Food

This scented candle will make your entire house smell like Cuban bread. And now you’re hungry.

Isabel Álvarez inventó una vela perfumada que huele a pan cubano recién horneado.
Isabel Álvarez inventó una vela perfumada que huele a pan cubano recién horneado. Handout

Dunking Cuban toast into café con leche one morning, Isabel Alvarez wished there was a way to bottle the mouthwatering scent of warm Cuban bread.

And then, she figured out how.

Alvarez, a candle-maker from Los Angeles, created a scented candle to make any home smell like a loaf of fresh-baked pan cubano.

“You literally can smell the salty butter, the yeasty dough. It’s literally that savory aroma,” she said. “You can practically taste the crackling crust, the warm dough inside. It’s a trip.”

Alvarez, 47, has been getting requests from all over America, including Miami, since her sister posted a photo of her candle online. She tagged Cuban-culture influencers My Big Fat Cuban Family, with its 59,000 Facebook followers, and Abuela Mami, the Miami online store which ships care packages of Cuban food.

Soon she was fielding inquiries from Miami to Seattle to Minnesota, where one customer told her she couldn’t buy Cuban bread; the least she could do was enjoy the scent.

“The reaction we’ve had from the Cuban community all over the country has been overwhelming,” Alvarez said.

Credit her sister, Elaine Moore, for planting the idea.

Alvarez, who sells life insurance and prepares taxes in the Huntington Park suburb, started making candles five years ago when she couldn’t find a vanilla scented candle that wasn’t white. (She wanted it green.) Her candles were so aromatic that she soon started selling them to friends and at local trade shows. Moore asked her to make a special candle for her wedding.

She called the scent called Havana Nights, a fragrance that melds cologne and tobacco leaf — “It smells like a sexy Cuban man,” she said — and guests wanted more of it.

So she created a line of Cuban candles. To Havana Nights she added one named for her mother’s Cuban hometown of Tinguaro (“It smells clean, like fresh linen and sunshine,” she said), but she needed one more. Inspiration struck her over a breakfast of Cuban tostada and café con leche.

“I thought, ‘What else is the essence of Cuba? Cuban bread. It had to be’,” she said. “It could be breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack. It’s so immersed in our Cuban life.”

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Handout

Alvarez’s Instagram photo was meant to whip up interest before an Aug. 25 Los Angeles trade show, where she sells most of her candles. She figured she would sell three or four of the candles (they cost $28 each, “not inexpensive,” Alvarez admits) and the next day would put the rest on her company website, AlbisaCandles.com.

Instead, she sold out during the show.

“There are literally thousands of candles at these shows. I needed something to set mine apart,” she said. “I needed something to tie back to my heritage.”

Her website lists the candle as temporarily out of stock. Customers can sign up for her newsletter to be the first to know when they are available, likely in a week.

In the meantime, regular Cuban bread will just have to do.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she said. “Our Cuban people are amazing.”

Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”
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