Lemon Cupcakes with Lavender Frosting

March is going to be a big month for me this year. This month I turn the big 3-0, or I celebrate the first anniversary of my 29th birthday, I haven’t actually decided which yet. I don’t know exactly why one’s 30th birthday is a milestone, although I expect that it has something to do with the fact from the 1920s to the 1990s the average life expectancy hovered around 60, so it was a person’s mid-life mark. No matter the reason, a milestone birthday is the perfect excuse to try something new and a little different – like lavender flavored frosting. Combined with tangy lemon flavored cupcakes, and I had high hopes for this endeavor, just like I do for this year. They will be AWESOME!

Finding a lemon flavored cake recipe was the easy part. Even if I hadn’t found a recipe to adapt, substituting lemon in your favorite vanilla batter is relatively easy. The trick was going to be in creating a buttercream frosting laced with soothing lavender flavors that didn’t taste like soap or candles. After a lot of thought and consulting with Ruth, I decided to use a basic buttercream recipe – butter, powdered sugar, and milk. By steeping the lavender in simmered milk, I could add the delicate flavor to the frosting a little at a time, carefully controlling the taste and structure of my frosting.

It is because this buttercream is so simple in its composition that it can be difficult to master. The powdered sugar is what gives the frosting its structure, but too much and you have a mass of sticky overly sweet goo on your hands. It doesn’t help that the smallest amount of liquid can turn the frosting into a runny icing that can only be fixed with more super sweet powdered sugar.  Finding the perfect balance between sweetness and structure is difficult, but there are 3 key things that can help you master this frosting. First, add your milk a tiny itty-bitty amount at a time, think teaspoons at a time. Also, remember that you are going to chill your frosting before you pipe it onto your cupcakes, so if it is just a touch too soft, 30 minutes in the fridge will solve the problem. Think about the difference between chilled butter and room temperature butter.  Third, and the real secret, is salt. A dash of salt can help bring an overly sweet frosting down to a more palatable flavor. If you find that your frosting’s consistency is perfect but the flavor is too sweet, add a pinch of salt and beat the frosting well. Let it sit for a few minutes, beat again, and taste. As with milk, a little goes a long way, so add a little at a time. Here the key will be to mix the frosting well so the salt dissolves into frosting and cuts the sweetness throughout.

Lemon Cupcakes

Adapted from Martha Stewart 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2.5 tablespoon lemon zest
1.5  cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1)      Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners (about 48 mini-liners or 18 regular liners).

I finally remembered to use the adorable cupcake liners my sister bought me when I first started making cupcakes from scratch!

2)       In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.

3)      In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy.

4)      With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks. Beat in lemon juice.

5)      Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture.

6)      Fill muffin tins about two-thirds full and bake 18-20 minutes for mini-cupcakes and about 5 minutes longer for regular cupcakes.

7)      Cool completely before frosting.

Soooo many mini-cupcakes! This is only three-quarters of the batch.

Lavender Buttercream

1 cup milk
3 tablespoons food grade lavender flowers
1/2 cup butter, softened
About 5 cups powdered sugar

1)      Place the 3 tablespoon of lavender in a coffee filter. Using kitchen twine or un-dyed cotton yarn, turn the coffee filter in to a lavender “tea bag.”

Pour milk into a small sauce pan and put the lavender in the milk. Place over low heat and slowly bring to a simmer.

Just as the milk begins to bubble, remove from heat and let seep for 10-15 minutes. Squeeze excess milk from the lavender. Let cool completely before using.

The picture is a bit blurry, but it shows the slightly purple tint of the lavender milk the best. I'll get a better camera soon!

2)      Beat butter and 2 tablespoons of the milk together. Beat in a hearty pinch of salt (just under 1/8 of a teaspoon).

3)      Add 2.5 cups of powdered sugar and beat until well incorporated.

4)      Begin alternating between additions of more sugar (about a half cup at a time) and adding more milk (a couple of teaspoons at a time, at the most). Taste test frequently, if you find that you have hit just the right amount of lavender flavor but need more liquid, move to regular milk. Also, keep an eye on how thick the frosting is becoming.

5)      Once you’ve reached the perfect flavor and consistency, you can use gel food coloring to tint the frosting. If you use liquid food dye, you risk making the frosting runny, so the type of dye is key here.

6)      Place frosting in a Tupperware container and chill in fridge for at least a 30 minutes before spreading on cupcakes. Chill about 45 minutes if piping on cupcakes. If piping frosting on to the cupcakes, do not completely fill the piping bag, otherwise you will need to frequently re-chill the frosting to keep it from getting runny. Instead fill it half way and refill frequently.

13 responses to “Lemon Cupcakes with Lavender Frosting

  1. Re frosting: I added about 1/3 cup sour cream, plus a little vanilla and orange extract (a very little; like, drops). This seemed to bring out the lavender flavor. Also, I let my butter get too soft, so the frosting was very runny. Adding cornstarch helped thicken it, and also cut the sweetness.

    • I haven’t ever tried adding cornstarch to the frosting. In the past I have just put it in the fridge to let it harden a little, but for someone who wants to cut the sugar, cornstarch has promise. How much did you add?

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  5. I’m still 29 and holding, too. 🙂 Lavender and lemon is a such a divine flavor pairing. Great tutorial on “steeping” the flavor from the flowers! -Brooke

  6. These look just perfect for your birthday, I love lavender and this is a great tutorial for how to add just the right amount of flavor to baked goods! Sooo pretty!! Have a wonderful birthday!!

  7. Love these!!! Hope you have a wonderful birthday!!

  8. Your cupcakes are so pretty and you did an awesome job of describing the process! Great post 🙂

  9. Advanced happy b-day! Great cupcakes and love the liners 🙂

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