Monday, July 25, 2011

Lemon Verbena Crème Brûlée: From the Herb Garden for Cook the Books: "Garden Spells"

The Waverley women have always been seen as different in their small Southern town of Bascom, North Carolina because of their peculiar gifts or powers. Older sister Claire has turned her gift for growing and cooking with plants, herbs and flowers into a successful catering business, but she sticks close to home and the unusual Waverley garden and she has trouble letting people get close. Her food causes those who eat it to think, feel and do things according to the different charms and properties of the plants, but nothing seems to work to resolve her own fear of being abandoned since her mother left her and her sister when they were young. Claire's younger sister Sydney chose to follow their mother's pattern and run away from her past, the town and her gift, but with nowhere else to go, Sydney and her young daughter Bay seek refuge with Claire, and the two estranged sisters start to form a bond.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is our current selection for Cook the Books, hosted this round by Rachel, The Crispy Cook. I am a big fan of all of Addison Allen's books, but Garden Spells was the first one I read a few years ago and it holds a special place in my heart. It's a fun and charming novel with characters who are all unique and engaging--including an apple tree that has a personality of its own. It's a fairy tale story for foodies--sweet and magical but with some darker moments woven in, and it is an irresistible summer read that will have you headed for your garden to make some magic of your own.

I thought I had decided what to make to represent the book but the past month got away from me and then I found myself making a last minute change from a multi-lemon herb sorbet to a Lemon Verbena Crème Brûlée that I came across in July issue of The Herb Companion.

I love lemon verbena with it's lovely citrus smell, and it always has a prominent spot in my herb garden. Since my verbena was getting a bit "leggy" (desirable in a fashion model but not so much in an herb), it was prime for harvesting. Add to that a new gadget for my kitchen--a kitchen torch I bought with a languishing gift card fromt Williams Sonoma, and it seemed like the perfect match.

About Lemon Verbena:

From the Waverley Kitchen Journal: "Lemon Verbena--Produces a lull in conversation with a mysterious lack of awkwardness. Helpful when you have nervous, overly talkative guests."

From The Herb Companion: "Lemon Verbena: The leaves contain vitamins A, B and C and they are digestive, antioxidant, antispasmodic, and a sedative. A tea made from 3 to 5 leaves last thing at night helps the digestion, and is a mild sedative and calmative, it also aids a good night's sleep."

Deb says: "Must be why it creates a lull in the conversation--it sedates your guests!"

McVicar says, "My mother made the best crème brûlée. Alistair, my son, has inherited her passion and always rates restaurants and cooks on how well they make this pudding. This is a wonderful recipe, the flavor, with its hint of lemon sherbet, is unique, and makes this brûlée very special."

Lemon Verbena Crème Brûlée
by Jekka McVicar in The Herb Companion, July 2011
(Serves 4)

1 cup milk
1 handful lemon verbena leaves, finely chopped

7 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup Demerara or light brown sugar
lemon verbena sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

Put the milk in a small pan with chopped lemon verbena leaves; bring to simmering point, remove from heat and leave to cool and infuse.

Place egg yolks in a bowl with sugar and whisk until pale and thick. Add the cooled, infused milk and the cream and whisk well. Pass through a fine-meshed sieve.

Ladle the mixture into 4 ramekin dishes and set them in a roasting pan. Pour in enough water to come three-quarters of the way up the side of the ramekins, pop into the oven and cook for 1 hour or until set. Leave to cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, sprinkle Demerara sugar or light brown sugar over the top of each pudding and caramelize with either a blow torch or by putting them under a hot grill. Decorate with fresh verbena sprigs.

Notes/Results: Creamy and good with light lemon flavor. The recipe author describes it as a lemon sherbet taste and I would agree--it is a softer lemon essence, sweet rather than tangy. Although I have made all manner of puddings, pot de crème, etc., this is my first homemade crème brûlée. Obviously my sugar torching needs some work. ;-) (Note: Broiled sugar is HOT! Says the girl with a burn on her finger) But over all I am pretty happy how it turned out. My verbena plant sadly lost it's tiny white blooms this week too, but the leaves are still pretty. This is a simple recipe that I would make again.

I am sneaking this in right at the deadline tonight. Rachel will be rounding up the entries and posting them on the Cook the Books site soon. If you didn't make it to this Cook the Books round, I will be hosting the August/September selection; blogger Molly Wizenberg's foodie memoir, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table. Hope you join us!


  1. looks delish! hope your finger wasn't burnt too badly.

  2. I have never grown lemon verbena. I think I will have to add it to the herb garden next growing season. I am saving this recipe until then. The brulees look delicious and sound! Great post!

  3. I was trying to explain to someone the other day that legginess is good for girls and horses and bad for plants! This creme brulee sounds gorgeous. I've had quite good luck setting the pots in a dish of ice and sticking them under the grill to brulee.

  4. I've never had lemon verbena but I always love the idea of putting herbs in desserts! It definitely has a sweet fairy tale quality to it!

  5. A magical dish for this round of Cook the Books. Thanks for posting your thoughts about the book and this fragrant and luscious recipe.

  6. You have inspired me to run out and get a lemon verbena plant for my herb garden! That Creme Brulee sounds marvelous.

  7. The creme brulee must be absolutely fantastic with lemon verbena flavor, very nice!

  8. Your torching is perfect! My favorite non-chocolate dessert is creme brulee. I've had all manner of flavors, but never lemon verbena. I know I'd love this. I love the cute little "torches" they sell now. Back in the day (I'm old), we had to use science equipment, lol.

  9. WOW, Lemon Verbena Creme Brulee...this dish is just exquisite! In fact, my boyfriend was looking over my shoulder and wanted to know why I couldn't have made THAT from the book!!! I can't wait to try this dessert.

  10. WOW Deb! This looks fabulous! I'm sorry about the finger...did you put aloe vera on it? *Ü* Oh, I hear you about leggy! My darn peppers are taller than the basil! LOL! I guess I'm convinced now to go in search of lemon verbena...wonder if I have to have that sent in too? *giggle*

  11. AMAZING. Cannot wait to try this! I predict the family will go bonkers with this!

  12. Oh man. This looks great!! I’ll be cooking it for my girl friend’s brunch weekend in a couple weeks! Oh yum

  13. That seriously looks to die for! (or to burn yourself for!)

  14. Lemon Verbena is the one herb in my garden that has yet to be tackled by the heat. It's still going strong. What a unique idea with this creme brulee which is one of my favorites!

  15. I am a bit envious: my lemon verbena did well for a while and then decided it did not like to be in my garden :( I am so tempted to try again choosing a different spot. What a nice dessert! I hope your finger heals fast. You are actually daring: I don't think I'll ever try to handle a torch.

  16. Sedate me, please! Creamy and's totally beckoning me. Creme Brulee is my ULTIMATE weakness...I love it.

  17. MMmmm... I can just imagine the taste of lemon and sugar melting on my tongue. Can't wait to try out this recipe.


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