Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes (Cupcake of the Month Series #7)

A couple weeks ago, I hosted a rather large-ish dinner party to celebrate a family birthday, and aside from the tomato sandwiches, butter roasted pecans, lowcountry boil, cream rolls, watermelon salad, and chicken kebabs, I served the July cupcake.

This lemon meringue cupcake really topped off our meal and provided a degree of entertainment for some members of my family.  You will notice that, despite the picture on the Martha Stewart website, I decided not to pipe the seven-minute frosting, which is just meringue with a deceptive name.

I have already learned my lesson when it comes to meringue and pastry bags.

This was not a quick cupcake, and the various elements were made over the course of two days.  The lemon curd was made the night before (literally, at about 10:30, which is why there are no pictures of the process), the cupcakes the morning of and the meringue/frosting about ten minutes before serving.

I apologize in advance for the quality of most of these photos.  My SLR camera was missing in action through most of the baking process, so I used my Canon Powershot instead.

I figured I would make the lemon curd first, as it was relatively simple and could be refrigerated overnight with no harm done.  Basically, if you've ever made any sort of custard, you already know the basics.  Combine 8 large egg yolks, the zest of two lemons, the juice of three lemons, and a cup of sugar in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  A wide 1 quart pan was plenty big enough.  Whisk to combine everything, then cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon.

No, I don't know why you have to use a wooden spoon.  But it was late, I was tired, and I wasn't going to argue with the recipe card.

You will need to stir for about 10 minutes, and let the mixture come to about 160 degrees on a thermometer.  I just used my meat thermometer with no problems.  Then, off heat, add a 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1 and 1/4 sticks of butter (that's 10 tablespoons), one tablespoon of butter at a time until blended and smooth.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl - my small Pyrex bowl was perfect.  Cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down on the surface of the lemon curd to avoid that weird pudding skin that forms when custards cool.

Refrigerate for up to a day if you're not using it immediately.

Now for the cupcakes.  I made these the night before as well (actually, I made the lemon curd while the cupcakes were baking).

In a medium mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of baking powder, and a half teaspoon of salt.  Set it aside for now.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (the big bowl, of course), beat together two sticks of unsalted butter that has been allowed to come to room temperature and two cups of granulated sugar.

Next add four large eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Then beat in the zest of three lemons and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Now you will need to add the flour mixture, a cup of buttermilk, and two tablespoons of lemon juice.  This is done in three additions of flour, alternated with two additions of buttermilk and lemon juice.  (So the order is 1/3 of the flour mixture, half a cup of buttermilk, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and repeat until you end with the last third of the flour mixture.)  Beat well in between additions to make sure everything is incorporated, and scrape the bowl as needed.


Now, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two standard muffin tins with cupcake liners.  Evenly divide the batter between the 24 cups, and then bake for 25 minutes.  I don't know why, again, my cupcakes didn't really "dome", but oh well! Let them cool completely in the tins before transferring them to an airtight container until you're ready to serve.  They'll keep for a day, or you can freeze them for 2 months.

(I had to get a little creative with fitting them into the container.  But this way you get to see the cute summery "gingham picnic table cloth" cupcake liners I found at Walmart.)

Alright, now comes the entertaining part.  The "seven-minute frosting."

In a small saucepan, combine one and a half cups of sugar, 2/3 of a cup of water, and two tablespoons of light corn syrup.  If you have a candy thermometer, you should clip it to the side of the pan so you can read when the syrup you're about to make reaches 230 degrees.  I do not own a candy thermometer, so I just carefully checked the temperature with my meat thermometer every few minutes.  Anyway, bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.  Then let it boil without stirring until it reaches 230 degrees.

While your syrup is getting happy on the stove, put 6 large egg whites (which should be at room temperature) into a mixing bowl and attach the whisk attachment.  Beat the whites until they form soft peaks, then beat in two tablespoons of sugar and beat to combine.

Once your meringue has reached the "soft peak" stage, carefully pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl, with the mixer running, on a medium-low speed.  Then increase the speed of the mixer to medium high and beat for about seven minutes, until stiff peaks form and the mixture has completely cooled.  Touch the bottom of the bowl to check out the progress.

I discovered that the 4-quart bowl that goes with my KitchenAid mixer is not large enough for this particular meringue product.  I had to pause after adding the sugar syrup to transfer the meringue to the larger 5-quart bowl.

Once the meringue is cool (or you reach the seven minute mark - mine wasn't quite what I'd call cool to the touch, but some ravenous people were starting to circle the kitchen), it needs to be used immediately. Commence with Operation Construct-A-Cupcake.

But wait, you're not done yet!  Now you need to toast that meringue!  Now, I do have a little butane kitchen torch.  I did not, however, have any gas for it.  Which I discovered about fifteen minutes before I started the whole meringue process.

But not to worry!  My husband had a butane soldering torch!

Hey, it worked.

Be aware, by the way, that if you put too much lemon curd on each cupcake, the meringue has nothing to "cling" to, and has a tendency to try and abandon ship.

Despite some sliding meringue, these turned out really cute and were worth all the time and effort.

And fourteen happy people, including one slightly ecstatic birthday boy (okay, he turned 23), got to dig in.

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