Continuing with the roll call of thankfulness, here was a gift from one of the small bookshops that went out of business in Delhi last year. (Alas, there have been too many of those in 2007 — not least the venerable The Bookshop of Khan Market.)
This Conran Octopus publication was something they had by the crateful, stacked along the pavements of Green Park. And given I have entirely too many tomes on 'how to tie this radiant ribbon bow', it was only pity that urged my purse out. However, this book has since paid for itself at least 70 times over!
This Christmas, though, it found an unlikely partner in an Irish import. This was a bag of dried flowers of lavender, from the venerable English Market of Cork. For which another huge debt of gratitude is owed to the Outlook Traveller magazine (which you shouldn't judge by its website, alas, as the latter is cluelessly beyond the editors' curb!). More on the trip of a lifetime later; today, it is time to thank 2007 for one of those rare moments of surprised joy that meet you full on — which you don't, however, see coming!
I had one of those aromatic epiphanies in the kitchen, when I took this recipe on page 114 of The Art of Giving and steeled my heart to part with a precious few grains from that lavender stash in the closet. This has to be one of the easiest treats I have ever baked or mixed. One of the fastest and prettiest too.
Even the wooden spoon seemed to swoon under the wafting fragrance that drifted out of the oven within moments.
They were simply scrumptious, still warm, with a pot of second flush Orange Pekoe tea of Darjeeling (one sugar, no milk, please!). The first batch — of a baker's dozen — disappeared imperceptibly under the noses of the friend at the table and yours truly before the second trayful could blush a rosy hue around the edges.
That second set went down the road to those travel-weary editors working on the January issue magazine — a fitting tribute, I thought, to their foresight and forbearance in sending me where I could find these French buds. The coquettish hearts, at any other times perhaps shy of all but the most ladylike fingers, seemed not too mind the more sustained midnight mingling (magazine! closing! last pages! tonight!) seeing as it was Christmas Eve.
And so popular were they, suddenly so bold as to brush shoulders with the chill of the turning year, that several more spoonfuls of lavender crept quietly out of the closet soon, and made their way across this busy sprawling metropolis on Christmas Day.
Without more ado, then, the recipe — and an unbending at the end to whisper a more accessible secret.
(adapted from The Art of Giving, by Liezel Norval-Kruger and Tina-Marie Malherbe)
125g butter (at room temperature)
60g caster sugar
200g plain flour (I found it helped if it was sifted, as this made a lighter dusting on the flowers)
2 tbsp dried lavender flowers
- Cream the butter and sugar together. (It is supposed to turn fluffy, but I found that as long as the sugar dissolved, the fluff factor made little difference.)
- Mix in flour and lavender flowers — I found it helped to dredge the flowers through first, and mix in the flour before kneading into the creamed butter and sugar. I also found just wetting my fingertips with cold water helped the dough come together more readily, and caused no ill effects in the finished biscuits.
- Roll out to no more than 3mm thickness (or thin as you can manage) on a floured counter. Use a cookie cutter (dipped in flour for easy separation of dough) to cut out heart shapes.*
- Lay on a lightly greased tray and bake 8-10 minutes in a preheated oven at 200°C. Don't wait for them to brown — they are meant to be daintily pale; you just want them firm.
- Cool on a wire rack while you hover over, slapping your own wrist away repeatedly (to prevent burnt fingers, silly! Wait for the steeped tea leaves to infuse... you'll be glad of the company of a cuppa).
And now for that secret.
If you can buy fresh fragrant roses that haven't been sprayed, dry them yourself in a cool place spread on a tray and covered lightly with muslin to keep off dust. Use them for rose-scented French hearts before the scent fades.
Alternatively, try this recipe without the caster sugar and using gulkand — the Indian rose-petal preserve — instead.
I admit though that regal as those are (I made them the Christmas before last), they aren't quite as heady as the true-blue lavender!