Lemon Lavender Berry Cake

Culinary Lavender is an incredibly versatile herb for cooking.  In today’s  home kitchens, fresh edible flowers are making a comeback as enhancements to both the flavor and appearance of food. As a member of the  mint family  it  is also  closely related to rosemary, sage, and thyme.   It is best used with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory.

Lavender has been a favorite herb for centuries. The historic use and recognition of lavender is almost as old the history of man.  As an herb, lavender has been in documented use for over 2,500 years. In ancient times lavender was used for mummification and perfume by the Egyptian’s, Phoenicians, and peoples of Arabia.  The Greeks and the Romans bathed in lavender scented water and it was from the Latin word “lavo” meaning “to wash” that the herb took it’s name.  Perhaps first domesticated by the Arabians, lavender spread across Europe from Greece.  Around 600 BC lavender may have come from the Greek Hyeres Islands into France and is now common in France, Spain, Italy and England.

The ‘English’ lavender varieties were not locally developed in England but rather introduced in the 1600s right around the time the first lavender plants were making their way to the Americas. English Lavender (l. angustifolia and munstead) has the sweetest fragrance of all the lavenders and is the one most commonly used in cooking.  The uses of lavender are limited only by your imagination.  Culinary Lavender has a sweet, floral flavor, with lemon and citrus notes.  The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying.

Queen Elizabeth I of England valued lavender as a conserve and a perfume.  It has been said that she commanded that the royal table should never be without conserve of lavender and she issued orders to her gardeners that fresh lavender flowers should be available all year round!  She also drank an abundance of Lavender tea to help ease her migraines and used it as a body perfume. Queen Victoria of England is most notable for making Lavender popular across England and it could be found, in one form or another, in every one of her rooms, as she used it to wash floors and furniture, freshen the air, and had it strewn among the linens. During the First World War, nurses bathed soldiers’ wounds with lavender washes.  To this day, the French continue to send baby lamb to graze in fields of lavender, so their meat will be tender and fragrant.

But I digress……the subject at hand was desserts.

This lemon lavender berry cake is soooooo good. It is not too sweet, but just sweet and savory  enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sometimes, Bundt cakes can end up heavy, dry and tasteless. This one, I promise you, is neither of those things. Buttermilk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and plenty of butter make sure the cake remains light and airy and moist and full of flavor. The cake is perfect for tea time or even served for brunch on a Sunday morning.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients:
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 egg whites, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lavender extract (See Cook’s Notes)
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, optional

Confectioner’s sugar, for  dusting

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Using vegetable cooking spray, coat a 10 cup capacity Bundt cake pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Whisk until completely mixed.
In a standing mixer or with a hand held mixer and a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk in eggs, egg whites, vanilla extract, and lavender extract on a high speed until combined, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides as needed.

On a low speed, whisk the flour mixture to the egg mixture until just combined.

Still on a low speed, pour in the buttermilk and lemon juice, mixing until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries and raspberries until just combined.

Pour batter evenly into the prepared. Gently tap the pan on the counter top to release any air bubbles. Place the cake in the oven. Bake for 30 -45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of each cake. Set on a wire rack to cool, at least one hour and remove from the cake pan

Dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar. Garnish with berries, if desired and serve.

Cook’s Notes:
If you are having trouble finding lavender extract in your area, do not fret. There is a relatively new product by Taylor & Colledge Lavender that manufactures lavender a paste, made from the finest Lavender (Lavandula angustifoila) grown in southern Australia. In January, flowers are harvested and distilled to capture the true essence at its source. This naturally flavored paste delivers a fresh new taste to try in your recipes. Just recently, the product is being carried in most major supermarkets in the United States and can be bought on line for a fairly reasonable price. The paste comes in a 1.4 oz (40 g) tube, and the beauty of it all is that you only need to use 1/2 teaspoon for most recipes, making it very economical.

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Taylor & Colledge Extract Paste, Lavender, 1.4 Ounce


Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt Pan, One, Gold

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Caramel Coconut Flan

IMG_0096 3

 

Serves 6

Ingredients:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
One 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325°F.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir the sugar continually with a wooden spoon until it begins to brown and clump together. Keep stirring until the sugar completely melts and dissolves into a golden-brown syrup. Remove the syrup from the heat as soon as it has dissolves as it can burn.

Working quickly, carefully pour the caramel into the ramekins, tilting them to coat the bottom and the sides.  Set the ramekins aside and allow the caramel coating to cool and harden.

In a large mixing bowl, add the eggs, sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk and vanilla extract. Whisk together until everything is fully combined Evenly pour the custard mixture into the caramel-coated ramekins.

Place the ramekins in shallow 9 x 13-in  baking dish. Pour enough hot water in the dish until it reaches about halfway up the pan.sides of the ramekins. Carefully place the baking dish in the oven and bake until just set, but still jiggly in the center, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the flan from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for about 15 to 20 minute.Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight. Note: the flan can be made three days in advance and can be refrigerated until ready to serve.

To serve,  dip the ramekins in a saucepan of hot water.Using your index finger, gently press down on the edges of the flan until the caramel begins to run up the sides of the ramekin, which indicated that the baked custard is loosened.  You can also  slide a knife along the edges of the pan to loosen it up. Place a plate  on top of the flan, grab a hold of both the plate and the ramekin and quickly invert so that the flan is now upside down. Carefully lift off the flan pan. ramekins. Your flan should be sitting in the caramel on the plate.

Garnish with fresh fruit or a dollop of whipped cream if desired.

