Lemon & Verbena Cupcakes

Lemon & Verbena Cupcakes by Ayala Moriel
Lemon & Verbena Cupcakes, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
That wonderful lemon verbena in the gardens in the village where I was staying truly inspired me to make a verbena-soaked lemon loaf. But I didn't have my loaf pan, so I made cupcakes instead! I used a bit of semoline instead of all-flour as you'd find in most cupcake recipes. This adds a nice grainy texture, and interest to what is otherwise a very simple yellow batter. However, it is also packed with lemony tartness and aroma, from both the juice and the zest.

For the glazing, I've used both lemon verbena tisan (brought to room temperature, of course), and along with the vanilla sugar, it had an intense lemon-candy flavour, just like that of the classic Israeli lemon popsicles (which are amazing). Must be all that citral and vanillin. Mouthwateringly delicious, and would make a great addition for a Shabat afternoon tea. Shabat Shalom! 
For the batter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina (cream of wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk * 
zest from one lemon
1 Tbs lemon juice

Lemon Verbena Glazing:
2 Tbs strong tisane from fresh** lemon verbena leaves
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 package vanilla sugar

- Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
- Butter and flour a dozen-cup muffin tin (or use paper cupcake liners)
- Cream together the butter and sugar
-  Add and beat the eggs, one at a time until light and fluffy
- Add vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest, and beat just until incorporated
- Sift together the flour, semolina, baking powder and salt
- Add half of the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated.
- Add half the milk and continue stirring
- Add the remaining two halves of the flour and milk, gently folding mixing until fully incorporated 
- Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in cupcake comes out clean
- In the meantime, prepare the glazing by beating together the lemon verbena tisane, lemon juice and vanilla sugar. Gradually add the icing sugar and continue beating until smooth and runny.
- When the cupcakes are ready and have cooled down, brush them with the glazing.
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate!

* Of your choice, can be dairy or non-dairy
** Substitute with dry leaves if you don’t have them.


Blintzes are these fantastic little thinner-than-crepe pancakes, filled with good stuff (sweet or savoury) and rolled up. They can be served warm, cold or at room temperature - depending on the filling. Blintzes filled with a sweet cheese filling have become a traditional holiday food in Israel for Shavuot. For the cold ones, you'll need to use a specialty cheese that cannot be found in (most of) North America (I am pretty sure you will be able to find "Gevinah Levanah in Brooklin LOL!). So I am going to offer here only the recipe for the baked cheese blintzes, which my dearest grandmother Ruth gave me. They are absolutely divine!

For the Blintzes:
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tbs. vegetable oil of your choice (preferably non-GMO, such as organic grapeseed oil)
3/4 cup unbleached wheat flour
salt to taste (no more than 1/2 tsp.)
Butter for greasing the pan
Mix together all the ingredients in the above order
Pour 2 Tbs. at a time on a hot girdle or pan (greased with melted butter)
Smooth and spread around (like you do with crepes) to form a round, pretty form
Fry only on one side, and once finished, set aside on a plate, stacked with their fried side up, until ready to fill them all.

For the filling:
2 cups soft, unripened cheese (such as ricotta or quark cheese, or cottage cheese; if you like this to be more creamy and smooth and less crumbly, you can substitute some cream cheese or sour cream for part of the cheese - but no more than 1/2 cup, otherwise it may be too runny!)
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Grated lemon peel of 1 lemon
Raisins (optional)
* Additional sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling on the top (Optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 celsius.
Fill the Blintzes with one Tbs. of the filling, roll and close from both ends. Layer on a butter-greased pan, and sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and sugar (if desired).
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and the sugar has melted.

Serve warm (not hot!) or at room temperature. These are perfect on their own, but will happily lend themselves to a garnish of strawberry or other fruit or even Creme Fraiche or ice cream on the side. But these will be completely unnecessary because these Blintzes truly are perfect the way they are!

The Little Prince Hits a Brick Wall

the little prince brick wall, originally uploaded by Mr.Tooley.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince was never really a children’s book. Just because it is about a child does not make it for children. Regardless if the book is accompanied by colourful illustrations. I am sure my parents were not the only ones puzzled by the peculiar gap between their astonishment from the book and the complete non-comprehensive gazing they received from me and the too many questions for a bed time story as a response to this book.

And so, when a disnified collection of perfumes for children inspired by Le Petit Prince came out, accompanied by stuffed animals (sheep, of course), action figures, colouring books and other cutesy paraphernalia (this is clearly TOO MUCH!) appeared on the olfactory horizon, I was equally eager and terrified to try the line.

