Although we think of lavender as a perfume, it also has culinary uses. Used culinarily, lavender exudes a nuanced peppery flavor, with a hint of intense aroma. Here the lavender is combined with a bit of vanilla bean to add a familiar background note to the unexpected flavor of lavender. It is especially attractive to garnish these custards with a sprig of rosemary, either fresh or dried.
4 sprigs culinary lavender (untreated), fresh or dried, for garnish
3 tablespoons finely packed brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Have ready four ¾ cup heatproof ramekins and a baking dish just large enough to hold the ramekins.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks until thickened, about 2 minutes. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cream and sugar, stirring until the sugar melts, and small bubbles appear around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla bean and the dried lavender blossoms and let stand for 35 to 40 minutes. The longer the mixture stands, the more pronounced the flavor will be. Taste after 30 minutes.
When the flavor is to your liking, strain the mixture through a fine-meshed Chinoise or other fine-meshed wire strainer into a bowl.
Gradually whisk the cream mixture into the egg yolks and strain again. Fill each ramekin to within ¼-inch of the rim.
Place the ramekins in the baking dish and pour boiling water around them to reach half way up the sides of the ramekins.
Place in the preheated oven and bake until the custards are set but still a bit jiggly in the middle and a thin, slightly golden skin has formed on the top, 35 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack and let the custard cool slightly. Remove the ramekins and let them cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate until well chilled, 3 to 4 hours and up to overnight.
When ready to serve, preheat the broiler. Place the brown sugar in a small sieve, and using a spoon, push it through sieve and evenly sprinkle the tops of the custards with the sugar. Return the ramekins to the baking dish, pour cold water around them and add several ice cubes to the water. Broil until the sugar melts and caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes. Alternatively, use a small kitchen torch sot caramelize the sugar.
Remove the custards from the baking dish and transfer them to a wire rack and let the custards cool until the surface hardens, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately, each ramekin garnished with a sprig of lavender.
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