Lavender and honey, what more archetypal spring-into-summer ingredients can you get? The one in symbiosis with the other thanks to bees as their messengers. This ice cream takes the meaning of ‘fiordilatte’ (flowers of milk), literally. A subtle, lightly scented simple pure ice cream.
For us in the southern Mediterranean, lavender and honey are not summer but spring ingredients. Provence’s famed lavender fields are harvested in June-July, but my garden lavenders are at their peak and abuzz in April. This ice cream is delicate, not at all flowery to extreme on the taste buds, and makes an ideal dessert to usher in our first sessions of proper al fresco dining at Red Bistro!
Apparently, you’re supposed to pick the flowers not harvest the seed heads. I use the flowers sparingly as I have just four lavender bushes in my garden and can’t bear to pick too many. I suppose if I had a field or two, I could spare the purple haze of one. I had hoped to get the low-down on the Provencal lavender industry on holiday a year or so ago but the men veto-ed my visit to the Musee’ de la Lavande in the Luberon. We all declined a neighbouring museum of ‘escargot’ which boasted some 3,000 gastropods.
But back to lavender…and its properties as an ingredient in food not perfumes. Our family learned early on that lavender is good-to-go when it comes to meals. Husband cooking his signature dish of Buccatini all’ Amatriciana headed to the garden to cut rosemary, a key first ingredient along with the pancetta. I found him chopping the herb furiously (perfume notes flying everywhere) and immediately knew he’d picked lavender. Didn’t he know he’d got the wrong herb? “They all look the same in the dark!”, was the muttered reply. What about the scent? Surely, he’d have recognised the scent even if pinnate leaves look the same? Apparently not!
The Amatriciana was chili, lavender and rosemary flavoured that night. Edible, though I think lavender in subtle amounts in desserts a far more pleasurable experience. This ice cream is as simple as it gets; no egg custard to make, no gelatin to worry about. Just a really fresh, creamy milk to ensure its deliciousness. A mere subtle hint of infused lavender gives it a quirky, seasonal edge. As I wanted something with honey to go with it, I rustled up some brittle to crumble over. You can add it to the ice cream while it’s churning if you like.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- 350ml fresh, full-fat milk
- 150ml fresh single cream
- 110g sugar
- Lavender flowers – about 8-10 heads
- In a non-reactive saucepan, heat the milk and lavender flowers gently to near simmering point (just as it starts to steam and the surface ripple).
- At this point, add the cream and sugar quickly and stir well until the sugar dissolves and all is combined.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Ideally, place the pan in a large bowl of cold water and ice cubes to speed cooling. If possible, chill the mixture in the fridge for a few hours. The length of time you allow the flowers to ‘steep’ in the chilled milk will affect the intensity of the lavender flavour.
- When cooled completely, strain the milk mixture through a fine sieve to remove the lavender flowers.
- Churn the milk mixture in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer’s instructions, until a stiff consistency. Pour into container and freeze. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, freeze in a container and stir up every couple of hours to ensure it freezes creamy rather than as ice particles. When it’s getting very stiff to stir, leave it to freeze completely.
- To serve, leave the ice cream at room temperature but not for too long (this one melts quite easily) before serving to allow it to soften enough to scoop out. Serve with a few lavender flowers scattered on top and with some crumbled up honey brittle (see below) or a shortcake biscuit or plain but fragrant sponge cake.
- HONEY BRITTLE: Warm 125 ml of runny honey until more liquidy. Pour out onto baking parchment lining a 2cm deep baking tray. Bake in a preheated oven (180°C) for 20-25 minutes (check to ensure it’s not burning on top). Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Be careful, as the honey will have caramelised and be extremely hot. When cool, snap up into little pieces and sprinkle over the ice cream when you serve. You can nuts to the brittle if you like. Chop them up small though so they remain coated in the honey; that way, they won’t burn on top.