Once upon a time, I only appreciated lavender for it’s garden fragrance and beauty. I didn’t know that it was edible. But over the past decade that’s all changed. I’ve discovered that this beautiful herb can brighten up all kinds of dishes. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with its spicy, floral, citrusy taste. Do try it in the Lemon-Fresh Lavender Buttercream recipe below and you’ll see what I mean.
If you make sure to use a lavender that’s suited to cooking, you’ll find results will be delicious. Like rosemary or thyme, lavender just adds a fresh, distinctive herbal note, that tasters often can’t identify, but very much enjoy.
Most of the best culinary lavenders are in the lavandula angustifolia family, sometimes called “English” lavenders even though almost all lavenders are native to the Mediterranean area! If you are buying lavender plants that you plan to cook with as well as admire in the garden, some of the most appealing ones include Folgate, Beuna Vista, Betty Blue, Hidcote, Hidcote Pink and Melissa (this last one is pink, too!), plus the popular lavandin hybrid lavender, Provence. Though the plants are handsome in the garden, skip any lavenders labeled “fern-leaf” (lavandula multifida), or “tooth-leaf” (lavandula denta), or “Spanish” (lavandula stoechas) for cooking. Their flavor will likely be overly strong and harsh and even bitter. That’s a stoechas lavender at right below–note that the petals form a colorful topknot. Pretty, but a sign to remind you that this kind of lavender is not tasty!
I’ve found that lavender has a great affinity to fresh summer berries and fruit, especially blackberries and peaches. In fact, I created a peach-berry compote that’s featured in Eating Well magazine. I routinely add a couple flower heads to infuse cooked fruit compotes, sorbet mixtures such as the one here, and even jams and jellies. (Do try the Peach-Lavender Freezer Jam pictured below–it’s terrific!)
Lavender is also delightful in certain baked goods. I’ve successfully tried it in muffins, cakes, and cookies. And it’s wonderful in the buttercream recipe featured below. Notice that in one of the pics below that I decorated the cookie tops with tiny fresh lavender blooms. They not only add natural color, but provide a pleasing little zing of extra lavender flavor.
For a whole lot more information, recipes, and lots of stunning photos of lavender, check out my brand new website called nancyslavenderplace.com It’s devoted to cooking and gardening with, and admiring this spectacular herb.
If you have a lot of lavender, pluck enough tiny purple blooms from the bracts to yield the minimum called for. If your supply of flowers is limited, use both the tiny blooms and the bracts holding them (but not the stems). Then process in the food processor extra-thoroughly.
Use the buttercream to pipe into rosettes or to swirl over cupcakes or cookies with a table knife. Or tuck the frostings between cookies for a sumptuous sandwich filling. It’s best to make the frosting in advance and refrigerate, then bring it back to room temperature when you want to use it. The flavor actually seems to intensify and “bloom” during storage.
- 3 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh culinary lavender blooms or lavender flower heads
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool, firm, and cut into pats
- 1 to 2½ tablespoons orange juice, or as needed
- In a food processor combine the sugar, zest, and lavender. Process until the zest and lavender are very finely ground and the mixture is thoroughly blended, about 4 minutes; for the smoothest frosting texture don’t under-process. As necessary, scrape down the bowl sides and bottom, then continue. Add the butter and process in pulses until just smoothly cut in and no bits remain; the frosting should not be coming together in a mass.
- With the motor running, gradually add juice through the feed tube until the desired piping or spreading consistency desired; remember that the frosting will stiffen slightly during standing. If necessary adjust the frosting consistency, adding powdered sugar to stiffen or juice to thin it. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate several days; let come back to cool room temperature before using. (It actually improves upon storage.)
- To use the frosting: Add small dollops to the center top of cookies or larger dollops to cupcakes, then swirl attractively with a knife. Or, spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch or larger open star tip. Pipe 1- to 1½-inch diameter frosting rosettes onto cookies and large rosettes onto cupcakes.) Or, using a knife, spread the frosting between cookies for cookie sandwiches.
- If desired, add fresh lavender flowers or fine shreds of fresh lemon zest on cookie or cupcake tops for garnish.
Tip: For a frosting with a light lavender color you could add a drop or two of red and blue food colors. I prefer botanically based food dyes, as the usual petrochemical ones can cause allergic reactions in some people (including me!).
Another recipe you may enjoy — a lavender-blackberry syrup for sweetening a fruit compote, brightening lemonade, or adding to a cocktail. Or do try this totally delish Peach-Lavender Freezer Jam.