Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

It was one of those summer afternoons where the sun beats down and the air swells with heat. A few years ago I was settling into a new apartment, unpacking the expectations and hopes of a recent college graduate. It was the earnest love of a new experience that lead me to the city of Montreal and the promise of the unfamiliar that rooted me. My heart and mind were open and waiting.

The summer heat quickly crept through the cracks in the doors and windows, overwhelming the small space with oppressive warmth. When the sweat began to bead on my forehead, I escaped outdoors for the hint of a breeze. During summer, the streets of Montreal are filled with colorful stoops and the fierce spirit of potted plants in bloom. While I thought the center of such a large city would be all brick and concrete, I was surprised by the amount of life, growing and thriving, to be found.

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

Back indoors, cheeks red from my walk, my roommate treated me to a glass of homemade lemonade to cool me down. A neighbor had gifted her a bundle of dried lavender and she used the buds to infuse the latest batch. Lavender lemonade. I was hesitant at first. The scent of lavender reminds me of soap and summer meadows, not sweet refreshments. However, I was in the market for new experiences and, though small, this would be one of the first. After I took a sip of the pale drink, my opinion changed. The subtle tones of lavender felt the perfect match for lemon's tart disposition. I finished the glass and wished for more.

Though I have hundreds of memories from those first few months on my own, this one has gripped me closely. Perhaps it was the heat or simply the beginning of a new adventure, but that cold glass of lemonade remains one of the fondest.

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

Since my first introduction to both flora and food, I have become smitten with the combination. I am often searching for new ways to combine herbs and floral scents with my favorite desserts. The key to baking with flowers or herbs is to keep it subtle—too much and it quickly becomes overpowering. Chocolate cupcakes infused with lavender buds and peaches cooked down with thyme are a couple of my recent favorites. And, as always, recreating that memorable lavender lemonade.

Until this point, I enjoyed buds and blossoms primarily for their bold colors, soft lines, and honeyed aromas, but it had not occurred to me just how delicate they could become in food. The subtle aromas, the muted tones, the calmness they brought to a flavor storm of complexity—it was beautiful.

It opened a new door to how I perceive and interact with food.

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

This Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake rests at the intersection between my love for sweet scents and sweet eats. The milk in the batter is infused with lavender, adding a delicate tone that is neither too perfumed nor overwhelming. Both floral individually, the flavor of lavender compliments the vanilla bean well, but together they create a combination that is gentle, yet surprising.

One Year Ago: Cherry Almond Crumble, Nutella Espresso Rolls, and Brownie Cookies
Two Years Ago: Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes, Cherry Almond Granola, and Vegan Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Three Years Ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread, and Cinnamon Raisin Baked French Toast
Four Years Ago: Blueberry Lime Panna Cotta and Grilled Peaches

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake

Yields double layer 9-inch cake

4 teaspoons dried culinary lavender
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) milk
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (280 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/3 cup (75 grams) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups (300 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease 9-inch cake pans and set aside.

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, crush the lavender to release the oils.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk until just boiling. Stir in the lavender, cover and remove from heat. Allow it to steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain out lavender.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Gradually add in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the lavender infused milk, stirring until batter is uniform and smooth.

Divide batter between cake pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.


Vanilla Bean Buttercream

1 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups (312 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and beat to combine, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Mix in the vanilla bean paste, salt, and milk. If frosting is too soft, add more powdered sugar until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Likewise, if the frosting is too stiff, add a touch of milk or cream until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

To assemble, place the cooled bottom cake layer on a serving platter. Spread a layer of buttercream on top before placing the second layer. Spread a thin layer of frosting along the top and edges.

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Growing up, I thought ice cream trucks were a concept from movies, widely seen in theaters, but rarely present in reality. Ice cream trucks were as mysterious to me as superheros, talking animals, or something going smoothly for the main characters in a movie just once. Along with the other remnant misconceptions from childhood, my disbelief in ice cream trucks held strong into my teenage years. A truck overflowing with popsicles, ice cream, and frozen treats seemed too good to be true; it must certainly be another trick that parents and television producers played on their children.

It wasn't until I saw an actual truck ambling down my very own street, loudly playing such hits as Turkey in the Straw and The Entertainer, that I began to accept that perhaps ice cream trucks were not as fictional as I once thought.

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream
Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

The ice cream truck rolled down the street earlier this week, calling the children over with a round of Oh! Susanna. Even though it was just before dinner, and a few of the parents were grumbling about the timing, the children still ran around, eating popsicles and chasing each other down the road.

Even though I didn't get to enjoy these things when I was younger, I'm happy to watch the neighborhood children get excited about it, dragging their parents by the hand to pay for a little piece of happiness.

