When I got invited to an outdoor potluck wedding recently, I knew immediately what I would bring: my favorite lemon cake. Made with yogurt in the batter, the cake is immensely moist and dense, and it’s refreshingly summery with bright, citrusy flavor. It is also extremely versatile; I’ve made it as a layer cake, full sized cupcakes, and my personal favorite: mini cupcakes. With its thick batter and dense crumb, this recipe works especially well for the latter. Plus, you get the usual benefits of making cupcakes in miniature form: they bake and cool quickly, a standard recipe yields almost 100 servings(!) and they are–simply put–as cute as can be. So, naturally, I decided to make my lemon cake into mini cupcakes for the wedding. Here’s how I did it…
Lemon Yogurt Cake (makes about 95 mini cupcakes, 35 standard cupcakes, or two 8″ round cake layers)
- Finely grated zest of two lemons
- 3 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup low fat lemon yogurt*
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon pure lemon oil (if available)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on high, until pale and smooth. Turn mixer to medium and add eggs one at a time, until fully incorporated. Turn mixer to low, and gradually add about half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk, then the other half of the flour mixture, then the yogurt. Finally, add the vanilla, lemon zest and oil, turning off mixer as soon as they are combined. The batter will be rather thick.
If making cupcakes, line the pans with liners. For ease and tidiness, fill a large piping bag (or plastic bag with a corner cut off) with the batter, then pipe it into the cups a little less than 3/4 way full. Or, divide batter into two 8 inch round pans, which have been buttered and either floured or lined with parchment. Check after 11-12 minutes for mini cupcakes, 17-18 minutes for standard cupcakes, or 25-30 minutes for round cakes, adding time in small increments as needed. Cake is ready when toothpick tests clean, top bounces back when gently pushed, and bottoms are golden brown (top surfaces will still be pale but no longer wet). For the best texture, be careful not to over-bake.
Remove from pans after completely cooled, then frost as desired. Think homemade whipped cream, a dollop of thick lemon curd, mascarpone or cream cheese icing. [When there isn't time for my favorite frosting (Swiss meringue buttercream), the very best topping is a basic lemon cream cheese icing: 1 stick soft butter, 8 ounces soft cream cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon pure lemon oil, and 2-4 cups sifted powdered sugar (depending on how stiff and sweet you want the frosting) -- all whipped together very well. Double this recipe for layer cake.] For the best texture, store and serve this cake at room temperature, eating within 48 hours.
Maybe next time… For the wedding, I decorated my mini cupcakes with a simple blueberry centered on the top of each. They are equally pretty with almost any berry, and lemon drop candies or edible flowers would also make beautiful adornments. As my talented friend Katy suggests, a sprinkle of dried lavender flowers would be a welcome addition to this cake’s batter. I’ve also filled the cake with homemade lemon curd (featured in my slideshow), layered it with strawberry compote, and filled it with berries and custard. You might also try lime or orange additions for an array of citrus flavors, or add vanilla bean seeds to the icing or batter for extra warmth. Whatever you do, enjoy wholeheartedly with a spirit of celebration and refreshment!
*Often available in convenient 8-ounce containers (try Trader Joe’s), lemon yogurt really yields the best flavor. (I sort of hate to admit this, since I am usually leery of pre-flavored ingredients, but I’ve tried plain yogurt in this cake, and it just doesn’t compare.) If you use vanilla or plain yogurt instead of lemon, add the zest of two more lemons and a second teaspoon of lemon oil to the batter.