We take Lavender for granted as an ingredient in perfume or potpourri mixtures, but it also happens to be a delightful addition to all manner of sweets, savory dishes and even drinks. I’ve written about the culinary uses of orange flower water before, and have also used rose petals in ice cream, but this is the first time I’ve paired two flowers in one aromatic recipe. Dried lavender flowers and candied violet petals create a potent combination of elegance and refreshment that’s not to be missed. The creamy texture and floral flavor of the ice cream is irresistible with purple flecks of crystallized violet flowers peaking through, just begging to be tasted.
This is what I was making yesterday afternoon when Sandy responded to my Twitter about churning something delicious in my kitchen. I love, love, love (did I say love?) the way flowers add an extra oomph to food. English Lavender has the sweetest fragrance and lends floral, citrus-like notes to recipes. Fresh flowers add a vibrant hue to salads, while dried flowers lend themselves to use in savory stews and breads, as well as drinks such as tea and lavender champagne. You can also use dried lavender flowers to flavor sugars. Simply pulverize two to three teaspoons of lavender with a mortar and pestle (or in a food processor) then mix with two cups of sugar, tightly seal in a container for a couple weeks, then substitute for ordinary sugar in your recipes for chocolate cakes, sorbets and the like.
Though I greatly enjoy the combination of chocolate and lavender, this week I decided to kick off the long weekend with a batch of Lavender Ice Cream with Candied Violet Petals. My husband and I each enjoyed a bowl this evening and plan to serve it at a dinner with friends tomorrow. If you decide to bring this irresistible dish into your home (which I hope you do!) you’re bound to experience yet another boon of adding flowers to your culinary repertoire: in addition to the taste, you’ll get the conversation that pops up when people realize they are eating roses, violets, lavender or some other garden beauty. Here are some curious tidbits about Lavender & Violets to throw into any spontaneous dinner table discussions:
- In ancient Rome lavender flowers were often added to baths to scent the water, which is where we get the name “lavender”, from the Latin word for bathing, “lavare.”
- In Christian mythology there is a story describing how lavender flowers got their heavenly scent – they were taken from the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve, and hence are a little piece of paradise on earth. Lavender smells so pretty that it’s often claimed Cleopatra perfumed herself with it in order to seduce Julius Cesaer and Mark Antony.
- At one time lavender was referred to as the “good witches” herb. Some believed that if you stuffed keyholes with lavender it would keep ghosts from entering your home.
- In Tudor England, the ladies of Henry VIII’s household used lavender for all kinds of things. They placed it among bed linens, dried clothes on top of the plants and even mixed it with beeswax in order to make furniture polish.
- Queen Elizabeth loved lavender. She drank it in tea as a treatment for migraines, wore it as perfume and ordered that lavender jelly always be served at the royal dining table. In Queen Victoria’s time, ladies wore sachets of lavender in their cleavage to attract suitors.
- Today Lavender is used to induce sleep, ease stress and relieve depression – all excellent reasons, I believe, to eat it in ice cream.
- The Greek word for violets is “io.” In Greek mythology Io was the daughter of King Argos and one of the many love interests of Zeus. Zeus became infatuated with the girl then turned her into a heifer to avert the jealous wrath of his wife, Hera. He then created violets for Io to eat.
- The ancient Britons used violets in cosmetics while the Romans made a sweet wine called “violetum” with them. When spring arrived the Romans would scatter violet petals and leaves in banquet halls then drink violetum until they couldn’t drink no more!
- In the Middle Ages monks called violets the “Herb of the Trinity” and used to make violet cordials, both for sale as sweets and for their own indulgence. Violets were thought to be symbols of faithfulness in love and were made into crowns for winners of poetry contests. Wearing a garland of violets around the neck was also thought to prevent drunkenness.
- Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon, loved the scent of violets and wore it as perfume. When Napoleon died, a lock of Josephine’s hair and dried violet petals were found in a locket.
I have seen dried lavender flowers and candied flower petals at specialty and organic shops, but if you’re unable to find them in your neighborhood Kalustyans is my favorite online vendor. Their shipping is lickity-split quick and the quality of their stock is such that chefs in the NYC-area frequently rely on them for more esoteric ingredients. They don’t have everything though, as my mother reminded me this afternoon. She was interested in buying lavender flowers and violet petals to try the recipe in this post, at which point I said something like, “You should buy them Mom! And look around the rest of their selection, it seems like they have everything.” She paused at this, then responded, “Oh yea? Do they have Nipples of Venus?” By this she meant the Nipples of Venus (a.k.a. “Capezzoli di Venere”, which are Roman chestnuts in brandied sugar) I blogged about back in January 2006 and no, Kalustyans does not carry them. You see what happens when your mom reads your blog?
Lavender Ice Cream with Candied Violet Petals (My Recipe)
- 2 cups light cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tablespoons dried lavender flowers – be sure to use flowers intended for culinary use, like these
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons candied violet petals (I used this method to candy the petals from organic violet flowers, but you can also purchase candied violet petals here)
In a medium-sized saucepan combine the cream, whole milk and 2 tablespoons of the lavender flowers. Over medium-low heat bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. Remove from the heat. Cover pan and allow the lavender flowers to steep for 20 minutes.
In a medium mixing bowl beat the sugar and egg yolks together until pale yellow. Strain the cream and milk mixture, pressing the lavender flowers to extract as much flavor as possible. Slowly beat the warm liquid into the egg yolks, adding a pinch of salt. Pour everything back into your medium saucepan and place over low heat. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat until the custard thickens slightly. (Be patient: raising the heat too high or neglecting to stir the mixture could allow the eggs to scramble.) The mixture has thickened sufficiently when it lightly coats the back of your spoon.
Remove from heat and allow the custard to cool slightly. Pour the custard into a large metal or glass bowl, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon of lavender flowers. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
The next morning, strain the mixture again, removing the lavender flowers and pressing them to get all of their flavor. Discard the flowers then freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. I use the Cuisinart ICE-20 1-1/2-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker and generally churn my ice cream for 20 minutes.
While the ice cream is churning measure 2 tablespoon of candied violet petals. You can roughly chop them if you like, but it’s fine to use them whole as well. Add the candied violet petals to your ice cream during the last 5 minutes of churning time – simply drop the petals into the ice cream and allow the ice cream maker to mix them in.
Once the ice cream has finished churning, transfer to a freezer-safe tupperware and chill for at least 4 hours.