Lavender Highlights

The lovely tall arched blossom wands of my lavender plants have been winking and waving at me lately with their most seductive “come hither” look. It’s their last hurrah of the season and they want to be memorialized, not left high and dry.

In that spirit, I went online and visited a few of my fellow food writers and bloggers to see what they were doing with lavender. Over at http://www.seriouseats.com/, an Italian Lavender Honey Spice Cake caught my attention; I’ve always been a sucker for French honey spice cake. Another promising idea for Lavender Syrup, came from http://www.cafejohnsonia.blogspot.com/.

Lavender honey is luscious, but not this time around I mused; so why not create lavender syrup and drizzle it over the cake after it is baked? Thus, evolved Prune and Fennel Tea Bread Laced with Lavender Syrup, a dense loaf scattered with dried plums and toasted hazelnuts. It’s a far cry from the Lavender Honey Spice Cake, but it was my starting point, and I appreciate the impetus. However, it is similar to the honey cake in that it improves with age. If you can bear it, wrap the loaf tightly and let it rest in the fridge a day or two to allow the flavors to meld; it’s well worth the wait. Try it in the afternoon with a cup of Earl Grey Tea.

I have some thoughts on Lavender Syrup. Lavender is known for its therapeutic and medicinal qualities, and can become seriously intense when overdone. This particular syrup is well balanced and intoxicatingly mild. It’s so enjoyable, that I have concocted a refreshing cooler which takes advantage of my current supply of Lavender Syrup: in a glass, muddle 1-2 Tbsp. Lavender Syrup and a sprig of mint, add ice and top it off with Sparkling Water with Lemon Essence.

Prune and Fennel Tea Bread Laced with Lavender Syrup
1/2 cup prunes (dried plums), about 10 large, seeded & lightly chop
1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped, toasted
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
1 1/2 cups flour, optional: substitute 1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted, cooled
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup yogurt, or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/2 cup Lavender Syrup (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×5″ loaf pan.

Combine prunes, nuts and fennel and set aside. Combine dry ingredients thru allspice and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs, then whisk in sugar until light. Whisk in melted butter, then the oil. Stir in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/2 of the combined yogurt and vanilla. Stir in another 1/3 of the dry, then the remaining milk and vanilla. Add the final dry ingredients and the fruit and nut mixture. Spread into loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes until golden and pick inserted comes out clean.

Let the loaf stand briefly, then poke the loaf with a skewer. Slowly drizzle the syrup over the loaf. Let stand 10-15 minutes to allow syrup to soak in and remove the cake from pan. Cool on rack.

Wrapped well, this cake improves with age; if possible, allow the flavors to blend at a least a day or two.

Lavender Syrup
Inspired by cafejohnsonia.blogspot.com
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons lavender leaves or flowers
dash vanilla extract


Bring water and sugar to a boil, stir to dissolve, and simmer to thicken slightly, about 30 minutes.

Add lavender to syrup, remove from heat and let stand about 15 minutes; reheat to just below boiling point again and let stand about 15 minutes, repeat one more time, remove from heat and stir in vanilla; allow to steep until cool. Strain into bottle. Add a clean long stem of lavender for decoration if desired. Store in fridge. Let stand a couple of days before using.

Note: Culinary lavender may also be found at http://www.penzeys.com/

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