Plunge into spring

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My how vibrant and perky everything in my garden looks, it’s loving late September’s prescription of a whole lot of rain and some warm sunshine for good measure. The Spanish lavender is in full flower, the colour of them so deliciously purple that I knew it was time to make some dainty lavender shortbread. I found a recipe in Annie Bell’s Baking Bible, but hers calls for a culinary lavender oil, which I didn’t have. No matter as I was after a subtle flavor and the look of the pretty petals, really. If you want a more obvious floral note, try adding 5-10 drops of culinary lavender oil to the mix. I have used coconut sugar in place of white sugar, resulting in a more textural shortbread with a lovely caramel flavor. If you don’t have coconut sugar, use raw or white sugar – or muscavado would make a delicious rich version. I usually roll shortbread dough into a log and chill for an hour before slicing and baking, but Bell’s recipe is a push into the tin job, which is very easy but does make for an almost-too-short shortbread that wants to crumble as you’re slicing into it!

 

Lavender & lemon shortbread

150 butter, slightly softened

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1 cup plain flour

2/3 cup rice flour

Zest 1 lemon

5 tsp lavender petals

Turn oven on to 150 degrees Celsius, fan bake. Line a tray of approx. 25 x 15cm with baking paper.

Cream the butter and coconut sugar until as well combined as possible. Coconut sugar doesn’t dissolve into butter the way white sugar does, so you’ll still see the specks of sugar.

Sift in the flours and add the lemon zest and lavender. If using Spanish lavender like I did, chop up any very long petals into halves. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
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The dough should be dry, like breadcrumbs.

Tip the mixture into the tray and gently press out to level. Don’t compress the mix too much or it will ruin your chances of a nice crumbly shortbread.
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Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until just starting to turn golden round the edges. Cool in tin and then slice into pieces – the hard bit, as it’s so crumbly you might end up with some duds that you just have to nibble on as you go…

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This afternoon I’m sitting in the pool of sun spilling in through the French doors and nibbling on this shortbread with a cup of hot, milky coffee, made in a good old plunger. I was recently lent an espresso machine and tried it out to see how I liked it, and while I suppose one would get into the habit of it after a while, I still found myself preferring the simplicity of the plunger. Going out for espresso is one of life’s little treats, I feel, and for now I’m happy paying someone else to make my espresso and sticking with my trusty plunger at home. I recently got the chance to ask an expert – Kelly Bain from local roaster Bach Espresso – how to make the best plunger coffee. Here’s what she said:

What’s the deal with storing your whole beans or ready-ground coffee? Storing in the freezer used to be all the rage but I think that theory’s been blown out the water now, right? Absolutely! Storing fresh coffee in the freezer will destroy the aromas and flavours.  For best results, once you’ve opened your Bach Espresso coffee keep it stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.

 How much difference in freshness and taste would you notice between plunger coffee made from freshly ground beans compared to coffee sold already ground? Any coffee geek will tell you that fresh is best. But, for those of us who don’t have a flash grinder at home, as long as you store the pre-ground coffee correctly you’ll still get a pretty good result.

 What’s the perfect water to coffee ratio for the plunger, and how much coffee to allow for each cup/person? There is no perfect recipe because coffee strength is a personal preference. The general rule is between 18 – 20 grams (or about 4 tsp) of coffee per 300ml of water.

 Best to use boiling water or let it cool slightly? My dad used to tell me boiling water would burn the coffee, but I never really believed him… Ha, well, this time Dad was right! Pouring boiling water on fresh coffee can scald it , causing sour/bitter flavours. It’s best to let the water cool down for a minute or two before pouring it.

 A friend of mine stirs the coffee into the water before setting aside to infuse and then plunging. I’m not a stirrer. Who’s on the right track? Your friend wins this round. Gently stirring the coffee ensures all the coffee particles are in contact with water so you get the best possible brew.

 

How long does the coffee need to brew for before plunging? Brew for 3-4 minutes before plunging, but don’t leave the coffee sitting in the plunger once its been brewed – this will make the coffee taste bitter.

When pouring, coffee or milk in the cup first? Neither. Put hot water in the cup first – to heat it up. Then, the coffee for two reasons; 1. Adding milk first will cool down the cup 2. Its easier to see how much milk you are adding if the coffee is in the cup first.

 

It may be a matter of personal preference, but for sugar-lovers, what kind of sugar is best in coffee – white, ‘coffee crystals’, demerara etc? Depends where you are when you’re drinking it. For example, if you’re at home, white sugar is good enough. But if you’re on Ponsonby road sipping your decaf, trim soy mocha then obviously nothing less than Demerara crystals flown directly in from Mauritius will do.

 

Which Bach blend is best for a snappy morning kickstart? And which is best for a lazy Sunday arvo with the paper and a piece of cake? First thing in the morning, get your heart pumping with a good strong plunger of “for the Working Bee “ .  Once you’ve finished mowing the lawns and painting the fence, take off your gumboots, put up your feet and “take a little Time Out”.

 

 

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