I've never felt like I needed a reason to bake, but with Bill's recent P90X obsession I've been making an effort to cut back. We've replaced our occasional trips to Kopp's for frozen custard with sugar-free popsicles and the pounds of Italian cookies my mom mailed us for Easter were banished while we munched on rice cakes and orange slices. Of course, this can't go on forever, but I'll humor him for awhile. In the meantime, I'm snatching up any excuse I can to break this ban on baking.
Luckily, a perfectly good excuse came around this week with Laura's birthday. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Laura, she's my employee who we very affectionately refer to as my minion. And yes, she's aware that we refer to her as my minion.) Not only was this a good opportunity to bake a batch of cupcakes, but the recipe I selected also gave me a chance to master meringue!
I've attempted meringue frosting on one or two occasions with just o.k. results. For one of my America's Test Kitchen Blogger Challenges last year, I used Martha Stewart's "7-Minute Frosting" (which takes way beyond 7 minutes to make). The process was kind of complex and it didn't yield perfect results - my frosting was a little grainy and it didn't hold its shape. No one wants droopy frosting, so I needed to find a fix.
Then along came the April 9 page of my Food Network recipe-a-day calendar! I think I was trying to ignore this delicious cupcakes with lemon meringue frosting recipe, until Laura pointed out that it sounded delish. Then I realized I had to make them. First, I couldn't disappoint Laura with a sub-par cupcake on her birthday, and second, I had to redeem my meringue-making skills.
Here's what I discovered the main difference is between this recipe and Martha's: heat. I'm convinced now that Martha's frosting was sort of melty because the recipe asks you to beat it over a double boiler for too long. This recipe calls for just a couple minutes of heat (long enough to dissolve the sugar) and then continued beating off the heat until you reach those beautiful stiff peaks. It was absolute perfection, both in appearance and taste. I need to find more friends with birthdays so I can make these amazing cupcakes again!
Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Meringue Frosting
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup milk
4 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Pinch cream of tartar
1 to 2 drops food coloring (I used red for pretty pink cupcakes!)
Position oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners.
Whisk flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in medium bowl. In separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar with handheld mixer until foamy, about 2 minutes. While beating, gradually pour in butter and then vanilla. With mixer at low speed, add half the dry ingredients, then all the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly among cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cupcakes in tin 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool completely.
To prepare frosting, bring a few inches of water in a small saucepan to boiling over medium heat. Choose a heat-proof mixing bowl that will just fit over the saucepan without touching the water. OFF THE HEAT, whisk by hand the egg whites, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. Set bowl above boiling water and continue whisking by hand until sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. REMOVE FROM HEAT and beat with electric mixer at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add food coloring and continue beating at high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. If the bowl is still a bit warm, place it in the fridge for 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.
I piped my cupcakes by filling a Zip-loc bag and snipping off a corner, but you can also use a spoon or offset spatula to frost these little cuties. Next time I think I'd like to use a knife to create little peaks in the frosting ... and maybe I'll break out the food torch to fire them up like baked Alaska!