My friend, George, thoughtfully bestowed upon me a bagful of lemons from his garden. As most of you know, once nature’s bounty has been picked, there’s only so long before those fresh and flavorful fruits and veggies turn into mushy fodder for the compost heap. So I needed to come up with some ideas to take advantage of these luscious lemons.
There were the usual options of lemon cream pie, lemon bars, the obvious lemonade, and, of course, as self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, I realized I could have just frozen the juice in ice cube trays and dealt with the dilemma later.
Then it came to me: Lemon Zinger Cupcakes.
I knew exactly what I wanted: a delicate cake crumb that packs a lemony wallop. I tried a couple of recipes that I found online, but they were rubbery, sticky, and didn’t have the lemon punch.
So I set about creating my own lemon cupcake recipe. I’ve been baking my whole life – how hard could it be? Oh – it be hard! Believe me, creating a cupcake recipe isn’t exactly….well, a piece of cake. With cooking, you can change a recipe by adding this or that in the amount you want. Baking is a whole different world! There’s a science to baking that must be respected or your recipe will be a dismal flop.
For the past week I’ve been learning about what makes a cake wet, dry, sink in the middle, rubbery, and have an even crumb rather than tunnels. The flour has to be in the right proportion to the sugar, the eggs to the fat, and the eggs and liquid to the sugar. Then there’s the baking soda versus baking powder dilemma. Finally, with a lemon cupcake, I needed to get the most flavor I could without over-wetting the cupcake. Yikes! So much to learn!!!
Since I was creating this Lemon Zinger Cupcake recipe to post on my blog, I wanted it to be user friendly. My criteria was:
- Use melted butter rather than softened. Who can remember hours ahead of time to remove the butter from the fridge? Most cake recipes use softened, but I tested the same recipe with melted and softened – there was no difference.
- Use salted butter. This is what’s in most of our refrigerators. When you buy unsalted, you have to buy at least 2 cubes – what do you do with the other if you normally don’t bake?
- Use all-purpose flour. Not everyone keeps cake flour around. There was no difference in my taste test.
- Use whole eggs rather than yolks or whites. It’s wasteful to throw out the unused part, and you can only freeze whites – unused yolks have to be used within a day or two.
I was a woman on a mission! So this past week I took one for the team (because I’m that kind of gal) by baking and sampling batch after batch of evolving LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES recipes. But it was worth it because I finally came up with exactly the texture and flavor I wanted. I topped them with a vanilla buttercream frosting. While some people choose a lemon frosting, I think the buttercream better complements the powerful lemon zing.
It should come as no surprise that my freezer is loaded with lemon cupcake rejects to be used in some future recipe. They all tasted good, but the texture flavor wasn’t what I wanted for this recipe. Waste not, want not!
Speaking of freezing, cupcakes – frosted or not – freeze really well. Honestly! My LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES recipe yields 9 cupcakes, which is kind of a skimpy number. If you need additional, double the recipe, then freeze the extras (if any). Don’t try to triple or more – the batter needs to be baked as soon as it’s mixed.
LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES – makes 9 cupcakes
- 1¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp baking soda (NOT powder)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 6 T salted butter
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 T lemon juice
- 1 T lemon zest, packed in the measuring spoon (don’t be stingy)
- ¼ cup milk (I used nonfat)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- optional (but not really necessary) for extra zing – ½ tsp lemon extract
NOTE: Ingredients must be at room temperature.
Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Melt the butter. Remove from heat just before it’s completely melted – it will continue to melt. (You don’t want butter too hot or it will cook the eggs.) Pour into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Add in the sugar and beat at medium high for 4 minutes.
Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well with each.
Add and mix in the lemon juice and zest (and lemon extract, if using).
Add in about half the flour mixture and VERY GENTLY mix in. It’s okay if there’s still flour unincorporated. You don’t want to over mix cupcakes or they’ll be tough. You can use your electric mixer, but keep it at the lowest speed and beat for just a few seconds.
Add in the milk and vanilla, and VERY GENTLY mix in.
Add in the rest of the flour and (you guessed it) VERY GENTLY mix in.
Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.
Fill muffin cup liners 2/3 full with batter. Put a little water into the empty cups so they don’t scorch.
Bake for 13-16 minutes. DON’T OPEN OVEN DOOR BEFORE 13 MINUTES! Test for doneness by lightly pressing center with your finger. If it springs back, it’s done. Do this fast – you don’t want the oven to cool from the open door.
When done, take pan from oven and let sit for 1 minute before carefully removing cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING – makes about 2 cups, enough for above recipe plus extra
- ½ cup salted butter, softened
- 4 cups confectioners sugar (I never sift, but you can, if you want)
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 5-6 T milk (I used nonfat)
Put the butter out to soften when you start the cupcakes (or earlier, if you can remember). Cut it in small pieces to soften quicker.
Cream together the butter and sugar at medium high speed of an electric mixer. Add in the salt and 2 T milk, and beat at medium high. Continue to add milk one tablespoon at a time, beating well with each addition, until you get the consistency you want. If you add too much milk, the frosting will be too thin, especially if you’re piping it. If this happens, just add more confectioners sugar. If it gets too thick, add more milk.
You can freeze leftover frosting. It’s always nice to have some extra on hand.
NOTE: I decorated the cupcakes with yellow sprinkles and a lemon coated almond.