More Cookies: Lavender Crescents

Anyone who has read this blog long enough to come across my rosewater-flavored Aphrodite Cakes and the much more recent Frostflowers, should be able to divine that I have a thing for cookies and confections with unusual flavorings.

Many of the flavors and scents that I favor come from spices, herbs or flowers.

One has to take great care with floral scents in cookery–it is easy to go overboard with them; the aroma of rose can take over the palate, giving the impression that one has just used a spritz of Glade air freshener as a breath spray.

But flowers have a long history in cookery, dating back to the ancient world. The Romans and Greeks used essences of flowers in their pasteries and in some savory dishes; the Persians were masters of using distilled flower waters in both meat dishes and desserts. In the Middle Ages, flowers were often eaten in conserves or preserves, and these were served along with roasted meat or fowl.

These ancient uses for floriferous ingredients were not really the inspiration for these cookies–to be honest, I first made these subtly flavored shortbreads as my own version of the “lembas,” or Elvish waybreads of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. I decided to base them on shortbread because Zak told me that he always used to pretend that Walker’s Shortbread petticoat tails were lembas when he played at being an elf as a child.

I began thinking on it, and decided to surprise Morganna two Yules ago with some lembas of her very own. For her, I made them in leaf shapes, and then wrapped them in French paper leaves that are used to line cheese trays, much the way the lembas were wrapped in leaves in Peter Jackson’s films. In trying to decide what flavors I would use, I thought of what Lothlorien would smell like, and the first thing that came to mind was lavender. Then a subtle waft of powdered ginger and the sweetness of cardamom filled my thoughts, and I set to work.

Using a basic Scottish shortbread recipe, which contains only butter, salt, sugar and flour in it, I replaced some of the flour with ground almonds to give a bit of texture. Then, replaced some of the white sugar with raw sugar, because I like the way it gives crunch to pastries, and the tiniest hint of molasses is much more interesting than pure sweetness. Unlike brown sugar, however, it doesn’t darken the dough noticably.

The dried lavender buds came out of my garden, but if you lack a handy supply, you can order food-grade lavender buds through Penzey’s. Thiers are fresh, full of rich scent and have been sprayed with no pesticides.

This batch of cookies, however, instead of being leaf-shaped lembas, are crescent shaped, in honor of a client whose birthday I am catering. Her name is Diana, and she wanted to do a lunar themed party, and I thought that little hand-sculpted crescent moons would look lovely on the sweet tray.

Happily, they are even simpler to shape than the leaves–there is no need to carve veins into the unbaked dough with a skewer, for example.

In this shape, they come together quickly and easily, and look graceful, especially when paired with round cookies.

If you want to make leaf-shapes and call them lembas, by all means do so. Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten it slightly. Draw one side out into a point, so that you have a flattened egg-shape. Bend this gracefully and elongate it slightly so that it looks like a willow or rose leaf, then with the pointed end of a skewer, carve a central vein and a few stylized veins off to the sides. Then, bake as directed.

Lavender Crescents (aka Lembas)

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour (Or whole wheat pastry flour)
½ cup finely chopped/ground almonds (I used unblanched almond slices to start with, and pulsed them in my food chopper along with the lavender buds)
½ tsp. lavender buds, dried and ground finely
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/8 cup white sugar
1 cup cool salted butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Mix all ingredients except butter in food processor until well combined.

Cut butter into small pieces and distribute evenly over the flour mixture. Pulse repeatedly until the dough comes together.

Remove from workbowl, and bring together into ball. Using a cookie scoop, shape spare, level two tablespoon balls, then cut them in half with a sharp knife. Take each half and roll gently between the palms until they form a rough oval, then shape into a small rounded crescent shape. Set onto cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Turn the points of the crescent slightly inward.

Bake 25 minutes, until barely browned on the bottoms and edges.

Makes 40 cookies.

13 Comments

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  1. Could you recommend a substitution for the ground almonds? These sound amazing, but (sadly) I share a house with an incredibly nut-allergic person.

