Honey Lavender Ice Cream with Candied Hazelnuts

img_3943Earlier this month I made lavender shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate with sea salt, inspired by my trip to Croatia, where lavender permeated the streets.  This week I’m continuing on my Croatian culinary adventure by making ice cream with lavender, honey and candied hazelnuts, all from Croatia.

Side note: I also brought back some amazing white truffles which I used this week to flavor some homemade pasta with butter and parmesan cheese!!!!

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But back to the ice cream!  I previously made honey ice cream  a few years ago by substituting sugar for honey in my go-to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream recipe.  This recipe is a simple variation on the honey ice cream by infusing the milk and cream with lavender and then adding chopped candied hazelnuts.  However, you can change it up and add anything you want like chocolate chips- everything is better with chocolate!

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Honey Lavender Ice Cream with Candied Hazelnuts (adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams)

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 oz of cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup  honey
2 Tbs dried lavender
1/2 cup chopped candied hazelnuts (confession: I cheated and used pre-made candied hazelnuts from Croatia)

Prep
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Cook
Combine the remaining milk, the cream, honey, and lavender in a 4-quart saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Chill
Gradually pour the hot milk mixture through a strainer/sieve into the cream cheese mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Freeze
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy. When almost done spinning, add the candied hazelnuts and spin until evenly distributed.  Pack the ice cream into a storage container. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

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Lavender Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Chocolate with Sea Salt- Inspiration from Croatia

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I just got back from one of the most amazing vacations in Croatia.  Nestled in Eastern Europe, this coastal country along the Adriatic Sea gets many of its influences from Italy and Greece.  The country is peppered with cute little coastal towns characterized by cobblestone alleyways,  restaurant patios reminiscent of a European city, gelato stands, and ancient Greek and Roman architecture all set on a backdrop of the glittering turquoise  Adriatic Sea bustling with boats.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the food!  Who knew Croatia was such a foodie mecca!  Fresh seafood is everywhere and cuttlefish or black squid ink risotto is one of their specialties- I think I ate this at least 4 times in my week-long trip.  Borrowing from their Italian neighbors, homemade gnocchi can be found in most restaurants.  Other specialties include white truffles from Northern Croatia, honey, capers, olive oil, wine, oysters, and lavender.

The lavender is grown in Hvar, a small party island a few hours by ferry from Dubrovnik or Split.  We were there just shy of lavender harvesting season (which occurs later in June) but were able to make a trip to see the lavender fields which are beautiful even not in bloom.  The lavender is sold all over Croatia in the form of potpourri, soap, honey, oil, and plain dried leaves for cooking.

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I, of course, returned home laden with food gifts: white truffles, truffle honey, truffle oil, candied hazelnuts, and lavender and lavender honey.  I’ll admit that lavender in food is a bit of an acquired taste, but I happen to love its subtle floral flavor in baked goods, especially paired with chocolate.  I have a few ideas for the lavender (honey lavender ice cream and a lavender lemonade cocktail) but first up was lavender shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate with sea salt.  This is actually a recipe I made about 10 years ago, before I even went to medical school.  I modified it slightly this time by sprinkling sea salt over the chocolate to add some contrasting flavor.

And don’t worry!  You don’t have to travel all the way to Croatia to find lavender (although maybe you should!), you can find it at many local grocery stores or buy it online.  Enjoy this recipe and look for future recipes on my blog featuring lavender!

Lavender Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Chocolate with Sea Salt

(makes about 4 dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) butter, at room temperature (no substitutes)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons very finely chopped lavender florets (dried)
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 oz bittersweet chocolate

sea salt for finishing

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cover bottoms of two baking sheets with parchment or brown paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and lavender with an electric mixer. Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour, cornstarch, and salt and beat until incorporated. Divide dough in half. Flatten into squares and wrap in plastic. Chill until firm.
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On a floured board, roll or pat out each square to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut the dough into 1 1/2 -inch squares or rounds. Transfer to baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart. Prick each cookie several times with a fork.
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Bake 20 to 25 minutes until pale golden (do not brown). Cool slightly, then transfer to a rack.
Melt chocolate in microwave, starting with 30 seconds and adding time in 15-20 second increments after, stirring in between so it doesn’t burn.  Dip half of each cookie into the melted chocolate and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Sprinkle sea salt on the chocolate before it sets.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Enjoy!
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