“ Brand: Waitrose / Type: Sugar „
Lavender is actually a plant which is in the same family as all the major herbs we use in cooking which is why it is so delicious when eaten, as well as in all the other uses we more traditionally think of. I must admit until recently I associated it with little bags my gran used to make with old remnants, which she would then place in my drawer to snuggle up to my socks!-but you can eat it -honestly, and it is even very popular in the finest restaurants in the world.
Cooking with lavender is something I have done ever since I went on holiday to The Isle of Skye some years ago when our journey took us across the scenic ferry which runs from Glenelg to Kylerhea. The valley in Glenelg was home to a wonderful tearoom which was a retreat nestled in the shelter of the peace and quiet. Here they served lavender shortbread which tasted divine as you sat in serenity amidst nothing but the sound of chimes -delicate bells in the wind.
On returning home I scoured recipe books and the internet for ideas, and it wasn't long before I came across what was to be a staple ingredient for any lavender recipe, "Lavender Sugar." The one I love is sold in Waitrose and is £3.99 for 300g. This sounds expensive but you really don't need much.
Presented in a lovely kilner jar this will keep fresh for years. It looks lovely on the shelf and reminds me of the bottled fruit my gran used to make when greengages were in season. Part of the Cooks Ingredients range, which I have to compliment Waitrose on, because I have found many very useful items in here. The front of the jar describes the product as a sprinkle of lavender sugar, and it also states that it is fair-trade.
So as you look into the jar you see lovely shimmering sugar crystals with a fragrant aroma provided by copious amounts of lavender flowers. The smell is very strong and you wonder what on earth anyone would do with it, as some would say it should be reserved for old ladies!
My advice is to use it sparingly. Don't substitute all the sugar in a recipe because it will be too strong and overpowering, what you are looking for is a hint of lavender and a delicate summer flavour. So what do I use it for?
The first thing I do is to simply sprinkle it over a Victoria sandwich as a topping. This is a lovely simple decoration and it looks really pretty. If you read my review on my Lemon and Lavender Mothers day cake you will know that I also use it in this very simple but delicious recipe for a spring cake, which is full of flavour and is perfect to serve at this time of year.
Making Lavender shortbread is really simple and here is a recipe I have adapted
100g unsalted butter, softened
30g caster sugar
20g lavender sugar
100g plain flour
50g corn flour
Grated rind of one lemon
A pinch of lavender sugar to sprinkle after baking
Beat the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until soft and creamy. Then add the lemon rind and the flours. At this point the mixture will be crumbs and you have to gather it together with your hands into a ball. You can be quite firm and then you transfer it into an 8 inch loose bottomed cake tin and press it down firmly.
Bake at 160C/gas 3 for 30-35 minutes until light golden. Mark the shortbread into 12 wedges and then leave to cool in the tin. I have some just coming out of the oven in 5 minutes so I'll let you know how they are at the end of this article.
Of course you can also grow lavender, dry the flowers, and make your own lavender sugar, it isn't hard to do and having dried the flowers you simply crush in a pestle and mortar and add to sugar. This saves money and is fun to do.
Another wonderful thing is to add a small amount of the sugar to fresh cream. This is wonderful on apple pie and gooseberry crumble, and it really makes a change and looks like you have made something really different.
Lavender sugar is a really convenient and easy way to produce home made cakes and biscuits which have something really special about them. Don't be frightened of trying it as so long as you use it sparingly you will be delighted with the results.
French farmers even graze lambs on fields of lavender to make their meat floral, and although I wouldn't want to eat any being veggie, it is certainly testament to something which is providing great flavour and quality.
So here I am with my tea pot and shortbread slice freshly out of the oven. My goodness these are so much nicer in cooking than wasted in sock drawers! They melt in your mouth and the taste of the sugar is divine. Sprinkle a little more sugar on when you take them out of the oven and you will soon have shortbread to die for! The house smells lovely too and the biscuit is floral and fragrant.
Lavender sugar is part of a range sold by Waitrose which also includes vanilla sugar which is also a real asset to any kitchen.