Lemon Stick Cupcakes

August 31, 2019 by Nicole Collins

Why is tomorrow September?

And, why are so many people out there acting like they're excited that fall is coming. I just don’t get it! It really hurts my feelings that this weekend essentially marks the last weekend of summer. Kids are going back to school. Pools will be starting to close. People are having their “end of summer” barbecues. It’s so depressing!

This last week before Labor Day also marks a big event in Maryland that pretty much is the last shebang of the summer...the Maryland State Fair. In all honesty, I haven’t been on a fair ride in probably 15 or 20 years. Now that I’m a grown-up and I have a little bit of logic, there is absolutely no way that you will find me on a ride that swings you all around but can be folded and unfolded in a day's time. No way, Jose!

For me, the state fair is all about the food. Fair food is everything! And not just because it’s fried, though that definitely is a plus. But there’s something about food that comes from a vendor's cart that makes it taste more delicious. I mean, hello food trucks!

Though the state fair marks the end of the summer season in Maryland, I thought today would be the perfect time to reminisce about the start of the summer season. And we’re doing that with today’s recipe Today, we are making Lemon Stick Cupcakes.

Now if you're not from the Baltimore area, you probably have no idea what a lemon stick is. Essentially, it is a soft peppermint stick (not like a candy cane...more like a dinner mint) that’s stuck in the center of a lemon that’s been cut in half. We use the peppermint stick as a straw; so essentially, we are getting a sweet and sour sensation all in one slurp as we drink lemon juice through our peppermint straw.

This Baltimore treats usually first appears at Flower Mart, an over 100 year old festival originally designed to encourage home gardening. The festival now houses tons of vendors, lots of food, and of course...the lemon stick! Flower Mart is know as the first festival to sell this treat.

It may sound like such a strange combination, but if you’re from Baltimore you crave the lemon stick every time the weather starts to warm up and the sun starts to shine a little brighter. So today, we are sending off summer the same way we welcomed it by turning this beloved treat into a cupcake that we can make all year long.

We start with a boxed cake mix. Now you guys know by now that I have no problems jazzing up a boxed cake mix. It’s just too easy, and we can make it taste homemade and delicious while still saving ourselves tons of time. To the cake batter, we’re going to add lots of lemon zest and lots of lemon juice. Give it a good mix by hand, pour the batter into bright yellow cupcake holders, and bake them off until they’re perfectly moist.

Now you can’t have a lemon stick without some peppermint, so today we are going to make a Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting to top our lemon cupcakes. This is a basic cream cheese frosting recipe which consists of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla. A few drops of peppermint extract added in provides our sweet, minty flavoring.

I chose a cream cheese frosting for this desert, because I wanted to really find that perfect balance of sweetness and tartness between the peppermint frosting and the lemon cake without either flavor being too crazy sweet or too overwhelming (which could easily happen when you combine two very strong and intense flavors). But, those seemingly clashing, aggressive flavors are part of what we love so much about the lemon stick!

To get the cool peppermint swirling in our frosting, we're going to use a really simple trick that helps to layer the colors throughout our piping bag. Fill two piping bags, one with red and one with white frosting. Pipe straight lines of frosting onto a piece of plastic wrap, alternating colors. Then, roll the plastic wrap into a log shape, cut off the tip to expose the icing, put the icing log into a piping bag, and decorate as usual. That way you have a few different layers of color to provide gorgeous stripes throughout your frosting!

The end result, is an absolutely delicious cupcake that you would never expect. I’m sure you guys are still thinking I’m crazy for combining lemon and peppermint. But let me tell you, it’s absolutely delicious! There are some moments when your bite is more lemon, and there are some moments when your bite is more peppermint. But, that balance of sweet and tart absolutely can’t be beat and is something that we crave all summer in Baltimore.

Alright, everyone! I hope you have a fun, safe weekend full of relaxation and good food.

So, enjoy! And, let's eat!

Lemon Stick Cupcakes

Serves: 24 Print

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 1 box French Vanilla (or white) cake mix, plus ingredients called for to prepare mix

  • 2 tbsp lemon zest (grated lemon peel)

  • 2 ½ tbsp lemon juice

  • yellow food coloring

  • cooking spray

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened at room temperature

  • 1 stick (½ cup) butter, softened at room temperature

  • 1 lb (16 oz or about 4 cups) powdered sugar

  • 2 tbsp heavy cream

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1 tsp peppermint extract

  • red food coloring

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cupcake pans with yellow cupcake liners. Add ingredients called for on cake mix box plus lemon juice, lemon zest, and yellow food coloring to the cake mix. Stir by hand until completely combined and mostly smooth. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake according to package directions. Cool cake completely.

  2. Make the Cream Cheese Frosting: Add softened cream cheese and butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix together on medium high speed for 1 minute until everything is mixed together and looking creamy. Add the powdered sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla and peppermint extracts to the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds until the sugar starts to incorporate in the butter mixture. Turn up to medium high speed, and finish mixing for about 1-2 minutes until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Place half of the frosting into one piping bag. Add red food coloring to the remaining frosting, and mix until the desired colored is reached. Transfer the red frosting to a separate piping bag.

  3. Decorate the Cupcakes: Lay a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface. Pipe 6 lines of frosting onto the plastic wrap, alternating colors. Use the plastic wrap to roll the icing into a log shape. Cut the end of the plastic wrap to expose the frosting. Place the frosting log in a clean piping bag fitted with a Wilton 2A tip. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Enjoy!

Recipe notes:

*Store leftover cupcakes in the fridge.

*Using this decorating trick with the icing helps you to get a few layers of swirled color through the frosting. It's totally worth sacrificing a few piping bags! See pics in the post for how to pipe the icing onto the plastic wrap.

*Use as much or as little food coloring as you like to get the color yellow and the color red that you prefer.

*I've always mixed box cake mixes by hand. This isn't an official ruling, but I believe that mixing by hand prevents over mixing which in turn leads to a fluffier cake. The batter is thin enough that it's not a struggle to do. That's what I tell myself anyway!

*Here are the piping bags and Wilton tip that I use.

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