Original article written for The Vancouver Sun.
That one moment the bright sun hits your face and you begin to warm from the outside in, you know summer is on its way. Then the colours of local fruit begin to saturate, as if coming alive alongside us. For us Vancouverites, summer just can’t come quickly enough. We wait for picnics, huge baskets of sweet, plump, iridescent blueberries, and Okanagan peaches so ripe we practically have to drink them over the sink with juices running down our chins. And like a well-worn habit, summer unfailingly reminds me of my favourite moments in Provence. Driving with windows down along winding roads skirted with lavender fields, exploring ancient hilltop towns, discovering fragrant alpine strawberries, golden Mirabelle, and crisp rosé mingling with ice cubes. Most distinctively, I recall the scent of lavender intermingled with a mineral heat rising from the bleached, dry stone, like an olfactory terroir. For me, it’s truly a memory so intertwined with summer that at the start of the season I find myself trying to draw the magic of it closer to myself by recreating those cherished flavours in my kitchen.
So with local lavender we begin, and when paired with the luscious flavours of our own backyard: local apricots, meaty and sweet, dark, juicy plums and jewel-like cherries, we have a “summer something” made even more satisfying by bringing charming daydreams right into our homes.
Notes on lavender: Lavender can be quite overpowering causing dishes to seem “soapy”. It has a flavour profile much like a combination of rosemary, mint and rose, with a hint of herbaceousness and fragrance can be alluring when used sparingly. Local lavender can be found at Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm.
Ice Cream with Lavender Black Pepper Kettle Corn and Ripe Plums
A take on a dish that chef Alex Hon created with me recently, this unexpected dessert is a contrast of flavours, textures and temperatures. Use an ice cream flavour with a slight savoury tone such as crème fraiche, yogurt or mascarpone for the best match. The kettle corn is delicious on its own as a summer BBQ snack.
¼ cup (63ml) vegetable oil
½ cup (125ml) popping corn
¼ cup (63ml) granulated sugar
2 tsp (10ml) fine sea salt
1 tsp (5ml) coarsely cracked black pepper
1.5 tbsp (22ml) dried lavender buds
½ cup (125ml) butter
8-10 portions of ice cream
4 ripe plums, cut into slices
To make the lavender scented brown butter, place the butter in a small saucepan on medium high heat and simmer until it is foamy, smells toasted and the milk solids at the bottom of the pan are dark brown. Remove from the heat and add the lavender buds. Set aside and infuse for at least 15 minutes.
To make the kettle corn, in a large stock pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil and corn kernels on medium high heat until it begins to sizzle. Add the sugar, cover the pot with a lid and swirl it continuously to keep it from burning. When the popping slows, remove from the heat and transfer the popcorn to a large heat-proof bowl to let cool.
Pour the lavender butter onto the corn, add the salt and pepper and toss to combine.
To serve, place a few slices of plum in a small bowl, add a few scoops of ice cream and top with the lavender popcorn. Garnish with more plums, lavender buds and edible flowers if desired.
Lavender Apricot Amandine Tart
This is a rustic version of a tart, found in Provence with a texture between a clafouti and a cake. It’s classically baked in a ceramic, fluted dish or fluted metal tart pan. This tart is naturally gluten free and other stone fruits and/or berries can be substituted.
½ cup (125ml) butter, melted (plus more for baking dish)
3 tbsp (45ml) icing sugar (plus more for baking dish)
1 ¾ cup (438ml) almond flour
3 large eggs
¼ tsp (1.25ml) fine sea salt
2 tsp (10ml) dried lavender buds (plus more for decoration)
1 vanilla bean, scraped of its seeds
zest of ½ a lemon
8 ripe apricots, cut into sixths.
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Butter the baking dish, dust with icing sugar, and tap out the excess. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine butter, icing sugar, almond flour, eggs, salt, lavender buds, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest. Mix well with a spatula until smooth.
Spread the batter into the bottom of the baking dish and top with cut apricots in a spiral pattern. Bake for about 45 minutes for a large 9” tart and 25 minutes for individual tarts. Rotate the pan half way through baking.
Let cool on a baking rack and serve warm or at room temperature with lavender buds sprinkled on top. You can also serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired.
*If the apricots are not yet at their ripest and you cannot wait, toss them with a tablespoon of sugar before placing on the tart.
Makes 1-9” tart or 6 individual ramekins
Lavender Cherry Pain Perdu
A wonderfully traditional French dessert, translating to “lost bread” since the recipe uses stale bread otherwise lost. It’s best to use thick slices of dry brioche so as to soak up as much egg as possible to create a custard-like texture.
For the lavender cherry compote:
25 (about 1.5 cups) sweet cherries
1 vanilla bean, scraped of its seeds and the husk
2 tsp (10ml) dried lavender buds
2 large strips of lemon peel
2 tbsp (30ml) brown sugar
1 tbsp (15ml) lemon juice
½ cup (125ml) water
In a small pot, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from the heat and cool. This can be made up to 4 days in advance and refrigerated.
For the pain perdu:
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) fine sea salt
1 tsp (5ml) dried lavender buds
2 tsp (10ml) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (79ml) whipping cream
4 thick slices of brioche
4 tbsp (60ml) butter
4 tbsp (60ml) cane sugar or granulated sugar for the brûlée.
8 cherries for garnish
In a shallow baking dish, mix together eggs, salt, lavender buds, sugar and cream. Place in the brioche in one layer to soak up the egg about 5 minutes on each side depending on the dryness of the bread, the drier the bread, the longer it will need to soak.
In a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter per slice and place in the dipped brioche. Fry on both sides until golden and remove from the pan onto a sheet tray or plate. You can choose to remove the crusts for a more elegant look or leave them for a rustic appearance. Sprinkle with the tops with sugar and brûlée the tops with a torch or under a broiler. Plate the pain perdu warm, top with cherry compote and fresh cherries to serve.