Expert tips and recipes for baking with herbs

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    Herb bakes

    Food stylist Shannon is bringing a touch of herby freshness into our baked goods.

    Most of us associate fresh herbs with savoury dishes – but the earthy and bright flavours found in herbs like rosemary, mint, basil and thyme can also bring out the best in many dessert ingredients. I’m a big fan of using fresh mint in bakes, but there are so many other fresh herbs that work well with citrus or fruit desserts. Read on to discover which sweet ingredients pair well with some of our favourite fresh herbs.

    Rosemary

    Rosemary is quite an aromatic herb. It has a flavour profile similar to sage, but with a slight floral, sweet note. Unlike other herbs, rosemary is a sturdy ingredient that holds its flavour during cooking. When baking with rosemary, it needs to be used sparingly so it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. It is best used fresh, as dried rosemary can lose its delicate flavour and taste hay-like. Use whole sprigs to infuse syrups or sauces, or remove the leaves, chop them finely and add to batters or doughs. Rosemary pairs well with sweet ingredients such as apricot, almond, chocolate, orange and rhubarb. My rosemary and apricot cake combines the savoury flavours of olive oil and rosemary with fresh lemon, giving it a Mediterranean feel.

    Mint

    I think it’s fair to say that mint is the one herb we are all most confident in using in sweet recipes. Fresh mint is best to use, as the leaves have an intense flavour and scent. There are many different of mint with the most common being spearmint, peppermint and curly mint. Peppermint can be a bit too strong for using directly in bakes as it can have a more menthol taste. It is primarily used in the form of an essential oil. Mint is easy to grow, is available all year round and can be kept indoors or outdoors. Mint is a good match for citrus fruits, berries, ginger and mango. Mint is usually chopped, muddled, or crushed for drinks, can be used in essential oil form or dried. It is great for infusing syrups and juices and smaller leaves are perfect for garnishing. My lime and mint loaf is a play on the classic mojito flavours.

    Basil

    Basil is one of the warmest, most fragrant of herbs. It has a fresh aroma, with a pepperiness, a hint of mint and a slight grassiness. Its balance of sweet and savoury makes it the perfect herb to incorporate into baking. There are over 60 variants of basil such as lemon, lime, cinnamon and Thai basil, which has an almost liquorice flavour. Dried basil has no comparison to fresh. Basil works with ingredients such as coconut, lemon, lime, mint, raspberries and strawberries. When using fresh basil, it is best to rinse the leaves, then remove them from the stem and finely chop. Basil is great for infusing oils or syrups for baking. The smaller leaves are perfect for garnishing desserts.

    Thyme

    Thyme has an herbal flavour with earthy, slightly lemony and floral notes, with small, rounded green leaves on woody stems. There are hundreds of varieties of thyme that have different flavour profiles, such as orange thyme, caraway thyme and lemon thyme. Thyme pairs well with orange, lemon, cinnamon and chocolate. It is best to use thyme in fresh form, by removing the leaves from the stem and finely chopping them. My recipe for lemon thyme bars is a match made in heaven, with the earthiness of the thyme cutting through the bittersweet lemon.

    Strawberry and basil tart

    Strawberry and basil tartThis sweet treat packs hidden flavour with the basil in the filling and topping.

    Apricot and rosemary cake

    This fruity treat is sure to be a hit at every party and function.

    Lime and mint loaf

    lime and mint loafThis loaf takes traditional margarita flavours into this delicious loaf.

    Lemon and thyme bars

    lemon and thyme barsThese cirtus-y treats are sure to be bright any time of year!