The Secret Garden Lavender Lemon Shortbread

by Cara Nicoletti on May 11, 2010

It has been unusually windy in New York City these past few days. Yesterday, when I walked into the Union Square Farmers Market I was hit by a big gust of wind thick with the smell of fresh donuts and root vegetables and above all, lavender and it got me thinking about nature as nourishment.

lavender pot

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s, The Secret Garden is a book full to the brim with mouthwatering, stomach grumbling foods; “home-made bread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and clotted cream…sizzling ham sending forth tempting odors from under a hot silver cover,” “potatoes and richly frothed new milk and oat-cakes and buns and heather honey” (320). Despite the wealth of food, however, it seems that it is the garden itself that nourishes Colin and Mary and Dickon. The garden not only gives the children a new sense of purpose, the fresh air and physical exertion make them hungry, and they find themselves eating more than they ever have before.  After she finds and starts restoring the secret garden Mary, who has just been moved from India to the moors of England after losing both of her parents, quickly begins to change: “I’m getting fatter and fatter every day,” she said quite exultantly. “Mrs. Medlock will have to get me some bigger dresses. Martha says my hair is growing thicker. It isn’t so flat and stringy” (209). Mary begins telling Colin, her young cousin who is afflicted with a mysterious (bogus) illness and virtually parentless, about the secret garden and immediately sees a change in him as well. It is Dickon who insists Colin come see it, saying, “It’d be good for him, I’ll warrant…Us’d just be two children watchin’ a garden grow, an’ he’d be another. Two Lads an’ a little lass just lookin’ on at th’ springtime. I warrant it’d be better than doctor’s stuff” (204). And Dickon is right. Colin is soon restored to full health from his days spent out in the garden.

When I smelled the lavender in the market yesterday I couldn’t resist it. Even though this isn’t a recipe explicitly mentioned in The Secret Garden I thought it was a great way to combine flowers and sweets—plus, what is more English than shortbread and lavender? I also could not resist buying some pink Himalayan sea-salt to sprinkle on top. There is nothing more delicious than a salty-sweet shortbread unless it’s a salty-sweet shortbread that comes studded with purple, green, and pink.

pink salt

Secret Garden Lavender Lemon Shortbread

    8 Tbs (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup flour
    1/4 cup corstarch
    1 Tbs fresh or dried lavender (I think fresh is better, the dried is too hard and perfumey for my taste, blech)
    2 Tbs lemon zest
    sea salt for sprinkling (any color is fine!)


cut lavender


With an electric mixer cream the butter until soft. Add sugar and beat until incorporated. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, lavender buds, lemon zest, salt and cornstarch. Add flour mixture to butter mixture slowly and mix until dough begins to form.


Take dough out of the bowl and place on a piece of floured parchment paper. It will be crumbly, so knead it until it forms a nice solid ball. Roll out onto the parchment paper until about 1/4 inch thick.


I trimmed the edges of mine to make cutting them into bars easier, but you can keep the edges crumbly if you prefer it. Poke dough all over with the tines of a fork. Transfer the dough, still on parchment paper, to your baking pan. Garnish with lavender buds and sea salt.

raw lavender dough

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until edges brown.

cooked lavender

The result is a buttery and crisp crumbly shortbread with just enough lavender and nice kicks of lemon and salt throughout.

teacup lavender


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Leave a Comment

Ginny May 11, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Okay…I am driving to NY to get a bite of this yummy shortbread….are you kidding me….you and your work must be in a magazine….it is just WONDERFUL!!!!! So eye catching, creative and do able for all…..may someone see your work SOON!!!!! xoGinny


Marcy May 11, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Ingenious! This blog is downright inspirational. It makes me want to be a better person or at the very least a better reader and for sure a better cook. Can I find the time to read The Secret Garden again? Can I find the lavender and cool salt to bake this amazing shortbread? Reading this makes me really want to try.
Thanks Cara!
love the photos


Deb May 11, 2010 at 9:15 pm

As I recall, The Secret Garden was one of your first literary obsessions. I can still see the book with the tattered green cover lying on your bedside table. Who would have guessed that your love of Dickon Sowerby and your disdain for Mary Lenox would have resulted in this sumptuous recipe for lavender shortbread!?You turned the whole process into a work of art!! In fact, this whole blog is a work of art!


Seymour Salett May 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Hi Cara,
I’m not a cook but your recipe and instuctions make it easy for someone like me to enjoy your oustanding short bread.
Keep up the good work,


gemma May 11, 2010 at 9:53 pm

this is SO amazing.


Emily May 11, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Ok this recipe and the comments made me cry so i’m just telling you.


Sue May 11, 2010 at 7:52 pm

That’s the most gorgeous looking cookie I have ever seen!! And I love the blue mixmaster :)) You go girl!!


Linda May 11, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Cara, I could put on the pounds just reading all this and looking at your amazing pictures. This shortbread recipe is something I could have lots of fun with. You’re an inspiration. There are so many things you can do with a wonderful basic recipe. Keep ‘em coming.



RonnyN May 12, 2010 at 1:02 am

I stumbled across your blog and I must say that I am enjoying reading what you have posted so far. You are also a very talented photographer. I am looking forward to reading more. -RN


Rosa Schiff June 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Hi Cara, your photos are so beautiful. How wonderful to be reminded of the book I read so many years ago. It was my favorite. To put the recipe together with the story is so clever. You have a special talent. Keep up the good work. I look forward to the next one. I’m very proud of what you have accomplished. Lots of love, Grammy


Steph August 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Hi Cara,

Megan Moore directed towards your blog and I have to tell you its such a wonderful idea. You have really found a niche.

Anywho, I have a food blog of my own with some friends (that Im trying to post more often with) and wanted to do something in relation to lavender recently. I would love it if I could highlight our recipe and blog if you dont mind…

Step on over and check us out:

keep up the great work… look forwards to your upcoming posts chica!


yummybooks August 12, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Hi Steph! I would love it if you would highlight my recipe! I just checked out your website and I’m hooked, so beautifully done. Keep up the great work, and thanks!


Steph August 25, 2010 at 10:00 am

done et done!

we want another novel recipe.


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