Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Baking with lavender

I love lavender in deserts. I love it deeply in a way that makes me place my hands over my heart, pressing my chest as if to aid the sigh emitting from my smiling face. I love the warm fragrant cloud that wafts from the oven as the door opens to reveal lavender shortbread. I love the perfumed flavor that as a child I could only describe as tasting like purple. I love the deep color of the buds, even if it all but disappears during baking.

Lavender possesses a warm musky quality that stands well inside baked goods. This is especially true with simple pastries, like shortbread, scones, and pound cake, all of which carry the rustic heart of the countryside where they have been faithfully made for generations. These plain desserts, often prepared for the familiar companionship of a friend over for tea, or a family dinner, are best paired with a single, familiar companion. An old friend like Lavender.

I have become particularly fond of the lavender-lemon pound cake recipe Claudia Flemming included in her cookbook. So much, in fact, that it has found it's way on to my menu, which is budding with the first flavors of spring. It is served warm, aside a buttermilk pannacotta, fringed with puckery slices of sugar poached lemon.

This cake had a rich buttery flavor and a dense tight crumb, as all good pound cakes must. This weighty quality, not only justifies a name like "pound" cake, but it lends itself so well to soaking. As a child pound cake was "soaked" with chocolate syrup (hersheys, if you must know), which never failed to delight me. This cake, however, is soaked in a more adult syrup, a lemon syrup steeped with lavender.

To encourage a thorough soaking, the cake is poked with a series of small deep holes, and brushed with half a cup of lemon lavender syrup. The bright flavor of the syrup penetrates the buttery cake , adding both moisture and a burst of lemon-lavender flavor.

Humble the pound cake may be, but it will always have a home on my menu's for just that reason. I suspect those of you who share my love for lavender will also make a home for this cake in your own kitchen. For the others, those that think lavender is a scent for soap, not a flavor for food, omit the lavender and you have an incredible lemon pound cake on your hands!

Lavender-Lemon Pound Cake
Claudia Flemming

for the cake
1 cup butter
1 tbsp lavender
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla

for the syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp lavender

Preheat the oven to 350

1. Melt the butter over a medium flame with the lavender. When this is melted completely, remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt together. Prepare the loaf pan. Grease the pan on all the inside surfaces. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan, and press it into the bottom. Now dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out any excess. Set it aside in a cool place until you are ready for it.

3. After the butter has steeped 10 minutes, strain it into a large bowl and set aside.

4. Whip the eggs and sugar to full volume. I do this in a kitchen aid with the whip attachment, it takes about 4-5 minutes.

5. When the eggs are at full volume, add the lemon zest, the vanilla, and 1/3 of the flour. Rather than dumping the flour right into the bowl, sift it in to reduce the risk of little clumps of flour in the final product. Fold with a spatula until the flour has been distributed evenly.

6. Fold the remaining flour in the same fashion, in 2 batches.

7. When the flour is evenly incorporated, fold 1 cup of the batter into the strained lavender butter. Use a whisk to incorporate. Add the rest of the batter to the buttery batter and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter is even.

8. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. The cake is done when the top is golden brown, and feels firm to the touch. A knife, skewer, or fork inserted into the center will come out clean, or with a few fully developed crumbs attached, but no goo.

9. Let the cake cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

10. While the cake is baking, prepare the lavender syrup. Bring the sugar, lemon, and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the syrup reaches a boil, remove from heat and stir in lavender. Let this steep for at least an hour, until you are ready to soak your cake. Strain the syrup to remove the fiberous lavender buds.

11. When the cake has rested and cooled for an hour, gently run a knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake. Tip the pan and carefully unpan the cake. Remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake.

12. With a skewer, poke a series of holes into the bottom of the cake. Too many holes and your cake will fall apart, too few and the cake will not soak properly. Brush the perforated bottom of the cake with half the syrup.

13. Turn the cake over and repeat the poking and soaking with the top side, using the remainder of the syrup. Wrap the cake and chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours, or overnight. If you must, you can serve the cake right away, but the flavor and texture of the cake will benefit greatly from resting overnight.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anita said...

Hi,
I just discovered your blog and I love it! I'm a budding pastry chef in SF so your entries are a ver interesting read! Isn't Claudia Fleming's book great? It's a huge source of inspiration for me. One of the first times I used lavender was in a batch of shortbread - they turned out heavenly. I'd love to try your version of the pound cake!

May 02, 2006 1:16 PM  
Blogger a. said...

I also read your blog frequently and enjoy it alot! Claudia Fleming appears to be an inspiration to many, continuosly.
Her book and Culinary Artistry really influenced me alot.
I did a white chocolate and lavender ice cream with a strawberry galette that was quite good. I bought a lavender plant that lives on my porch and the smell is so wonderful in the air, lavender biscuits for strawberry shortcake are good too.

May 02, 2006 5:24 PM  
Blogger a. said...

I forgot to ask......
What molds are you using to set your pannacotta?
I'm in search of these plastic dariole molds and can't find them anywhere. Thanks!

May 02, 2006 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Grand Poo-bette said...

Dana-

This looks amazing! And I really like the photos too. Nice work!

May 02, 2006 10:40 PM  
Blogger Shauna said...

Oh Dana, I love the description of your love for lavender, particularly the way you have to press your hands against your chest. Sigh. I feel the same. I'm working on a lavender ice cream for this summer. Perhaps that will take the place of this gorgeous pound cake you have created, which I would love to eat, but can't. (Damn gluten!)

May 03, 2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Anita- I too find much inspiration from Claudia Flemming in the simplicity and honesty with which she presents a flavor.

a.- The lavender biscuits for shortcake sound like a great idea! And I am sorry to say I don't know which molds I am using.... they were at Eva when I started, but they aren't plastic, rather alluminum.

Grand Poo-bette-
Thanks for the compliment!

Shauna- we will find you pleanty of gluten free ways to enjoy lavender...Lemon icecream with lavender syrup? Flourless chocolate terrine with lavender icecream?

May 03, 2006 10:54 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Anita- Sorry, I responded to the wrong comment for you....welcome to my blog! My first lavender experience in baking was shortbread also, and I have been hooked ever since.

May 09, 2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

Strangely enough Claudia's book did not sell as well it should when it came out. Perhaps you might want to link to a place where one could purchase it. I like to use Powell's but many use Amazon.

Working for her was incredible and I tell everyone entering the sweet kitchen that they must buy it.

May 10, 2006 6:19 PM  
Blogger Carissa said...

I couldn't help but think of a lemon blueberry brioche that I had while I visited Seattle last summer. It was at a bakery over in West Seattle and the texture was melting and the fact that it was still warm was that much better. It was funny, it was called brioche, but it was more like a light pound cake. Honestly, even though I'm very pastry adept, I DIDN'T CARE what it was called it was Amazing!

Enjoying your blog! Keep it up!

May 02, 2008 4:52 PM  

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