The vibrant purples and sweet scent of lilacs symbolize new beginnings to many, announcing the transition from spring to summer.
Capturing the Scent of Lilac
Lilac (Syringa) is a genus of flowering trees that have purple-blue flowers and a sweet powdery scent. There are 12 different species of lilac that belong to the olive family (Oleaceae). Lilac trees are popular in gardens and parks in temperate regions. In the language of flowers, the lilac is a symbol for love – which will come as no surprise to those whose hearts have fallen for these bushes. The lilac is favoured by many; popular poet Walt Whitman even wrote a poem about them titled “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.”
For years, I've pondered how to preserve the scent of lilac, which is fleeting and difficult to capture. As a natural perfumer, I'm obsessed with owning every scent the world has to offer, so it only made sense that I needed to possess the scent of lilac. Each year, I've tried a new experiment to attempt to do this. In 2019, I tried infusing lilac blossoms into sunflower oil -- but the results were less than satisfactory. I did, however, learn a lot from this experiment. Which brings us to this year: knowing that heavy, non-scented fats are capable of absorbing the scent of even the most delicate flowers, I decided that I needed a fattier base, and that I needed to infuse the lilac for a shorter period of time.
The result? Lilac Cream: a delicious infusion of lilac blossoms into heavy cream. This decadent cream can be used to ice a spring-time cake, or added to your afternoon tea.
This year, I took many evening walks dedicated to smelling the different varieties of lilac species in Calgary. I determined that the lilac bush with the big clusters of deep, dark purple flowers have the most powerful scent. The lighter coloured lilacs (closer to a creamy pink) have a powdery and lighter note. I could get into the specifics of naming the species of each lilac, but for simplicity's sake, lets just go for colour descriptors.
Your Basic Guide to Choosing Lilacs for Infusion
- Deep Purple = Best
- Powdery Pink = Good
- White = Bleh
- Purple, Thin and Sparse (these trees look very ornamental) = Don’t even bother
Aside from differentiating between the different lilac species, I also experimented in infusion time. Twenty-four hours was too long; leading to a loss of floral notes and a rise in green notes. I opted for an overnight infusion which lasted 10 hours at most. For four nights, I picked my bundles of lilac flowers and plucked them off their twigs. I put them into a mason jar with my cream. In the morning I strained out the flowers and left the cream bare until evening arrived again and I repeated the process. I can now say that this year’s attempt at a lilac infusion was a success! I ended up with a sweetly floral concoction that tasted just like the smell of lilacs.
So lets get to it!
Time: 4 evenings
- 1 Litre of Heavy Cream
- 2 Cups Lilac Blossoms
- 1 jar that’s at least 1.5 or double the volume of cream. ( you will need space for the lilac addition and some breathing room)
1. Pick each individual lilac blossom off the twig and place in a bowl. It's important to ensure that you don’t get any leaves, or bits of the green part of the blossom, as this will affect the flavour. This is a long task and, for myself, was a relaxing way to spend an evening (or rather, four evenings). I just poured myself a glass of scotch and put on my favourite TV show. I plucked for about 1.5 hours each of the four nights. Because this process is long, put the flowers in a bowl and add to the cream last so that the cream doesn’t go off from being at room temperature every night.
2. Add blossoms to the cream and stir. Let sit overnight in the fridge.
3. Come morning, grab a fine mesh colander and strain out your blossoms. Gently press down with a spoon or gently scrunch in your hand to drain the cream residing in the blossoms. Keep the strained blossoms in the fridge and read note below.
4. Place strained cream back in fridge.
5. Pick three to four more bundles of lilac flowers and repeat the process for a total of four nights (or until you have a desired strength). NOTE: if you decide to whip the cream, the flavour will become lighter. I’d also recommend avoiding recipes that involve heating or cooking the cream, as this will destroy the lilac flavour.
NOTE: The lilac blossoms you strain from each infusion will retain almost perfect form. Keep these strained blossoms in the fridge for up to two days to add to your bath. Don’t worry about the cream residue as adding a cup of milk to your bath is common practice to promote soft skin... Try adding a couple drops of Jasmine Absolute in a tablespoon of oil in your lilac bath to achieve pure decadence.
Suggested Yummy Uses for Lilac Infused Cream
- Whipped Lilac Cream and fresh blackberries on angel food cake
- Lilac Iced Tea (black tea with lilac cream, chilled with ice)
- Lilac and Blueberry Mousse Cake