Way back in August, on the day that I made the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, I also made these little gems. I baked them as my second entry in a friendly baking competition at work between me and another compulsive baker.
It took me a long time to figure out what I would make as my lemon entry. I thought about making everything from the predictable lemon bars to the extravagant Meyer lemon soufflé but serving that to about 35 people would have been a nightmare. In the end I decided to make cupcakes since they are easy to transport and serve. Plus, there was an opportunity to be a little creative them too.
Instead of trying something completely new and untested (which I did with the pumpkin whoopie pies), I elected to use Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe. Personally, her recipe was the best lemon cake I’ve ever had. It wasn’t because it was overtly lemony, but because of the elegant subtly of both the lemon flavor and its tender crumb.
For just that extra something, I decided to add a generous dollop of Pierre Hermé’s Lemon Cream. To call it lemon cream makes sound so pedestrian but it’s so much more than that. To look at the recipe, you might think that it’s just another lemon curd recipe, but it isn’t! While the ingredients are similar, the way in which is it prepared is what makes it so very special. Normally when you make a lemon curd, the butter is added at the same time as the other ingredients and you cook them all together and call it a day. But with this recipe, you cook all the ingredients together, except for the butter. After all the ingredients are cooked down and they start to thickened, that’s when you pull out the secret weapon: your blender. This recipe, my friends, is a lesson in making a lemon emulsion which is a what I think velvet would taste like if it were edible. :-)
Pierre Herme's Lemon Cream
Yield: about 2 cups. Enough to top about 35 cupcakes
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 to 5 lemons - Meyer lemons if you can get them)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (21 tablespoons; 10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
Getting ready: Have a thermometer (preferably an instant-read), a mesh strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at the ready.
Set a medium saucepan with a few inches of water to boil and find a metal bowl that can fit snugly on top of the saucepan.
Put the sugar and zest in the metal bowl. Work the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs followed by the lemon juice.
Fit the bowl into the pan (make certain the boiling water doesn’t physically touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels warn to the touch and do not stop. If you do, the eggs in the will start to scramble so it’s important that you don’t stop. Keep stirring until the cream reaches 180F. As you whisk the cream over heat, you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as the cream is getting closer to 180F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Note: When you start to see whisk tracks, it means the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking and don’t stop checking the temperature. And have patience—depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as the cream reaches 180F, pull the bowl off the pot of hot water and immediately strain it (using a fine mesh strainer) into the blender or food processor’s vessel. Discard anything left behind in the strainer. Let the cream rest at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140F, about 10 minutes.
Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add about 5 pieces of butter at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed while you’re incorporating the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machines going—to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to beat the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and chill the cream for at least 4 hours or overnight. Just whisk the cream to loosen and spoon it on top of the cupcakes.
Storing: The lemon cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and in the freezer for up to 2 months, but yeah, this will be gone in a few hours. :-)
For the frosting, I just made a simple vanilla butter cream and topped off every cupcake with a Lemonhead candy.