Try as I may, I will never be one of those people who is good at growing things. When I first read Nigel Slater’s Tender, I became consumed with the idea of how wonderful it would be to grow your own vegetables, live off the land and eat organically. I saw myself in a pair of gardening gloves, proudly carrying my multicoloured bounty back to the kitchen and making beautiful lunches, but obviously this fantasy ended rather abruptly when I remembered that my only outside space is a 8ft x 5ft steel balcony, and that I am just not very good at keeping things alive. Hence my reliance on the veg box schemes of East Dulwich.
Ollie, on the other hand, has, at various times, utilised our pitiful amount of outdoor space to grow basil, mint and even tomatoes. I think he must have inherited his green fingers from his mother, whose enviable vegetable patch yields enough produce to make several family lunches throughout the summer. Whilst visiting this weekend, she gave me a lovely edible bouquet of lavender, marjoram flowers, onion flowers, chives, fennel fronds, rosemary and bay leaves. It made the car smell so good on the journey home, I almost felt sad to use it.
Feeling the need for something sweet, I realised that I had enough in the storecupboard to make some little shortbread biscuits with the lavender. For what, really, is more summery than a garden of English lavender? As my Instagram feed attests, there is plenty of it out there at the moment to be used. It is quite a divisive ingredient, as adding too much to a recipe can give a pungency that boarders on unpleasant. So much so, that many bakers err on the side of caution and use lavender sugar to perfume a recipe, rather than the leaves themselves. By the way, lavender sugar can be made by simply adding a few sprigs of the plant to a jar of caster sugar and allowing the flavours to infuse.
These biscuits use the leaves of the plant, so only use it if you really like lavender, as the flavour is quite strong. For a more subtle version, you can swap the caster sugar in the recipe for lavender sugar.
175g unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp fresh lavender leaves
100g caster sugar (or lavender sugar if you are leaving out the lavender leaves)
225g plain flour
In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, using the paddle attachment, churn the butter and lavender together for a few seconds until well mixed. Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
Add the flour and work into a smooth dough. Transfer the dough to a work surface, divide in half and mould into two ‘sausage’ shapes. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 160ºc / 320ºf / gas 3. Grease and line four baking trays (these will need to go in the oven in two batches).
Remove the dough from the fridge and cut each piece into 12 slices. Arrange on the baking trays, with enough room for them to spread, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, turning the trays half way through to ensure they brown evenly.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Adapted from a recipe by Mary Berry.