Margaux says…

I bought a lavender plant last summer just to make this recipe (well, and I really like lavender in general, but that’s what really motivated my purchase), and am just now finally getting around to it! Luckily I was able to take all my herbs in for the winter, and they stayed alive. My mother-in-law brought me a bag of Meyer lemons last time she visited, which lit a fire under me to make these. The recipe is from the “Three Aunts and a Mom” cookbook that Aunt Suzy gave me, and this recipe is from my Aunt Judy.

The original recipe has a glaze on it, but I was concerned that they would turn out more muffin-like than cupcake, so I made a basic lemon butter frosting.  If you’d rather do the glaze, just mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with 5-6 tablespoons of lemon juice, and add a few teaspoons of zest.  But I thought they were really good with the frosting.

The Meyer lemons made the cupcakes sweeter than they probably would be with regular lemons.  They were very delicious, but unless you’re a major sweet-tooth, you’ll probably only be able to eat one.  They would be perfect for an early spring birthday party, while lemons are still in season.  If you don’t have fresh lavender available, rosemary would work as well.

Fresh Lavender and Lemon Cupcakes

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup extra fine granulated sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tsp finely chopped lavender or rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lavender, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the buttermilk, vanilla and lemon juice.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter on medium high for 30 seconds; add sugar and beat on medium high for 2 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping bowl often. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter mixture in three parts, ending with flour. Beat on low after each addition until just combined.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups to 3/4 full. Bake 22-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from muffin pan and let cool.

Lemon Frosting

4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until combined (will look crumbly). Add lemon juice and zest, and beat until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or more lemon juice to desired consistency.

Aunt Suzy says

About 12 years ago the New York Times Sunday magazine ran an article on Moroccan cooking with recipes for preserved lemons (salt-brined lemons) and harissa (a spicy hot pepper condiment or sauce).  This single article opened up doors to flavors, a cooking culture and cooking methods that I had never been exposed to before – and which dramatically changed the way I cook ever since then!   Homemade preserved lemons and harissa really outshine storebought, but if you don’t have the time or ingredients to make one or both of these, Le Moulins Mahjoub and Mustapha’s Moroccan both make very high quality Moroccan/North African ingredients including these two items.  Look to kitchen or specialty food stores and your local co-ops.  Both are available, as well, through Amazon.com.

Margaux says

If Meyer lemons aren’t available (they’re only in season from December-March), you can use regular lemons.   And you can buy preserved lemons in some stores, like Whole Foods, but they’re not NEARLY as good as homemade.

PRESERVED LEMONS

6 Meyer lemons

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

2-3 bay leaves

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, more if needed

This recipe is enough for a one-quart mason jar; adjust amounts accordingly for larger or smaller glass containers.  A wide-mouth jar is recommended, making it easier to remove the lemons for use later. Sterilize the jar by pouring boiling water into it.  Pour out the water and then proceed as follows. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.  Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the jar.  Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt and the herbs/spices between layers.  Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons.  Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover the lemons.  You might find recipes that call for covering lemons with water, but we think using juice creates a better product.  Leave a little air space before putting the lid on the jar.  Place the jar in the refrigerator and shake the jar daily to distribute the salt.

The lemons are ready to use after 4-6 weeks.   Most recipes use only the peel.  To use, remove the desired amount from the jar and discard the pulp unless the recipe instructs otherwise.  Rinse the peel under running water.  Preserved lemons will keep up to a year in the refrigerator.  The salt brine can be used two or three times over the course of a year.  Remove bay leaves and coriander seeds after about 2 months, as they will make the lemons taste bitter over time.  NOTE:  I have also seen red peppercorns or a slice of red bell pepper put into the jar to add some color.

HARISSA SAUCE

1/2 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (available atPenzey’s Spices)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk all ingredients together and place in a small, sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Use as instructed in recipes and pass as a condiment when serving Moroccan Food.  This will also keep up to one year in the fridge by pouring a little olive oil over the Harissa after each use to prevent mold.  NOTE:  There are probabaly as many recipes for Harissa as there are cooks.  It’s usually a fiery pepper paste or sauce, but I have also seen sweet versions of this from Tunesia.  We enjoy this recipe as well as the Le Moulins Mahjoub and Mustapha’s Moroccan products.