Zingy lemon cupcakes with Italian meringue buttercream

Please forgive me the 80s style lemon segment adornments. I know they're bad taste, but I like them. And more importantly my son likes them. I'm on the lookout for some angelica and the horror will be complete. 

These are zingy in a lemon drizzle way and creamy in a meringuey way. I think the offset works. As with most cupcakes it's all in the timing - just a minute too long and the cake is dry. And there are few things I dislike more than a dry cupcake. I'd go as far as to say I'd prefer no cup cake. Now that is serious. 

Makes 9 cupcakes - a few to eat and a few to give away to your fave people


- 2 large eggs weighed in their shells
- the same weight of Stork margarine
- the same weight of plain flour
- the same weight of caster sugar
- the zest of one lemon
- 2 tbsp whole milk

- the juice of one lemon weighed
- the same weight of caster sugar

- 40g egg white (this is about 1 large egg white though you should use the Two Chicks carton stuff if you worry about salmonella and other chicken related illnesses)
- 80g caster sugar
- 25g cold water
- 130g unsalted butter, very soft

Preheat the oven to Gas 4. Make sure the rack is in the centre of the oven. Place all the cake ingredients in a bowl and whizz together with a handheld electric mixer until lighter than when you started and creamy. Spoon into cupcake cases already nestling in a tin and level with your finger. Place in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. It's at this point you need to start checking for springiness. If the cake looks very light brown and 'done' then open the door and check for bounce-back. If the sponge does bounces back when gently pushed with a finger then remove them from the oven quickly and gingerly release the cakes from the tin and cool on a wire rack. 

To make the drizzle simply heat the lemon juice and sugar in a small pan on a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Best to do this whilst the cakes are baking. Then once your little cupcakes have cooled for 5 minutes you can pierce them all over with a toothpick (careful not to puncture the bottom) and spoon 2 teaspoons of the lemony drizzle over the top. Do this carefully and slowly so that it has time to soak through. Then leave the cakes to cool completely. You will probably have some lemony drizzle left over (depending on the size of your lemon) but please resist the temptation to pour the lot over the cakes. I know it's wasteful but either throw it away or save for stirring into gin and tonic or indeed for making glace icing if the meringue stuff is too much of a faff. 

Next make the Italian meringue buttercream. You need a sugar thermometer and a free standing mixer for this. If you don't have either then don't bother and make some delicious lemon glace icing instead by mixing the left over drizzle with water and icing sugar. If you do then here's how. I think it's worth it. 

Whisk the egg white to soft peaks in your free standing mixer. Now my mixer doesn't whisk one egg white very well - it has problems picking it up, so to speak - and as this icing doesn't keep it's foolish to make loads unless you're baking for a crowd. Instead I get my trusty hand held out and whisk it in the bowl of the freestanding mixer. Beware; you do still need a freestanding mixer. 

Add 10g of the caster sugar (2 x teaspoons) to the egg whites and whisk again to incorporate. Fit the bowl into the freestanding mixer and fit the whisk attachment. Then place the cold water and rest of the sugar into a small pan (I use a milk pan) with a sugar thermometer and heat until it reaches 121 degrees C. Then turn the mixer onto a medium speed and pour the boiling sugar syrup into the mixer in one continuous stream. Do not worry if your mixer looks a mess and has boiled sugar attached to the side of the bowl and the whisk. It comes off with hot soapy water. Promise. 

Leave the mixer running until it's cold to the touch. You are essentially making Italian meringue here; simply cooking the egg whites with the hot sugar. After about 5 - 7 minutes you can start to add the butter in pieces about the size of a pound coin. Add one every 5 seconds with the whisk on medium. Once it's all in turn the speed to high. Don't worry if the mixture looks most unappetising. It'll be fine. Stop the mixer every minute or so to scrape the sides and the whisk and ensure any blobs of butter are getting beaten properly. 

When it all looks creamy and well mixed without any blobs you can pop a blob onto each cupcake and use a knife to spread. You could pipe swirls if you like, in which case you need to make double. I don't often do the swirly thing as I'm not great with masses of icing. Adorn with something tasteless like a lemon segment sweet or yellow Smarties in a flower pattern. 

NB: Important! Do not store in the fridge! If you do this icing hardens and is not good to eat at all. 
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