Saturday, July 24th, 2010
I’ve had a serious lavender crush for some time now – lavender infused truffles, lavender whipped cream, lavender butter, rosemary lavender shortbread - like I said, it’s a pretty serious crush.
It all started at a wedding and with my dear friend, Amy, who was the mastermind behind a layer of lavender infused wedding cake. I had been dating Brian for just three months at the time, and we danced the night away, not quite knowing yet that it would be us walking down the aisle just three short months later (no, your math is not incorrect, we quite apparently followed this path).
I do not remember any of the other cake layers, or the cake icing, but I remember that layer of lavender cake…
moist, softly sweet, and deliciously infused with just a hint of beautiful, floral lavender.
Amy, being often more daring in her culinary endeavors than myself, and likely simply altogether more sophisticated, has long been infusing lavender into foods, and her list of lavender creations has only grown over time.
It was two winters ago when Amy was visiting that I first tasted these muffins. As former college roommates, Amy and I have always loved cooking together.
Let’s see – on that particular visit we made double chocolate scones (twice), apricot couscous (note to self – must post this recipe!), Romanian chicken and rice (this one too – so simple and comforting), homemade pasta (didn’t we, Amy? – or should I say, didn’t you?), strawberry lavender jam, lavender brownies, and these lemon lavender blueberry muffins.
These are very special little muffins. The base blueberry muffin recipe is courtesy of Alton Brown. It uses cake flour to create a perfectly light texture and fine crumb, and both baking soda and baking powder for a soft interior and lightly crisp crust. Yogurt adds both delicate flavor as well as acidity to leaven and lighten. There are no lack of blueberries within, and each muffin is dotted with additional blueberries, just for flair.
Alone this is a pretty awesome blueberry muffin.
But add the zest of three lemons and three teaspoons of crushed lavender, and what have you? Amazing, succulent, tangy floral berry wonderfulness – that’s what you’ve got. Flavors meant for each other – lemon, lavender and blueberry.
I think this could also easily be made into a loaf or sheet cake… drizzled with a concentrated lemon glaze? Ah, I think that would make Amy proud.
Nevertheless, it is quite amazing as little muffins, just like this, and little Jonathan can’t get enough of them – lucky him for falling for lavender well before his twenties – to think of all the lavender adventures that lie ahead!
Lemon lavender blueberry yogurt muffins
base blueberry muffin recipe found here
12 1/2 ounces cake flour (just under 2 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
heavy pinch salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
zest of 3 lemons
3 teaspoons lavender buds
2 tablespoons ground pecans mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 380 degrees F. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
In a food processor or mini chopper, pulse sugar and lavender buds together until buds are crushed and dispersed throughout the sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together lavender infused sugar, oil, egg, and yogurt and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients, reserving one T of dry ingredients to toss with the blueberries. Stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated, add 1 cup of blueberries, and stir 3 more times. Reserve 1/2 cup of blueberries.
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and then dot reserved blueberries on top, pressing down lightly. Sprinkle ground pecan mixture on top if desired.
Place muffins in the oven to bake and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15-18 minutes for mini muffins and 20 to 25 minutes for larger muffins, rotating pan halfway through.
Remove from heat and turn over and out, to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.
Monday, May 24th, 2010
Bloom where you are planted. I’ve been saying this to myself for awhile now.
Single and in my early twenties, I lived outside of Washington D.C. and worked in the city where it was easy to do things like take photography, politics, and religion classes at night after work at the Smithsonian, and hop over to Old Town Alexandria on weekends to pick up groceries at Trader Joe’s.
After Brian and I married almost seven years ago now, we moved to a Virginia suburb to be closer to his family. Life in the suburbs is different from city life. There is no Smithsonian, no coffee shops within walking distance, and TJ’s is over half an hour away.
But you know what? Half a mile down the street is a farmer’s market where I can walk to buy fresh produce all summer long. And right next door to that market every spring is a strawberry farm where I can pick some pretty amazing fresh berries.
I’m also able to work from home and not have to commute an hour each way to work. And best of all, here we can afford enough land that Brian can experiment with just about every gardening idea he can dream up (the “big” garden has been tilled and the first plants are in the ground – hop rhizomes).
So, though I love the hum and culture of city life, I am trying to bloom where I am currently planted. Literally and figuratively.
The Saturday before Mother’s Day I took little Jonathan to the strawberry farm to pick berries. I’ve been feeding him strawberries already this spring, so I could see the excitement and questioning in his eyes as he saw the berries on the vines. It was such a perfect expression of surprise and wonderment that came over his face when I picked a berry in the field and let him taste. Such sweetness.
I came home and while Jonathan napped – worn through from the sun and humid coastal VA heat, I made this strawberry mascarpone pie/tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream to take to lunch with Brian’s family the next day.
