I sometimes think the world is divided into cake people and frosting people. You know what I mean: some people are all about the cake, while others view cake as a means to a sweeter, more frosting-filled end. (All right...I am sure there is also a third kind of person: the person who would rather be eating pie. Oh, and a fourth: the person who doesn't care for dessert. But around here, we pretend that fourth person doesn't exist. Or, as my mother would say "That just leaves more for the rest of us.")
In the scheme of things, I am definitely on Team Cake. My most common complaint about bakery cupcakes is "too much frosting": you can always tell who's on the other team by the baffled look they give you. I used to eat pancakes without syrup, and salad without salad dressing. I have since expanded my horizons with better syrups and better salad dressings, but I will probably always be one of those people who cares more about the basics and less about the frills.
Imagine my surprise when I happened upon a frosting recipe so good, I went hunting for cupcakes to go with it.
The cupcake has a surprise of its own: it's lemony, with a tang of buttermilk and a dollop of lemon curd in the middle. The frosting has marscapone cheese as well as cream cheese: rich and satisfying but not cloyingly sweet. A heavenly surprise, indeed.
This recipe is for gluten-free cupcakes. If you do not want your cupcakes to be gluten-free, you can use cake flour instead of gluten-free flour.
The amount of frosting given here is what I consider just right for cupcakes: a nice complement, but not overwhelming. If you are firmly Team Frosting, you could double the amount.
I use Trader Joe's Lemon Curd. The goal in assembling the cupcakes is to keep the lemon curd in the middle of the cupcake, so you want to add enough batter in the second application to complete cover the lemon curd and leave none of it exposed.
I first encountered the lovely marscapone icing in this recipe from the Guardian. The authors had a lot of nice things to say about the Tahini Cake that accompanied it, but no one at my house liked it at all - it smelled good while baking, but as the Resident Food Critic said: "If hummus were a cake, it would taste like this." I was, however, quite smitten with the icing. So I went hunting for the cake I wished I had baked in the first place.
Baking in America has a recipe called "Lemon Curd Buttermilk Cake" that the author describes as "a lemon lover's dream" – that sounded like exactly what I wanted. The original recipe was for a layer cake, where dollops of lemon curd were spooned onto the layers before baking. Why couldn't I do that with cupcakes, I thought.
It turns out there's a very good reason not to do that with cupcakes: as the cupcakes rise, creating a domed top, the lemon curd slides off and glues itself (and its accompanying cupcake) to the pan. This creates an unholy mess - the cupcakes are impossible to remove whole from the pan, and the pan is nightmare to clean. Nevertheless, the bits of cake that I managed to salvage tasted really good. I just needed to re-engineer the details.
For the final iteration, I encased a spoonful of lemon curd in the center of each cupcake. When surrounded entirely by cake, the lemon curd doesn't create any mess at all, but instead provides a lovely extra kick to an already lemony dessert. Perfection!