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Help, my mother-in-law ordered cupcakes (or, Lemon³ Cupcakes)

September 24, 2009

I have great in-laws. My husband has one unmarried brother (yes, ladies, he’s straight, he cooks and he’s good-looking) so I’m the only “daughter” in the family. My father-in-law actually once called me his #1 daughter (although I think he was trying to flatter me into teaching him how to use Facebook at the time – and, um, NO). After a couple years, my mother-in-law finally started letting me help do dishes after dinner at their house, which trust me, was a huge gesture of acceptance. I’ve never been so pleased to do dishes, ever. So yeah, we get along. Even though they live a mere half-hour away from us.

Nonetheless, when their number(s) crop up on our caller ID, I pass the phone to their son, who happily chatters with them for half an hour or more, more than once a week. I’ll answer it if I’m home alone, but otherwise, it’s all on him. So it was a little surprising the other week when his mother called and, with no hi-how-are-you chitchat, said “Let me talk to your wife.” He covered the mouthpiece and whispered, “She wants to talk to YOU!” I mouthed back, “Your MOM?!” and much wild gesticulating ensued.

Turns out Mom was going to a friend’s for dinner over the weekend and ran out of time to bake some dessert to take along. So she figured she’d call me. And ask for two dozen cupcakes. (?!) Sure, no problem! I said. I even agreed to drop them off at her office on Friday. What kind would she like? Oh, any kind, use whatever ingredients you have on hand, they’re all so delicious. (?!?!) . . . We hung up and I sort of sputtered the gist of the conversation to my husband. Like I said, I get along with his folks, but this was unusual. Mom likes to do her own baking, and I’ve never been called into service. And whatever kind I want?! Is this some kind of pop quiz on an unnamed subject?? I prefer the teensiest bit of direction; I probably have 300 cupcake recipes and honestly find narrowing down the candidates the most difficult part of the baking process. Fortunately, my Facebook friends came to the rescue and suggested lemon cupcakes.

Lemon3 Cupcakes

Lemon³ Cupcakes

I’ve made these several times before, so they’re tried and true and always go over well. The cupcake is light and fluffy, with a hint of lemon. I make homemade lemon curd for the filling, which adds a bright, tart hit of lemon flavor. The lemon frosting is pretty garden-variety, although if I know the cupcakes are going to adults only, I’ll use limoncello instead of lemon juice. Finally, a garnish of candied lemon peel looks pretty and really says, “Why, yes, I DID slave over these Just. For. You. (Could you get these at the grocery store? Idon’tthinkso.)” Altogether it makes a lovely, sunshiny package of lemony goodness.

Lemon Cupcakes

(Adapted from Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans)

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ⅔ cup milk
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter (cut into 5 pieces)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with paper liners (this recipe makes 12 cupcakes).

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Put the milk and butter into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until hot, about 150°F. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar until thickened and lightened to a cream color, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. On low speed, mix in the flour mixture to incorporate it. Slowly mix in the hot milk mixture until the batter is smooth.

Fill each paper liner with a scant ⅓ cup of batter, to about ¼ inch below the top of the liner. Bake just until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a wire rack.

Lemon Curd

  • 3 lemons
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Fill a medium saucepan or the bottom of a double boiler half full with water, and bring to a simmer*.

Meanwhile, with a microplane or zester, remove 2 teaspoons of lemon zest. Squeeze ½ cup juice.

Whisk all ingredients in a heatproof bowl or the top of a double boiler. Set over simmering water and cook, whisking frequently, until opaque, thickened and smooth, about 20 minutes. Chill.

* If the water is boiling rather than simmering, the additional heat may cause the eggs to scramble. Avoid this by maintaining a gentle simmer. If you notice any bits, chunks, or other nastiness in the curd, strain it.

Lemon Frosting

  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (or limoncello)

Cream the butter. Gradually add half the powdered sugar, then a tablespoon of lemon juice. Continue adding powdered sugar and lemon juice until the sugar has all been added and the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Candied Lemon Peel

  • ½ cup sugar, plus 1 tbsp
  • ½ cup water
  • 1-2 lemons

Peel long strips of lemon zest with a vegetable peeler. Julienne into thin strips.

Stir the ½ cup sugar into the water in a small saucepan. Add the strips of lemon peel. Simmer over low heat until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated. Spread the candied peel in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss with 1 tbsp sugar to coat. Allow to dry.


