Tag Archives: citrus

celebrate with citrus cupcakes

Last weekend we gathered with friends to celebrate the forthcoming birth of a new family. The party [yes, party. this was not a baby shower. and yes, boys were invited.] was co-hosted by myself and two lovely ladies, all of us brought together by our shared bond to Joe and Erin, the parents-to-be. The event was in the works for two months.  Dozens of emails were passed between the three hostesses as we planned. The only request from Erin was that there be no diaper decorations and no silly shower games. No problem.

We decided to throw a simple summer party and to decorate using colors inspired by the nursery; shades of blue, yellow, and green.  There was fruit-laden sangria and homemade lemonade, pulled-pork sandwiches and corn straight from Erin’s family’s farm. The weather was kind, overcast and cool with only the slightest spattering of rain. We sat outside sharing stories and laughter as candlelight flickered across happy faces long into the night.

Also, we ate cupcakes.

[To see more images of the evening, visit the AHPhoto blog.]

I love an opportunity to make cupcakes, and an outdoor summer party seemed to be the perfect occasion. A quick email to Erin verified that she had no preference for cake flavor, which was lucky because I had already decided that chocolate wasn’t an option. It just didn’t fit in with the party decor, which is a perfectly valid excuse I assure you.

And so I was left thinking about vanilla and lemon. It is no secret that I am a fanatic for citrus-flavored sweets, with four lemon cakescitrus sconeskey lime butter cookies, and coconut lime bars all listed on the Bella Eats recipe page. I should probably apologize for giving you yet another citrus dessert…but I won’t. You just can’t go wrong with citrus, and that requires no apology.

The cake itself is actually a modification of an old favorite, borrowed from the Lemon Mousse Cake I made for my own birthday a few months ago. It is a chiffon cake, made light and spongy by the egg whites folded into the batter just before baking. The addition of lemon and orange zest brightens the flavor, but it is the swirl atop the golden domes that truly stands out. The meringue buttercream seemed to be a hit, although it is the most unusual frosting I have ever tasted. A finger swiped across the side of the mixing bowl produces a dollop of ultra-creamy spread that melts as soon as it hits the tongue. At first the taste buds are overwhelmed with the flavor of butter, which then melts away to become a bright pop of lemon, that then fades to the slow warmth of Grand Marnier. It is a three-step process using each third of the tongue – front, middle, back – in succession, with each flavor forming its own distinct statement. And it isn’t too sweet, so you could easily eat several cupcakes without causing your teeth to ache.

Not that I would know that…

The frosting shapes beautifully, and despite my fears did not melt in the warm and humid evening air. A summer winner, for sure.

Sunshine Citrus Cupcakes

cake modified from the greyston bakery cookbook, pg. 46,  frosting from gourmet

makes 18 standard cupcakes

Cake Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, seeds discarded

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cake Method:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350º. Line 1 standard muffin tin with 12 liners, and another with 6 liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, butter, milk and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt to blend.  Add the lemon and orange zest and blend with your fingers to separate clumps. Add the egg yolk mixture and stir until well combined.  Set aside.
  4. In a clean dry bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks.  Lower the mixer speed to medium and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating the whites until they hold stiff peaks.  Stir about one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten.  Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter, in two batches, to blend thoroughly.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, filling each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Set the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool.  Remove the cupcakes from the pans and allow them to cool completely on wire racks.

Frosting Method:

  1. Heat whites and sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and a thermometer registers 160°F. Remove bowl from heat and beat mixture in standing electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick, glossy peaks form. If mixture is still warm, continue beating until cool. (this takes about 10 minutes)
  2. With mixer running, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add liqueur and lemon juice, beating on high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 10 minutes. If buttercream begins to separate, beat on high speed until smooth.

Assemble:

  1. Use a pastry bag to pipe frosting over cupcakes once they are completely cool. Keep refrigerated until ready to consume.

Congratulations Joe and Erin, we are so excited to meet your baby boy!

