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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

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