Using herbs in my baking, especially sweets and desserts, is one of my favourite ways to add a bit of flair and turn something everyday into something special and uniquely mine. Baking savoury items with herbs (like scones, crackers, and focaccia) may seem second nature, yet the idea of adding savoury plants to a cake or cookie can be scary for most. Instead of fearing this treasure trove of possible flavour combinations, try adding a bit of herbs here and there as you would a spice (“less is more” is usually the way to go). For those who are new to the idea, stick to winning flavour combinations like mixing chocolate with mint, rosemary and sea salt, or bay and vanilla.
Nine herbs for baking
- Rosemary – The earthy and woody flavour of rosemary goes wonderfully with chocolate, golden raisins, and stone fruit and berries. Add a little chopped fresh rosemary to chocolate chip cookies or a chocolate chip loaf. Pair it with golden raisins in a sourdough loaf, or add a little to a dried blueberry scone.
- Thyme – Thyme isn’t just used for it’s pretty little flowers, which can make a dessert look “wow”. Add a sprinkle to savoury items like corn breads and herbed biscuits, but also try using it in sweet dishes like strawberry shortcake, or layered lemon curd sponge.
- Dill – One of the few herbs that doesn’t cross over into dessert, dill is a master of the savoury dishes. Fresh it’s great in dishes like quiche, gratins, and frittatas, but once dried it can be added to soft loaves of white bread (think grilled cheese and tomato soup), soda bread, and savoury muffins.
- Lemon Balm- A rampant herb you probably never use, lemon balm has a very intense lemon/ citronella flavour. While its uses are few and far between, it adds a lovely flavour to shortbread, bunt cakes, and infused honey. My favourite use, however, is to infuse lemon curd with a bit of the extra lemon zing.
- Tarragon – With it’s slight liquorice flavour, tarragon makes a great addition to peach desserts (shortcakes, crumbles, pies), creamy desserts like crème brûlée and panna cotta, or to flavour sugars and syrups.
- Scented Geranium – Not to be confused with the flowering geraniums you have in the garden (which are not edible), scented geraniums can be found in the herb section of the garden centre. Their scent ranges from rose to lemon, orange, and mint. While it’s not recommended to eat the leaves, they can be used to line a cake tin (like a pound cake) to infuse flavour or be used to make a scented sugar, which is then used to make cookies, etc.
- Basil – The essential summer herb, basil pairs well with other summer fruits – strawberries, stone fruit, and melon. Try stepping basil in milk to make a custard, or combine it with mint or tarragon to make an unusual summer ice cream.
- Bay – A different addition to dessert, bay leaves add a slight floral note and pair well with creamy and eggy desserts like custards and rice pudding. They also make a great addition to bundt cakes (line the pan with and remove before eating).
- Lemon Verbena – Beside making a wonderful tea, lemon verbena is great dried and added to shortbreads, pie crusts, and used to flavour jellies and jams. The intense lemon flavour pairs well with most fruit and, once dried and crumbled, the leaves go almost unnoticed.