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a bright spot

Let me start by saying that I am completely smitten with the city in which Brian and I live.  Charlottesville wooed us from afar with her top-notch university, her small-town feel just two hours from Washington D.C., her close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains and dozens of Virginia wineries.  We were drawn in by the qualities of a city that look good on paper: the quaint downtown district, public parks, academic culture, good hospitals.  What we received in addition to those important qualities was greater than we could have ever imagined: a strong local food movement, an impressive number of independently-owned restaurants that have kept us out of Chili’s, Friday’s and the like for the last five years, a health-concious population that promotes dozens of foot races year-round, like-minded classmates, co-workers and farmers who have become incredible friends.  And, especially exciting for two Floridians who lived without them for the first 22 years of our lives, four distinct seasons.

Nobody could have prepared me for the magic that is October in Charlottesville, the golden light that flares through the brightly-colored leaves and the festivals that occur every weekend.  And then there’s April, with her daffodils and tulips and cherry trees that resemble cotton candy attached to smooth, silvery bark. Late June brings the first of the summer vegetables to the farmer’s market and the intoxicating, oh-so-sweet scent of wild multiflora rose to the air.  For eleven months of the year I sing the praises of this place, this gem of a city nestled into the shadow of the Blue Ridge, and am pleased to call Charlottesville my home.

But there are those other four weeks, the weeks that span the end of January and beginning of February, when the first snow of the year has melted and left the yard a muddy mess, when the cuteness of the six sweaters in my closet has worn off and I stare longingly at the bright, sleeveless tops meant for warmer months.  These are the days that I resent pulling socks on instead of strappy sandals, when I crave a glass of white wine while sitting in a sunbeam on the back deck, when I’d give anything to not have skin flaking from my too-dry face.  These are the days that I wish I were still a Floridian, with 70* winter days and a year-round farmer’s market.

These are the days when citrus plays a prominent role in my diet, producing little sparks of Florida warmth with each juicy bite. Citrus fruit will get me through the worst days of winter, when the sky is gray and the air is moist and my boots make suction noises as I walk across my saturated front yard. There will be lemon cakes and orange juice-glazed tofu, citrus-flavored martinis and key lime pies. Clementines are tossed in my bag daily to be eaten as an afternoon snack, the draft leaking through my office window hardly noticeable as I savor each sunshine-filled wedge.

Also, there is this salad.  So light, so fresh, so summer, yet made with mostly seasonal ingredients.  It is a bright spot on the dreariest of winter days, sure to bring cheer and warmth to the coldest of winter nights.

The fennel provides a delightful crunch, similar to a slaw, that serves as a nice contrast to the soft oranges and the salmon that nearly melts in your mouth.  Poaching the fish creates a mild flavor that is enhanced by the juice from the oranges and a hint of mint.

Salmon Salad with Fennel, Orange and Mint

from bon appetit, january 2010

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 4 cups cold water
  • (1) 1-pound salmon fillet with skin
  • 2 navel oranges (I think 3 would be better…)
  • 4 cups very thinly sliced fennel (from 2 medium bulbs)
  • 1 cup small fresh mint leaves (I only used 1/4 cup, and it was plenty for us…)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cups of arugula salad mix

Method

  1. In a large, deep skillet, combine water, sugar, vinegar and star anise.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Add salmon filet, skin side up, to skillet.  Cover skillet and remove from heat.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, turn salmon over.  Cover and let stand until salmon is just opaque in center, 5 to 6 minutes longer.
  2. Remove salmon from liquid and cool.  Coarsely flake salmon into bowl, removing any bones and skin, and set aside.
  3. Cut top and bottom 1/4-inch off each orange.  Stand 1 orange on 1 flat end.  Using small sharp knife, cut off peel and white pith.  Working over large bowl, cut between membranes, releasing segments into bowl.  Repeat with remaining orange.
  4. Add salmon, fennel, mint and olive oil to bowl with oranges.  Gently toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve over bed of arugula.

Speaking of Florida, my good friend Jenn has started a new blog about fitness and running.  She’s a doll, so energetic and positive, and is sure to bring an infectious spark to the healthy living blog world.  Check her out at Reason 2 Run, and take note of the helpful fitness facts that accompany each post.  She’s a fitness professional, runner and balanced living enthusiast, and has a wealth of knowledge to share with us all.  Welcome, Jenn!