I’ve always loved strawberry pie. My mom used to make it simply growing up using sliced strawberries and strawberry gelatin on a flaky crust served with cool whip.
Here I wanted to capture everything I loved about Mom’s pie, but eliminate the strawberry gelatin that contains food colorings and artificial flavorings. I also love mascarpone cheese with, well – just about everything, so I thought adding a thick slick of honeyed mascarpone accented by lemon zest beneath the strawberries would be lovely. I also adore strawberries and lavender together, so I made fresh lavender vanilla whipped cream to serve alongside.
There are no pictures of the tart cut since I took it the next day to lunch and didn’t want to be hovering over people’s plates trying to grab a picture, and it went quickly.
I liked everything about this pie/tart except my crust shriveled and was a bit dense – I’m doing well on savory tart crusts, but a simple flaky pie crust (with no partially hydrogenated oils) seems to be eluding me – I welcome links to any favorite recipes!
I ended up with leftover whipped cream, so I decided to pulse it in the food processor and make lavender vanilla butter. It worked beautifully!
With the butter I made part whole wheat lavender rosemary shortbread cookies inspired by this and lavender accented granola bars with dried cherries, coconut, apricots, cocoa nibs and almond butter, inspired by this recipe – both of which were wonderful and Jonathan enjoyed for over a week.
I have been working hard on my business and am trying to stick to a reduced carb diet, which has left me feeling quite tired (must remember to take vitamins, drink more water, get more sleep, and still treat myself), but I hope to be back in order shortly. I hope you are well.
Fresh strawberry mascarpone tart
1 crust for 9 inch pie pan or 9 or 10 inch tart pan
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and tops trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup water
8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened *
2 teaspoons honey
pinch of fine grain sea salt
zest from 1 lemon
lavender vanilla whipped cream (recipe following)
Prepare and bake pie crust according to recipe instructions. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Mix the honey, pinch of sea salt (no more than 1/8 teaspoon), and lemon zest into the mascarpone cheese in a medium bowl. Spread cheese mixture evenly over the bottom of the baked pie crust and place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the pie.
Puree half of the strawberries in a food processor (alternately you could simply mash them in the pan) and place in a medium saucepan with the sugar over medium heat, bringing to a boil while stirring frequently.
Whisk together cornstarch and water in a small bowl and gradually stir into the strawberry sugar mixture. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened into a thick syrup, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes.
Mix the remaining half of the strawberries with the strawberry glaze either in the pan (if large enough) or in a large bowl in order to evenly coat the berries. Gently pour coated strawberries into the pie shell on top of the cheese mixture along with all extra strawberry glaze/syrup. Arrange strawberries to your liking and chill pie in the fridge for several hours (allow at least 6+ hours) before slicing. Serve with lavender vanilla whipped cream.
* If you cannot find mascarpone cheese, cream cheese would make a nice substitute
Lavender vanilla whipped cream and lavender vanilla butter
1 pint heavy whipping cream, very cold
1 teaspoon lavender buds, crushed and broken, using a food processor or mortar and pestle
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon light brown sugar or natural raw sugar
Using a hand mixer or standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine all ingredients and whip till soft cream peaks form.
If you end up with leftover whipped cream, you can make lavender vanilla butter by placing whipped cream into the food processor and pulsing till the fat separates from the liquid. Strain the “buttermilk” from the solid, and you have butter!
Tags: chewy granola bar, cocoa nib, Dessert, granola bar, homemade butter, homemade whipped cream, lavender, lavender whipped cream, mascarpone cheese, rosemary, shortbread, strawberry pie, strawberry tart, whole grain, whole wheat
Posted in Dessert | 29 Comments »
Monday, February 15th, 2010
I had not intended on making 240 truffles last week – If these were gourmet mall chocolates selling for two fifty apiece, we are talking about six hundred dollars worth of truffles! Fortunately, even these of the ritzy homemade variety, were only pennies on the retail dollar.
S., my ever persuasive friend, who talked me into participating in Smithfield’s Valentine’s Day Chocolate Lover’s event where individuals and businesses prepare chocolate specialties for sampling to raise money for the American Cancer Society. As it turns out, I actually placed in the amateur category with the lavender truffles (I feel like I’m in grade school all over again receiving BIG shiny gold stars)!
I had never considered making homemade truffles before this past holiday season when I read about this incredible intensely chocolate, truffle recipe. Normally, I would leave this type of confection making to the professionals, but I had just ordered a large quantity of Valrhona chocolate and cocoa, and I couldn’t resist the idea of what special, petite, and spectacular gifts these would make for friends and family.
This time around, I decided to play with the recipe a bit. After all, I was making four batches. FOUR. Yes, four batches of 60 truffles each. If that doesn’t inspire me to experiment, I’m not sure what would!
