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lemon cupcakes & another birthday celebration

lemony love for a another birthday celebration ::::

Like a carpet dotted with oranges and yellows at my feet, the pumpkins are aplenty this weekend. So are the tired, stunted ponies. And the miniature train rides through haunted houses and pony stalls. And, of course, the towering jumpy houses, vibrating with jumpers and humming with air. The goats look at me with their spooky keyhole pupils, fat and hungry for food. The morning fog melts off quickly, leaving a perfectly blue, cloudless sky. The balloon animal makers, twins saving money for college, are accosted by kids asking for Ariel the mermaid, purple kitties, and black spider hats. The glitter tattoo station is wildly popular with girls and boys (Flowers! Spiders!). Music first weakly wafts from some unseen speakers, then is usurped by the 80s rock cover band, the midlife crises group of men dressed in Hawaiian shirts, donning almost-mullets. The lawn fills steadily with people. The concession stand hosts cues of people wanting something fried topped with whipped cream from a can.

We are at a birthday party. Peach’s birthday party. The big  one.  Age four. (Isn’t every  birthday before age 21 important?) When princess and Hello Kitty themes were fading from our small family get-together at home, we immersed ourselves in it again this weekend. In public.  At the most off-the-hook pumpkin farm in the area.


After the Cinderella-Hello Kitty topped Revelatory Caramel Cake, we moved onto these lemon cupcakes for the birthday celebration with Peach’s friends from school and the neighborhood. Seeing as this was first “real” birthday party we planned for one of our children, and that she had very  specific instructions on how to go about it, it was imperative that there be cupcakes. With more Cinderella and Hello Kitty cake deco paraphernalia. The baking blog My Baking Addiction does cake well, stupendously  well, so I started there for a recipe. Cupcakes and kids’ birthday parties always go hand in hand. What could be simpler? No knife, minimal candles, no silverware. Done deal.


I made it known in my last post that I’m not a fan of the cake flour, in its bleachiness, its chemical aftertaste, whatever you want to call it, but I had to use it up. And, sadly, I think most American families are used to the taste, that taste that is prevalent in most store-bought cakes. Despite my misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised this time around. While I’m not running out to buy more cake flour anytime soon, it really worked here and made for a nice batch up cupcakes. And the frosting? I recant my blathering on standard cream cheese frosting from this post. The baby yellow lemon cream cheese frosting on these cupcakes is perfect on the crumb of the cake. It’s a subtle lemon flavor, without the slap of citrus sour that some cakes and frostings have. I like a citrusy slap once in a awhile, really, but the sting isn’t needed here.

Our cupcakes were enjoyed at the end of the party, pizza eaten, ponies ridden, pumpkins chosen. And the Princess gave a big thumbs up, especially for the frosting. Prosecco and strawberries in hand after the drive home, I slept well that night. And I might have had quite a few leftover cupcakes.


lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting
Recipe type: dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 24
  • 2¼ cups cake flour (try to find unbleached if you can)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk (Make your own! See asterisk below in Notes section.)*
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • lemon zest from two lemons
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe in Notes section)
  1. Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and eggs in a medium bowl.
  3. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and mix briefly to moisten sugar. Using an electric mixer, add the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
  4. Beat in the vanilla, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
  5. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  6. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Place the batter into the cupcake tins.
  7. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.**
  8. Cool completely on wire rack before frosting. I frosted the night before the party and kept the cupcakes at a cool cellar temperature. Makes 24 cupcakes.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting 1 - 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened 1 pound (453 g) confectioners’ sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract juice of one small lemon (about 30 ml / 1 ounce / ⅛ cup) sprinkling sugar (I used pink, per request) Using a mixer, blend the butter and cream cheese together until well combined. Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar until fully incorporated. Finally mix in vanilla and lemon juice. This is enough frosting for 24 frosting-heavy cupcakes or many more lightly frosted cupcakes (like mine). * Making buttermilk: Put 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into a measuring cup. Add in enough whole milk to make a cup. (If you need more, as you do in this recipe, calculate it out.) I used a scant teaspoon vinegar for ¼ cup milk. Allow to sit at room temperature to curdle/thicken slightly. ** Don't bake too many tins at once, or you will have cupcake centers that fall. If you like extra frosting, this is an excellent concave surface on which to pipe more. However, if you are looking for a hilly cupcake, just a little mound of delicate cake, then bake no more than 12 at a time. Or, try pre-heating the oven to 375 degrees F, putting in the cupcakes, and immediately turning down the heat to 350. (A tip from my mom. Let me know how it works.)



  • Yangsze May 7, 2012 Reply

    Ok, ok, I’m really craving lemon cakes so I think I’ll finally try to make this! Last weekend we went to the Ferry Building in SF and had an amazing Meyer lemon cake…

    • story May 7, 2012 Reply

      Meyer lemons — mmmm! Maybe try the recipe with Meyers instead?

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