The best books often turn out to be the ones that you thought you would never read in the first place. This summer I kept coming across a book called “The Language of Flowers”. Everybody seemed to be reading it but I never paid it much attention, despite the countless positive reviews from friends and family. I was in the middle of reading a science fiction trilogy at the time, which inevitably placed me in a completely different mind zone. Over the Christmas holidays we visited some friends for a night of food, wine and card games, and the first thing I noticed as I walked through their door was the book. I gave in to the greater power and picked the book off the shelf before I left. Needless to say I started it that same night, and the next day I flipped the last page in tears, begging for more.
The Language of Flowers follows the life of Victoria, abandoned at birth, and forced to move from one foster home to the next due to her inability to connect and communicate. At 18, old enough to seek independence but with no money or job, Victoria finds shelter in a public garden of San Francisco surrounded by the flowers that she has lovingly cared for and grown over the years. As a child she had been taught the language of flowers, and as a young woman they became her sole form of companionship and mode of communication. Following a series of fortunate encounters, Victoria’s life makes its way into the life of another tormented character, and the only one who sharesher passion so deeply. The Language of Flowers is the tale of two lost souls, whose passion for flowers and understanding of a language known by few brings them together in a tear-jerking and deeply emotional story.
I absolutely adored this book. It touched on a lot of something I’m going through right now so I suppose it kind of hit a sore spot, but it also felt surprisingly soothing. Ever since I finished it, my obsession with food has been temporarily taken over by that of flowers and their meanings, and for some reason, I just can’t seem to get lavender out of my head. I literally devoured the book, and speaking of devouring, it also sparked an idea.
Soufflés are also known as the cursed dessert. Why? Because they will cook and rise to perfection, but you open that oven door one too many times, or you wait that one minute too long and they will irrecoverably collapse, much like a relationship. Nevertheless, when they come out of the oven beautifully popping out of their ramekins, they can be one of the most light, fluffy and heart-warming desserts you will find. For this recipe we chose two ingredients that work wonders together; not only for their flavors, but also for their meanings.
I leave the interpretation to you.
INGREDIENTS (makes 6 soufflés)
1 Tbsp dried lavender flowers
Zest of 1 lemon
50g caster sugar
50g egg yolk
200g egg whites
100g icing sugar
(Extra butter and sugar for the ramekins)
For the pastry cream:
1) Pour the milk in a pot. Add the lavender flowers and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let it infuse for 5 minutes.
2) In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch, flour, sugar and yolks, and whisk vigorously until light and fluffy. Strain the milk onto the egg and sugar mixture, while stirring to avoid curdling the eggs. Strain again to get rid of any lumps, returning it to the original pot. Cook until thick and creamy, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from burning on the bottom.
3) Once that’s done, pour the pastry cream into a cling film wrapped bowl and cover with another layer of cling film, making sure the film touches the top layer of the cream, to avoid the formation of a hard skin on the top. Cool completely. The pastry cream can be prepared the night before.
For the soufflé:
1) Heat your oven to 210˚C
2) Prepare your ramekins by brushing them with softened butter, stroking upwards. This gives the soufflé direction when rising. Dust with caster sugar.
3) Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks (remember to add a tiny pinch of salt before whisking. It helps it thicken), and gradually add the 100g of icing sugar, until the mixture is white and glossy (before adding the sugar the egg whites will look foamy)
4) Give the pastry cream a quick whisk to loosen it and fold in a quarter of the egg whites gently. Fold in another quarter, and then the rest of the egg whites (remember the movement for folding: under and up, under and up. You want to keep the mixture airy and fluffy)
5) Pour the soufflé mixture in a piping bag and pipe into the ramekin to the top. Using a spatula, flatten the surface and run the tip of your thumb all the way around the inner edge of the ramekin. This makes sure the soufflé is slightly detached and rises uniformly.
6) Bake for 10-12 minutes. When you remove from the oven, dust with icing sugar to make it look pretty!