13 Feb

Happy V–Day!

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes with Limoncello Cream Cheese FrostingOne of my favorite days of the year is here and I wanted to commemorate it in a big way this year. We were busy designing Wine Imbiber last year (our one year anniversary is quickly approaching!) and I only had the time (and energy) to make my usual decorated heart–shaped cookies. I love making those cookies as much as I enjoy making and decorating cupcakes, so this year I decided to make both cookies and cupcakes.

This time around, I wanted to shake things up a bit and not make sugar cookies with royal icing or something chocolate. Not that I ever tire of making either, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got too many recipes waiting to be tried, and oh, did I mention that I have a Meyer Lemon tree and it is aching with lemons right now? I also have a humongous bag of culinary lavender that is just itching to be used for something other than making tea. I’ve always heard that lemon and lavender are very complimentary to one another, and since I love the taste of both, I decided to use this Valentine’s Day as an excuse to convince the rest of the family of this lip–smacking fusion of flavors.

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes with Limoncello Cream Cheese Frosting Topped with an Iced Lavender Lemon Tea CookieLet’s face it. The colors that represent Valentine’s Day (red, pink and purple) don’t have much of a life together beyond the holiday. But they represent the passion of the day so well that I’d be remiss not to incorporate them into this year’s goodies. At least lavender is well, lavender–colored. The lemons had to hold their own as yellow certainly can’t compete with red or pink as an official V–Day color. I ended up finding some nice, red cupcake liners, so problem solved.

The lavender buds that peek through the icing added an unexpected Victorian–look to the cookies. They were almost too pretty to eat! But eat them we did. The lemon–lavender flavor combination really did shine through. I think it ranks right up there with peanut butter and Iced Lavender Lemon Tea Cookieschocolate, but in a different way (some famous duos just can’t be touched!). There aren’t many flavors that don’t go down well with chocolate, but lavender is a fussy fellow (heck, even lavender goes great with chocolate). You also have to be careful when using lavender, as it can taste more like perfume than delicate flower buds if you use too much of it. The lemon flavor just seems to meld very subtly with it, creating a flavor that you can’t quite decipher.

All in all, I consider my V–Day shake–up a success! Everyone liked both cookies and cupcakes and nobody seemed to miss chocolate anything. A sure sign of a hit around our house!

WI wine recommendation: A Champagne or sparkling wine pairs best with these cupcakes and cookies. We enjoyed them with a bottle of Bailly Lapierre’s Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Réserve sparkling wine.

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes with Limoncello Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes with Limoncello Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1–1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (preferably Meyer lemon)

16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1–1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (preferably Meyer lemon)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Limoncello
Preheat the oven to 350° F and line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

Process the sugar and lavender flowers in a food processor for about a minute. The sugar will appear slightly finer and the lavender will grind down a bit.

Using an electric mixer, blend the lavender sugar and the butter together using low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium–high and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the milk, vanilla extract and lemon zest and continue mixing. Set aside.

Sift the baking powder, salt and flour together. Add to the other bowl and mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the paper liners and bake for 15–18 minutes (or until wooden toothpick tests clean).

Allow the cupcakes to completely cool before frosting them.

Beat the cream cheese and butter together with an electric mixer until softened. Add the sugar (one cup at a time), zest, juice and Limoncello and continue beating until creamy, about 3 minutes. This produces a semi–stiff icing that should maintain its shape nicely if piped onto the cupcakes. Be sure to keep the finished cupcakes refrigerated.

Iced Lavender Lemon Tea Cookies

Iced Lavender Lemon Tea Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1–1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (about 2 large lemons, preferably Meyer)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
2–1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
Optional: Colored sugar for decorating

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon, preferably Meyer)
1–2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cream together the butter and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Mix in the lemon extract and zest. Set aside.

Sift together the salt, cornstarch and flour. Add this to the butter mixture and stir until the flour coats the butter but isn’t completely worked in. Add the lavender flowers.

Using your hands, lightly rub the ingredients together until the mixture is no longer dry. You will know it’s done when it forms easily into a dough ball. Try not to overwork the mixture or you will end up with tough cookies.

Flatten the dough out into a disc and place in a plastic re–sealable bag. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to three days).

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Take the fully–chilled dough and place it on top of a piece of parchment or a Silpat. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/4 to 1/3 inch. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. (This dough barely spreads, so don’t worry about leaving a lot of space between each cookie.) Remove the scraps from between each cookie and re–form into a flat disc. (If dough has become too soft or warm, re–refrigerate it for a few minutes before attempting to roll it out.) Note: If decorating the cookies with colored sugar, sprinkle it on now (after you’ve cut the dough into shapes and removed the dough scraps).

Lift up parchment paper or Silpat and place on top of cookie sheet. Transfer sheet to upper third of oven and bake for about 15 minutes (or until the edges of the cookies just start turning golden on the edges). Allow to cool before icing. If you already decorated the cookies with colored sugar, you won’t need to ice them (although I did both to some of my cookies and they turned out extra–special!).

Whisk together first three ingredients. Start mixing in lemon juice by using one tablespoon at first, then continue adding in only enough to produce a smooth, fluid icing.

It is easiest to ice the cookies by dipping the tops into the icing and turning them over onto a wire rack (that has a paper towel under it to catch the drips). You can also sprinkle colored sugar on top of the icing at this point. Don’t wait too long or the icing will dry and the sugar won’t adhere.

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