It’s it my all-time favorite flavor: lemon. I love the tartness, the freshness, and the fact that it can be used in both sweet desserts and savory dishes. They’re also cute for decorating!
Last weekend I went to a house warming party for a close friend of mine, and decided to bring lemon cupcakes. I am known for my cupcakes, so it’s pretty much a given that I bring them to social events. I chose lemon, because it seemed like a nice springtime dessert, and hey, I think we’re all ready to welcome spring.
I made these cupcakes many times before, including when I had my little on-the-side cake business. I start with a lightly flavored lemon cake, fill each cupcake with lemon curd, and then top them with a generous amount of lemon flavored cream cheese icing. Lemon really is a nice way to brighten up cream cheese icing, taking off a tiny bit of the sweetness with some tart, but keeping all the creamy goodness of the cream cheese. In the past, I have topped them with sprinkles, or lemon zest, but this time I had a picture in my mind of a piece of lemon slice candy and a mint leaf to give it a fresh-lemony look.
I searched high and low for lemon slice candy. And, of course, I waited until last minute so I really didn’t have time to order online. I was about to give up and just use sprinkles when I came across these candied lemon slices at Trader Joe’s. They were perfect! I think they are a “limited time” item, so I grabbed a couple packages of them, just in case I couldn’t find them again.
The recipe below for my lemon cupcakes is a “semi-homemade” recipe that starts with a cake mix, making it super easy. Also, while I have made my own homemade lemon curd before, I think store-bought is just as good in this instance, as the amount of lemon curd in each cupcake is minimal. Don’t skimp on the cream cheese icing by using a reduced fat version – these are cupcakes after all! The recipe makes approximately 2 ½ dozen cupcakes.
I also brought an antipasto tray to the party (I FAILED to take a picture of it, of course!). They are really easy and fun to put together and the presentation is stunning on any table. I whipped up a Lemon Basil Ricotta dip to add to the tray. This is a really easy recipe and makes for a nice, light dip for crusty bread. You can serve it warm or cold. And of course, all this lemon talk reminded me of some other recipes I’ve shared that feature lemon, like my One Pot Greek Lemon Chicken and Rice, Lemon Caper Chicken, and various renditions of Risotto, including the Spring Pea Risotto pictured below. Here’s the cupcake recipe, but scroll on for the ricotta recipe as well as the risotto.
Semi-Homemade Lemon Cupcakes
1 Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix
1 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup water
¼ fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 10 oz. jar of prepared lemon curd (I use Dickinson’s or Trader Joe’s)
1 batch of Lemon Cream Cheese Icing (recipe below)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tins with cupcake papers (I use yellow for these cupcakes so they look festive, being lemon and all….also, you’ll need about 2 ½ dozen). In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cake mix, flour, and sugar together. In a separate mixing bowl, mix the sour cream and eggs with an electric mixer, then add the water and lemon juice. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing on low until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated, then switch to high and beat for 1 to 2 minutes. Using an ice cream scoop, fill each cupcake cup approximately 2/3-3/4 of the way (about 1 scoopful of batter). Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Do not allow the tops to brown. Cool in the pan for 3 minutes, then move to cooling racks. Allow to cool completely.
Once the cupcakes are cool, using a cupcake corer, or the end of a large piping tip, gently make a small hole in each cupcake – do not go all the way through, just to the middle of the cake. Save the cake scraps for snacks later. Use a piping bag and narrow tip to fill each cupcake with about 1 teaspoon of lemon curd. You’ll want to fill to the top of the cake, but do not let it overflow – you want a smooth surface on top for the icing. After filling the cupcakes, pipe about 2-3 swirls of icing onto each cupcake, then top with sprinkles, lemon zest, or candied lemon slices.
Lemon Cream Cheese Icing
1 8-oz. package cream cheese at room temperature (do not use reduced fat)
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 2-lb. bag of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until completely mixed and smooth. Add the powdered sugar, turn the mixer on low, then slowly drizzle in the lemon juice one tablespoon at a time and increasing the speed of the mixer until the icing is a smooth and spreadable consistency. Add the vanilla, then beat on high for 3 minutes until the icing is completely smooth. *You may need to add more or lemon juice depending on the time of year, the humidity in the air, etc. But be sure to add it just one tablespoon at a time, or you may end up adding too much and you’ll have runny icing.
Keep the icing in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and bring to room temperature before use.
Lemon Basil Ricotta Dip
In a food processor, blend 1 15-oz. container of ricotta with the zest of one lemon, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of dried basil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a ¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper. Blend until smooth, and add more seasonings if desired. Using the end of a spoon, make a swirl in the top, then drizzle olive oil in the swirl and top with some chopped pistachios. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with crusty bread, crackers, or as part of an antipasto or charcuterie tray. *May be heated in an oven-proof dish and served warm if desired.
Spring Pea and Lemon Risotto
Follow my recipe for Basic Risotto, using either chicken or vegetable broth. Steam (or microwave) 8 ounces of peas until not-quite done (don’t make the mushy!) then stir in the juice of one lemon, a ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon oregano. Fold into the finished risotto, finishing with another squeeze of lemon and Parmesan cheese, if desired.