Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I work a full-time job in neurobiological research and I decorate cakes part-time. When my client requested simple lemon cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, I was happy because after a long day at work it is sometimes hard to get pysched about making cupcakes. However, until I can one day go full-time and open my own shop, this is the way it has to be. Lemon cupcakes are simple and easy, but the recipe still has to be good, really good, so that the simpleness of it doesn’t equate to blandness. Sometimes I like to make less simple cupcakes, with homemade marshmallow swirls, caramel centres or some fondant monogrammed hearts on bridal shower cupcakes; but mostly I just like a simple, good tasting cupcake, with no adornments. I use Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes book a lot. Martha doesn’t let me down (I actually thanked her at my wedding and if I get married again I will probably thank her a second time, but that’s a story for another type of blog). Her recipes are tried and true. My favourite blogger, Chockylit (http://cupcakeblog.com/), also uses Martha’s recipes from time to time, although Chockylit seems to enjoy a lighter, airier cupcake and I prefer mine to have a texture that is neither airy and crumbly nor too dense. It’s really all about preference and it would seem that Martha and I, or at least Martha’s test kitchen, prefer the same texture of cupcake, so we get along well.

The one time Martha did really let me down was a recipe on her website for Billy’s vanilla cupcakes. Those were a disaster for me, but since Billy runs a successful bakery in NY, I’m guessing it had something to do with the ingredients. The thing is, some ingredients differ from the US to Canada. For one, our flour is different. If you are interested, here is a good run-down on the differences between Canadian and American flours: http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/flour. Mostly the difference is that Canadian flour tends to have more protein and can be used truly as an all-purpose flour, negating the necessity to use cake & pastry flour or bread flour. I have heard that Canadian icing sugar differs from American, but I’m not really sure about this one since my research did not show any difference.

At any rate, Billy’s cupcakes called for a mix of cake & pastry flour and all-purpose flour. This could have been the reason for the fail or it could have been the combo of the flour and the 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Sometimes too much of a good thing is too much! They were a fallen, buttery mess when I took them out of the oven.

There was also the time that I didn’t trust Martha: the gingerbread cupcake incident. In Martha’s Cupcakes book, her recipe for gingerbread cupcakes with gingerbread cut-outs does not call for any leavening agent, other than eggs. This disturbed me, so I went to her website and discovered that a different recipe for gingerbread cupcakes called for baking powder and baking soda so I decided that I would add both to my cupcakes. They rose spectacularly in the oven…..and then fell just as spectacularly. There was a gingerbread mess all over my cupcake pans. I decided to trust Martha and made another batch as the recipe dictated, to the letter, and those turned out properly (there was at total of 12 dozen cupcakes made that day in my small kitchen). This is a denser cupcake, so beware; but I personally love a dense gingerbread cake. I’m a huge fan of the Christmastime gingerbread loaf at Starbucks. In the end, I made lemonade out of lemons, scraping as much of the gingerbread mess as I could off of the pans and cupcake liners and served it as “Gingerbread Pudding with Irish Cream Liqueur Sauce.”

I plan to read more into this in the future so that I play around with recipes more, but Rose Levy Beranbaum, another of my favourite bakers, warns that you cannot simply double the baking powder or baking soda when doubling a recipe. Her book, The Cake Bible, is awesome and contains a lot of useful information, as well as her blog, http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/.

So back to the lemon cupcakes. I have never seen a Meyer lemon in an Ottawa supermarket or produce store, so I generally avoid those recipes, even though MS’s recipes state that regular lemons can be substituted, I feel like I’m committing some sort of crime by not using Meyer lemons. I used the recipe for the Lemon Meringue Cupcake instead. As for the cream cheese frosting recipe, I’ve come up with a modified version from the one in the back of the book that I prefer. It could be the difference in ingredients, as I tend to use light cream cheese, if that is what I have in my stocked fridge. I’m not sure, but the recipe as written always turned out too thin to properly pipe on cupcakes. As an aside, I am well aware that cupcakes are not healthy fare, so I try not to eat them, except for taste-testing. My fridge is generally stocked with healthier food, such as light cream cheese, which I can eat, alongside the whipping cream and butter, which I should not eat. If I get a last minute order and don’t have time to go out to buy full-fat cream cheese, I’ll use the light and tell myself that I’m doing my customers a favour amongst all the other fat that they are getting! As long as my customers are happy, I’m happy, and this last batch of light cream cheese frosting was a big hit. Here is my modification:

1/2 cup of butter
12 oz of light cream cheese
4 cups of icing sugar
1 tsp of Tahitian vanilla pure extract (available from Golda’s Kitchen)

Cream the butter and cream cheese together first. Add the icing sugar, a half a cup at a time and blend well. Add the vanilla and blend.

A note on the extract: do not skimp and use artificial extracts. It really makes a difference to use pure extracts. CostCo sells Madagascar vanilla at a reasonable price, and this is what I use for most things, including cake and cupcake recipes; but for the more delicate, non-chocolate buttercreams and frostings I use the Tahitian vanilla as it is a bit subtler.