The intoxicating fragrance of lavender…
Several years ago, my husband and I went for a vacation in Vaucluse, in the heart of Provence. Exploring the small backroads of the sun-drenched countryside soon became our favorite activity. On one such drive we stumbled upon fields of lavender. As the air filled with the intoxicating fragrance, we rolled down our windows to breathe in as much as we could.
To my delight, we also found a lavender farmer who had set up shop right in the center of a nearby village, selling dried lavender bunches of all sizes. I purchased enough of them to fill an entire suitcase, and wondered how I would clear customs undetected! But I was drunk off the scent of lavender, and ready to take a chance.
…captured in a stunning homemade lavender syrup!
As it turns out, I had no problems with U.S. customs. I arrived home inspired not only to hang sachets of the gorgeous blossoms in every closet, but also to cook with them. Since then, lavender has made an appearance in several of my recipes – like this lavender-infused honey that’s incredibly delicious drizzled over Greek yogurt or gelato; my own Herbes de Provence blend, dried every fall using the herbs in my garden… and today’s lavender syrup!
Here the fragrant syrup is served with fresh figs and an irresistibly light, lemony cheesecake. This heavenly dessert never fails to transport me back to the stunning lavender fields of Provence.
Food & wine pairing: Provence, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise with lemon-ricotta cheesecake
In keeping with the Provençal inspiration for this dessert, pour a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. This unusually fragrant Vin Doux Naturel is made in the village of Beaumes-de-Venise in Vaucluse. The sweet, pale-golden libation is extraordinarily aromatic and pairs wonderfully with the lavender syrup and the lemony cheescake.
Lemon-ricotta cheesecake with fresh figs and lavender syrup
makes 1 medium cheesecake or serves 6 to 8
active time: 50 min
For the syrup
- 3/4 cup spring water
- 3/4 cup organic sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
For the crust
- 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup semolina
- 2/3 cup blanched sliced almonds
- 1/4 cup organic sugar
- pinch sea salt
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter – cut in 1″ chunks
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
For the filling
- 1 lb (455 g) ricotta – at room temperature (2 cups)
- 1 1/4 cups organic sugar
- pinch sea salt
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (use a microplane grater)
- 2 extra large eggs
- 1 lb (455 g) mascarpone cheese – at room temperature (2 cups)
- 12 to 16 fresh black mission, Adriatic or brown figs – halved
- 9″ non-stick springform pan
- wax paper
- Step 1: Place the water, sugar and lavender in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 2 minutes until sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and honey, cover the pot and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine-meshed sieve. Pour into a clean squeeze bottle or jar and refrigerate until ready to use (for up to 1 month).
- Preheat oven to 325°F (170°C).
- Step 2: Place the flour, semolina, almonds, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process at high speed until the almonds are finely chopped. Add the chunks of butter and drizzle with the vanilla and almond extracts. Pulse until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a work surface. Form a single ball and flatten with the palm of your hand to form a 1 1/2″-thick circle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes until cold, but still pliable.
- Step 3: Remove the dough from the refrigerator, moisten your counter top with a damp towel and line with a piece of wax paper. Place the dough in the center of the wax paper, sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour and roll into a 10″ circle. Using the detachable edge of the cheesecake mold, press down on the dough to cut an exact-size cylinder. Remove the dough that’s on the outside of the ring. Cut the wax paper around the edges of the dough and set the dough on the bottom part of the mold. Clip the detachable edge back on the mold, flatten the dough with your hand to remove any cracks, and bake the crust for 15 minutes until pale-golden at the edges. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Step 4: Place the ricotta, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip at medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest and continue whipping until well incorporated. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and continue whipping at medium speed until well incorporated. Add the mascarpone and only beat until just incorporated (otherwise, it will separate). Set aside.
- Step 5: Set a flame-proof baking dish filled with 1″ of hot water on the oven floor. Fill the cheesecake mold with the lemon-cheese filling and bake for about 1 hour. The cheesecake should have slightly risen and should be firm on the outer edge, but not completely set in the center. Turn off the heat, open the oven door a few inches, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 15 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack and run a knife around the inside edge to loosen the cheesecake from the mold. This step will prevent the top from cracking. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the cheesecake overnight, or for at least 6 hours. Let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving. Serve with the fresh figs and a drizzle of lavender syrup.
- Cook’s note: The cheesecake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.