Monday, 28 November 2011

A quest for a perfect Lemon Cupcake - part I

I’ve been thinking about making lemon cupcakes, and been looking for a recipe that is very lemony, but also very light, with a soft creamy finish. As you can guess, thats pretty much mission impossible, as most of the recipes I see are either too dry, too cake like or not lemony enough.
So, the two recipes I am considering at the moment are “Making Cupcakes with Lola” by Victoria Jossel & Romy Lewis and “The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook”. I want to try the recipes as they are, which means that, due to the copyright restrictions, I am not allowed to post the recipes, however, I think I can talk about generic comparisons, measures and formulas.

Amazingly, both recipes state that you will get a dozen of cupcakes from each recipe; however, the Hummingbird recipe uses nearly twice the volume of total ingredients as compared to Lola’s ingredients weight. I have only tried one of Lola’s recipes (see Cinnamon Twist Cupcakes blog), but I have found their recipe a bit too stingy on the ingredients, I only got 11 cupcakes instead of 12. I have tried a few of the Hummingbird recipes in the past and always got more that a dozen of cupcakes, more like 16 or so. Another thing about Hummingbird recipes, if that I find them way too sweet and the batter is always too runny, which means that I get lots of really fluffy and light cupcakes, but they don’t hold the shape that well and go dry very quickly. My previous attempt at Lola’s cupcake produced a very cake-like cupcake, a bit too dense for my liking, but did hold the shape very well, and still tasted well after three days - yes, cupcake do last THAT long in my household :)

So, lets get a bit closer to the recipes, and lets talk numbers*
Lola’s recipe is very buttery (James Martin would approve) - twice the amount of butter, compared to the Hummingbird bakery, about 66% compared to 33%
Lola’s recipe is WAY less sugary, nearly half Hummingbird amount, nearly 80% compared to 125%
Hummingbird recipe is very liquid-y - it uses the same amount of milk as flour, whether Lola uses less than 50%
Lola’s recipe is a little bit more egg-y, but not too much - 80% compared to 60%.
*All comparisons are based on “baker percentages”, weight of ingredient divided over the total flour in the recipe.

Both recipes use lemon butter cream (although Hummingbird book calls it lemon frosting), a mixture of icing sugar, butter, lemon and a splash of milk. Formulas (compared to weight of total icing sugar) in both books actually look pretty much the same, thirty something percent of butter and about ten percent of milk.

Lola’s recipe calls for lemon zest as well as lemon juice, whether Hummingbird only uses lemon zest. Personally I don’t see the point of using just zest, I mean, come on, if you are using a lemon, grating the zest off it, why would you use juice as well?

Completely irrelevant, but I a, going to mention it anyway - the picture of lemon cupcake (blue case liners, a nice rose piping and yellow lemon crystals) in Lola’s book look much nicer than the one in the Hummingbird book (one cases, softer looking palette knife icing and lemon zest decorations).



What I am going to do is to try half-measure of each recipe and see how they compare. I know there is more chance of getting things wrong when you reduce a recipe. But just this once I am going to stick to the recipes exactly just to see what they like and see if I can finally find my perfect lemon cupcake.

Enough talking, lets get down to the actual baking, Hummingbird cupcakes first. I am sticking to the recipe exactly, and man, is it hard!! I am so used to putting my own twist on all the recipes that I am itching to change something, but no no no, I am doing exactly what the book tells me. Well, half of the recipe didn’t make a lot of batter, and its really liquidy, much more liquidy than I would I have expected.
Stick to the recipe, girl, don’t fiddle!! I only got 3 cupcakes instead of the expected 6, highly unusual for a Hummingbird recipe. I’ve baked the cakes for 22 minutes until “sponge bounces back when touched” as described in the recipe.

The frosting was pretty straight forward, super sweet, but easy to make and very light. The thing is, I’ve ended up with enough icing for six cupcakes and only three cupcakes to ice. Oh well, I’d just have to see how much icing I can fit on these cakes. Last finishing touch – a bit of lemon zest grated on top, taa daa!! Looks pretty close to the picture in the book, I am pleased with the result, lets wait for the taste test.


So, now onto the Lola’s recipe. Again, sticking to the recipe, down to the T. Making half of the recipe again, halfing all of the ingredients. The batter looks very good, just as I would expect a cupcake batter to look like.

I did get six cupcakes out of it, so pretty happy with the measures. Baked the cupcakes for 24 minutes, “until well risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean” as described in the recipe.

Again, the butter cream is very simple to make, following the recipe. Unfortunately I ran out of icing sugar right at the end, so I had to use a bit less than the recipe called for – see I can’t stick to the recipe after all :)
Because of that I didn’t get as much icing as I should have and I don’t think it would have been enough to decorate the cakes with piping, so I just spooned it on top instead and smoothed it out with a palette knife.
The recipe calls for “yellow sugar crystals” to decorate the cupcakes with. I didn’t have anything as fancy as that, but I’ve mixed up some sugar and yellow colouring to make up crystal-like decorations.


Now, the most important thing – what do they taste like? Well, I must say, we have a divided household : Mrs Ranty Senior and I, we like the Lola cakes, and Mr Ranty and his dad like the Hummingbird ones better. The Hummingbird ones are lighter and fresher; whether Lola’s ones more cake-like and buttery. Both of them are very nice cakes, different in taste and flavour, but both very very nice.
One thing we all agreed on is that both cakes can take more lemon, as we all like the cakes to be a bit sharper, a bit more tangy, which I think could be achieved by adding some lemon juice into the batter.

Well, at the end of it, I don’t think I am any closer to finding a perfect lemon cupcake. What I might need to do next, it bake these cupcakes again – once as the recipes tell me, and once with my own changes, and to compare them side by side.
But it has been a fun exercise, I should do more of that this year, testing and trialling.

Now, I still have one of those cupcakes left, lets make a cuppa.


PS: sorry about the photos, Mr Ranty is busy, so I have to take photos with my iPhone, which come out all a bit rubbish

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