The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lavender Tea Bread

I was in Astoria this past weekend for brunch with two friends. For those of you outside of NYC, Astoria is a neighborhood in the borough of Queens which has the largest population of Greeks in the city. On the way back to the subway we stopped at this great Greek market. The highlight of the store was the feta counter in the back, boasting six different types of feta at least, possibly more. In addition to a half pound of a mild, creamy feta, I bought some special baking powder that I'd been on the lookout for, a sheet of dried apricot paste that I have no idea what I'm going to use it for, and a bottle of dried lavender.

I'd messed around with lavender in food a few months ago but didn't do much beyond make lavender butter. (For those of you who aren't familiar with the taste of lavender, to me it tastes like a mix of lemon and flowery herbal notes.) I tried to do some googling to find some specifically greek recipes making use of the stuff, but saw this recipe and knew I had to make it. That night.

Okay, I made it the next night. I shouldn't have waited - it was wonderful.

Modifications from the original: I keep forgetting I have cake flour on hand. Thankfully I remembered and used it in this recipe (use just 2 cups of flour if you're using all-purpose). I think I can thank the cake flour for the wonderfully light texture and relatively fine crumb. I can probably also thank Bakewise, as a quick read through the section on creaming suggested that longer and colder is better. I also used less lavender, since I was working with dried and not fresh. Feel free to use up to 3 tablespoons of lavender if you are working with it fresh. And the part you want is the little flowery buds, not so much the leaves.

By the way - Many people say a good substitution for a cup of cake flour is to use a cup of all-purpose flour, minus 2 tablespoons, plus 2 tablespoons of corn starch. Feel free to give that a whirl here, but remember that the recipe itself calls for 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons, so adjust accordingly.

Lavender Tea Bread
Adapted from AllRecipes

3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lavender
6 tablespoons butter, slightly below room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp cake flour (approximately 6.5 ounces on my cheap Ikea scale)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325.
Put mixing bowl, beaters, and sugar in the freezer to cool.
Grease and flour a 9x5 loaf pan.
Chop the lavender into smaller bits, as best you can (it will go flying, try to keep it in a pile). Or, if you have a mortar and pestle, use that to crush the buds into smaller pieces.
Add milk and lavender to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until milk simmers, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Remove items from freezer and, using an electric mixer on medium-high, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth - at least 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time and continue beating until mixture is light and almost fluffy, about 3 minutes (mix should hold a shape for at least a few seconds).
Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together for 30 seconds to distribute leavening evenly.
Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the main work bowl in small amounts, alternating between the two. Stir just enough to blend the ingredients.
Pour batter into the loaf pan.
Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out with only minimal, fully baked crumbs.
Let cool on a wire rack.

Verdict? This is a wonderfully light cake, a refreshing change from the usually heavy things that come out of my loaf pan (banana bread - I'm talking to you!). Do try to make this with the cake flour if you can (or the substitute). Now if only I could score an invite to someone's house for tea to share this bread...otherwise I'll be eating the entire loaf myself!


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