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Monday, March 9, 2009

Sweet Limoncello Cupcakes

Last fall, a good friend of mine was living and studying in Florence, Italy. In talking to her, I learned more and more about traditional Italian cuisine and lifestyle. The knowledge was intoxicating, in more ways than one.

On one memorable morning, my friend explained to me a drink she had been given to celebrate her 21st. It was yellow, tasted of lemon and terribly alcoholic. The drink was limoncello, and I was intrigued.

Last weekend, my lovely friend came up to Ohio for a visit. A month before, soon after we solidified our plans, I began making limoncello. The process requires weeks of infusion and some time in the freezer before the drink is ready to consume, and the wait was agonizing. I couldn't wait to taste this delicious liquor!

Thursday, I started sketching up desserts to serve with our after dinner digestiv. Flashes of lemon bars and cake flashed through my head, but no. I wanted something smaller, more individual, and something more suitable for a light party. Cupcakes. Yes.

Once I knew in what form my dessert would be served, the recipe came quickly. I modified a staple muffin recipe, adapting the all-purpose flour with a combination of whole wheat flour for structure and whole wheat pastry flour for a bit of lighter bite. With all of the wheat flour, I knew I would need some additional help to keep the batter light and cake-like. An addition of milk would do the job beautifully. Meanwhile, lemon zest and limoncello would provide the bright flavor, and a splash of vanilla would give a mellow under current. I started having visions of perfectly round little cakes glazed lightly with a deeply lemon-sugar crust. I even drooled a little on my newly minted recipe.

This cupcake was perfect for the spring-like weather we enjoyed the weekend, and accompanied our after-dinner drinks amazingly well. While lemons are still inexpensive and the weather requires peppier desserts, these cupcakes are my favorite...


Sweet Limoncello Cupcakes

makes 12 cupcakes

What You'll Need:
1 pan of muffin molds
12 paper cupcake liners

Ingredients:

For cakes-
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), softened
2/3 c. sugar
1 cup whole wheat all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp limoncello*
2 tbsp skim milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp lemon zest, grated finely

For glaze-
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 tbsp cardamom/sugar**

*You may substitute limoncello for plain or slightly sweetened lemon juice.
** To make, mix 1/2 tsp cardamom with a scant tbsp sugar.

What You'll Do:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line muffin tin with paper cups.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together softened butter and sugar.

3. In a separate bowl, mix flours and baking powder until evenly combined.

4. Add flour mixture along with limoncello, milk, vanilla extract, beaten eggs and lemon zest to creamed butter mixture. Mix together until smooth and slightly lighter in color.

4. Divide mixture evenly among the muffin molds. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until firm and lightly golden around edges. Remove from oven and let cool completely before frosting.

To glaze-
1. In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. The mixture should form a very thick and translucent paste.

2. Spread thickly on cupcakes using a butter knife or spatula. Smooth out frosting.

3. While frosting glaze is still wet, sprinkle lightly with sugar and cardamom mixture.

4. Let glaze harden, then serve.

These cupcakes will last up to 4 days and are served well with breakfast as well as after-dinner drinks.

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