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Cookies and cream ice cream seems to fall distinctly into the realm of childhood desserts. Even so, I don't believe that should stop the adults from partaking in the fun. After all, no one grows too old for a good cookie. This particular version is dairy-free, made with coconut milk instead of a combination of whole milk and heavy cream (though certainly those ingredients could be substituted in to make a more traditional ice cream). While the coconut flavor is noticeable on the first bite, it seems to hide from then on, as your palate adjusts to the cookies' sweetness.

This ice cream was a dangerous one to keep in the house. I could never seem to forget about it and often stole spoonfuls before breakfast and dinner.

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

As a side note, I will be in France(!) for the next two weeks as I spend time in Paris, travel through Provence, and end in Nice. I will be posting pictures and stories throughout the trip. If you'd like to keep up with my adventures, you can follow me on instagram, twitter, or facebook for updates! 

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream is a sweet dessert to enjoy any time of the year. The cookies soften in the ice cream, helping the ice cream retain a smooth texture. The flavor, however, is quite pronounced in each and every bite. For best results, allow the ice cream to thaw on the counter for 10-15 minutes before servingthe rest time transforms the texture from icy to smooth and creamy.

One Year Ago: Mint Sugar, Frozen Strawberry Bars, and Coconut Sorbet (a personal favorite!)
Two Years Ago: Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies, Coconut Nutmeg Pudding, and Lavender Lemonade
Three Years Ago: Citrus Roasted Rhubarb, Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies, and Honey Peach Bubble Tea
Four Years Ago: Margaritas, Chocolate Chip Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, and Mocha Frappuccino

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Yields about 1 quart

28 fluid ounces (828 ml) full-fat coconut milk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (112 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
15 chocolate sandwich cookies (180 grams), lightly crushed*

In a large saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a simmer over medium-high heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt. When the milk is simmering, add a small amount to the eggs and whisk quickly to incorporate. Do this a second time to temper the egg yolks. 

Transfer the ingredients back into the saucepan and simmer over medium to medium-low heat until the milk thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Refrigerate mixture until cold.

Freeze mixture in ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's instructions. In the final minute of churning, add the crushed cookies and shut off the ice cream maker when incorporated. Transfer ice cream to a plastic air-tight container and freeze for 3-4 hours before serving.

* Use a dairy-free sandwich cookie, like Oreos, to keep the ice cream dairy-free.

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble

Around each March, when I feel as if winter will never end and the snow will never melt, I throw a package or two of berries into my basket at the market. It's an impulse buythe berries may be brightly colored, but the flavor is so faint and lacking I often feel as if I shouldn't have bothered in the first place. Yet, year after year, the berries are there, a reminder that summer is a few months away, even if the weather outdoors does not reflect it. The berries carry memories of happy moments, long afternoons, and picnics out on the porch.

And now, finally, my basket is overflowing with berries of all kinds. 

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble
Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble

The last few days have been cold and windy. I've stayed indoors, buried in books, and enjoying the heat from the oven, a rarity in these summer months. To take advantage, I've taken out the mixing bowls and have been working on whipping up a few desserts here and there.

Lately, I've had a tendency to go a little overboard when buying berries and this week was no exception. I like to throw a handful blueberries in my breakfast each morning. I enjoy eating blackberries slowly, with a side of chocolate. But when these habits aren't enough to to make the berries disappear, I gather the rest together, cover them with a crunchy topping, and bake them up until the juices begin to sizzle.

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble

Crumbles are one of my favorite ways to enjoy fruit. While any fruit could really be used, berries are the most reminiscent of summer to me. While I prefer to eat mine cold and plain, straight from the refrigerator, crumbles are just as nice served warm with a topping of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. With the holiday weekend coming up, the natural color scheme of this particular version seems like an apt way to celebrate. 

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble
Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble is a wonderful way to use up summer berries. Whether fresh or frozen, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries come together with a crumble topping to create a simple dessert. With the red and blue berries, this dessert can make a great addition to your Independence Day celebrations.

One Year Ago: Dill Dinner RollsSparkling Lemon Drop, and Berry Cheesecake Tarts
Two Years Ago: Multigrain BreadBlueberry Lemon Crumble, and Vanilla Cupcakes
Three Years Ago: Baby Sugar CookiesStrawberry Smoothie, and Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade
Four Years Ago: Strawberry Panna CottaTapioca Pudding, and Blueberry & Raspberry Tartlets

Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble

Yields 6-8 servings

24 ounces (680 grams) fresh or frozen berries 
1/3 cup (75 grams) granulated sugar 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 
1 teaspoon lemon juice 
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature 
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed 
1/2 cup (85 grams grams) quinoa, uncooked 
1/2 cup (45 grams) old fashioned oats
1/4 cup (25 grams) sliced or chopped almonds
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the berries, sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and lemon juice until evenly coated. Transfer the berries to a deep pie pan. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the quinoa, oats, almonds, and salt until evenly mixed. Using your fingers, tear off small pieces of dough and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the berries.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top is browned and the berries have released their juices. Allow to cool before serving. When serving, top with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or leave it plain. To store, cover and keep refrigerated.