Bulgaria is the world’s largest producer of rose oil, and most (if not all?) of the country’s roses are grown across the wide belt of the Rosova Dolina, or Rose Valley. Every year, on the first weekend of June, the cities of Kazanluk and Karlovo, which bookend the Rose Valley, hold their arms wide open for the Rose Festival, three days of singing, dancing, and a beauty contest. I went to the festival last year in Kazanluk and while everyone was in the center of town enjoying the performances, a few friends and I walked out to the Rose Institute, on the edge of the city, to see if anything was happening out there.
To our surprise, absolutely nothing was happening Out There. A couple of staff members were milling about, but there were no tours going on, no special signage, nothing. The only clues that this was a weekend celebrating the efforts of the Institute were a couple of souvenir stalls at the front gates and a bunch of Japanese tourists that came in as we left. We took advantage of the lack of personnel to peek around a bit. We followed our noses to the distilling room, where large, puffing, steaming vats were connected to each other by various tubes and gizmos, and where one very frustrated worker was banging and clanging an uncooperative machine.
Towards the front of the complex was a building housing a large lobby that served to educate visitors on the many kinds of herbs – not just roses – grown and studied by the Institute, including chamomile (лайка), lavender (лавандула), and many other plants whose names I couldn’t translate. I noticed that they made chamomile oil, something I’d never seen before, but when I asked the lady working at the little sales kiosk in front of the building if she carried it, she said no. I was sad but only momentarily as my eyes wandered up to see boxes of food-grade lavender for sale. I bought two and brought them home to fill up a Ziploc bag, where they have sat, waiting patiently for my inspiration to strike them, ever since.
I have decided, finally, to put some in shortbread. Not terribly original, but I don’t have an ice cream maker (I have been wanting to make lavender ice cream for as long as I can remember), and I have been feeling quite stuck as to what else I could do with them. Maybe jam?
This was my first time making shortbread (shameful, I know), and I was a little bit nervous about rolling out a dough so crumbly, so I decided to just pat it into a pan. As I was rummaging around for a cake tin, I saw my muffin pan and said “Oh-HO!” And so these were born. These are not dainty tea cookies – these are flowery little butter bombs that will satisfy your sweet tooth but won’t leave you feeling like a brick. I really love the flavor added by the tea as well. (In response to a question, Sleepytime is about half peppermint and half chammomile. One teabag’s worth is half a tablespoon.) They would be great, too, with some lemon zest added in – I think I’ll do that next time. I used up the last quarter cup of whole wheat flour that I had hanging around, so these are a bit browner than they would be if you followed the recipe exactly as I wrote it, with only white flour.
Shortbread with Lavender and Sleepytime Tea
makes 6 muffin-sized cookies
1 stick (8 tablespoons, 125 grams) butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups cake flour or 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
contents of 1 bag of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea
Preheat to 350F and butter a 6-cup muffin tin. In a bowl combine butter and sugar, then sift in flour and salt. Mix until a dough forms, then add lavender and tea. Knead dough a bit just to pull it together a little more, then divide mixture evenly into muffin tin. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Let cool at least 15 minutes before turning out.