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remnants of Christmas past ~ and chocolate lavender brownies

When I wrote my last post, I hadn’t really intended that it be my farewell until after the holiday was over. But big family came to stay with us, and even though I had a picture of what that might look like, my picture was a bit off. What we had for a week was a joyous, raucous house.

My office becomes a bedroom for a little one, a diaper-changing station, and the floor a stage for exploding overflowing suitcases! We lose heat to that part of the house while they’re here and no one will come to fix it, so space heaters, extra quilts and comforters clutter the bedrooms. Teeth chatter as little ones climb under a mountain of covers to get warm for the night. Our favorite dog in the world (along with our own), a blind yellow lab, manages to maneuver his way around toys, Christmas trees and moving furniture with only a few mishaps as we call out over here buddy to help him when he’s lost his way. Five little children cousins run crazy with joy at seeing each other again, and stage parades complete with instruments and frequent costume changes. Their delight at life is completely infectious! Their brilliant imaginations, their adaptability to changing circumstances, their ease at living in the moment is a reminder. We make a mistake when our expectations are too finely detailed, too perfectly colored in. We do best to take the lovely surprises as they come and revel in messy mayhem and laughter. All too soon a pale quiet will descend. Order will return. And our hearts will ache a bit from the missing of them and all the Life they breathe.

~ ~ ~

Undoubtedly I have some catching up to do, but I’m excited to begin it. First off, I want to share with you a brownie, densely dark and aromatic, the very kind of brownie that could drive sane people mad. I’m quite sure it’s my very favorite brownie ever and it was the genesis for a gift.

For the last several years one of my presents to my daughters is a box of goodies organized around a theme. Last year it was vanilla and chocolate. This year, lavender.

The recipe for this exquisite chocolate mouthful comes from the cookbook (above) by Chef Sharon Shipley. It’s a fairly new book to me and already I’m buying it for others. (That, if you didn’t guess, is a bonafide endorsement!) Based on several other recipes from the book, tried and loved, I was game to try a lavender brownie of hers though I couldn’t quite taste it in my mind.

I assure you, this isn’t a nose full of lavender. It doesn’t taste anything like rolling down a lavender hillside in Provence (though I’d love to try that, just to be sure.) You won’t know lavender’s in it – you’ll just know there’s something quite extraordinary, unidentifiable, about this brownie…and you’ll keep trying to figure out what as you reach again for another…or so.

Chocolate Lavender Brownies

(makes 24 brownies)

  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary Provence lavender buds (see NOTE)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cups plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (see NOTE)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon instant espresso powder (or instant coffee powder)
  • ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Place the lavender in a spice grinder with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Pulse until the lavender is finely ground. Transfer every last delicious dusty bit of it to a large bowl. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and espresso or coffee powder, along with the remaining sugar. Mix well.

Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high power for 1 minute at a time until melted. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Stir in the nuts (if using).

Pour the brownie batter into a prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool and cut into 24 brownies.

NOTE:  Dutch-process chocolate  has been treated with an alkali to neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity. It tends to be darker and richer tasting than regular cocoa, and can be found in the baking aisle with other cocoa powders.

NOTE: I ordered my lavender from Amazon. Click here for the link. It’ s important to use culinary grade as some lavender is better used for potpourri (or rolling in.) For a half-pound you’ll only pay $5.95 and the quality is excellent. Share with friends or family, and certainly the option still exists for making fragrant sachets for your linen closet too.

A note to my readers who’ve asked – I’ll be making a printer-friendly version of my recipes available in the very near future.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow, you really had your hands full. These look great, love that you pick a gift theme.

    December 26, 2011
    • Yip, crazy-fun, full time! The gift theme has caught on – been kind of fun seeing how one little idea can usher in a whole box full of goodies.

      December 26, 2011
  2. Yes, the excitement is over, and parts of real life will be a pleasure to return to. I have to wonder what lavender tastes like? I know it as a sachet and a body lotion product, but have never tasted it. Is it possible to describe taste?

    Ronnie

    December 26, 2011
    • I would so love to try, but I’m afraid I’d really muddle it. It all depends would be my elusive answer. For savory or sweets? A tiny bit like rosemary I suppose in savory dishes. Tastes more like an herb in savory dishes, a bit more like a delicate floral spice in sweets. It’s a bit mysterious – something I rather like about it!

      December 26, 2011
  3. The brownies sound great. It is an important tip about culinary grade rosemary.

    December 26, 2011
    • With food-grade lavender certain pesticides won’t be used. Pretty important stuff!

      December 26, 2011
  4. Mama, I love your description of our family
    time. Beautiful! You so captured it. And I can vouch for these brownies and give them my hearty recommendation. I’ve nearly eaten the whole box – with just a little help from the fam. Xoxo

    December 26, 2011
  5. What a fun family Christmas you’ve had! I loved it and your writing really conveyed the sense of joy and wild abandon… those little ones are so delightful! And, wow, great gift ideas.. I wish I’d thought of this before Christmas (next year I’m definitely going with a theme like yours).. Very neat!

    December 26, 2011
    • Can hardly wait to see where your imagination takes you!

      December 27, 2011
  6. Those look lovely and delicious!

    December 27, 2011
  7. I don´t know which was more lovely – the recipe or the beautiful description of your house full of family and the happy confusion! Love the idea too of a gift theme – might have to steal that one!

    December 27, 2011
    • I think you would have loved it, Chica! 🙂

      December 27, 2011
  8. Lovely idea – I adore the scent of lavender. Our small garden is filled with lavender plants. Delicious looking brownies and great pics.

    December 27, 2011
    • We have lots of lavender too, strewn throughout our gardens. LOVE it! Didn’t think until just recently to cook with it! Now I know better.

      December 27, 2011
  9. Ali #

    Love your description of our family’s wild and wonderful visit!! As always, loved our time together and feel so lucky to be the recipient of this lavender themed gift which I am so thoroughly enjoying!! The brownies are outrageous!! And you are right, the lavender so subtle, you can’t even identify it-you just know they’re special! I cant wait to try other lavender themed foods!! Xoxo

    December 27, 2011
    • Ali #

      I made these earlier today. A breeze to whip up and even the kids loved them!

      January 15, 2012
  10. Look for another recipe in a day or two – this one for Champagne New Years dinner. You’ll go wild! 🙂

    December 27, 2011
  11. I awarded you the Kreativ Blog Award! http://wp.me/p1jBAi-yc

    December 28, 2011
  12. I am so in love with lavender! I’ve used lavender in both sweet and savory dishes but never brownies. Yum! Love this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    December 28, 2011
  13. Wonderful thank you for sharing.. I can just picture it all…great pics ..when are you going to produce your very own Blurb Cookery book? Or have you already!

    December 28, 2011
    • So kind! Thank you. A book is in the works. 🙂

      December 30, 2011
  14. These photos are gorgeous, especially the one with the cocoa flour! Very delicate! 🙂

    December 28, 2011
  15. I love the combination of chocolate and lavender. And your photos and styling are beautiful.

    December 28, 2011

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