Pie Works: Chocolate Meringue Infused with the Essence of Lavender

We are having pie for dessert tonight. My family knows that I am drawn to cooking with lavender, and, wisely, they have learned to ask the question "Does this have lavender?" whenever something different comes out of the kitchen. (Most of the time, they already know the answer.)

Cooking with lavender is a balancing act. Too much and your food will taste like medicine, so it's best to err on the side of too little. Not all varieties of lavender are suited for cooking. English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolias) have the sweetest and mildest fragrance and thus lend themselves to culinary uses. My favorite lavender for cooking and baking is hidcote. Like all herbs, the potency of lavender increases with drying.  While my pie recipe does in fact include a smidgen of lavender in the pastry, you would never know it as it is very subtle. Of course, you can make the pie without lavender at all. Either way, here's to the end of summer. Cheers!

Pie Pastry: Combine 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. culinary lavender buds, 1/2 tsp. sugar, and 1/2 tsp. salt in bowl of food processor; cover, and process for 30 seconds. Transfer flour mixture to a mixing bowl; cut in 1/2 cup softened butter using a pastry blender. Add 6 to 7 Tbsp. ice water, one tablespoon at a time, mixing evenly with a rubber spatula until the dough holds together and can be formed into a ball. Roll dough out onto floured surface and transfer to a pie plate. Trim edges and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until edges are brown.

Pie Filling: Combine 1/3 cup sugar and 3 Tbsp. cornstarch in a saucepan. Add 2 cups milk, whisking until combined. Place saucepan over low heat, and stir mixture constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat. Whisk 3 large eggs in a small bowl; whisk about one-fourth of the hot mixture into the beaten eggs. Add the egg mixture back to the saucepan and return to low heat, stirring until thickened. Remove from heat and add 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate and 2 tsp. vanilla extract, stirring until chocolate melts. Pour chocolate mixture into pie pastry and set aside while making meringue.

Meringue: In a mixing bowl, beat 4 large egg whites until foamy; add 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue evenly over pie and bake at 400 degrees until meringue is browned.