After teasing me with a constant peekaboo of rain and shine, spring seems to have finally arrived to stay. Of course, this means that sunny days are spent slaving in class and weekends that should be spent snoozing on grass go by with me cursing the cloudy/windy/rainy weather. But it still brings a smile to my face to see a patch of bright, blue sky as I climb out of the subterranean domain we call the metro or to lick an ice-cream cone without shivering into my jacket. (What, you don’t eat ice-cream in the winter?)
I read in a book recently that we seem to have lost the fine art of doing nothing, and I definitely agree. If we’re not working, we’re rushing around in the pursuit of being entertained. Parties, movies, dinners, shopping, museums, the constant urgency to ‘do’ something – it can get exhausting. And of course, we now have the added pressure of instantaneous updates on Twitter/Facebook/Google+/… because if it’s not posted online, how would anyone know how much fun we had? Would it even be real if we didn’t Instagram it? I love my online world as much as the next person (I mean, I write a blog after all!), but some days I like to disconnect and just breathe. And spring provides a great inspiration to do just that. On my way back home a few days ago, I found myself slowing down my pace from a brisk stride to a slow saunter. I took a little detour to one of my favorite places in the middle of bustling Paris – Square du Vert Galant, a pretty square at the tip of the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine.
At this time of the year, there is peace to be found here and I love to sit and watch the sunlight create dappled patterns on the water and the weeping willow bend as if reaching down to meet the river. Boats with happy tourists glide by and I wave back to them – their enthusiasm is infectious. The Notre Dame and the Pont Neuf rise majestically on one side, and the magnificent buildings of the right bank glow with the light of the setting sun on the other. I hug my copy of Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, the scripts of my favorite movies the perfectly apt company for this lovely spring evening.
I come home, completely refreshed and inspired to bake my spring welcome – citrus cupcakes. I have always associated citrus flavors with spring – the fragrance always transports me to warmer climates, the picture of lemons warming under the sun and trees bending under the weight of oranges and sunlight. And while it is easy to find macarons in a rainbow of colors in Paris, a moist, flavorful cupcake is more difficult to come by. So obviously, you make your own.
These cupcakes are moist and tender with buttermilk and refreshing with grated zests of lemon and orange. I kept the cupcakes simple with a lemon-almond cream cheese frosting (I don’t like butter-cream, but that’s a personal preference). But there are many other variations that I would like to try with these – lemon curd, a dollop of raspberry jam baked in the center, blueberries, blackcurrants, a pairing with lavender…
The last time I made these cupcakes, I topped them with these colorful little butterflies, which I made with melted chocolate wafers. (The method comes from my favorite cupcake book Hello, Cupcake! and can also be found here.) The butterflies are not essential to the enjoyment of these cupcakes, which are great on their own, but they certainly pretty up the spring scene, don’t they?
Happy Spring, everyone!
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F (175⁰C). Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
4. Whisk in the eggs, one by one, beating until incorporated before adding another.
5. Add vanilla, zests and lemon juice beating only till combined.
6. Switch the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk beating only till combined.
7. Divide batter evenly among the lined cups filling each 3/4 full. Bake in the pre-heated oven rotating baking tin halfway through, until a cake tester comes out clean, about 20-25 mins.
8. Cool the cupcakes completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Almond Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
2 cups confectioners sugar (add another 1/2 cup if you would like it sweeter)
4 oz (120 gm) cream cheese, softened at room temperature and cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional; you can also use vanilla)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1. Make sure the cream cheese is softened before starting. (If like me, you forget to take it out of the refrigerator until the very last minute, cut it into cubes and microwave it for 10 seconds.)
2. Sift the sugar over the cream cheese in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2-3 mins). Beat in the almond extract, lemon zest and juice just until incorporated.
Frost the cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting. Use a small offset spatula (I just use a spoon sometimes), to spread the frosting, starting from the middle and working your way towards the edges in a circular motion.