Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s…tasty?

When I began planning my urban cottage garden, it went without saying I would be planting herbs.

Herbs, to me, are the classic cottage garden plant, and for those of us lacking the space or the skill to grow proper fruit or vegetables, it’s an easy way to grow something we can use for cooking, and subsequently feel all smug about in a Good Life kind of way. (Not that all herbs are easy to grow, as I’ve learned, but that’s a whole other blog post).

The first plant I grew in the garden was lavender, planted by the back door to get the full benefit of the beautiful scent, but unless I started making those little lavender bags which end up in the drawer with the tights that never fitted and that scarf which just doesn’t go with anything, there wasn’t really anything I could do with it.

Lavender and roses in a Dulwich garden – classic cottage garden style

I did like the idea of making lavender cupcakes, having tried them in posh cupcake shops over the years, but was put off by the rather complicated recipes I’d seen (and by the prospect of fiddling round with red and blue food colouring to get just the right shade of icing).

Then I was given this book, and found it had what looked like a very straightforward recipe. The lavender in the garden had just come into bloom, and I was going to a NCT mums meet-up where cake was going to feature heavily, so I thought I had better give it a go.

The recipe called for 6 lavender flower heads, but I threw caution to the wind and picked 8.

These were chopped up using my beloved mezzaluna (how Habitat catalogue circa 1988 am I?) and added to the cake batter. It felt a bit odd adding raw flowers straight from the garden to food (they had been washed first, I must stress!) but once mixed in, the batter looked pretty much as normal and the smell of lavender was not overpowering – to the extent I was a bit worried the flavour might end up a bit diluted.

After cooking, however, the cakes had a lovely lavendery scent and rose perfectly – always a worry when trying a recipe for the first time.

The icing was, as I predicted, the most fussy part of the recipe – why food colouring bottles aren’t made with droppers in the top any more, so you can add colour a drop at a time, I don’t know – and I ended up with blue fingernails in the attempt to get the perfect shade.

Cupcakes iced and finished with crystallised violets

The recipe called for glace rather than buttercream icing, which was at least easier to make, and flavoured with orange juice. I added crystallised violets as decoration – not strictly according to the recipe, but I love crystallised flowers (would it surprise you to learn the last cakes I made were flavoured with rose water and decorated with rose petals?) and, well, the colour matched.

As it turned out, the lavender flavour was just about perfect – not over-dominant, but not too subtle either, and even my husband, who probably doesn’t quite share my love of flowery cupcakes, liked them too.

My next plans? As the combination of orange and lavender seems to go so well together, I’d like to try them together in a shortbread biscuit…and I’m also keen to do some baking with rosemary, as my ever-hardy rosemary bush grows bigger and bigger, and I’m always looking for new ways to use it. Perhaps my book has a muffin recipe I could try out….

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