Last weekend we gathered with friends to celebrate the forthcoming birth of a new family. The party [yes, party. this was not a baby shower. and yes, boys were invited.] was co-hosted by myself and two lovely ladies, all of us brought together by our shared bond to Joe and Erin, the parents-to-be. The event was in the works for two months. Dozens of emails were passed between the three hostesses as we planned. The only request from Erin was that there be no diaper decorations and no silly shower games. No problem.
We decided to throw a simple summer party and to decorate using colors inspired by the nursery; shades of blue, yellow, and green. There was fruit-laden sangria and homemade lemonade, pulled-pork sandwiches and corn straight from Erin's family's farm. The weather was kind, overcast and cool with only the slightest spattering of rain. We sat outside sharing stories and laughter as candlelight flickered across happy faces long into the night.
Also, we ate cupcakes.
[To see more images of the evening, visit the AHPhoto blog.]
I love an opportunity to make cupcakes, and an outdoor summer party seemed to be the perfect occasion. A quick email to Erin verified that she had no preference for cake flavor, which was lucky because I had already decided that chocolate wasn't an option. It just didn't fit in with the party decor, which is a perfectly valid excuse I assure you.
And so I was left thinking about vanilla and lemon. It is no secret that I am a fanatic for citrus-flavored sweets, with four lemon cakes, citrus scones, key lime butter cookies, and coconut lime bars all listed on the Bella Eats recipe page. I should probably apologize for giving you yet another citrus dessert...but I won't. You just can't go wrong with citrus, and that requires no apology.
The cake itself is actually a modification of an old favorite, borrowed from the Lemon Mousse Cake I made for my own birthday a few months ago. It is a chiffon cake, made light and spongy by the egg whites folded into the batter just before baking. The addition of lemon and orange zest brightens the flavor, but it is the swirl atop the golden domes that truly stands out. The meringue buttercream seemed to be a hit, although it is the most unusual frosting I have ever tasted. A finger swiped across the side of the mixing bowl produces a dollop of ultra-creamy spread that melts as soon as it hits the tongue. At first the taste buds are overwhelmed with the flavor of butter, which then melts away to become a bright pop of lemon, that then fades to the slow warmth of Grand Marnier. It is a three-step process using each third of the tongue - front, middle, back - in succession, with each flavor forming its own distinct statement. And it isn't too sweet, so you could easily eat several cupcakes without causing your teeth to ache.
Not that I would know that...
The frosting shapes beautifully, and despite my fears did not melt in the warm and humid evening air. A summer winner, for sure.
- 5 eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cups sugar
- 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1/2 fresh lemon, seeds discarded
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened slightly
- 1/3 cup orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350º. Line 1 standard muffin tin with 12 liners, and another with 6 liners.
- In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, butter, milk and vanilla. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt to blend. Add the lemon and orange zest and blend with your fingers to separate clumps. Add the egg yolk mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside.
- In a clean dry bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Lower the mixer speed to medium and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating the whites until they hold stiff peaks. Stir about one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten. Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter, in two batches, to blend thoroughly.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, filling each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
- Set the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and allow them to cool completely on wire racks.
- Heat whites and sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and a thermometer registers 160°F. Remove bowl from heat and beat mixture in standing electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick, glossy peaks form. If mixture is still warm, continue beating until cool. (this takes about 10 minutes)
- With mixer running, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add liqueur and lemon juice, beating on high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 10 minutes. If buttercream begins to separate, beat on high speed until smooth.
- Use a pastry bag to pipe frosting over cupcakes once they are completely cool. Keep refrigerated until ready to consume.