Lemon cupcakes with lemon icing

An ultra-luxe pound cake recipe adapted to cupcake format, with a lemon flavor so bright and cheerful, it will make all the zesting and juicing well worth the effort! The citrus plays beautifully with the buttery poundcake here. As a poundcake purist I can safely say that if you are going to mess with a classic, you better do it right!

We start by zesting and juicing a whole lot of lemons for this cake. 8 lemons sounds like a lot, but you are doing the work for the batter, the syrup (to soak the cupcakes and make them extra moist and lemony) and the sharp, tart glaze that will wake you up!

Put on some nice music and get right to it!

Once the zest and juice are ready, it is a straightforward recipe – cream the butter and sugar (infused with lemon zest), add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, and bake! Brush on the syrup on the cupcakes while they are still warm, but wait until they cool before you make a simple lemon juice and sugar glaze.

This cake is really good as a rustic bundt cake, a lot less fussy. The glaze drapes the cake like a dream! The same recipe can be used to make this into a bundt cake, or 2 8×4 loaves (perfect for gifting)!

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

Makes 18 tall cupcakes

2 1/2 cups sugar, divided (2 cups for batter, 1/2 cup for syrup)
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (from 6 to 8 large lemons)
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided (1/4 cup for batter, 1/2 cup for syrup and up to 1/4 cup for glaze)
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted or fluffed with a fork, if lumpy

Heat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners and set aside.

Place the sugar (2 cups) in the work bowl of the stand mixer (or in a large bowl, if using a hand mixer), and rub in the lemon zest using your fingers until uniformly incorporated and fragrant. Add room temperature butter to the bowl and cream using a paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Lower the speed to medium and beat in eggs, one at a time.

Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) in a bowl. In another bowl or large measuring cup with a spout, combine the wet ingredients (1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla).

Add dry and wet ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture alternately in 4 stages, beginning and ending with flour (add 1/4th of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of the wet, then 1/4 dry, 1/3 wet, followed by 1/4 dry and last 1/3 of the wet, and finally the remaining 1/4 dry). Batter will be thick.

Divide batter between muffin tins, filling them 2/3rd of the way. You will mostly get 18 full, tall muffins or 21 slightly flat muffins, depending on how much air has been incorporated into the batter.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops are dry to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean. The tops of these cupcakes will not really brown (they will remain pristine white for most part), so checking for doneness of the cake is crucial.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the soaking syrup by combining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice in a small pot and heating on low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Once cupcakes are ready, let them cool in the muffin tins for 8-10 minutes, and then flip them onto a cooling rack, right side up. While the cupcakes are warm, brush the tops with the warm syrup. You will have to almost baste the cupcakes to make sure all of the syrup is absorbed. Let cool completely.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, make the glaze by whisking confectioners’ sugar and remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice (start with 3 tablespoons at first, and add the remaining lemon juice one teaspoon at a time to get the desired thickness and consistency).

Glaze the tops of the cupcakes and garnish with small wedges of fresh lemons or candied lemons if desired.

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