I like lemon cupcakes. But they are usually more like vanilla cupcakes with a hint of lemon. I wanted a LEMONY cupcake. I offer you this original recipe in which I jam the poor little cakes with lemon zest, lemon juice and lemonade concentrate for an unmistakable lemon punch in the kisser. The icing is similarly lemony. Try to say that five times in a row…similarly lemony, similarly lemony…anyway, this is for lemon lovers. If you like it a little less cheek puckering, you could back up on the lemon juice a little. But I wanted it to be forceful, yet sweet. I think I achieved a good little cake. Let me know what you think.
Note: If you don’t deal with lemons a lot, the zest is only the very top layer of the skin of the lemon, the yellow part, not the white part underneath which is bitter. So as you grate, be careful not to go too deep. If you do not yet own one, may I suggest you treat yourself to a Microplane grater. Initially a garden variety woodworking tool, they have been applied well to cooking. I use those tools for everything from zesting lemons and oranges to mincing ginger and garlic to shredding the gentlest little ribbons of parmesan cheese. I have three of them. This recipe makes a dozen cupcakes. I have not tried to multiply this recipe. If you make a big batch, and a mere doubling or tripling works, I’d love to know that, but I can’t guarantee that will work. Baking chemistry is a funny thing, and I just haven’t toyed with a bigger batch yet. A dozen is the right number for a family pig out, but not a class party. I need 36 cupcakes in my kitchen like I need a hole in my head. I don’t like seeing baked goods go to waste. So I eat them. Thus, a recipe for a dozen summertime treats is below.
Recipe: (yield: 12 cupcakes)
1 stick of butter, softened
¾ cups sugar
½ tablespoon lemon zest
⅓ cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
1½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1½ teaspoon lemon zest
6 teaspoons frozen lemonade concentrate
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour and the baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In a stand-up mixer at medium high speed, cream the butter for about two minutes. Add the sugar and continue to mix for another two minutes. Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the lemon zest and then the egg and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Add the lemonade concentrate and the lemon juice and continue to mix. (At this point the batter will look a little lumpy and weird. Fear not.) Add the sour cream and mix. Lower the speed of the mixer to low and add the milk and flour alternately, ending with the flour.
4. In a standard muffin tin, fill a dozen lined muffin cups approximately to 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 14 to 15 minutes. This recipe does not rise too much. At 14 minutes, test for doneness (poke a toothpick into the center of one of the cupcakes, if it comes out clean, the cupcakes are fully baked. If not, give them another minute and check again.). Remove the cupcakes from the oven and let the tin cool off for a few minutes. Then remove the cupcakes and let them cool completely on a wire rack before icing them.
5. In a stand up mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the lemon zest, lemonade concentrate, and lemon juice. Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time until fully incorporated.
Note: I use four cups of confectioners’ sugar because I want a firm enough frosting to pipe. I have made these cupcakes with as little as 2½ cups of confectioner’s sugar for a more glaze-like finish. The icing is the really lemony part of this recipe. Feel free to scale back on the extra lemon juice. But, I really think the extra punch is what makes it different. I have purchased plastic piping bags before. Lately however I have been using a cheapo work around by using large resealable bags. I simple cut a small corner (start small, you can always cut off more…but can’t reattach) and push in the piping tip. Then fill up the baggy with icing and squeeze out the air. Use it just as you would a piping bag. If you cut the hole too big you run the risk of blowing your tip out the end of the bag so take care. Ice away. It is fun.
Gadget Alert: I recently purchased this giant icing tip. It is an Ateco 825. It is awesome. If you are icing a lot of cupcakes you can burn through them in a jif. I simply piped in a spiral from the outside in, and finished with a point or tip flourish.
Also, my dear friend Ashley Beck introduced me to a wonderful little cupcake gadget recently that you need to know about. It is called a pancake pen. You load this bottle up with batter and squirt batter cleanly and efficiently into each cup. The bottle holds exactly a dozen cupcakes worth of batter. And since it has screw lids on the top and bottom it a breeze to clean, and can go in the dishwasher. I usually shy away from these types of things because, well, I have too many miracle gadgets already, but this one was simple, helpful, and effective. I’m really bad at filling cupcake papers and end up with baked on cake all over my pans. I hate that. Plus, it’s only $10. What’s not to like about that? It is not a necessity. But it can be a help.