Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lemon Cupcakes

It's Memorial Day weekend, which always seems like the unofficial start of summer to me.  It's also my husband's birthday weekend-- lucky him!  He never has to work on his birthday. These cupcakes were the first of his birthday baking-- he requested them as dessert for the tailgate we went to for the US-Scotland exhibition game that was played in Jacksonville last night.  (US won, by the way, 5-1.  It was awesome.)  So yesterday was gorgeous-- hot, sunny, and perfect summer weather.  Right now? Not so much.

As sunny as these cupcakes are, they do not reflect the current weather in Jacksonville.  We are in the midst of Subtropical Storm Beryl.  Wind, rain, storm surge-- this is what we have to look forward to for the remainder of our holiday weekend.  We are considering ourselves lucky so far, since we still have power and all of our trees are still standing and the limbs are all still attached-- for the moment, anyway.  Ah, the fun of living in Florida.  At least we get more sunshine than tropical storms, and great citrus fruit. I hope that your Memorial Day is drier than mine is!

Lemon Cupcakes
(Cake and icing recipes adapted from Wilton)
Makes 14-16 cupcakes

Lemon Cake:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (approximately-- this is really to taste)
1 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp fresh lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake pan with liners.  In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, vanilla, lemon extract, and lemon juice; beat until well-mixed.

Add flour and baking powder to butter mixture and beat for about 30 seconds.  Add lemon zest and beat for one more minute.  Fill liners about 2/3 full.  Bake in preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Ice with lemon buttercream (recipe below).

Lemon Buttercream

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1-2 tsp fresh lemon zest
4 cups powdered sugar

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter until fluffy.  Add lemon juice and zest and beat until combined (don't worry if it looks a bit curdled).  Add sugar, one cup at a time; beat each cup until fully incorporated, scraping sides of bowl as needed.  If icing is dry when finished, add more lemon juice to achieve desired consistency. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

Summer is SO. CLOSE.  This is the first summer in a while that I won't be working-- I will actually have the summer off, almost completely (we won't talk about the week that I'll spend in Kentucky scoring AP essays).  I am so looking forward to the beach and dollar movies and the library and reading and the zoo...OK, well maybe not the zoo, but an extended time away from school is starting to sound better and better.  Since it's the end of the year, we are all starting to go a little crazy-- students AND teachers.  It can be hard to make the kiddos work when you don't actually feel like doing anything yourself, so the end of the year is one big long struggle against the temptation to do nothing.  Luckily, I'm teaching one of my favorite books-- The Great Gatsby.  It's always the last novel I teach, and between that and all the descriptions of summer in the book ("There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the champagne and the stars..."), I am ready for the end of school.   

One of the other things that makes me think of the end of the year is meeting with my department to discuss our plans for next year.  We had that meeting today and I brought these muffins, which are really really yummy and really, really pretty.  One of the things that makes them so good is that you brown the butter before you mix it in, which gives the muffins a really rich taste.  I had a great time planning our next year with my people today-- I am feel so lucky to have such an energetic and excited group of people to work with-- so even though I am ready for the end of school, I am still excited about what we plan to do next year, which makes the summer even sweeter.

Blueberry Muffins
(From Joy the Baker)
Makes 12-15 muffins

For the Muffins:
7 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 cups blueberries

For the Topping:
3 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line at least one muffin pan with liners. 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Don't leave it unattended-- it will start to foam and crackle, then small brown flecks will appear in the butter.  Once the flecks appear, the butter will cook down a little and turn a gold-ish brown color.  Once it reaches that color, remove it from the heat.

Combine milk, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla-- whisk until combined.  (If you have a large liquid measuring cup, it's a good idea to whisk these ingredients in that.)  Add the browned butter to this and mix until combined.  (NOTE:  These ingredients don't really "combine"-- the butter will probably sit on top of the rest.  Just give it a good stir before you add this to the dry ingredients.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Pour in the butter/milk mixture and stir to combine.  Gently fold in the blueberries.

Topping:  Combine all ingredients in a bowl and use your fingers, a fork, or a pastry cutter to combine until crumbly.  

Fill each liner about 2/3 full, then sprinkle generously with topping.  Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


This is my grandmother's shortbread recipe.  It's kind of a big deal for me to write this and put it out on the internet, but somehow I think she would approve.  My grandmother helped me to become the person I am today in countless ways-- many of which I am still realizing today.  One of the most significant things my grandmother did for me was to buy me books.  She bought me beautiful hardcover editions of Heidi, The Secret Garden, and Little Women, among others-- I read them over and over and over again.  I still have them and I'll be able to give them to my daughter in the next few years.  These books were my introduction to classic literature, to a subject that I love.  This has led me, in an indirect way, to teaching-- I want to share that same gift with my students.  Words and literature were always important to her and are to me as well-- so much so that there are pieces that I can't teach in class, because they remind me of her so forcibly that it's impossible for me to talk about them with my students without crying.  Dylan Thomas' s poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night," for example-- "Rage, rage against the dying of the light"?  It's too much for me. 

One of the other things my grandmother did for me was teach me how to bake and make candy-- we can all see where that has led!  My grandmother was many things, but accomplished baker is definitely chief among them.  Her shortbread is pretty legendary in my family-- she would make it at Christmastime, and it's become a holiday staple.  I started making it two years ago, mostly for my father.  Grandma Betty's shortbread is pretty traditional-- it's buttery, crumbly, and not terribly sweet.  It gets most of its sweetness from the chocolate on top.  It is amazing with coffee.  I'm sure you could do all kinds of interesting things with this base recipe-- different flavors, adding nuts, or playing with different toppings-- but I can't bring myself to do it.  To me, this recipe is pretty sacred.  :) 

Grandma Betty's Shortbread

2 cups sifted flour (NOTE: Do not pack the flour-- measure it after sifting it.)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup of soft butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 large Hershey's bar (the kind in the foil inner wrapper)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  This will be the second sifting of the flour-- I was told by my mother, who was told by my grandmother, that this sifting is one of the most important parts-- so don't skimp on the second sift!

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until very fluffy.  Mix the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar.

Refrigerate the dough until easy to handle-- just a few minutes in the refrigerator should do the trick.  Pat the dough evenly into the bottom of a 9x9x2 pan. 

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until shortbread is barely golden on the edges.  Cut it into shapes while still warm.  Let shortbread cool.

Melt the chocolate bar in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave-- stir until smooth and glossy.  Spread the melted chocolate over the cooled shortbread.