After reading about one of rachel eats favorite cardamom scented chocolates, I decided to lace a bit of this lovely aromatic spice, often used in Indian and Thai cuisine, into one batch. In a second batch, knowing that lavender and chocolate make an intoxicating combination, I settled on infusing it with beautiful, floral crushed lavender buds. The last two batches I completed as traditional triple dark chocolate, adding pinches of sea salt, and a bit of extra chocolate to the ganache and coating to suit my taste, and to make it easier to form the truffles.
Have you ever had cardamom and chocolate together? Lavender and chocolate? If not, it is recommended that you try them. If so, then you know what I am talking about. Some things are simply meant to go together – like spaghetti and meatballs, like pancakes and maple syrup, like dark chocolate and me, like cardamom and chocolate, and lavender and chocolate.
Since truffles are no more than ganache (chocolate and cream and perhaps some flavoring) dipped in chocolate, and in this case, dunked a third time in cocoa, it is essential that your ingredients be of the creme de la creme variety. After all, even using the finest chocolate, cocoa, spices, and cream available on the market, you will still be able to make home made truffles at a tiny fraction of the professional retail price. And I will not gloss over the process, it’s not that’s it’s difficult, but it does require some patience, and it makes a beautiful mess, so, if you are to go to such efforts, it is worth purchasing, even ordering, very special chocolate. My recommendations are below with links for where I have ordered successfully online. However, do not be afraid to try the recipe with a dark Ghirardelli or Green & Black chocolate available in many grocery stores. With all the adaptations, I am quite certain Robert Linxe would no longer claim this as a version of his recipe, however, these are some spectacular truffles and I appreciate both Deb and Linxe’s inspiration – not to mention the fact that the original recipe is fantastic.
14 ounces of the best bittersweet chocolate you can afford and access, shaved, in small pieces, or finely chopped (55-60% cocoa content, I used Valrhona “Les Perles” 55%, ordered from here as well as some 60% Ghirardelli when I ran out of Valrhona)
2/3 cup organic heavy cream (I believe organic tastes better, and makes a better truffle, I used Horizon)
Cocoa powder for dusting (Valrhona is recommended and this is what I thought I had pulled out of my pantry, but as it turns out, I used Pernigotti, also very nice, ordered from here)
couple of pinches of fine sea salt (I used fleur de sel)
generous 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (for cardamom truffles only)
2 teaspoons of whole lavender buds, crushed fine using a mini chopper (for lavender truffles only)
Measure out 9 ounces of the chocolate and place in a medium heat resistant bowl. Add a pinch of sea salt, and if you are going to flavor the truffles, add either the lavender or cardamom in with the bowl of chocolate. Bring the cream to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan (apparently Linxe boils his cream three times, believing this increases the shelf life of the ganache – your choice on this step) and then pour hot cream over the 9 ounces of chocolate and flavorings. Stir gently and patiently until cream and chocolate come together into a silky soft ganache. Allow the ganache to either sit at room temperature to thicken (at least an hour) or place in the fridge for about 30 minutes (my impatient method).
Now you have two choices. I’ve tried both, both were messy, but I am a bit messy, so this should not be a good measure for your experience. You may either place ganache several spoonfuls at a time into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8 inch tip and pipe out pretty mounded, rosette shaped truffles (method I used over Christmas), or you may use a mellon baller, or other spoon to scoop out rounded mounds and then roll them between your hands to smooth out (method I used this time). Both work. Pick your desired method and use all of the ganache to create about 3/4-1 inch mounds/balls.
When ganache balls are fully set, add just a pinch of sea salt to the last 5 ounces of chocolate and slowly melt over a double boiler or in the microwave in 30 second increments, checking and stirring each time. At this point, you have a choice to use latex gloves, smearing a bit of melted chocolate on your gloved hand, and then gently rolling each truffle one at a time in a smear of chocolate, and directly placing in a bowl of cocoa for coating. You may do this. It works. I did it at Christmas. This is the key to having a thin crispy shell. This time around, however, I made sure my melted chocolate was not too hot, and I dunked about three truffles at a time in the bowl of chocolate, using my hands to be sure they were evenly coated, shaking off excess chocolate, and then placing on parchment (or wax) paper to harden before coating in cocoa. This method produces a thicker chocolate coating with a bit of puddled chocolate around each truffle. I found that the cocoa coating is quite dense when the truffle is dunked directly following the wet chocolate dipping, so this time I allowed the outer chocolate to almost harden before dunking in a bowl of cocoa powder and using a fork (or cocoa dusted fingers!) to roll them around and fish them out.
You are done! Place completely cool truffles in an air tight container in the fridge to set up for several hours, and store in the fridge until ready to eat. I prefer the truffles at room temperature, but they may be eaten cold. If you make these and experiment with different flavors, please let me know!