Freshly grated lemon zest adds zing to these delicate cupcakes. For the batter, we use butter and eggs yolks for richness, and cake flour and whipped egg whites for a tender, light texture. The cupcakes are topped with a tangy lemon and cream cheese frosting and a sprinkling of spicy gingersnap crumbs.
What to buy: For this recipe, use bleached cake flour such as Softasilk, for tender cupcakes that’ll rise high and evenly. Don’t use unbleached cake flour, which yields denser results.
- Yield: 24 cupcakes
- Difficulty: Medium
- Total: 1 hr 45 mins
For the cupcakes:
- 24 paper cupcake liners
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
- 4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from about 3 medium lemons)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup whole milk
For the frosting:
- 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese (1 pound), at room temperature
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from about 1 medium lemon)
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons gingersnap cookie crumbs (optional)
For the cupcakes:
- Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 (12-well) muffin pans with paper liners.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
- Place 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the mixture is airy and light in color, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl.
- Return the mixer to medium speed and add the egg yolks 1 at a time, waiting for each yolk to completely incorporate before adding the next. Add the zest and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl.
- Add a third of the reserved flour mixture and turn the mixer to low speed, mixing until the flour is just incorporated. Add half of the milk and mix until just incorporated. Continue with the remaining flour mixture and milk, alternating between each, until all of the ingredients are incorporated and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
- Wash and dry the bowl of the stand mixer. Place the egg whites in the bowl, attach it to the stand mixer, and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk the whites on high speed until medium peaks form, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue whisking until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 45 seconds to 1 minute more. Stop the mixer.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold a quarter of the egg whites into the reserved batter until evenly incorporated; gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined and no pockets of white remain.
- Divide the batter among the muffin wells (the wells will be about half full). Place the pans on the rack side by side and bake, rotating the pans from front to back and side to side halfway through the cooking time, until the cupcakes are lightly browned and a cake tester or toothpick inserted inTO the center comes out clean, about 16 to 18 minutes total.
- Set the pans on a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and let cool on the wire rack completely before frosting, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the frosting.
For the frosting:
- Place the cream cheese and butter in the clean bowl of the stand mixer, fit the mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium-high speed until light, fluffy, and fully incorporated, about 3 minutes.
- Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest and juice. Turn the mixer to low and mix until the sugar is incorporated, about 30 seconds.
- Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle again. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and mix until the frosting is creamy and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Frost the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with the gingersnap crumbs, if using. If you don’t plan to eat the cupcakes within 4 hours, refrigerate them until the frosting is stiff, then tent loosely with plastic wrap for up to 3 days. Let the cupcakes sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes to take the chill off before serving.