It’s is OBVIOUS that I have food blogger disease. Because I have started to look for excuses to bake. Not that I necessarily need an excuse to bake, but the reality is, I’m clearly in the honeymoon phase of blogging, coming up with ideas and rushing to my pantry to see what supplies I have. In fact I was down to only FOUR sticks of butter last week because of my constant kitchen experiments! THE HORROR!
But my most recent excuse to bake was my friend Felisa’s birthday. She turns a ripe old 35 years, and when you reach middle age (according to the US Census – 35 is considered middle aged! Good thing, she filled out her census BEFORE her birthday!), I figure it deserves some sort of baked good. So I made cupcakes for her.
The cupcakes, however, were NOT the sort of everyday cupcakes that I make. Nope. I decided to take Felisa’s favorite cake that I make and turn them into cupcakes. Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart (I know, just a couple of posts ago, I had talked about how I didn’t like Martha Stewart, but this is one of her recipes that is definitely a win), this italian cream cake is suitable for a wedding cake. Or so Martha says in the recipe.
I believe her. In fact, the reason I know that it’s Felisa’s favorite cake that I make is because she actually asked me to make her wedding cake – using this specific cake recipe. I had just met her a couple of months prior via our mutual friend Rita, and had invited her and her fiance (now husband) Chris to our dessert party. I had only met her once or twice before and she had never been to one of our dessert parties before. When she had a slice of the cake, she came up to me, and asked me what it was. Then she started raving about it and with an odd look of bliss, asked me if I would make her wedding cake with this recipe.
I looked at her like the crazy woman that she was and immediately said “Um. No.” – mostly because I thought she was joking. Years later she confided to me that she wasn’t joking. She really wanted me to make her wedding cake – she liked the cake that much. Oops….I really did think she was joking! I mean, I’ve never made a wedding cake before, that’s would totally be a lot of pressure. Had she been getting married now and asked me, I might considered it…but back then, forget it.
Clearly our friendship has endures past my immediate rejection of her request for a wedding cake from me. But I’ve tried to make that same cake for most of my dessert parties I know she is going to be at (see I take requests…) to make up for it. And since she has gone on and on about her love of lemons, I decided to pair it with a lemon buttercream.
The lemon buttercream is also a frosting that people seem to love. My friend Ralph and Linsey had a baby shower and commissioned me to make them a cake for it years ago, and I made a variation of this italian cream cake, with the buttercream frosting (along with a lemon curd and lemon custard filling). For YEARS afterwards they said they had friends talk about the frosting. Their friends kept on saying things like “I could eat this frosting by the SPOONFUL!” and “It’s SO light! I love it!”
If they read the recipe, they would know that it’s really not that light. So don’t show them this recipe. It’s basically butter. With a little sugar and lemon. But mostly butter.
To kick the cupcake up a notch further, I made a lemon curd and piped some curd filling into the cupcake. And because I had frozen leftover sugar cookie dough from making the cookies for Susie and Jai’s Engagement Party I decided to make little cookie decorations for the cupcakes. Also, because I have recently learned the wonders of royal icing.
In short, I totally succumbed to may food blogging disease and went over the top with the cupcakes (I mean sure not TOTALLY over the top. I wasn’t sculpting insane hello kitty heads out of marzipan or fondant, but it was over the top for me). Oh my obsession with food blogging! I shake my fist at you!
Felisa didn’t seem to mind. We went and had dinner at K’s Kitchen – a fantastic sushi restaurant that our friends Steve and Anjana turned us on to. They were there, along with our friends Stella (Felisa’s sister) and Karen. Sadly Karen’s husband decided to stay home with their new baby, but that meant we got Karen to come out with us to celebrate! It was a fab evening all the way around, and since I didn’t tell anyone that I was bringing the cupcakes, they brought along a chocolate cake so everyone got two desserts. Well you only turn 35 once right?
