(according to my big brother Louis, Paul used to run around and chase me… just to kiss me… this picture makes me smile no matter how sad I am)
Today would have been my brother Paul’s 34th birthday. It’s the first time my family and I will celebrate his birthday without him being present… devastated doesn’t begin to express how I feel.
I’ve spent the last three months (I can’t believe it’s only been three months, while also being shocked that it’s already been three months) trying to learn to live with what has happened. And I’ve spent a lot of that time baking: cakes, cookies, scones, cheesecakes, brownies, mini tarts … if it involves flour, sugar, butter and chocolate or lemons… I make it.
Everyone knows that I heart lemons: their tart, bright, happy, flavour… they brighten up just about anything and put a smile on my face. That’s something Paul and I shared. We both absolutely adore all things lemon. My grandmother indulged Paul’s lemon love by baking him a lemon meringue pie every year for his birthday. It’s a memory that brings me a lot of comfort… remembering how happy Paul was when that pie was placed in front of him… huge grin on his face. Paul had the best smile.
And so in honour of my big brother I have been baking lemon
lemon twisted queen elizabeth cake, lemon meringue mini tarts, lemon white chocolate marble loaves, pound cake filled with lemon curd, frozen lemon meringue pie, and finally these beauties… lemon meringue cupcakes.
Personally… I think all of it has been amazing.
And I am planning on sharing those recipes with you … in time… I promise!
But for today I decided to share a light and fluffy little sponge cupcake, filled with my fresh tart lemon curd and then topped with a beautiful meringue that I got to torch.
Fun to make and delicious to eat.
I know that my brother would have approved… and that he would have eaten one, looked up at me, burst out laughing, and said “Lynnie Penny… you made this? Damn you’re getting good!“ And then he would have tried to talk everyone else out of eating one… so that he could have the bunch for himself :0)
I have learned the following thing about myself in the last few months. My sentiment has turned after-life into a fairy tale for children. And so, on this occasion, I will get through today by imagining Paul up in heaven indulging in my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. And then he will serenade her and all our other loved ones, with his harmonica. It’s a beautiful image… filled with laughter, love, lemon meringue, and music – all things my brother would want on his birthday.
*baker’s note… I got this recipe from the hummingbird bakery’s new cookbook “cake days” – so everything is metric… truly worth investing in a scale :0)
lemon meringue cupcakes
80 g butter, room temperature
280 g sugar
240 g flour, sifted
1 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
grated zest of a lemon
240 ml milk
4 egg whites
200 g sugar
150 mL water
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Line your muffin tins with paper liners – the original recipe says that it will make 12-16 cupcakes – I actually was able to make 18 … and think I could get 20 out of the batter. Set aside.
You might read the following and do a double take. Since in this instance there is no creaming of the butter and sugar. I know it seems so wrong. You might actually think that you know better than I do and that you’re actually going to cream the butter and sugar before adding any other ingredients. Please don’t. Please do exactly what I’m telling you to do… even if every single one of your baking instincts is telling you NO. I resisted that urge and everything was a-ok. Actually… everything was better than ok. I promise.
Grab your stand-mixer and the paddle attachment. Beat together (low speed) the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest… you want the ingredients to resemble fine breadcrumbs.
Now in your measuring cup, add the eggs and whisk everything together.
Pour 3/4 of the milk-egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium and keep beating until the batter becomes smooth and fluffy. Pour in the remaining milk-egg mixture. You’ll end up with a lovely yellow creamy batter. It’s smells pretty darn good too… take a whiff… you’ll feel a little happier for it. For realz.
Since it’s a pretty liquidy batter, I found it was easiest to put it into a measuring cup with a lip… pour the batter into the paper liners.
These cupcakes will rise quite a bit… so don’t fill the cases too much :0) (that’s also how you can end up with 20 cupcakes rather than 12).
Bake for 15 – 18 minutes – they will have risen and be springy to your touch. Leave them in the muffin tins for a few minutes, remove and then allow to cool completely on a wire rack. You need to allow them to cool completely before continuing.
If you don’t already have some fresh and delicious lemon curd on hand… take the time to make it. Fresh really is best. And pretty darn simple to make too.
Once your cupcakes are cool, fill a piping bag with some lemon curd (use any tip) and pipe some curd into each cupcake (stick the tip into the top of the cupcakes): you’ll see the cupcake start to expand, that’s when you’ll know it’s enough. Don’t worry if some of the curd overflows… it’s all good ;0)
Time to make the meringue. Since you aren’t going to stick the meringue back in the oven, you’ll need to make a simply syrup for an italian meringue. Place the sugar in a small saucepan and cover with the water (use as much of the water as needed to cover the sugar), bring to a boil. Allow the sugar to boil for 5 – 10 minutes or until it has reached the softball stage (240 degrees).
Meanwhile, use your stand-mixer with the whisk attachment and whisk the egg-whites until just foamy.
Once you have reached the softball stage, remove the syrup from the heat and increase the mixer speed to medium. Slowly pour the syrup into the egg whites. Once all the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high – whisking until the underside of the bowl feels lukewarm. The meringue will quadruple in size and be very white and smooth.
I found it was easiest to fill another piping bag with the meringue and then piped the meringue on top of each cupcake.
Once all the cupcakes have been topped, grab your blowtorch and quickly brown the tops of each cupcake. Watch out! You don’t want to burn the paper liners :0)
That’s it … a birthday tribute to my big brother.