What do you do when life gives you lemons? In my case, extra special Amalfi lemons, carried all the way from Italy by our friends who own the best pizzeria in town. More on that soon. I don’t know how I haven’t blogged about them yet but it’s better than the best pizza I’ve had in Melbourne. But back to the topic on hand, it seemed a shame to use these in just a traditional lemonade so I opted for the classic, but slightly more involved lemon meringue cupcakes.
I wish I had taken a picture of these Amalfi lemons because they are the biggest I’ve ever seen. Local Sri Lankan lemons are a variety I’ve never seen before, elongated in a sort of oblong shape. They range from a light yellow to a dark green, it would be easy to mistake them for a mutant sized key lime.
It’s a time tried combination vanilla and lemon. Think of a fluffy, slightly tangy cupcake rounded out with a bit of slightly floral vanilla and topped off with a heaping of slightly toasted marshmallowy meringue. Not too sweet, not too sour. If you brown the meringue with a blowtorch, they’re fancy enough for birthday parties and if you don’t, they’re simple enough for afternoon tea.
I’ve oversimplified the ingredients for those who live in places where baking supplies are hard to find. Now that I live in Sri Lanka, where self-raising flour is pretty much non-existent I suddenly understand why people keep asking if they can substitute this or that. I’ve used a milk-lemon juice mixture to replace buttermilk, plain flour and baking powder instead of self-raising (though if you have self-raising, just use that) and it’s perfectly fine to use plain white sugar instead of castor sugar in both the batter and meringue.
I chanced across another handy tip while writing this recipe. According to eggs.ca you should store extra egg yolks with a bit of salt or sugar –
Yolks: Egg yolks require special treatment. The gelation property of yolk causes it to thicken or gel when frozen. If frozen as-is, egg yolks eventually become so gelatinous they are almost impossible to use in a recipe. To help slow this process, beat in either ⅛ tsp (0.5 mL) salt or 1½ tsp (7mL) sugar or corn syrup per ¼ cup (50 mL) egg yolks (4 yolks). Label the container with the number of yolks, the date, and whether you’ve added salt (for main dishes) or sweetener (for baking or desserts).
Here’s my favourite tip: for perfectly proportioned cupcakes that are all the same size – hello, to other mildly OCD bakers out there, my name’s Tash and I like everything to match perfectly – use an ice cream scoop. They’ll help ensure that the same amount of batter goes in each cupcake and that they then rise to the same height. I probably under filled these a little, I’d prefer them to dome up over the edges of the cupcake liner (also makes it easier to not burn the edges of the paper when you’re blowtorching!) so try for just about halfway. I’ve always preferred to use a round tip to pipe meringue, I guess it just gives it more of that pillowy, cloud-like look. It’s also much more forgiving – using a star tip, your meringue can sag or lose it’s sharp edges if it’s not stable for instance, if it’s too humid or not whipped properly.
- 4 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 250g flour (or use self-raising flour and omit baking powder below)
- 15g baking powder
- 250g butter
- 250g sugar
- 4 eggs
- zest of two lemons
- 2 tbsp (40ml) lemon juice
- splash of vanilla essence
- 150g (approx 4) egg whites
- 170g white sugar
- splash of vanilla essence
- Preheat oven to 180C and line two cupcake trays with liners.
- In a small bowl, mix milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice and set aside.
- Combine flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk to mix through (I hate sifting flour and this achieves the same result).
- Using a stand or hand mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time.
- Add flour mixture to the butter mixture, then beat on a low speed until just combined. Do not overbeat as this can make cupcakes tough.
- Add the milk mixture and mix to combine, then add the lemon zest, juice and vanilla.
- Using an ice cream scoop (this helps with portioning so all the cupcakes end up the same height) spoon into prepared cupcake liners, filling until about halfway - I got 20 cupcakes.
- Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the trays halfway if your oven is temperamental, like mine. Allow to cool on a baking tray before icing.
- Set a pan filled with 3cm of water over medium heat.
- In a clean bowl (I used the KitchenAid bowl), whisk the egg whites and sugar until slightly frothy. Place over the pan of boiling water, whisking continuously until sugar has dissolved. I use a digital thermometer to eliminate the risk of salmonella - making sure to heat the meringue to 72C (160F).
- Remove from heat, add vanilla then beat of medium speed with the whisk attachment until the meringue has cooled to room temperature.
- Spoon into a piping bag with a round tip and pipe onto cooled cupcakes. Lightly toast with a blowtorch (be careful not to get the cupcake wrappers!) to get that toasted marshmallow effect.