Fill the cooled cupcakes with lemon curd. I use a Wilton piping tip (#230) and a pastry bag. Alternatively, you could fill the cupcakes by the “cone method” – for me, this takes roughly 3x longer than piping in the filling, but YMMV. (Note:  the lemon curd recipe I’ve given will fill probably 48 cupcakes. Leftover lemon curd is delicious on pancakes, especially these. It’s also delicious on a spoon.)

Frost the filled cupcakes with lemon frosting.

Top with a few strips of candied lemon peel.

Lemon³ Cupcakes


The Original 1upcake (or, Minted Green Tea with White Chocolate Cupcakes)

September 22, 2009

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my husband brought home a t-shirt for me. It featured what looked like a Super Mario Bros. mushroom sprouting from a cupcake wrapper, with the caption “1upcake”. And so a dream was born. I said, “I want to open a cupcakery! And call it 1upcakes!”

Then reality set in – reality being, a) I have no food-service experience, unless you count volunteering to schlep trays with my erstwhile church youth group at the Iowa State Trapshoot (don’t count it; it totally wasn’t service, two days a year isn’t experience, and it may or may not have been real food) and 2) we don’t really have the capital for me to start up any new ventures that would include a storefront lease and professional-grade ovens. I may salivate in an uber-attractive way whenever Robert Irvine swings open the double doors of a Blodgett, but sadly, drool is not cash.

Deterred from actually opening a business, but not from pretending I was a master cupcake artist (hahahahaha), I set about creating a signature 1upcake. It had to be green, with white dots, I insisted, to match the ubiquitous mushroom icon. What can you put in a cupcake that’s green??? Well, green tea is green. Mint is green. Might as well throw them both in. And for the white dots, white chocolate chips. Then add a white chocolate mousse filling to tie things together, sort of.

Okay, so it doesn't look EXACTLY like the mushroom . . .

Okay, so it doesn't look EXACTLY like the mushroom.

The recipe is based on a simple chiffon cupcake. After several iterations, I realized that by whipping the egg whites before the yolks, I could skip washing my stand mixer bowl in between steps. Personally, I think this may be one of my favorite realizations ever; I’d much rather have to wash an extra bowl afterwards than stop and wash mid-cycle. Straight matcha powder, I discovered, is horrendously expensive and impossible to find other than online, even in Chicago. I go to Starbucks and ask nicely for a cupful of their green tea powder; they have never balked at giving me a cupful at no charge, which is awesome. It is, reportedly, cut with sweetener, but it works just fine nonetheless. In total for the cupcakes and frosting, you’ll need 5 tablespoons (aka 2.5 ounces).

Minted Green Tea Cupcakes

(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Chocolate Chiffon Cupcake recipe. I am so, so sorry that he uses weight instead of measure.)

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 5/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 4 oz cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 oz matcha powder
  • 6 oz sugar (divided use)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp mint extract

Preheat oven to 325F and place liners in 2 cupcake pans (one batch makes ~24 cupcakes).

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until foamy. Reduce the speed to low and trickle in 1 ounce of sugar. Increase the speed back to high and beat to stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Scrape the beaten egg whites into a mixing bowl and reserve.

Combine matcha powder and hot water (I do this right in the measuring cup). Stir/whisk until well combined. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Back to the stand mixer (no need to wash; this is why I do the egg whites first). Whisk the egg yolks with 5 ounces sugar on high for about two minutes, until the mixture is pale yellow and forms “ribbons” when lifted. Add the matcha mixture, oil and mint extract; whisk just until combined.

Fold the egg whites into the batter in thirds. (I like to gently fold until no white streaks remain; failure to do so can result in green-and-white striped cupcakes.) Transfer the batter into the cupcake pans (a 2-ounce disher is perfect for this). Bake for 17 minutes, turn on the oven light and check for uneven browning. If they look uniform, leave ’em in for another 8 minutes; if not, turn the pans and then let them go 8 minutes more. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on a rack before filling and frosting.

White Chocolate Mousse Filling

  • 8 ounces white chocolate
  • 1 cup whipping cream (divided use)
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup

Chill a stainless steel mixing bowl, beaters and whipping cream in the freezer.

Combine the white chocolate, corn syrup and 1/4 cup whipping cream in a small, heavy saucepan and melt over very low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool.

Beat the remaining 3/4 cup whipping cream in the chilled bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cooled white chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Chill until cold.

Green Tea Buttercream

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp matcha powder
  • 2-3 tbsp cream or milk

Cream the butter. Gradually add half the powdered sugar and the matcha powder. If the mixture looks too thick or dry, add a tablespoon of milk. Continue adding powdered sugar and/or milk until the sugar has all been added and the mixture reaches the desired consistency.


