On Friday, our new niece and nephew were born. We welcome them with all the particular delight of child-free newlyweds: oooh, goody, a pair of children we can coddle and spoil and take to the zoo, and then hand back at the end of the day. Although if we're a good aunt and uncle, we'll probably give their parents an occasional break and take them for an extended visit, if we're allowed. We've been going to the hospital every day since their birth -- even the Puerto Rican Day weekend festival and parade did not deter us. Our new duties have been fun. We bring lunch, we bring my father down to the hospital for his first gander at his new grandkids, we bring bottled water -- and we're proud and happy to be on call for any and all needs of slightly exhausted but totally ecstatic new parents.
I don't have pictures yet. My brother, the justly beaming papa, took a break from learning to swaddle and diaper and tried to send me some photos, but the file wouldn't open. He'll try to re-send, but for now, you'll just have to take my word for the beauty of these miracle children, who were 7 pounds for baby boy, and 6 pounds 4 ounces for baby girl. Apparently this is very large for twins -- so say the nursing staff on the maternity unit.
My valiant sister-in-law is pretty tired. The birth was a caesarean, but not easy by any means. And since there are few foods in this world that she likes better than cupcakes, particularly lemon cupcakes, my path was clear. We left elaborate flower arrangements to others, and I got up early on Saturday morning to bake. I didn't have exactly the recipe I wanted. I was going for a cupcake that would both tender and toothsome, fine-crumbed and almost velvety. I thought about several recipes I'd made in the past, and combined the finer points of several. I grated lemon zest, and invented a frosting that sparkled with lemon, but was smoothly sweet too. The capper was a tiny wedge of paper-thin lemon slice, and a blueberry, just for balance -- sort of like the bright red cherries on top of old-fashioned bakery cupcakes.
A few were iced with a simple chocolate whipped ganache, both for my brother -- who likes chocolate AND lemon -- as well as for nursing staff, doctors and visitors to the room who might prefer chocolate, and so leave the lemon ones for the new mama.
"The best cupcakes ever!" the new parents both crowed in a phone call later. Welcome to the world, we say -- welcome to our new little ones, and welcome to a world that by their advent is forever changed: to their parents, first and foremost, and to all of us who will love them and care for them from this day forth.
Lightly Lemon Cupcakes
I'm not always 100% crazy about my own culinary experiments -- but like our family's new twins, these cupcakes are keepers.
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
Grated zest of two (organic or wax-free) lemons
1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla extract or paste
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream (or yogurt or crème fraîche, or a combination)
Preheat oven to 350º F. In a mixing bowl, or in a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Add lemon peel and vanilla and mix well. Sift dry ingredients together; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream/dairy mixture (I used a combination of sour cream, crème fraîche and yogurt, since that was what I had in the fridge). The batter will be quite thick. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups with about 1/4 cup of batter. Bake at for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 30 cupcakes.
Lusciously Lemony Icing
2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Juice of one lemon
Few drops of lemon oil
Few drops of pure lemon extract
Beat butter and cream cheese together. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Add lemon juice, extract, lemon oil and salt. Beat well and taste. Add more of any of the flavoring elements, or more confectioners' sugar, as you wish, until it's just perfect to your taste. If it's a very hot day, this icing gets a tiny bit drippy, and may need some time to chill and firm up in the refrigerator for a perfect spreadable consistency.