Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lavender Fields Forever

For the last week, every surface in my kitchen has been covered with Hershey-kiss sized meringues in varying shades of white and beige. I am healthy enough to realize that the first batch was fine, but sick enough that I had to alter everything about this incredibly simple recipe in every way possible to make sure that the result is the Absolute Best Fail-Safe Lavender Meringue Ever. Done.

The reason I've blown through 10 pounds of sugar in one week is that I will be at the 2012 Pelindaba Lavender Festival on San Juan Island on Sunday July 22. My plan is to come with enough lavender meringues for everyone, although I have no idea what that means. There are a number of beautiful dishes in the lavender chapter of my book, but none that would lend themselves to hundreds of servings on a hot summer's day, a drive and a ferry ride and a taxi ride from my kitchen. So I was inspired to make my own. So here I am, a very experienced meringue maker (in the end I tested four methods, with varying quantities of lavender, at three temperatures, with two baking methods), with the ultimate recipe (which I will give you!).

When I first started planning Washington Food Artisans, I knew that I had to include a lavender farmer. I find it really fascinating that lavender grows here at all. Years ago, my husband and I spent a few months in Provence, France, and honestly, the weather could hardly be more different. And yet there are a number of lavender growers here in Washington. The farm I chose to write about, Pelindaba, interested me for a number of reasons: It's always open to the public (always), the owner (Stephen Robins) is originally from South Africa (so am I), and farming is far from his original profession (medical doctor). So I was curious. And his story is even more fascinating than I'd imagined.

Pelindaba's fields are stunningly beautiful when they are in bloom, and well-worth the trip to see them anytime. But every summer they hold a lavender festival that makes the trip even more appealing. And this year I'll be there for an afternoon to talk about Washington Food Artisans and Pelindaba, give out meringues, and sell books. And I hope to see you there.

Lavender Meringues

Pelindaba’s aromatic fields inspired the recipe for these delicate, bite-sized, crunchy morsels that I created especially for the 2012 Pelindaba Lavender Festival. Serve them scattered over ice cream, with fresh berries and whipped cream, alongside coffee or tea, dipped in chocolate, or just as is.  Store them in an airtight container.

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
4 egg whites

Put the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Make a bain marie by heating 4 inches of water in a saucepan large enough to hold the bowl of a stand mixer without letting the bottom of the bowl touch the water.

Grind the sugar and lavender together in a food processor until the lavender buds are finely ground, about 30 seconds. Use a hand whisk to blend the lavender sugar with the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. When the water in the saucepan has come to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and place the bowl of meringue mixture onto the saucepan. Whisk gently until the sugar has melted and the mixture feels very warm (test occasionally using a clean finger). Move the bowl to the mixer and use the whisk attachment to beat the meringue at high speed until it is cool, about 10 minutes (the bowl may still feel slightly warm).

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip measuring about 1 cm in diameter. Twist the bag tightly to close, and then pipe small kisses about 1 inch apart to cover the paper on the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake the meringues for 1 hour and 45 minutes. They should stay white and feel dry to the touch. Let them cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

Makes about 12 dozen bite-sized meringues.

1 comment:

  1. You know, meringues terrify me.. but you make it sound so very easy. Yum.