Recipe Corner Cooking Techniques

Lavender, a Provençal Gift

Tea BagLong associated with the fragrant relaxation of Southern France, lavender usually has a ready spot in a dresser drawer, the bathroom vanity or the laundry room.

But the spice cabinet and baker's pantry? Mediterranean cooks certainly think so.

To us everyday kitchen tinkers on this side of the Atlantic, the idea of cooking or baking with lavender isn't overwhelming per se; it just seems downright odd initially. "Who wants to eat perfume?" is typically the immediate response -- until our curiosity gets the best of us, compelling us to see for ourselves why Europeans go through the fuss. This is where things get tricky: cooking with lavender improperly may result in a whoops or two, the not-so grand finale being light desserts and savory dishes that taste vaguely reminiscent of linen water.

Yet when things go well -- my, my, my! -- you'll find yourself with renewed enthusiasm and joie de vivre. Start small with lavender, such as steeping a teaspoon of the dried flowers (culinary grade, please; otherwise, you'll be in Soap City) in 6-8 oz. of water to brew a superb evening tea. You can also place dried lavender in a sachet to infuse a jar of sugar or honey over a few weeks. Lavender-infused sweeteners enhance the warm, comforting flavors of vanilla tarts, biscuits and the classically French crème brûlée.

When working with this powerful herb, you'll know when you've hit the sweet spot once there is a soft, somewhat fruity note in the finished product. The distinctive taste is its own present to yourself for the extra effort. Bon Appetit!