Fill the cooled cupcakes with white chocolate mousse. I use a Wilton piping tip (#230, I believe) and a pastry bag. Alternatively, you could fill the cupcakes by the “cone method” – for me, this takes roughly 3x longer than piping in the filling, but YMMV. (Note:  the recipe I’ve given will leave you with more than enough mousse for 24 cupcakes; you could maybe halve it, but I like to have extra just in case the piping bag explodes or whatever.)

Frost the cupcakes with the green tea buttercream. I just slather it on with a butter knife, since my like-a-mushroom design calls for more of a smooth, rounded dome. Use a piping bag if you prefer.

Top the frosted cupcakes with white chocolate chips. I flip mine upside down to make them look like polka dots, but again, do as you wish.

Filled cupcake

Semi-proud half-Pinoy (or, Ube-Macapuno Cupcakes)

July 22, 2009

So, I understand that in theory it’s a good idea to post things in a timely fashion . . . but I’m new here. First day and all (unless you’re counting the days since these cupcakes were actually baked). Anyway . . . .

Last Monday my lovely friend and neighbor came over “for coffee” and ended up bundling me out of the house and over to a local Asian grocery. I am actually half Filipina, but as I frequently say, I’m the whitest little Asian girl you ever did meet. Growing up, my mom was the only other Filipina in a 50-mile radius (at least), and I wasn’t all brimming with curiosity about, well, anything she had to say. Suffice it to say I’m not exactly an authority on Filipino culture. I do, however, vividly remember the one and only time I saw and tasted ube cake.

<flashback> It was at a cousin’s wedding – ironically, in Chicago. I’ve blocked out most of the event due to an unfortunate wardrobe selection (1989. pouf skirt. gah.) but I remember the cake. Underneath the standard wedding-white buttercream was a layer cake in the most vividly shocking shade of purple I could imagine. The layers were somehow moist and yet light, with a mildly sweet, delicate flavor I couldn’t place or describe (then again, I was only 11). </flashback>

It was years later before I’d discover that ube is a purple yam. And unexpectedly hard to come by. They have ube powder, they have purple yam jam (heh. yam jam.) but I’ve never found fresh ube before. So when we happened across them in the store last week, it was time to attempt an ube cupcake creation.

Ube, in the flesh

Ube, in the flesh.



Boiled & "mashed."

Boiled & "mashed."

I’ve seen some ube cake recipes, but they all called for 6-7 eggs and a lot of violet food coloring. I had 4 eggs in the fridge, no violet food coloring, and no red food coloring – blue, yellow and green, but no red due to last month’s red velvet cupcake extravaganza, and I just got BACK from the store, dammit – so I found a recipe for sweet potato cake and changed it up a bit. The ube doesn’t seem to mash up like a regular potato or sweet potato; it sort of broke down into sticky clumps and refused to smooth out, even after multiple threats. I forged ahead anyway, using a cup of white sugar and substituting the corn syrup with pureed macapuno string (my one self-proclaimed stroke of genius, that. I used to eat the stuff by the spoonful when I was a kid. Macapuno is, per the label, “gelatinous mutant coconut.” Really, it is so much better than it sounds . . . think firm coconut jelly, if that helps, which it probably doesn’t).

Batter up.

Batter up.

The cake batter did lack that vibrant purple hue I remembered so well, but it tasted good  (yes, I taste the batter even though it has raw egg in it. I’m a maverick).



The cupcakes went in at 350°F for 22 minutes, with a pan rotation at 15 minutes. I sampled them pre-frosting and was pleased with the flavor; definitely ube, with a little coconut from the macapuno, but not too sweet.

For the frosting, I creamed 8 ounces of cream cheese with a stick of unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons yam jam before adding in about 3 cups of powdered sugar. This was definitely a disappointment, though . . . the jam, although seemingly firm, thinned out the frosting’s consistency to the point of ooziness.  The frosting tasted great after 2 cups of powdered sugar but was too sweet and still not stiff enough to pipe even after an additional cup. Next time, I’ll either reduce or eliminate the jam and use ube powder instead. Regardless, I topped the frosted cupcakes off with a macapuno ball and, because the recipe churned out over 2 dozen, we’ve been eating them ever since.

Ube-macapuno cupcakes with ube frosting and a macapuno ball

Ube-macapuno cupcakes with ube frosting and a macapuno ball

Stay tuned; tomorrow I’m recreating the original 1upcake, minted green tea with white chocolate mousse filling. Of course, I can’t guarantee they’ll actually get posted tomorrow, but they’ll get here eventually.