Ahhh... Summer. Those lazy days when the living is easy and life is breezy. I definitely love the bright blooms and fresh air of spring, the changing colors and brisk chill of fall, but I feel like I live for summer. (Winter, eh, not such a fan.) I think some of that summer love comes from a strong sense of nostalgia; dreaming about long midwest summer days filled with splashing around in the pool, running through sprinklers, and selling lemonade at the corner of our street for 25 cents a glass. Of course, I love San Diego summers too, with the salty spray from the Pacific Ocean, backyard barbeques with friends, and an abundance of fresh produce.
And I have always loved summers for the food (even before I actually knew I was a bona fide foodie). There really is nothing like a thick hamburger or a steak, fresh off the grill...juicy watermelon or strawberries...and a tall glass of lemonade or iced tea. Somehow, if I sat down to enjoy a meal like this in the spring, it just wouldn't feel the same as if I was relaxing with my feet up on a balmy summer evening.
Although dessert is usually not the star of most summer meals (and those men hovering around the grill would deem anything other than meat-worshipping blasphemous), I wanted to make something summery but unique. I found the recipe for these lemonade cupcakes in a cookbook I borrowed from a friend.
Enlightened Cakes is entirely devoted to recipes for cakes-all shapes and sizes, cupcakes, bundt cakes, cheesecakes, plus assorted frostings and glazes-that are made with ingredients that make each dessert treat a little more "light" on the calories and a little more easy on the waistline. Making one of these recipes will require you to get a few low-fat or fat-free items, but they certainly do not skimp on the taste. This is the third recipe I have tried out from this cookbook (the other two being Blueberry Bundt Cake and Rosemary Olive Oil Bundt Cake) and I can assure you they have all been delicious, especially moist, and very flavorful.
Plus, when temperatures go up and we start wearing a little less clothing to keep cool (and look cute, of course), I think everyone can appreciate a dessert that doesn't pack on the pounds.
So hopefully I am not disappointing anyone, but these cupcakes don't have any actual lemonade in the ingredients; they do have an irresistable combination of lemony zing and pleasant sweetness that is reminscent of that favorite summer beverage. I also loved how the cake was moist and light, since the last thing anyone wants in a summer dessert is something heavy. I spiced up the original recipe a bit by adding some strawberries since these red beauties are everywhere in Southern California throughout the summer. Plus, strawberry lemonade is pretty awesome.
Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes
Adapted from Enlightened Cakes
Cupcakes (makes about 22):
3 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 2/3 cup fat free milk
1/2 cup plain fat-free yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon extract
zest from one lemon (reserve lemon for frosting)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup, or 1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large egg whites
1 cup diced fresh strawberries
Frosting (makes about 1 cup):
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
dash of salt
zest from one lemon
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
About 6 strawberries, hulled and quartered for topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, prepare a muffin pan with baking liners, and set out two medium bowls. In one bowl, whisk together the first four ingredients; in the second bowl, whisk together the next four ingredients (starting with milk) until well blended. Set both bowls aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend sugar, butter, and oil at medium speed for about five minutes. When well blended, add egg whites one at a time, blending after each addition. Next, add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately to the batter, blending well after each addition, and ending with the flour mixture. Add all the diced strawberries at once, and fold into the batter to mix well. Pour or spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 18-20 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of each cupcake; when it comes out clean they are done. Cool cupcakes on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove them from the pan and cool completely.
While the cupcakes are baking, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat all the ingredients except the powdered sugar and strawberries. Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth, then chill for at least 1 hour or overnight (frosting can be prepared ahead of time).
To frost cupcakes, take a small amount (just about 1 teaspoon) of frosting and spread on the top of each cupcake, leaving a small edge unfrosted. (See photo.) Top each with one quartered strawberry, and chill until serving.
**If you want the cupcakes to have more of an authentic strawberry lemonade taste or look, I thought of two other options: 1.) for a slightly pink tone, add some red food coloring, or mash up the strawberries to a pulp before adding them to the batter. 2.) for more "lemonade" flavor, it might be possible to substitute the lemon extract with lemonade concentrate, or, to substitute the plain fat-free yogurt with lemon or strawberry yogurt. I haven't tried either these options but they were just ideas. Have fun!**