Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meyer Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling

What do you get for the girl who wants "monkey robot ninja space pirates" for her birthday? And what do you bake for someone who likes cupcakes, but not frosting? I guess there are probably lots of answers to these questions, especially if you're good at genetic engineering or mystic animal kung fu, but I'm sadly deficient in these areas.

It was actually kind of hard to find a good frosting-free cupcake recipe for my best friend Nicole's birthday. I decided fairly early on that a filled cupcake would probably be the best bet, but most filled recipes also call for frosting to hide the huge gaping hole at the top of each cake. So when I settled on the idea of lemon cake and homemade lemon curd filling, I had to find a way to make the pairing look pretty without a thick white layer of cream cheese or meringue goodness on top. And that's where the monkey robot ninja space pirates came in.

I enlisted the birthday girl's significant other (yes, these were for a 27th birthday, not a 7th) to carve out some handmade stencils in the shape of skulls & crossbones, robots, monkey ninjas and old school rocketships. He did this by drawing a design onto some thick paper, "laminating" the paper with scotch tape, and then carving each design out with an exacto knife. After that, I just set one on top of a cupcake, dusted it with powdered sugar, and voila! Monkey robot ninja space pirate stencils, or whatever you please (and are capable of cutting out).

Meyer Lemon Cupcakes adapated from Martha Stewart
(makes 12)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange cupcake liners in muffin tin. Make lemon curd recipe (below), and place in refrigerator to cool.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk yogurt, vanilla, Meyer lemon zest and juice. If you don't have yogurt, buttermilk is a good substitute, though I find that the yogurt batter is somewhat thicker in the mixing stages, and easier to pour into the liners.
  3. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light in color. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between. On low speed, add one third of the flour mixture, one half of the yogurt mixture, one third of the flour, the other half of the yogurt, and the rest of the flour. Basically, alternate dry and wet - and don't overmix.
  4. Divide batter evenly among cupcake liners. Bake 20-25 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.
  5. With a melon baller, carefully scoop out the center of each cupcake. Spoon in lemon curd, and decorate as you please.
Meyer Lemon Curd adapted from Ina Garten
  • 1 large Meyer lemon, zested
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  1. Zest the lemon, avoiding the white pith. In a food processor, pulse zest and granulated sugar until combined.
  2. In electric mixer, cream butter and sugar/lemon zest mixture. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined. Keeping the mixer at medium low speed, add in lemon juice and pinch of salt.
  3. Pour contents of mixing bowl into a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens considerably, about ten minutes. Stir it constantly during this stage, and check the temperature periodically. Ina's recipe says that the curd will thicken at about 170 degrees (just below simmer), and I found this to be true.
  4. Remove from heat, refrigerate. Cook cupcakes (recipe above).
  5. Spoon lemon curd into cupcakes, and decorate with powdered sugar, preferably in the shape of monkey ninjas (pictured below).
I should specify that I made these Meyer lemon rather than regular lemon not out of design, but out of cheapness - Justin's parents have a Meyer lemon tree in their yard, and free lemons are way better than store-bought lemons. I do appreciate that Meyers taste a little bit sweeter than the normal variety, but they aren't a necessity. Make these with whatever lemons are handy (or free - free always tastes the best).

So I wouldn't necessarily say that this recipe is healthier for you than normal cupcakes, but there's tanginess in the lemon curd, sweetness in the cupcake, and absolutely no need for the added sugar in the frosting. It's certainly a nice departure from the norm. Plus, if you frosted these babies, how could you decorate them with kickass jolly rogers?


Jennifer said...

Oh how fun!!! I love the filling and the stencil work!

Xiaolu said...

Simply adorable! It's nice to have some decorating options that don't involve a pound of frosting 8D

gaga said...

What cute designs. I tried something similar once to spell out happy birthday for my husband but it didn't turn out nearly as pretty as yours.

Dana said...

Jennifer - thank you for the compliments! This was my first time stencilling, believe it or not. I think I got lucky in my choice of helper-monkey.

Xiaolu - it was definitely nice to skip the frosting this time.

Gaga - Thanks! You should give the stencil another shot. Not every cupcake turned out as well as these, but they were pretty nice, overall, and you can fudge things a bit with a toothpick.

eisha said...

those look so delicious. any leftovers?

Lickedspoon said...

These are heaven! Lemony heaven! I adore the stencils, especially the skull and crossbones. I was planning on making lemon curd tomorrow so you've spurred me on.

Nicole said...

Seriously, I have the coolest friends ever. Those cupcakes were awesome! You guys rock- thank you!

AgentVulpecula said...

God, these look freaking awesome! i can't wait to make them.

vampiregran said...

These cupcakes are uber cute! I love skull and crossbones. What a clever idea. Thanks for sharing and all of the great instructions and photos.