Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Great Lavender Harvest of 2012

In the fall I travel to the high plains of Colorado for the chautauqua and while there reap the bounty of the lavender harvest. The two lavender-related projects below were a multisensory, uber-aromatic hit.

Drying the lavender

In all cases, whether making simple sachets or tackling fairy cakes, preparations begin with harvesting and drying the lavender. If you're using the lavender for baking, make sure it has not been sprayed with any chemicals. Once the lavender is dry, remove the flowers from the twiggy branches. Save the twigs and strew them along walkways and garden paths. Passers-by will get a pleasant aromatic surprise with each footstep.

Lavender Bath Bombs
Toss a lavender bath bomb into the tub and luxuriate in lavender-scented steam, taking advantage of the herb's soothing effect on the nerves and salubrious effect on the skin.

Lavender bath infusion (click on image to enlarge and read label)

The materials used couldn't be simpler: coffee filters and dental floss.

Materials needed

Put a couple of hefty pinches of lavender in the middle of a coffee filter, tie off the bundle with dental floss, and fluff out the edges of the coffee filter so that it looks like a large white flower. If you like, print out a sheet of labels and cut them out free-hand as shown below. Loop the narrow tab around the neck of your bath bomb and secure with a dab of glue.

Cut labels out free-hand

Bombs away
Lavender Fairy Cakes
Who doesn't think of fairies in relation to lavender? While fairy cakes are popular in England and Australia, they're relatively unknown in the United States. The recipe below represents a happy accident that occurred when converting grams to cups and making a few mistakes along the way. The result is an entirely original and wonderfully light, spongy little fairy cake.

Lavender fairy cakes

Step One: Lavender Sugar
This is a nice little project in its own right and while you'll need this sugar to make the fairy cakes, jars of lavender sugar could make a nifty gift accompanied by the fairy cake recipe.
• 1 cup caster sugar (a much finer grind than granulated; look for C&H Baking Sugar in a container that looks like a milk carton, found in most supermarkets in the baking section)
• 2 Tbs. dried lavender
Combine caster sugar and dried lavender in a food grinder, coffee mill, blender, whatever. Grind together until lavender is thoroughly mixed in. While some advise waiting a week to use the sugar until the lavender has thoroughly permeated the mix, I've found it works just fine immediately. Store sugar in cool dark place and it will keep for up to a year.

Step Two: Fairy Cakes
Makes about 36 tiny cupcakes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Combine the following ingredients and mix with egg beater, or on very low setting in a mixer, for 2 to 3 minutes:
• 1/2 cup self-raising flour (make sure it's self-raising!)
• 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup lavender sugar
• 2 eggs
Then add and mix a little more to create a smooth batter:
• 3 Tbs. milk
Use mini cupcake baking tins, and line tins with little paper cases. Fill the cases no more than 2/3 full with batter.
Bake for 10 to 11 minutes until top is springy to the touch. These stay light colored - they don't turn brown.
Remove from oven and let rest in tin for about five minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, make the icing.

Step Three: Icing
The icing is thin and dribbly and may run off the top and down the sides.
• 1/2 cup icing sugar (powdered sugar)
• 1 Tbs. warm water (use a little more to make icing runny as needed)
Create violet food coloring by mixing a few drops of red and blue food coloring. Test color by flicking a drop into a glass of clear water and adjust as needed. Add coloring to icing a drop at a time until you have a pale lavender color.
Ice the fairy cakes. Garnish with a tiny sprig of fresh lavender.
Again, all lavender used should be free of chemical sprays.

Guaranteed to blow the mind of even the most discriminating fairy

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