Lemon Meringue Cupcakes
In my backyard, rooted deep below the soil I tend and churn and adorn with fleeting flowers of all shapes and colors, stands an old silver maple tree. Its arms and fingers reach out in all directions hiding the ground from the harsh sun and even sometimes providing reprieve from a heavy rain. Leaves of dark green on one side and silver green on the other dance and shake about in light caressing winds, showing both sides of their manic personality.
Just for a second enough of the shimmering leaves part and let me peak through to the sky. My hazel eyes, mimicking the green in the leaves and the golden brown of the trunk, stare up and catch a hint of yellow and orange on a faraway limb. And just then I feel the cold breeze of a northern front reach down to the ground and wrap me up in a shivery burst of a hug.
The chilly air may only be a cursory taste of the coming season, but the gold, orange and red leaves of my proud maple are here to stay. This tall, majestic maple is a freak among the everlasting green giants of the south and the unimaginative deciduous monsters that somehow make the jump from bright green to ugly brown in a day and then bare branches in another day. But this maple, as strange as it is, is the most beautiful oddity on the street.
So as I watch my tree change colors and signal a season I wont feel for another month, I begin to wonder what autumn will have in store for me. I begin to crave those fall-time treats I rely on so much, those comestible beauties we all flood to when the weather chills. But then I begin to salivate for treats that, even though they may not symbolize fall or changing weather or any specific magical time to anyone else, mean the world to me.
For eighteen years, as I grew from a small 8 pound infant into a, still small for my age, 120 pound teenager, I could count on the famous van Kraayenburg lemon meringue pie to pop up around this time. My fathers favorite, he’d always clamor for it around his September birthday. And for us, a family of four, the tart, sweet, fruity pie was more than enough to signal a season of fall cravings. Now eight years later, nearly a decade after I left and went out on my own, I still find myself reaching for this lemony confection in early September.
I’m sure this tradition will last with me for decades more.
As with any filled cupcake, this one has three parts. Is it worth it? You bet! I honestly can’t decide if I like these lemon meringue cupcakes or the classic lemon meringue pie more. Give these a try and decide for yourself!
- 4 ounces butter, at room temperature
- 5 ounces sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 5 ounces flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Tart Lemon Filling (recipe below)
- Italian Meringue (recipe below)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a muffin pan with paper cups.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. Set aside.
- Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on medium.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each to make sure it is blended in completely.
- Add half of the dry ingredient mix and blend in well on medium-low speed until just mixed. Add all of the buttermilk and mix until just blended. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until the batter just comes together.
- Evenly spoon the batter into the lined muffin pan. Each cup should only be filled about three-quarters.
- Bake the cupcakes for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out just clean.
- Remove from the oven and lip the cupcakes on their side in the pan to let air circulate around them. Let them cool completely
- Using a cookie cutter or a paring knife, cut out a small portion of the center of the cupcake
- (make sure to leave enough around the edges to keep the cupcake structurally sound).
- Using a piping bag or spoon, fill the hole in the cupcake with the tart lemon filling so that it is level with top of the cupcake.
- Using an icing spatula, top each cupcake with a portion of the Italian meringue, styling it like you would a lemon meringue pie. Using a propane torch, fire the frosting to caramelize the outside, careful not to burn the tips.
Lemon Filling: This lemon filling is essentially identical to a lemon meringue pie filling. It is very easy to make and will store well in the fridge for about a week. As it has cornstarch, you can heat it directly over the heat and bring it to a boil without concern for cooking the eggs, just be sure to stir constantly. Take care not to boil the mixture longer than 30 seconds though or the cornstarch may break down
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 ounces sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- zest of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Add all of the ingredients to a heavy bottomed pot. Heat over medium heat.
- Cook the mixture until it comes to a boil and is thick enough to coat a spoon, stirring constantly.
- Let the mixture cool completely.
Italian Meringue: While italian meringue is decidedly the most difficult of the meringue methods, it is the only one that doesn’t require cooking or baking after making. It is also the most sturdy of the meringues and will not deflate in a hurry. This is why it is almost exclusively the only meringue I make. Oh, and did I mention it tastes like delicious marshmallow cream?
- 8 ounces sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ cup egg whites
- Place the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Bring the sugar to 240°F.
- While the sugar is heating, begin whipping the egg whites until the are fluffy and have expanded 2 to 3 times in volume.
- Once the sugar is at 240°F and the egg whites are foamy, immediately begin slowly adding the hot sugar into the egg whites while whipping at medium-high speed. Be sure to add the sugar very in a needle thin stream in between the whisk attachment and the side of the mixer bowl.
- Once the sugar is added, whip the mixture at high speed until it is completely cooled and the egg whites form stiff peaks, about 20 minutes.