Monday, September 26, 2011
This past weekend I had a wonderful time contributing to a seminar on harvesting herbs from the garden and what to do with them. Of course being an enthusiast of just about every culinary herb known to man, I had countless ideas for recipes. My class in particular focused on lavender. I absolutely adore lavender. The captivating, romantic fragrance, the beautiful gathered bouquets synonymous with English and Provencal country décor, but above all--the delicate yet deep flavor of this magnificent herb.
Although lavender is revered the world over for its’ oh-so-famous fragrance and oil, I feel it is terribly underrated as a flavor. This is because people don’t know quite enough about it. In my opinion, lavender flavor is best when it is the essence of the herb without the sometimes overwhelming taste of biting into a highly antiseptic, or as some say: soapy-tasting, bud. I achieve this by steeping lavender in other ingredients and removing the bud. This leaves behind all of the good and none of the bad. That being said, if you feel so inclined, by all means leave the buds for an even more intense flavor.
These pumpkin-lavender cupcakes were not on my original plan to serve for the class. Actually I had planned to serve lemon-lavender cupcakes. On Friday when I was to prepare all my dishes for the class on Saturday, I was so struck by the deep grey sky, the wind causing the first leaves of the season to fall and dance, and the air crisp with a light chill I just felt there was no way I could serve summery cupcakes on the first weekend after the Autumnal Equinox. I quickly dismissed the combination of pumpkin and lavender…thinking such a floral flavor like lavender and such an earthy flavor like pumpkin would simply not work. I hadn’t ever seen them combined before--I then thought it through again; pumpkin is always best paired with herbs and spices that cut through the deep, saturated flavor and texture. I then thought lavender would be able to do just that. Infusing the earthy, quintessentially icon of the autumn with the lovely, light essence of late summer seemed to be the absolutely perfect treat for the Equinox and for my class. The wonderful people in my class were very intrigued (and somewhat skeptical) of this combination, and I guarantee they were very pleasantly surprised. The combination worked beautifully! And I’m thrilled to have yet another outlet for my very favorite herb. After all that is the beauty of growing your own herbs, learning to infuse them into your creations that are uniquely yours.
Makes 18 cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks)
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
15 ounces canned pumpkin puree, usually ½ can
3 Tablespoons dried lavender
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Over a double boiler on low, melt the butter. Once melted, add the dried lavender. Let steep about 20 minutes. Pour butter through a sieve. Discard lavender buds (unless you’d like to bake them in the cupcakes). Let cool to at least room temperature. I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes.
3. In separate bowl or mixer, add butter, pumpkin, sugar, oil., and vanilla extract. If using a stand mixer, use paddle attachment. Once combined, add eggs one at a time.
4. Begin slowly adding dry ingredients, with the mixer on a low setting. Stop mixer every so often to scrape down. The important key to remember during this step is the less you mix the flour, the better. When flour and sugar mix they begin to form gluten. This is exactly what you want while making bread, and exactly what you do not want while baking cakes. Over mixing the flour will result in a tough cake.
5. Once combined, using an ice cream scoop (for consistency), scoop into lined muffin pans.
6. Bake for 15-20minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
7. Let cool completely and frost.
LAVENDER BASIC FROSTING
Makes about 3 cups
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tablespoons cream or milk
1 Tablespoon lavender
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For lavender color, optional:
1 drop red food coloring
1 drop blue food coloring
1. Over a double boiler, heat cream and lavender for about 20 minutes. Pass through fine sieve and discard lavender buds. Refrigerate until cold.
2. Mix butter
3. Begin adding powdered sugar. Add until mixture is very thick and fluffy. The exact texture will be determined by your preference.
4. Begin adding cooled lavender cream until mixture is light and fluffy, but thick enough to spread or pipe.
5. Add food coloring to achieve desired shade of lavender.
I achieved my shade of lavender by first adding red, to color the mixture a light pink. Then added very conservatively the blue.