Many people liken the hill country in central Texas to the hills of Tuscany. I can’t speak to Tuscan comparisons because I’ve yet to make it to Italy; however, the first time I drove through the hill country, I immediately thought of Spain. The hill country's topography and vegetation looked so familiar to the countryside I remember in Spain. After visiting a local lavender farm, now I’m convinced the hill country looks like the Provence region of France. Aren’t we lucky to have Italy, Spain, and France in such close proximity?
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the cooler aspects of living in Austin is that you can get in a car and drive an hour or so to any number of delightful little towns. Checking out a barbeque joint we haven’t been to yet is usually our excuse for a day trip, but heading out to the hill country during lavender season was also high on my list (not so much on Eric’s list- next time I’ll have to find some good ‘cue so we can kill two birds with one stone).
We decided to go at the last minute on a Sunday afternoon so I didn’t have time to do much research. I must have picked the first site I found when I Googled “hill county lavender” because, low and behold, the farm we navigated to was called the Hill Country Lavender Farm. It was a sweet but tiny little place- calling it a farm might be a bit of a stretch as the entire field would practically fit in our backyard. Nevertheless, the ladies running the farm stand were sweet and I was able to pick up some really fragrant dried lavender flowers and a little lavender plant that they assured me I couldn’t kill even if I tried. I’m told once the plant is established, it needs very little water and full sun so it should thrive in my un-irrigated, entirely without shade yard. Hmmm… maybe I’ll start a lavender farm and put up a little stand on the corner. That will give the HOA something to complain about other than parking our boat on the street. Heaven forbid the boat remains on the street even 1 hour over the 24 hour limit or we get one of those annoying warning letters. Apparently the fees we pay every quarter go to such usefulness- who needs a dog park and bike trail?
Since, in addition to lavender season, it is also ice cream season, I made a batch of lavender honey ice cream with a candied lavender flower topping. This ice cream has more of a soft serve consistency, as the use of honey in lieu of sugar makes for a softer ice cream. It literally melts in your mouth!
Lavender Honey Ice Cream
from Chez Panisse Desserts
¾ c honey
2 T dried lavender flowers
1 c half-n-half
2 c whipping cream
6 egg yolks
Candied Lavender Flowers
1/2 c dried lavender flowers
1-2 egg whites
1/2 c superfine sugar
1. To make candied lavender flowers: Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a small paint brush or pastry brush, coat the lavender flowers with egg white. Dip flowers in superfine sugar, shake off excess, and lay on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake 1- 2 hours until thoroughly dry.
2. To make the ice cream: Place the lavender flowers in a tea ball (or similar) and drop into a small saucepan containing the honey. Warm the honey and lavender in the sauce pan to allow the lavender flavor to infuse into the honey. Taste the honey after a few minutes to check the strength of the lavender flavor. Warm longer, if needed, until desired taste is reached.
3. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until just broken up. Heat the half-n-half and cream in a medium sauce pan until barely boiling and then pour a little cream into the egg yolks and whisk in.
4. Pour the egg yolk and cream mixture into the saucepan of cream and cook over low heat, while constantly stirring, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a container and stir in the flavored honey.
5. Allow to chill thoroughly before freezing according to your ice cream makers instructions. Makes approximately 1 quart of ice cream.