    Thanks!

    Comment by Anonymous — December 1, 2005 #

  2. Whole wheat pastry flour is a perfect replacement for the almonds for nut-allergy folks.

    In fact, the first batch I used had that in it instead of the nuts, and it worked pretty darned well. The nuts were a later addition.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — December 1, 2005 #

  3. I’ve just come up with a legend of how the lembas came to be. I’ve decided that our greatgreatgreatgreatgreat grandmother, was, in fact, a German elf-woman who brought the recipie with her from Fairie and passed it down through the women in the family to you. She also invented the Aphrodite Cakes and when the family screwed the iceing up she told you what to do in a dream.
    I get bored to easily. love you,
    Morganna

    Comment by Anonymous — December 1, 2005 #

  4. I love you, too, dear.

    Sweet dreams.

    PS–The Germanic erls or ells were dangerous critters. I don’t know that I like to think of being related to them! They were always capturing maidens and dragging them underground into their vast fortresses of ice, bone and stone.

    Maybe one of our ancestresses was one of those captured ladies who learned the secrets of the erlking’s baker and when she escaped, she brought the knowledge back and then conferred them to me in a dream….

    I could see that. ;-)

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — December 1, 2005 #

  5. Hi Barbara,
    I love your cookies, they look so delicious. I’d like to take some of them to my blog and translate them into german. I hope you do not mind?

    I don’t even like lavender, but I think I can give it a try for this time… ;o)

    greetings from vienna, austria

    Comment by astrid — December 2, 2005 #

  6. I would be honored, Astrid! Plese do go ahead.

    Still snowy in Austria? I am so jealous.

    We have but a tiny sprinkle over the grass this morning.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — December 2, 2005 #

  7. Wonderful! This holiday we had already been planning to bring back an old tradition — reading aloud from Tolkein while puttering around the kitchen. (Well, one person reads, the others putter.) We’ll add this to our list!

    Comment by BNA — December 2, 2005 #

  8. A grand tradition, BNA–If you bake these, let me know how they turn out.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — December 4, 2005 #

  9. [...] More Cookies – Lavender Crescents [...]

    Pingback by make a sad face » Blog Archive » Lavender Crescents — December 7, 2005 #

  10. Oh wow! I made these thinking that it would be an interesting addition to my Christmas cookie lineup and I was right! The flavors are actually rather subtle and my husband and I finally figured out what we were both thinking as we tasted them…they are an almost savory cookie. I can certainly imagine elves living off them! Thanks!

    Comment by Karen — December 3, 2006 #

  11. Hello, I stumbled across your food blog when I was earching for interesting cookie recipes and I do love you blog..very unique and interesting recipes. I just have a question about these lavender cookies. instead of the 1/3 cup of raw sugar and 1/8 cup of granulated can you use all granulated or all raw?..what would be the measurements? Thank you so much for your time I am looking forward to trying out this recipe this weekend!

    Sincerely,
    Caitlin Mackenzie
    PA

    Comment by caitlin — January 4, 2007 #

  12. Caitlin–if you want to use all one kind of sugar, use all granulated white sugar. All raw will result in too browned of a cookie and it will change the flavor profile. Just keep the white sugar amount the same (1/3 cup) and just add the same amount of white as I specify for raw sugar (1/8). So it would be 1/3 cup plus 1/8 cup of white sugar.

    Let me know how you like the cookies and thank you for your kind words. Good luck!

    Comment by Barbara — January 5, 2007 #

  13. Barbara,

    I just baked a batch tonight and they are a wonderful cookie. You came up with a real delicious and original cookie recipe. The only thing I did a little different was i sprinkled the top of some with coarse sparkly sugar and the other half I made a glaze of confectioners sugar and added some dried lavender buds and those are delicious. Thank you so much for your help and for sharing your recipes!
    Take Care….

    ~*Caitlin*~

    Comment by caitlin — January 7, 2007 #

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