Cupcake Rampage: Meyer Lemon Gems
Editor’s Note: A food blog without cupcakes is like a birthday cake with no candles. It’s just not right. Since you know none of us around here have the whole baking thing down, C. Christy Concrete has stepped up to share some mouthwatering cupcake porn (and other culinary adventures). Please give our newest ES-er a tasty welcome.
The Meyer lemon is commonly held up as the crown jewel of the citrus world. Unlike its brassy, astringent cousins, this alleged offspring of an unholy union between a true lemon and a sweet orange flaunts a round, BBW-esque body, smooth, supple skin, and bright, fruity fragrance. When juiced, fresh Meyers are literally hemorrhagic, they are easily reamed clean of pulp and pith, and when bruised in such a manner, the skin releases copious amounts of oil that will scent your hands for hours afterwards. The skin of a Meyer is edible, although it doesn’t taste like much. The juice, while still too bitter to drink straight, tingles the tongue gently with a sweet, spicy nose.
For the most part, all this adoration is justified. The difference between Meyers and regular lemons is similar to how know-it-all chefs treat the olive oils on their shelves. The coveted extra virgin olive oil is reserved for dressings and topping-off dishes, while regular old summer-weight olive oil is fine for use as a lubricant and emulsifier, when flavor is less important. Similarly, garden-variety Eurekas and Lisbons may be functionally fine for whisking into vinaigrettes or showering over roast fish, but a Meyer is reserved for such time when you want its unique twang to stand out.
Although three hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit is hot enough to be considered abusive to this twang-y flavor, we still tried using Meyers in a cupcake just to see what happens; in this case, the Lemon Gem cupcakes from Vegan With A Vengeance:
As expected, the heat of the hot box muted the Meyers’ more subtle notes, despite lending a lovely day-glo iridescence to the cupcakes.
Unfortunately, we also encountered a recurring problem when dealing with baked goods such as these — the batter puffs nicely in the oven, only to collapse minutes after extraction. (This happens with rum cupcakes, too.) While the resulting crumb was tasty and tender enough, it was also somewhat rubbery in consistency. The root may be the protein content of the flours used. While every baking recipe in the world calls for all-purpose flour, we like to temper that with a portion of pastry flour. Pastry flour has a lower protein content that produces less gluten than all-purpose, creating less of the springy crumbs usually seen in breads and rendering a softer, smoother mouthfeel for the cupcake.
Even so, we may have beat this batter too hard just to get out the lumps that would have cooked out anyway, a beating that may have been enough to create sufficient gluten to compensate for the mixed-in flours and throw off the finished product.
So, let this be a lesson to us all: stop the violence, don’t overbeat your batter.
In the end, it looks like the olive oil analogy may have been more or less accurate. If you want a lemon cupcake with the emphasis on lemon, conventional lemons might yield a more truly lemony product. For beaufiul lemon color, this recipe works well, but for showing off the sheer uniqueness of the Meyer lemon, the closer you can get to raw, the better — lemonade, sorbet, zested over French toast, or just sliced into hunks and dunked into ice water.