Flavor is a paramount concern for any culinary product. Scientifically speaking, flavor is the product of taste receptors in the mouth and odor receptors in the nose. Although we typically describe flavor in terms of taste, it is actually the aromatic properties of food that are far more vital. For while there are only five types of taste (bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and savory/umami), there are thousands of various odors. The “taste” of an orange opposed to an apple or a cherry is thus really a result of its unique aromatic characteristics.
For this reason, aromatic foods are highly valued in the culinary arts. Herbs in particular possess highly volatile aromatic molecules, making them especially prized in food production. Although traditionally used in savory dishes as flavor enhancers, herbs are equally beneficial in sweet creations. Flavorings such as basil, thyme, and rosemary can heighten the natural sweetness of ripe summer fruits and add vibrancy to items such as chocolate, fig, and lemon. But how do you exactly feature a savory herb in a dessert?
SMALL AMOUNTS. First and foremost, subtlety is the key. Herbs are very pungent and are therefore needed in only small quantities. A little goes a long way. Remember that herbs function to enhance the natural flavors of the food, not overpower them. Mint and tarragon, for example, are especially powerful and should be used in sparing amounts. The one exception is basil, which is less pungent and can be used in greater quantities.
FRESHNESS. When selecting an herb, fresh always wins over dried. Choose leaves that are bright green, fragrant, and not wilting. For the best flavor, chop the leaves finely with a sharp knife, as this will release more of their aromatic properties. The one exception is tarragon, in which a fine chop causes rapid oxidation and an unpleasant flavor. Use a gentle, larger chop with tarragon leaves, rather than a mince, to avoid this problem.
PAIRING. As with any flavoring agent, individual herbs combine differently with various food items. The following list therefore includes some commonly-used herbs and their recommended sweet food pairings.
BASIL: apricot, berry, chocolate, nectarine, peach, mint
LEMON VERBENA: berry, cherry, melon, peach
MINT: berry, chocolate, lime, peach
ROSEMARY: lemon, orange, almond, pear, apricot, apple
SAGE: apple, honey, lemon, pineapple, pumpkin
TARRAGON: grapefruit, lemon, melon, orange, peach, plum
THYME: apple, fig, lemon, orange, pear
If you still seem a little hesitant of savory herbs and sweet desserts, these Lemon-Rosemary Shortbread Cookies should convince you otherwise! As a subtle undertone, pine-like rosemary brightens the lemon properties of this light and refreshing cookie. And when you pair these treats with a creamy lavender ice cream, you’re in aromatic heaven! Hello, herbalicious dessert.
Lemon-Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Yield: 2½ dozen 2-inch cookies
1 cup GF Flour Mix*
½ cup sweet rice flour
½ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon rosemary, chopped
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon milk
Rosemary sprigs, for garnish
Preheat oven to 325°F and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
In medium-sized bowl, whisk together GF Flour Mix, sweet rice flour, powdered sugar, xanthan gum and salt.
Using a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth and creamy. While beater is running, gradually add in whisked dry ingredients, scraping down sides occasionally. Beat in the egg, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary. Once all ingredients have been added, scrape down sides and beat dough for at least 30 seconds to 1 minute to ensure mixture is well-combined.
Divide dough in half. Place half of dough in between two large pieces of parchment paper and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Place dough (still in between parchment paper) in freezer for at least 30 minutes. Repeat with second half of dough.
After 30 minutes, remove dough from freezer and use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies of desired shape/size (if dough is too cold to cut, allow to thaw for a few minutes at room temperature before proceeding). Place cut-out cookies on prepared baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until edges just begin to turn golden brown.
Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the glaze, whisk together powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest, and milk. The mixture should be fairly thick, but should not leave ribbons on the surface of the glaze when the whisk is lifted up (if the glaze seems too thick, add a little extra milk until it reaches the desired consistency).
To finish, dunk the top of each cookie in prepared glaze. With top still facing down, lift the cookie slightly above the glaze and use a gentle up-and-down motion to get rid of any extra icing. With glazed top facing up, place cookie on parchment paper and garnish with a single rosemary sprig. Set decorated cookies aside for at least an hour to allow glaze to harden.
Serve with tea or your favorite ice cream.
*GF Flour Mix
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
Christie, Charmian. “Savor Unique Fruit and Herb Pairings.” Food & Entertaining: Garden to Table. Canadian Gardening. Web. 27 May 2013.