Infusing flavor into cream or whole milk is one of the easiest ways to get a little extra flavor into a cake, custard, or any other dessert that uses even a little dairy. Want a note of cinnamon in your cupcakes? Or lavender in your crème brûlée? Here's how!
Extracts and dry spices can obviously be used to add flavor as well, but dairy has a few other advantages. Dairy picks up flavors exceedingly well, making them somehow smoother and more subtle. This is great if you don't want the flavor to come out too strongly. Cream also mixes completely into the dry ingredients, which distributes the flavor evenly to every last crumb.
To infuse cream or milk, combine the dairy and the flavor ingredient in a pan and bring the milk up to a simmer. As soon as you see bubbles start to foam on the top, turn off the heat and let the cream sit until it's cooled to room temperature. Then strain out the solids and continue proceed with using the cream in your recipe.
If the flavor isn't as strong as you like, you can re-heat the milk and infuse it again with fresh ingredients. As long as you don't let it boil too long or scorch, dairy can be reheated a few times before it starts getting that cooked flavor.
Almost anything can be used to infuse milk! Any herb or spice, fresh or dried, works very well. Use the whole spice whenever possible, like whole cinnamon sticks, whole cardamom pods, or whole star anise. You can also infuse coffee beans or any kind of tea in your cupboard, ginger, vanilla beans, lemongrass - heck, even chili peppers, if you wanted!
Give it a try!
(Image: Faith Durand)