Stage 13 – SHF in Provence

Brulee Stage 13: Miramas to Montpellier; 173.5km/108mi

There’s mountains ahead and mountains behind but today it was flat. Starting out in Provence the race winds into the Languedoc Roussillon region with strong Catalan and Roman influences. The Pyrénées are ahead.  My only sorry today comes in seeing my young Spainard drop. Sigh. Valverde.  So many cyclists; so little time.  Girls if you aren’t watching by now you may want to check your pulse. 

The timing of this month’s SHF, hosted by Nic at Baking Sheet conincides with my Tour de French Food. My challenge was two-fold as not only did I need to use honey but the entry needed to also be centered on Provence due to the TdF. One of my favorite wine country eating spots is the girl and the fig.  This place is not only relaxing but the food is exceptional.  Sondra Bernstein has got to be one of the hardest working chef and cookbook authors out there.  Her food is very reminiscent of the Provence region as it mirrors the flavors of the Mediterranean or as they say, "country food with a French passion." 

Yesterday the riders ended up in Digne-Les Baines a center for lavender cultivation. I have a certain degree of confidence that the riders no doubt rolled by fields of lavender. So my entry works on manyy levels including a delightful dessert.

First, I know that cooking with lavender makes some wrinkle their nose.  ‘It’s like eating perfume.’ Mon dieu! C’est deliciuex! If used correctly it should lend a mysterious, almost citrusy flavor note. Please, only use lavender labeled as culinary lavender, which means it has been grown without chemical sprays and has no additives–think organic here!

The French seasoning blend herbes de Provence traditionally includes lavender, along with basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. The blend is great on poultry, fish or vegetables. Greek rubs for lamb often use combinations of lavender and oregano. Crème brulee translates as "burnt cream" in France.  It’s a custard, just like creme caramel or flan. Much like ice cream it has a custard base, but unlike ice cream, creme brulee falls into the "baked custard" category.  Although records suggest a 400 hundred year history throughout England, Spain and France, Americans are newcomers. We have Julia Child to thank for the introduction. Half the fun of eating this custard is in shattering the carmelized surface. Learning to prepare this dessert that presents itself as complex elegance is worthwhile as it is very simple to prepare at home.


Lavender and Wildflower Honey Creme Brulee

excerpted from the girl & the fig cookbook by Sondra Bernstein

2 1/4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup milk

3 or 4 lavender springs or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender plus lavender blossoms for garnish

8 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar plus about 4 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling

2 tablespoons wildflower honey

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the cream and milk in a saucepan and add the lavender. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Let the lavender stems steep for about 15 minutes or until the milk has a lavender flavor. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, the 1/2 cup sugar, and the honey until smooth. Whisk into the lavender-cream mixture. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and skim off any foam. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into 6 ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the baking pan with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. (test for doneness by jiggling the ramekins.)

Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the ramekins to cool in the water bath for 5 minutes. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle the tops with a thick layer of sugar and caramelize with a small torch or under a broiler set on high. Garnish each creme brulee with lavender blossoms.

COOK’S TIP:  Place the water bath in the oven first then place the ramekins in to the water bath.  This will help prevent water from sloshing into the ramekins potentially causing sogginess.