Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Lavender Sugar

Lavender Sugar

One of my favourite chapters in Prepped is Lavender. perhaps because I owned a small specialist lavender nursery when I was on maternity leave with my first two children. I grew over 100 varieties and there are still swathes of lavender planted up the drive way on the way up to the farm at my parents house. It's alive and buzzing with bees making honey as a type this. It was romantic despite not being most practical business.  It was totally quiet for 9 months of the year and then went crazy demanding every waking moment of my time for 3 months. I sold it about 4 years ago, but I'm still smitten. Elegant full heads of Blue, Mauve, indigo and yes even pink, lavender is perhaps one of the most sophisticated and delectable tastes you can use in cooking, and yet we underuse this fragrant herb.   Lavender itself has Chameleon type properties.  It is a relative of both mint and rosemary and has the ability to meld the right tones into the accompanying food. Look at the shape of a sprig of rosemary and you will see the similarity in the structure of the leaves.

If lavender was a person then it would be someone who always manages to say the right thing at the right moment. It uses exactly the right tone to suit the dish it is in. the good thing about my recipes in Prepped is that I've worked for so long with this herb that I've worked out the right balance.  Too much dominates and too little is not noticeable. It's worth buying a recipe book with perfectly balanced recipes because it is a peculiar herb to get spot on.  I know  .. it took me  long time to get he balance just right, but one of the easiest ways of doing this in sweet dishes id by using lavender sugar.. The recipe is below.

The varieties grown commercially for perfume have very different properties from the Cottage Garden Angustifolia used for cooking, and would be utterly revolting in food.  Although what is interesting to note, all the same, is that as a product it is used to add middle and top notes to a scent. This is exactly how I would describe is use in cooking. Lavender  overlays a sweet fruity floral mintyness to food in the same way vanilla adds sweetness with out the sugar.   It’s really very hard to describe - but trust me. Try it.

What is unusual about cooking with lavender is that is works two ways - with both sweet and savoury, transforming the everyday into something remarkable simply by turning up in the dish. Strawberries and cream become strawberries sprinkled with lavender Sugar. Crème caramel becomes lavender laced crème caramel, and bread is divine with lavender. (But there is trick to getting it right  but I am afraid that snippet of information is on Prepped) .. and lavender is fashionable to cook with again. If you don’t remember it being in fashion that is because it was the height of sophistication was actually in Elizabethan times when it was said that queen Elizabeth the 1st  refused to sit at a table of food without a pot of lavender conserve to accompany her meal. Cooking with lavender fell out of fashion as the puritans banned anything considered frivolous. I think there are far more interesting things to ban these days, so I think lavender is here to stay.

There are lots of ways in which you can cook with lavender.  There is dried lavender, fresh lavender, lavender oil and lavender essence.  I cannot stress enough to use the right kind of lavender.  There are literally hundreds of varieties, and I have a book with over 1000 varieties, Before you panic and wonder which one to use, the best is the bog standard cottage garden species of lavender that gives the sweet vanilla tones and is perfect for culinary use.  Hidcote, Munstead, Rosea any Angustifolia will be fine.  There are other species and yes you can use them, but be warned that they may be very strong and have a camphorous odour. It's best to avoid these.

The simplest way to impart the flavour, which requires some patience, is to infuse it.  Lavender infused sugar, milk or cream give imparts a mellow even flavour though out, and can temper the strength overtaking a dish.  If you use essence or oil the strength can overpower.  Alternately use fresh lavender, which is lighter and more floral that dried.  That’s not to say that you can’t use dried lavender.  Use half what you use for fresh, as it is more concentrated, and use the freshest dried you can.  Do check it is not musty before you use it.

When gathering lavender, the best flavour comes from picking unopened buds. There will still be some around right up until the end of July.  Once opened the flowers lose the essential oils that impart the flavour. Pick it on a dry sunny afternoon and dry your lavender upside down, well spaced to allow air around the flowers, in a well aired dark environment.  2 – 3 days is enough to dry lavender picked in this way, and by drying them in the dark you will preserve the intensity of the colour.  Store it in an airtight container, out of sunlight.  Don;t be tempted to use last years .. you should make a fresh batch each year; if you don’t have lavender in the garden there are many pick our own farms or you could be cheeky and ask a friendly neighbour.

It is always worth checking food allergies with guests before you serve them any food and Lavender is no exception.  To be fair it is rare to have a reaction, but its still worth asking.

Lavender Sugar
I kg caster sugar
8 heaped tbs of dried culinary lavender
 1 In a 1.5-liter air tight jar combine the lavender and sugar.  There should be space left ant the top to allow the jar, when shaken to disperse the lavender evenly.  Over the next 2 weeks give the jar a shake a few times.  Ideally you can leave the sugar for 6 weeks for maximum strength, but I after 2 weeks there was usually enough flavor to cook with.  You can top this up twice and then start a fresh one.
If you are drying lavender from the garden please make sure the lavender is 100% dry before using.

Linked recipe
I can highly recommend making Lavender scones  - they are divine



  1. Vanessa, you take such gorgeous photos! This post has brought back great memories for me when I tested your chocolate and lavender cupcakes. I'd never baked with lavender before - never even tried anything with lavender in it, as it's just not something that's common in North America unless it's on soap or drawer sachets. I've still got some of the lovely lavender your friend from the lavender farm sent me, so I'm going to make this sugar!

  2. I've been so inspired by your lavender sugar. I put some lavender in a batch of apricot jam and it's delicious! I am waiting for some sunshine and will the be picking lavender to dry and make my own pot of sugar!

  3. Yep, great the lavender biscuits. Put it in the bread as well. I bought some food grade lavender off the internet. xx

  4. That's encouraging to hear that lavender only takes 2-3 days to dry - I thought it would be longer. I tried making lavender sugar last year but didn't realise you had to dry the flowers first and ended up with sugar that smelt more like wet dog. I will try it again this year, with patience!

    Thank you for the tips Vanessa

  5. My lavendar sugar started its life last night. I can't wait to start to cook with it, Vanessa!


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