Lemon Cupcakes with Cardamom-Brown Butter Frosting

Cupcakes are kind of over, as a fad. I think they were at their height when Magnolia was featured on Sex and the City. And then there was Crumbs, and Cupcake ATMs, and now people really are not that interested in cupcakes. They’ve lost their novelty. Now we like macarons, I think, because they’re cute and expensive.

Except a good cupcake is still a good cupcake, whether or not it’s “in.” A soft cake, only slightly domed, buttery and sweet, topped with soft buttercream. Fantastic.

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Unfortunately, I have very low tolerance for buttercream. Working with it is so much fun – swirling and twirling it on a spatula – but I would really rather eat the plain cupcake. However, it seems that other people like it quite a bit. So I make cupcakes and cakes with buttercream because it makes people happy. This version I can actually eat a whole cupcake’s worth of, because it has brown butter and cardamom and a dash of cream, and so I do not feel as if I’m eating pure butter. If you are intimidated by browned butter, here is a tutorial. I recommend using a pan with a white or light colored bottom, so you can see how fast the butter is browning.

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I have a preference for swirled frosting on cupcakes as opposed to piped frosting, because (1) the swirled frosting is a more even layer across the cupcake and (2) piped frosting has always reminded me of grocery store cupcakes, the ones that look cute but taste like cardboard and margarine. Swirled frosting does take a little more work, but if you watch a bunch of cupcake videos like a lunatic you may start to get an idea of how it’s meant to be. Granted, I do need to work on my technique. That just means more cupcakes for everyone. I’m pretty sure my friends and family are okay with that.

And these cupcakes. They’re kind of fantastic. I adapted the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, because although it is absolutely perfect the way it is I wanted something with a bit of lemon. These are not very lemony, but it’s a subtle note that goes well with the cardamom. Or goes well in your mouth, without frosting. If you do want more lemony-ness, try adding more zest, as I fear adding more acidic lemon juice will mess up the leavening process.

Don’t forget the sprinkles. The sprinkles are the most important part. Sprinkles sprinkles sprinkles.

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Lemon Cupcakes + Brown Butter Cardamom Buttercream

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) of sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup of buttermilk (or soured milk)
  • 1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks, all at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • For the Buttercream:
  • 4 tablespoons of butter (½ a stick) browned and then chilled until mostly hard.
  • 12 tablespoons of butter (1.5 sticks), softened.
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar (plus a possible ? cup extra)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon of cardamom
  • 1.5 teaspoons of heavy cream (can be omitted)

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350° and line a muffin (cupcake) tin with cupcake liners.
  2. Combine the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl). Whisk together on medium/low speed until the sugar is damp and yellow and there are no discernible bits of zest. Add in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine. Add in the butter and beat until its combined, only about 20 seconds at most. Add the buttermilk, eggs, yolks, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat the wet and dry ingredients together until the batter is smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir with a spatula two or three times to make sure there are no lumps of flour.
  3. Divide the batter among the tins (the easiest way to do this is with a cookie scoop or an ice cream scoop). Bake until the cupcake tops are light gold and a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes. When the cupcakes are cooled 5 minutes, the tops should spring back when pressed.
  4. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
  5. For the Buttercream:
  6. Make sure all the butter is softened. Add it all to the stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until soft and fluffy, about 20 seconds (or more if your butter is not very soft). Add in half the sugar and beat to combine. Add in the other half of the sugar and continue beating, until the frosting is pretty fluffy and all the powdered sugar is mixed in. Add the cardamom, vanilla, and heavy cream and combine. Test the consistency with your finger; if it feels too buttery (well, too buttery for something that contains half a pound of butter) then add the extra ? cup of sugar.
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