Eager? Well, one must admit, the packaging for Le Petit Prince Eau de Toilette is stunning. It is simple and true to the original illustrations in the book. One would expect a magical, yet somewhat cerebral concoction of baobab trees, star dust and desert winds and perhaps also a bit of motor oil. However, the perfumer for Le Petit Prince decided to go for the safest unisex cliché of a citrus perfume that gives no particular statement except for being an agreeable, pleasant smell that can please almost anyone. The chosen notes are mainly lemony, and for the most part this alcohol-free concoction smells like sugar-free lemonade. Very pleasant, but it gives nothing new to the imagination and being associated with a book of such importance, this is pure sacrilege. Let’s just be reminded that another book by the same author served as the inspiration to one of the greatest perfumes of all times, Vol de Nuit. This thought alone makes me shudder.

Le Petit Prince Eau de Toilette is alcohol free*. It is also free of any imaginative thought or creativity (except for that which went into the exquisite packaging). The official notes include citrus, tarragon, lemon verbena, cedarwood and oak. I smell mostly lemon and lemon verbena, which I love. But I can also find these without getting my plane grounded in the desert and insulting the olfactory intelligence of children (who, I am most certain, will be quite open to try some new notes that they are less familiar with).

Interested to learn more about the literary phenomenon? Visit the official site of the Le Petit Prince fragrance line. Visit there and you'll see what I mean about commercialism. However, if this what's going to get children to read the book (and perhaps understand it), than so be it. The only problem is that whatever understanding they might reach would be tainted with commercialism. But who cares? We live in the 21st Century now, and commercialism is all that matters.

* This is usually achieved by mixing the essences with hydrogenated castor oil first, and than mixing this with water; this particular castor oil is water coluble)

Sugar by Fresh

How to Interview a Cupcake!, originally uploaded by cupcakequeen.

While the name suggests sweetness, the flavour of this perfume is more tart than sugary. First we sip Lemon Drop martini garnished with lemon zest; Of course there is the sugar-rimmed goblet, to sweeten the sour lemonade. And underneath it all lies the sugar that have sunk to the bottom of the drink, which first appears in the form of a buttery lemon cupcakes with campy bright colour icing and an occasional bite of candied lemon peel. Caramel notes do not appear until later on, fluffy and fuzzy like cotton candy cushioned with the milky warmth of musk. As you can see, the sweetness here is not overly done and is balanced with plenty of lemony components.

The main component here are lemony citrus notes, primarily the familiar lemon peel, but also the intensely sweet, green, floral and lemony litsea cubeba – a berry from the May Chang tree, which is a middle note (rather than a top note like most citrus oils are). There is some floralcy at the heart, which is there more to create balance than impose a floral bouquet.

Of all the Fresh line, Sugar Eau de Parfum is by far my favourite*. Citrus fragrances are not my type generally speaking. I much prefer the complexity of other fragrance families. However, when I first smelled Sugar I was in awe as to how similar it was to my own (and personal favourite) citrus fragrance, Fetish. The two are different, of course, but share the combination of sweet and tart, fleeting freshness based in a solid sensual gourmand which incorporates vanilla and florals (jasmine, vanilla and fir absolute in Fetish), and both have the thread of the litsea cubeba note, lemony, tart, green, sweet and floral all at once.

Sugar is original for presenting a sweet theme in a sour environment, or rather – creating a citrus fragrance that is not “clean” or “soapy” or just “fresh” – but rather, a delicious, mouthwatering, sensual lemon scent.

Sugar can be found at Beauty Mark in Vancouver (where they sell the separately the leftover 30ml bottles from the Christmas gift packages for $35 CAD), and online via La Te Da Beauty Bar, which lists the notes for this fragrance as follows:

Top notes: Lemon, Bergamot, Brazillian Sweet Orange
Heart notes: Petitgrain, Heliotrope, White Lily
Base notes: Vanilla, Caramel, Musk, Marjoram

- I can’t smell any orange or petitgrain or marjoram in here (definitely not as a base note), but I thought I’d share this pyramid with you for your amusement. To me, Sugar is comprised mostly of lemon, litsea cubeba, vanilla, caramel and musk.

There may be a tad of herbal note there (perhaps there is some marjoram, but I sense none of the petitgrain green-astringent qualities there) but it couldn’t possibly be at the base, I just don’t smell it there (and it isn’t a base note usually). I can’t detect specifically a white lily note either, though there is a certain floralcy at the heart as I mentioned earlier, just enough to make it a perfume rather than a cleaning product. As for the heliotrope – if it’s there at all, it is very subtle, and surely contributes to the fluffy feeling of the base. The lemony notes must mute down the heliotrope tremendously, or else it must be present in very small quantities.

* The majority of the line I find to smell overtly synthetic, in a way that disturbs my pleasure from the unusual pairing of delicious aromas and fruits (the synthetics in this line often make me sneeze; in Sugar I found this effect to a far lesser degree, and no sneezing occurred; the other “Sugar” variants – i.e. Sugar Blossom, Lemon Sugar – have more of the fuzzy synthetics which prevent me to enjoy them completely).

**Image of Sugar EDP bottles is from Beauty Mark's website.
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