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A Herbal Twist to Summer Baking Treats

Summer is in full swing in the Creston Valley and with it comes an abundance of fabulous fresh fruit and aromatic herbs. We love creating unusual flavour fusions in our baking and below we have come up with some spectacular treats for you to try.

In the recipes below you will notice a common element – herb infused sugar. This is an excellent way to impart a strong flavour to your bakes. While chopping up an herb and simply stirring it into the batter works, it doesn’t have the depth of flavour that a herb infused sugar has. You can use this technique for any herb that you want to use in baking. You can make your own herb infused sugar to store for later use (when sadly our fresh herbs have died back). Here is a basic instruction guide for making a 2 cup batch:

Herb Infused Sugar

Herb infused sugars make wonderful additions to baking and even the tea table. Many common herbs and spices can be used to create a subtly flavoured sugar. Flavoured sugars can be used to sweeten hot and iced teas and in cookies, pies, cakes and other baking recipes in place of plain sugar. Examples of herbs and spices that can be used to flavour sugar include (but are certainly not limited to) lavender, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, lemon or orange peel, vanilla beans, basil, elderflower, rosemary, anise-hyssop, lemon thyme, roses, mint, and lemon verbena. To make the herb sugar you will need 2 cups granulated or raw sugar, 1 cup fresh herbs (1/2 cup dried), and a pint/500ml canning jar or similar size container. Alternate layers of herbs and flower petals in the jar. Make sure to start and end with a layer of sugar so that all the petals are completely covered with the sugar. Close the lid on the jar. Shake the container once a day to help the aroma and flavour of the herbs to permeate throughout the sugar. At the end of 2 weeks, place a sieve over a bowl and pour the sugar through the sieve to separate out the herbs. Throw out the herbs and, if you used fresh herbs, spread the sugar out on a plate or tray and allow the herb infused sugar to completely dry. When dry place the infused sugar back into a tightly closing jar. Store for 1 year then discard.

Note: The recipes below use a quick method for making infused sugars and that method can be used if you don't have time to follow the full method.

Chocolatey Cherry & Basil Brownies

Basil, the famous pesto herb in a brownie? Yes! Basil has licorice undertones and when added to chocolate the two create a rich decadent flavour. Add cherries, and you have a brownie extraordinaire. We absolutely promise the basil in this recipe won’t make you think of pizza!

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

2/3 cup butter

3 large eggs

1 cup unbleached white flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup chopped dark extra-large chocolate chips or chunks

1-1/2 cups cherries (pitted) cut into halves and quarters

Place the sugar and basil in a container with a lid and allow the basil to infuse its flavour into the sugar. Do this for at least an hour or, for a more intense flavour, leave overnight (the longer you leave it the better the taste!). When the sugar is ready proceed with the next steps.

Preheat the oven to 350F Line a 8" square baking pan with parchment paper (have some overhang on sides). Lightly grease the paper.

Melt the butter then set it aside and allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, using a mixer beat together the eggs and the basil sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Pour the butter into the sugar and egg mixture and whisk to combine.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with egg mixture and stir to combine. Do not overmix, a few streaks of flour remaining are just fine. Reserve a few chocolate chips and cherries for the top, add the rest of the chocolate and cherries to the batter and fold them in with a spatula until they are evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with spatula. Scatter the chocolate chips and cherries over the top of brownie batter.

Bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top of the brownies is set, with a few cracks in the surface. A toothpick inserted in the middle will not be clean and should have crumb on it.

Allow the brownies to cool in the pan for at least 1 hour or until completely cool. Use the overhang baking paper to lift the brownies from the baking pan, slice into 12 to 16 square pieces and enjoy!

Summery Strawberry Lemon Balm Loaf

Light and refreshing, this loaf is a perfect summer treat. Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, gives this loaf a lemon zing with a gentle hint of mint. Paired with the sweetness of the ripe strawberries, you have a delightful treat perfect for picnics.

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh lemon balm leaves

1 cup granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter at room temperature

2 large eggs at room temperature

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/2 tsp lemon extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries


½ cup icing sugar

¼ teaspoon lemon extract

1 -2 Tablespoons water

Combine the lemon balm leaves and the sugar in a covered container and let sit for at least an hour to allow flavours to meld. (We generally leave ours overnight for a more intense flavour). When the sugar is ready proceed with the next steps.

Heat oven to 350°F. Line a loaf pan with parchment and grease the paper.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and lemon balm sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and then beat in lemon zest, and lemon and vanilla extracts. Add flour mixture in three additions, alternately with the buttermilk, mixing on low speed until just combined. Do not over-mix. Fold in the strawberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool on a wire rack. Pour the glaze on the loaf when cool. Garnish with fresh lemon balm leaves and strawberries.

To make the glaze: Combine icing sugar, lemon extract and enough water to make a pourable glaze that is thick enough to spread on the top of the loaf and let drizzle down sides.

Cornmeal Muffins with Anise -Hyssop and Blackberries

Simply put, these muffins taste amazing. They have layers of flavour and texture that make them a definite treat to eat. Anise -hyssop has a delicate licorice mint flavour and is a perfect complement to the tart sweetness of the blackberries. The buttermilk in the recipe gives a tang to the muffins and the cornmeal adds a slight grainy texture. All in all – a taste explosion in your mouth!

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh anise-hyssop leaves

1-2/3 cup unbleached white flour

2/3 cup cornmeal (finely ground)

1 ½ Tablespoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup buttermilk

2 Tablespoons light cooking oil (canola, safflower, sunflower etc.)

2 large eggs

2 cups fresh blackberries (or blueberries)

Combine the anise-hyssop leaves and the sugar in a covered container and let sit for at least an hour to allow flavours to meld. We recommend leaving it overnight, if possible, for a more intense flavour. When the sugar is ready proceed with the next steps.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and anise-hyssop sugar with an electric hand mixer. Add buttermilk and oil and mix on low. Add the eggs to the mixture and lightly beat to incorporate.

Slowly add the cornmeal mixture in, mixing the two together with a fork until combined. The batter should be slightly airy and sticky. Gently fold the blackberries into the batter.

Spoon into a greased or paper lined muffin tin and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350F, using a toothpick to test the center of the muffins for doneness. Muffins are best served warm, extras freeze well. Makes 12 muffins.

Luscious Lavender Brownies

Who would have thought that lavender had a place in the brownie world. Lavender packs a flower punch and because of that it can hold its own with the intensity of chocolate. While you can use dried lavender in this recipe and it will still taste great, fresh adds another flavour dimension that’s worth the effort of picking the stalk and removing the buds yourself. Your friends may laugh when you offer them a lavender brownie but once they taste it, they’ll definitely be asking for more.

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon fresh or 2 teaspoons dry culinary lavender buds, chopped

1/3 cup butter

6 oz semisweet chocolate chips

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup mini white chocolate chips

1 cup unbleached white flour

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine the lavender and the sugar in a covered container and let sit for at least an hour to allow flavours to meld. We recommend leaving it overnight, if possible, for a more intense flavour. When the sugar is ready proceed with the next steps.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch greased baking pan with parchment and ensure it extends over the sides.

In a double boiler or bowl over pot with simmering water, slowly melt the butter and the semi-sweet chocolate chips together. Once the chocolate has just melted remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 to10 minutes.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the lavender sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the white chocolate. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan. Makes 12 to 16 brownies.

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