between two pieces of wax paper to a 11-inch circle and fit it into the prepared pan. Trim the extra dough with a knife. Place the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

6. Sprinkle the farina over the chilled crust. Place the drained gooseberries on top in a single layer. If they are very tart and you like it sweeter, sprinkle them with 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar.

7. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved syrup and bake for 10 minutes more.

8. Let cool before removing the rim, then carefully run a knife around the rim to loosen the crust.

Makes 8 servings

Photos by Ted Rosen

 

 

 

Pesto Flower baked

It looks like my childhood heroine Mary Poppins needs to reconsider. No more than six teaspoons added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men – that’s what the American Heart Association recommends. Until I read this I thought our added sugar intake was on the moderate side. We do not drink any sodas or soft drinks, nor do we add sugar to tea or coffee. I pay attention to the sugar content when I buy cereal and other processed foods. We do not eat candy and a piece of chocolate only once in a blue moon. Most of the baked goods and sweets we eat are homemade, and I reduce the sugar amount in any given recipe by at least one-third. Still, I concluded that we still eat much more sugar than we should.

Let’s face it, two tablespoons sugar per day for me means to give up or cut back to a tiny amount all the things I love and make with produce from my garden or from local orchards: jams and jellies, fruit pies, crumbles, apple sauce, my favorite cantaloupe sorbet and so much more. I am not willing to do that. You only live once!

But there is definitely room for improvement. One way of cutting down sugar intake is turning sweet recipes into savory ones (without, of course, loading those with fat, otherwise there will be nothing gained).

When I recently saw a video for a Nutella Brioche Flower I was itching to try that technique. Nutella was out of the question – I had plenty of it as a kid and rarely crave it as an adult. Plus I wanted to use homemade goodies in jars or from the freezer.

First I thought I should make the pastry with a fruit filling but then I asked myself whether it has to be sweet at all.

I ended up with whole-wheat yeast dough and homemade pesto, using my Pesto Knots recipe as a basis.

Shaping the flower needs practice. Mine looked a bit wilted but that was OK. I am sure I will get better at it next time, just as I am confident I will find more ways to cut down on sugar without giving up the sweet life.

Pesto Flower ready to bake

Pesto Flower

½ cup + 2 tablespoons warm water, more as needed

1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

8½ ounces cups white whole wheat flour (or half whole wheat and half bread flour)

½ cup pesto

Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing

1. Mix the water with the yeast and let stand for a few minutes until it starts to foam.

2. In a large bowl mix the olive oil, salt, flour, and the yeast mixture. Knead to a smooth dough using your hands or the dough hook of an electric mixer. The dough should be slightly tacky; add more water a teaspoon at a time as needed.

3. Cover and let rise for 2 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it on the medium rack of the oven.

Cutting circles

5. Roll out half of the dough on a floured surface to a 10×20-inch rectangle. Using a 9-inch cake pan, cut out two 9-inch circles with a pastry wheel. Gently lift the circles and place them aside on a large, lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Evenly spread it with pesto, leaving 1 inch free all around.

6. Add the dough scraps to the remaining dough and knead until smooth. Add a few teaspoons of water if the dough seems dry. Roll out the second half of the dough and cut out two more dough circles as described. Place the second circle on top of the first and spread it with pesto as described. Place the last circle on top and leave it plain.

Spreading with pesto

7. Place a small jar in the center. Using a small knife, mark 16 equal wedges as if you were cutting a cake. Cut the wedges all the way through with a pastry wheel.

Twisting

8. Hold two of the wedges next to each other in each of your hands. Twist them twice in opposite directions. Pinch the ends together to seal.

Brushing with olive oil

9. Generously brush the entire surface with olive oil. Gently transfer the flower with the parchment to the hot baking stone. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Makes 8 servings

Photos by Ted Rosen

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