Monday, December 6, 2010

Meyer Lemons

There’s no place I’d rather be as winter closes in than right here in Los Angeles. Walking around my neighborhood and breathing in the scent of the budding orange blossoms is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. When I lived in New York, I would always find comfort in the smell of lemon and basil cooking away in some olive oil or butter. It would remind me that spring was imminent, and I would mark days off the calendar until the snow cleared for good and the temperature was consistently warm.

I first discovered Meyer lemons when my friend Kathy gifted me a bagful from the extremely productive tree in her Pasadena backyard. Kathy was overrun with lemons and was almost to the point of building a stand on the sidewalk in front of her house to give them away to passersby. I would hit her up several times during the winter for Meyers and I used every last one of them.

Meyer lemons are a lemon-orange hybrid. That makes them a bit sweeter than a regular lemon, but nowhere near as sweet as an orange. They’re in season from November to May, and I use them liberally in both baking and cooking.

In June 2006 Dan and I planted a Meyer lemon tree in our backyard. We got a few lemons the first year and more than a dozen last year. This winter our little tree is taking a rest, and Kathy’s has finally retired after almost a century of service, so this winter I’ll have to rely on the farmers’ markets for my Meyer fix.

Meyer Lemon-Ginger Cupcakes with Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes a dozen cupcakes

I use what I call vegan half-and-half in these cupcakes: half light coconut milk, half unsweetened almond milk. If you want to use dairy half-and-half, go ahead. If the spice is too tame for you, add more ginger.

Canola oil spray (if not using baking cups)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant cup sugar
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, room temperature
⅓ cup canola oil
½ cup light coconut milk
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
Juice and grated peel of 1 medium Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Pinch sea salt
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or spraying with canola oil.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, ginger, baking powder and salt.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, canola oil, coconut milk, almond milk, lemon juice, grated lemon peel, and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients into wet. Spoon batter into muffin cups to ¾ full and bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to rack to cool completely, about an hour.
4. For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, lemon juice and salt. Beat in ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon coconut milk until combined. Beat in second ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar and the second teaspoon of coconut milk until combined, followed by the last ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar. Taste it. Do you think it’s sweet enough? If you want to add more sugar, go ahead. You’ll probably need to add a bit more coconut milk as well. When all ingredients have been combined, add vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
5. Make sure cupcakes have cooled completely before attempting to frost. Trust me on this. When cupcakes have cooled completely, frost and serve. The butter in the frosting will melt, so refrigerate if you’re not serving these right away; same with the leftovers. They’ll keep in the fridge for about 3 days and are quite delicious cold. And for breakfast.

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