Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes

Lavender, Blueberry & Violet Cupcakes

Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes were an invention of a moment a few summers ago that got a hold in my baking repertoire as an exotic yet easy to whip-up pastry that looks pretty and impressive. The decoration is so simple: flowering tops of lavender (preferably fresh), and crystallized violets. Both are fancy, yet keep for a long time and create a memorable impression, both visually and on your guests palate. I've served them since in bridal stagettes and baby showers, and always got many complements!

If you can't get a hold of black currants (cassis), blueberries make a fine and delicious substitute. Keep in mind that the smaller the berries - the more flavourful they are, as most of the flavour is actually in their skin. The violet glazing is not what's going to make or break this recipe, so use it only if you have it - so if you can't find it, don't let that stop you from baking and enjoying these cupcakes .

½ cup sugar
¼ tsp. dried lavender buds
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs Créme de Cassis liquor
½ cup fresh or frozen blackcurrants (or blueberries, if you can’t find blackcurrants)

Violet jelly (optional)

5oz cream cheese
2/3 cup icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste

For decoration:
Lavender springs and/or Candied Violet Petals

- Preheat the oven to 350F (180c)
- Make the batter by creaming together the butter, sugar and lavender buds.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated.
- Sift together flour and baking powder, and add to the batter.
- Add the milk and liquor
- Add the berries, and stir gently just until incorporated (avoid bruising the berries!)
- Bake in paper-lined muffin tins for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the middle cupcake comes out clean.
- Place the cupcakes and wait till they have cooled completely
- Meanwhile (as they are baking and cooling), whip up the cream cheese icing, blending all ingredients until smooth.
- To decorate, brush each cupcake with the violet jelly, once it's absorbed into the dough a little bit, place a generous dollop of the icing (or pipe it if you like it to be more precise-looking).
- Right before serving: Top each cupcake with one blooming top of lavender, and one candied violet petal.

Blueberry Upside Down Cake

Happy Labour Day!

Summer is not quite over yet, so I'm taking advantage of all the flavourful fruit still available, as well as the bit of free time before we switch gears into the fall/winter madness.

This blueberry upside-down cake is adapted from by Bettina Schorman, from her cookbook co-authored with chef Jeff Crump: Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm.
The recipe there is excellent, except that it’s sweetness of way over the top to my taste (and I have a sweet tooth, believe me!). I felt a deep urge to not only reduce the sugar and substitute it for honey in the glaze for the fruit; but also add lemon zest to balance the fruit’s sweetness. Also serving with crème fraiche makes all the difference!

For the blueberry & glaze:
In a 10” cast iron skillet or cast iron pan, melt 3 TBS each of butter and bluberry honey (or any local honey of your choice). Cover with 2-3 cups of fresh blueberries (you want to create about an inch-deep layer of berries at the bottom of your pan). I personally do not own a skillet but simply a cast iron frying pan; so for this recipe – I need to muster to the task my smaller frying pan (7”) as well and divide the recipe between the two.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
In the meantime, put together the ingredients for the cornmeal batter:
1cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup raw cane sugar
zest from 1 lemon
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups all purpose unbleached flour (preferably organic)
¾ cup purple cornmeal (yellow will do just fine too; but will affect the colour)
1TBS baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup buttermilk

Sift together the dry ingredients.
Beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla extract and eggs – one at a time.
Pour over the flour mixture. Continue beating. Add buttermilk. Pour over blueberries and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30-50min, or until a toothpick (or a cake tester) comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven once ready, and wait 10-15 minutes to slightly cool off. Run a knife around the edges of the cake. While cake is still warm, invert it on top of a plate, tray or cake case.

Serve warm or at room temperature, alone or with a spoonful of crème fraiche.

There is something to be said about fruit desserts. They are the best, in my humble opinion – where the pastry is there solely to present the fruit and highlight its elegance and singularity. In this one the cornmeal adds an interesting colour (you will get a beautifully bright yellow, which will contrast nicely with the purple bluebberries as well) - but most importantly, a slightly crunchy and sandy texture; and a delicious, rustic yet delicately sweet flavour of polenta. Admittedly, sometimes I feel that cheesecakes and anything vanilla flavoured are the best. If you serve this with crème fresh or crème chantilly (vanilla flavoured whipped cream) – you get the best of both worlds, which to me is as perfect as dessert can be.

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