Bear with me while I wax lyrical for a minute about lavender. There’s something rather magical about this simple flower which has stood the test of time – it’s been used medicinally and cosmetically for well over 2000 years and to this day it still captivates and inspires.
New Zealand has a number of thriving lavender farms, thanks to our temperate climate and excellent soil. Luckily I live quite close to one (the Lavender Creek Farm in Te Horo, Kapiti) and every year attend its ‘open day’ just to spend time drinking in the beauty of lavender en masse and, of course, the heady scent. The event attracts lots of visitors and, with its backdrop of hills and view of the sea, the location is a big draw-card.
If I could live on a lavender farm, I’d be one happy camper. But reality dictates that I get my lavender fix in more mundane ways. Throughout the year I regularly use lavender oil (bought from the lavender farm above) in my aromatherapy burner – I find it enormously soothing and, as most everyone knows, it’s a great sleep inducer!. Then, of course, in the spring and summer I get to enjoy lavender in my own garden.
So, with summer just around the corner and the lavender flowers blooming, I thought it would be kind of fun to try a bit of lavender in my cooking. I did a search for recipes using lavender and was taken with this delightful recipe from The Kitchn.com. It combines three favourite things for me – Panna Cotta (surely one of Italy’s greatest desserts), honey (which I adore and use every day), and of course lavender.
If you’ve never tried Panna Cotta, you’re in for a treat. That quivering, silky light custard that slides down your throat like a cool breeze is simply heavenly. And, remarkably, it only takes about 10 minutes to prepare – you basically heat up the cream/milk mixture, add some gelatin to it and then chill it in the fridge. So quick and simple… but, it has to be said, a little bit tricksy. The balance of cream to milk, the length of chilling time and the amount of gelatin all conspire to deliver one of three outcomes: a flowing river of unset cream, a rubber bullet or, if the gods are with us, a perfect wobbly confection that just manages to hold its shape when you unmold it. Could anything be more satisfying?
And so it was with this recipe – a perfect Panna Cotta, tasting and smelling predominantly of honey with the slightest hint of lavender, both floral and slightly spicy. Don’t worry about the dessert smelling like your granny’s underwear drawer – the lavender is only briefly steeped in hot milk/cream before being strained. Go on.. give it a try. You know you want to.
Honey Lavender Panna Cotta
- 1½ tsp (half a 0.25 oz packet) powdered gelatin
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- 1 cup half and half or cream
- 1/4 cup wildflower honey
- 1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
- 1 cup milk
- Strawberries or other berries, to serve
- Lightly oil 4 x 5-ounce ramekins with baking spray or flavourless oil, then with a paper towel wipe most of it out, leaving only a slight residue. Set aside.
- In a small bowl sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften for about 5 minutes. Place the bowl of softened gelatin in a small saucepan. Add enough boiling water to the saucepan to come three-quarters of the way up the side of the bowl. Use a fork to whisk the mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Alternatively, microwave the softened gelatin for 10-15 seconds (don’t let it boil) and stir to dissolve fully – rub a little between your fingers to ensure there are no grains.
- In a small sauce pan add the cream, honey, and dried lavender and, stirring occasionally, heat gently to scalding point (but don’t boil) then take off the heat. Whisk to incorporate all the honey evenly. Add the dissolved gelatin into the cream mixture and whisk making sure it is well incorporated. Finally, whisk in the milk.
- Strain the mixture into a jug and pour into the ramekins and let them sit until the mixture is completely cooled to room temperature.
- Cover the custards lightly with foil and put in the fridge to set for several hours, or overnight (particularly if you intend to unmold them).
- Take the custards out of the fridge and let them stand for about 15 minutes. Gently run a small palette knife around the outsides of the custards, then place your serving dish over top of the ramekin and invert. It might need a little shake for the pudding to plop out. If it’s proving stubborn, dip the bottom of the ramekin into some hot water briefly and try again.
- Garnish with sliced strawberries and serve.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Canon 50mm 1.8 lens / Natural lighting