I was in the south of France recently, and maybe it's all a ploy by the French Lavender Sellers' Guild, but I am hooked. I bought all the tourist soaps and sachets with shameless glee. Back at home, I've been eyeballing the lavender plants in my garden, thinking graphic thoughts about how to cook with them...
If you loved Alex's luscious Lemon and Lavender Cake, then you'll dig this. If you hate floral things in food with a passion, feel free to leave the lavender out entirely, or replace with some orange or even lime zest, as with Caleigh's brilliant gluten-free version.
Lavender & Vanilla Custard Tart
You will need:
- 500g shortcrust pastry
- 25g vanilla sugar, plus extra for sprinkling (you can make this by sticking a used vanilla pod in a pot with some ordinary caster sugar)
- 4 large eggs
- 100g caster sugar
- 300ml double cream
- 200ml milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 2 tbsp culinary lavender
- Fresh nutmeg (ground will do, although fresh has a better flavour)
For the pastry:
- Preheat the oven to 350C/180F/Gas Mark 4. Very lightly grease a 20cm loose-bottomed sandwich tin.
- Roll out your pastry to about 1 inch thick (shortcrust isn't difficult to make, but having a packet handy is always a welcome thing if you're pushed for time).
- Sprinkle with a thin layer of vanilla sugar. Fold over and roll out again, to around 1/2 inch thickness.
- Gently press into the sandwich tin, so that there is an overhang on the edges. (Use a small ball of left-over pastry to press into the corners) Prick the base with a fork several times.
- Place greaseproof paper over the base and use baking beads, dried beans or rice to weigh it down.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the beads / rice / beans and paper, and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is golden all over. Trim the pastry sides with a sharp knife.
For the custard filling:
- Turn the oven down to 275F/130C/Gas Mark 1-2.
- Place the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla sugar in a bowl and whisk together until smooth.
- Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan.
- Using the tip of a sharp knife, slice the vanilla pod open and scrape out the seeds into the cream. Drop the used vanilla pod into the cream as well, along with the dried lavender.
- Gently bring to the boil, then set aside to cool slightly. Strain into a jug.
- Pour the cream mixture slowly into the egg mixture, whisking as you go until completely combined. Return to the jug.
- Pour the custard into the pastry case, filling it almost completely to the brim, but making sure it doesn't spill over. Grate fresh nutmeg all over the top.
- Carefully slide the tin into the oven and bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden and set.
- Cool completely before serving, preferably with an espresso or a glass of rosé... or both.