Lavender has definitely become a bit of a trendy ingredient of late: chocolate makers like Charles and Theo have infused some of their truffle fillings with the fragrant dried blooms, Top Chef contestants have created lavender-scented sauces and meat rubs, and various cooking magazines have offered up recipes for everything from Meyer Lemon Cake with Lavender Cream to Lavender Lemonade.
Like fashion trends, not all food fads are worth following, and some seem downright ridiculous (for me, the foam craze that some chefs have wholeheartedly embraced of late falls into both of those categories). But others merit the popularity they enjoy, and the best of those transcend of-the-moment fad status to become central to the American dining experience. Think of something like sushi, for example; when people first really started eating it and talking about it in the States, many thought it too avante garde or possibly even unsafe to eat. But today, sushi has become so common that one would be hard pressed to walk into a room full of people and not find that the majority not only like sushi, but have probably even eaten it sometime in the last few weeks.
My hope is that lavender–once relegated to use in soaps, perfumes, and bubble baths–will be one of those culinary trends that becomes a culinary staple. Though it has a strong scent, lavender (when used in small amounts) imparts a wonderfully exotic flavor that is somewhere between a flowery vanilla and a sweet, less spicy rosemary. And in fact, when paired with vanilla, lavender is especially fantastic, elevating and showcasing its partner in a way that enhances rather than overpowers the overall vanilla taste in the dish.
In celebration of this beautiful ingredient, then, I am devoting Episode Two of my “Front Burner” series to a cookie recipe that has become one of my all-time favorites. Created by Cat Cora (who is both an Executive Chef at Bon Appetit magazine and my favorite Iron Chef), the recipe appeared in Bon Appetit not as a feature, but in an advertisement for spice-maker McCormick’s “Gourmet Collection”, a line of spices that includes a “chai spice blend,” as well as organically-grown bay leaves and thyme. The first time I made these cookies, I bought my lavender from one of the vendors at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, but since then, I have bought McCormick’s spice jar of lavender and have found it to be quite good. The lavender I bought at the market definitely lent a stronger “lavender influence” to the shortbread, which I loved, but these cookies are plenty fabulous with McCormick’s product; so if you don’t have a farmer’s market near you, fear not: you can make these cookies and enjoy them (I have found McCormick’s lavender at Lucky and Safeway, both of which are chain grocery stores in California).
So without further delay, here’s the recipe, exactly as it appeared in the magazine (including the obvious plugs for McCormick spices). My additional comments about the cookie come after the recipe.
Lavender and Honey Shortbread
(makes 12 cookies)
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/3 c. confectioner’s sugar, divided
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter at room temperature, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. McCormick Gourmet Collection Dried Lavender
1 tsp. McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract, divided
2 Tbsp. milk
Mix flour, 1/3 c. of the confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch in food processor, then cover. Add butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add honey, lavender and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla. Cover and pulse until the dough pulls away from bowl.
Place dough in ungreased 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Cover with wax paper and press to form a smooth, even layer. Remove the wax paper. Pierce dough with a fork, then score the top with a sharp knife into 12 wedges.
Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until firm and starting to brown. (Shortbread should be pale in color.) Place the pan on a wire rack. Cut the shortbread into wedges and while still warm (but not hot) remove from the pan to a wire rack to cool.
Mix the remaining confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl until well blended and smooth. Drizzle over the cooled shortbread or just sprinkle with additional confectioner’s sugar, if desired.
First, I want to note that I do not have a food processor. But I do have a Kitchenaid mixer, and I make these cookies in that; they come out just fine. I mix the dry ingredients, then add the butter and beat with a paddle attachment just for a few seconds. I then use my fingers to further incorporate the butter and flour mixture until it is at the “coarse crumbs” stage. I mix everything else in after that with the paddle attachment with the mixer set to a high speed. You’ll know the dough is ready when it comes together in a ball and the paddle is “batting” the ball of dough around the bowl of the mixer.
I find this dough easy to press into the tart pan with my hands and the wax paper (and I love that there is no rolling of the dough, no cookie cutting, no dropping on a cookie sheet and baking in batches…everything goes in the oven at once). I’ve seen Ina Garten do this process by pressing the dough down with a glass on the wax paper instead of her hand, and I think that would work well for this recipe.
I brought these cookies to a work holiday party in December, not sure how they would “go over;” lavender isn’t necessarily something people crave, and since people often associate it with bathing products, they may be skeptical about trying a cookie laced with the fragrant buds. I didn’t tell people what was in them until they started coming up to me asking about them after trying one. People loved them. My office mate (a big, burly guy who definitely thinks of himself as a “manly man”) went crazy for them and keeps asking me when I’ll bring “those cookies” in again. I made them for two friends who came over yesterday; by the time they left, the cookies were gone.
A last note about the glaze: I find this little drizzle of sweet cuts through the cookie’s “butteryness.” Because these are shortbread, they make a person plenty thirsty, but the glaze offsets that crumbliness a bit and really does add that “little something extra.” So I prefer the glaze to a simple dusting of confectioner’s sugar, but of course, people should do what they like.
I hope people will try these because they really are fantastic, and they are so, so easy! Enjoy, and happy spring to all!