When you think herbs, you probably think basil in pasta dishes or pesto, rosemary paired with lamb and chives snipped into sour cream for your baked potato. But have you ever thought of using fresh herbs in desserts? While some herbs are truly best in savory dishes, notably oregano, chives and dill, many add a touch of unique flavor to sweets. These include rosemary, mint, thyme, verbena, sage, tarragon, lavender, even basil and bay leaf. The spicy notes of the herbs balance the sweetness of the sugar in some desserts adding depth and sophistication. When used in fruit recipes, herbs tend to play a supporting role, enhancing the taste of the fruit itself. And in other desserts, as with lavender or tarragon ice cream, the herb itself is the featured flavor. The practice of adding herbs to sweets goes way back. The ancient Romans were known to bake herbs into cakes, though more for the potential medicinal effect than for flavor. Herbs are increasingly in the spotlight for the last course. Peter Smith, executive chef at Vidalia in downtown Washington, is one enthusiast. Smith finds that herb-infused desserts pique the interest and the palates of his diners. In past summers, his dessert menu occasionally featured a number of herb-based ice creams, among them basil, tarragon and anise hyssop. Lavender is also a favorite pairing with ice cream and rich cookies such as shortbread. At Tosca's in downtown Washington, the Italian influence is evident in the basil and the sage gelati and the strawberries macerated in thyme-infused balsamic syrup. And at Michel Richard's Citronelle in Georgetown, the lemon meringue tart comes with basil sauce. In late summer, diners can indulge in the fig tart infused with bay leaf. Feeling adventurous and want to try some add some herbs to your sweets this summer? Click here for recipes for Thyme-Roasted Plums, Herb Sugar, Rosemary Cookies, Herbal Chocolate Truffles. (Please note: links are available for a limited time only, you may have to sign-in to view the article)
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