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Calas: A New Orleans Tradition

 

It’s Mardi Gras, and down in New Orleans, the King Cakes, beignets and other gustatory delights are flowing freely. But if you prefer your culinary temptations with a side of history, allow me to introduce you to the calas, a Creole rice fritter with a storied past.

Never heard of a calas? Most people outside of New Orleans never heard of them either.

It’s basically a rice fritter. Calas are just one of the many rice dishes that actually made the journey during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Calas are made of leftover rice mixed into a sugary egg batter, then deep fried and served dusted with confectioner’s sugar. 

To  me, they are kind of like beignets, only better — with a more interesting backstory. Calas were once a vital part of African-American livelihood in the New Orleans, and even helped some slaves there buy their freedom. The cala became a very important part of New Orleans’ history.

Scholars think slaves from the rice-growing regions of Africa  who were brought to the Carolinas specifically to  grow rice.  And as slavery spread down to the Gulf Coast, calas  were eventually brought to Louisiana. Some culinary historians can trace calas to Ghana, others, to Liberia and Sierra Leone. If you were to go to Africa today, to Ghana or Liberia, you would find the women in the open-air markets making calas.

330px-Le_Code_Noir_1742_edition.jpgIn 1685, during the days of French rule, New Orleans was ruled by the Le Code Noir or the “Black Codes”, a decree originally passed by France’s King Louis XIV. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, also known as free people of color,  and forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and expelled all Jews from France’s colonies.

The code has been described by Tyler Stovall as “one of the most extensive official documents on race, slavery, and freedom ever drawn up in Europe”.  The Code Noir resulted in a far higher percentage of blacks being free people of color during this period where the free color populations  was 13.2% in Louisiana compared to 0.8% in Mississippi. In by 21st Century standards, they were on average exceptionally literate and highly educated, sending their children abroad to study in some of Europe’s finest universities at the time.  Many were were doctors and lawyers, with a significant number of them owning businesses, properties and even slaves. Today, most people  are unaware that the free people of color were highly successful in the era of slavery. It was a very different climate in New Orleans than in the rest of the United States at the time.

In the Code Noir, it was stated that  all slaves were required calasby law to have at least one day a week off. The slaves’ day off usually was Sunday. Many of them would become street vendors. And so after church, African women would roam the streets of the French Quarter touting their wares with the chant, “Calas, calas! Belles calas tout chauds, madame, belles calas tout chauds!” — “Beautiful calas! Very hot!”

When the Spanish took control of Louisiana in the 1760s, they brought with them a powerful legal instrument, coartacion ,a specific type of manumission that pertained to slavery in the Hispanic Caribbean, through which slaves were allowed to purchase their freedom on a gradual basis. They were considered ‘free’ in exchange for compensation for the slave owner. In other words, coartacion  gave slaves the right to buy their freedom. For enslaved black women in the city, selling calas was a key way to earn money for these purchases. These women were able to buy freedom for their families and for themselves.

More than 1,400 New Orleans slaves bought their freedom under Spanish rule. But it’s not clear just how many did so with calas money.

African-American culinary historian Jessica B. Harris  has noted  in her writings that not all calas vendors were enslaved. And the ones who were  slaves often sold them for their mistresses. If they were lucky, they were allowed to keep a portion of the money, or perhaps have it go towards their freedom.

Americans ended the practice of coartacion soon after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. But New Orleans remained home to thousands of free blacks – and throughout the 1800s, many of them, especially women, made their living selling calas and other street foods.

In the 20th century, these vendors slowly disappeared, until, by 1940, according to an old Works Progress Administration report, just a single calas street merchant remained.

But indoors, calas “remained popular as a home treat” among African-Americans — especially during Mardi. Friends and neighbors prepared calas for their families and for the maskers who stopped by for a little ‘recess’ from their parading.

And the fritters did survive in at least one public eating space: The Old Coffeepot Restaurant, a French Quarter breakfast joint, where they’ve been on the menu for decades.

Waitress Gaynell James serves up calas cake from the kitchen at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans on Jan. 28, 2013.

Waitress Gaynell James Serves up calas from the kitchen at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the French Quarter. Gerald Herbert/AP 2013.

After chef Frank Brigsten purchased Charlie’s in 2009, he replaced hushpuppies on the menu at the longtime neighborhood seafood joint —a fixture in Harahan, outside New Orleans, since the 1950s—with a savory take on calas. They have gotten to be so  popular that the restaurant now serve shrimp calas as an appetizer.

 In recent years, calas have also made their way into a higher-profile tradition as well.2010-Calas-Lady-_vo
In 1990, New Orleans’ Haydel’s Bakery revived the old tradition of including miniature porcelain dolls in their Mardi Gras King Cakes.  The Original 1990 Frozen Charlotte Doll quickly became a collector’s item.  Since then,  Haydel’s has choosen a different porcelain figure  that celebrates one of the traditions of  the city’s beloved Mardi Gras heritage and bakes them  into  their famous King Cakes. In 2010, that figurine was in the shape of the iconic calas lady, her basket of “belle calas” balanced on her head —not forgotten. a symbol of a New Orleans long gone but, but still alive in the hearts of many.

And so the cala, a rice dish that is a part of New Orleans’ history, will be saved for future generations to come with this recipe that is presented below.

Makes About 2 Dozen

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked white rice
6 Tablespoons all purpose flour
3 heaping Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
5-6 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions:

Mix the rice with flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Add eggs and when thoroughly mixed, drop by tablespoonfuls into the hot oil , heated to 360 ° F. Fry until browned on both sides.

Using a spyder, remove the fritters from the oil and drain on baking sheet lined  with paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot with coffee or Cafe au Lait. 

 

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