By Irvin Lin
Italian Cream Cupcake
cupcake adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookbook
5 large eggs – separated at room temperature
2 cups superfine granulated white sugar (sometimes called baker’s sugar)
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter
1/2 cup trans-free shortening
1 teaspoon sea salt
zest of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups cake flour
1. Preheat the oven to 325˚. Line two muffin tins with 24 paper liners.
2. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar to the egg white until it thickens up and looks like meringue. Put aside.
3. Cream the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter, shortening, salt and lemon zest with a mixer until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides, and add the vanilla extract. Mix and add an egg yolk at a time (stopping periodically to scrape down the sides) until the mixture is yellow, thick and well blended.
4. Stir the buttermilk and the baking soda together and add 1/3 of it to the butter mixture. Mix and then add 1 cup of the flour and mix again. Repeat with the buttermilk and then the flour, ending on the buttermilk.
5. Using a large spatula gently fold in the egg whites.
6. Divide the batter and spoon into the paper liners. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through.
7. Cool the cupcakes in the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing.
Note 1. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use heavy cream as a substitute. If you don’t have heavy cream or buttermilk, take 1 cup of milk and add a tablespoon of lemon juice to it. Let it sit for five minutes or so until it thickens and use in place of buttermilk.
Note 2. This recipe is originally designed for a wedding cake. It’s important to note that when you make wedding cakes you want flat level cakes to stack. This recipe results in a flat cake without a lot of dome. However, when making cupcakes, people seem to like more domed tops, which you WON’T get with this one. The advantage of a flat topped cupcake is you get to put more frosting on top! However if you are one of those people who wants a domed cupcake top, increase the temperature of the oven to 375˚ for the first 15 minutes and then drop the temperature back to 325˚ for 10 minutes and then test for doneness.
Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Buttercream
adapted from The Olives Dessert Table by Todd English, Paige Retus and Sally Sampson.
2 large eggs
7 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 Tbls sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1. Add the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, zest and lemon juice in a double boiler and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens up – around 10 minutes, all the while whisking it. Once the mixture starts to thicken, turn the heat up to medium and cook until it thickens and “tracks” when you pull the whisk through it.
2. Add the butter and strain, discarding the solids. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least an hour before using. You can store it in the fridge for a couple of days.
Note. Any leftovers are great on toast!
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbls sugar
1 1/4 cup (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter – cool but not cold
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, lemon zest and sugar in a double boiler and turn it on to medium heat. Whisk constantly for about 6 minutes – until the mixture is thickened, light in color and hot.
2. Pour the mixture into a standing mixer bowl fitted with the whisk and whip the mixture on high for about 5 minutes until it has cooled off and lightened in color to a pale yellow.
3. Once the mixture has cooled (feel the side of the bowl to make sure it’s cool) add the butter about 1/4 stick at at time, whipping until smooth, periodically stopping to scrape the sides. Then add the vanilla bean and vanilla extract and whip again.
4. If the frosting is too soft, stick it in fridge for 20 minutes or so. Then scrape it down and whip for 1 minute.
To assemble cupcake
1. Take the cooled cupcake and cut a 1/2″ wide and 1″ deep tunnel in the middle of the top of the cupcake with a paring knife. Discard the extra cake (or eat it, which is what I did).
2. Take the lemon curd and put it in piping bag fitted with a #806 tip (any large round tip will do probably, this is just the one I had on hand). Pipe into the “tunnel” the lemon curd until it is filled.
3. Take the lemon buttercream frosting and put in a piping bag fitted with a #824 tip (any large star tip will do, again this is what I had around) and pipe frosting on top of the cupcake in swirl, ending with a fat tip in the center.
4. Take a decorative sugar cookie that you made with leftover sugar cookie dough, from a previous baking adventure, that you have already decorated with whatever you want to decorate it with, and stick it on top of the cupcake in the center. Or just skip this step and sprinkle the cupcake with decorative sprinkles or sanding sugar.
5. Serve at room temperature.