It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I really came to understand the meaning of “spring fever.” Experiencing a very real, prolonged, snow-filled winter can really drive a Florida girl to the brink of crazy, so when the temperatures FINALLY creep their way into the high sixties (which, by the way, still meant tights when I was growing up back home in Florida), I (along with everyone else) rush to the nearest exit to soak up some fresh air and sunlight every chance I get. There is an excited energy all over the city that you can legitimately feel in the air. Rooftop happy hours are planned, al fresco brunch reservations are made, and everyone is stalking weather.com to determine whether that upcoming weekend will be justifiably warm enough to throw the first pool party of the season. Everyone is clamoring to be outside, and virtually any excuse will do.
This past winter was no exception. With multiple snow days keeping us cooped up indoors – including one in MARCH for the love of God – I was so ready to feel the sun on my skin, get an overdose of Vitamin D, and restore my complexion to its rightful olive hue (granted, being inside a good amount did provide for some ample baking time, but – let’s be real – a girl’s gotta bronze). So by the time April rolled around, spring fever was in full swing. Not coincidentally, these warmer temperatures in the District mean one thing: parties. It’s the start of DC’s spring social season, and God knows I love a good event. Gold Cup, Taste of the South, SweetLife – bring ’em on. If there’s anything I love even more than events, though, it’s BIRTHDAYS. Conveniently, my sweet friend Christina was turning twenty-something just as the warm weather set in, and we planned an afternoon get-together at Mission, a new bar/restaurant concept in Dupont Circle. The space boasts a fun bar area that opens up to a big outdoor patio, so it was a perfect spot for both the sunshine and the occasion. And, of course, I volunteered to bake.
For this party, I wanted to do something that spoke to the rampant spring fever infecting the city and, better yet, that screamed “SPRING.” After gauging the birthday girl’s preferences, I decided on a lemon raspberry concept, but with an added twist I hadn’t attempted before: curd. The cake and icing were a breeze, but let’s just say making raspberry curd from scratch was, shall we say, uncharted territory for me. Now, those of you who know me know that uncharted territory tends to give me fits of anxiety (#typeA), especially when birthday cupcakes for a big party are on the line. I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like to screw up, so all this curd business made me nervous. My roommates came down to the kitchen Friday morning before work to find me standing nervously over a pot on the stove swearing repeatedly that I had done something wrong and ruined by whole cupcake concept (clearly, I NEVER overreact). After some persistence and a lot – like a LOT – of working the mixture through a mesh strainer (I was 30 minutes late to work), there was enough of the stuff to throw in the fridge and hope for the best. Once it set throughout the day, it actually turned out wonderfully. SUCCESS. I love success. That night I baked and assembled the cupcakes, and the next morning garnished each one with a raspberry and lemon wedge and packed those bad boys up to go celebrate the birthday girl.
Despite a HELLISH but hilarious Uber commute with my roommate (we’re talking an hour and a half in an Uber stuck on the highway in Cherry Blossom Festival traffic), the cupcakes arrived safely and – unless everyone lied to avoid hurting my feelings – were a huge hit. This lemon cake tastes light and has a refreshing lemon flavor, but is actually a denser cake perfect for holding a filling. Speaking of filling, guess which part of the cupcake everyone raved about. That’s right – THE CURD. Go figure. It was a great surprise when people bit into the cupcake, and it paired beautifully with the subtle tart of the cake and the creamy, lemony frosting. Guess you have to take the risk to get the reward, and in this case the reward was definitely an amazing, summery, crowd-pleasing cupcake and a very happy birthday girl to boot.
Later on in the evening, we also found that leftover baked goods can be a fantastic ice-breaker. Want to make friends at a bar? Bring a container full of cupcakes. Like bees to honey once those late-night munchies set in, let me tell ya. All in all it was such a fun day of celebrating, and a great way to remedy a serious and very real case of that DC spring fever. And now I’m no longer afraid of curd.
Raspberry Lemon Cream Cupcakes
Raspberry Curd (from Smells Like Home):
8 T unsalted butter
1 pint ripe raspberries, or 1 12-oz. package frozen raspberries, thawed
5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2-3 tsp fresh lemon juice
Lemon Cake (from Homemade by Holman):
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 lemon
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (from Homemade by Holman):
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 T lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1. First, take on that raspberry curd. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the raspberries, egg yolks, sugar and salt, and cook, mashing the berries. Start by stirring frequently, and then stir constantly at the end, until the mixture has thickened. This should take about 10 minutes. Note that if you double the recipe, it will take longer. Just keep at it, watch it closely, and be patient. It should thicken in about 30 minutes. Once thickened, pour the mixture through a course strainer (make sure you use a course strainer – not a fine one – or it will take forever. Trust me on this one.) set over a bowl, and continually press down on the solids until you’ve extracted as much liquid as humanly possible. Cool the curd to room temperature. The curd thickens as it cools and will gradually start to look like you think it should, I promise. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate until fully chilled and ready to use. This can be made a couple days in advance if necessary.
2. Now onto the lemon cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 12-cup muffin tin with your liners of choice. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
Add the sugar and lemon zest to a mixing bowl and rub zest into sugar with your fingertips until well distributed and fragrant. Inhale here because it smells really good. Next, add the butter and cream cheese to the sugar and beat until light and creamy, 2 – 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beating on low speed until just incorporated. Add 1/2 of the buttermilk and, once incorporated, add the next 1/3 of the flour mix, followed by the remaining buttermilk and remaining flour, beating after each addition until just incorporated. Add lemon juice, beating on low speed until just incorporated.
Transfer the batter to muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center cupcake comes out clean. Cool about 5 minutes in the pan and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
3. Now we’re ready for the frosting. Beat together butter, cream cheese and lemon juice on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. This should be about 3 minutes. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and increase speed to medium-high. Beat until smooth.
4. Finally time to assemble! First, core the cupcakes to prepare them for the raspberry curd filling. You can do this either with a cupcake corer or by using a paring knife to cut a small cone out of the center of each cupcake (this is actually what I prefer because it keeps the filling from taking over the cupcake). Trim the “cone” part off of each of these pieces so that you’re left with just the top, and set it next to each cupcake. Fill cupcakes with raspberry curd, and place each top back on its cupcake to “seal” it. Fit a pastry bag (or a plastic ziplock bag with the corner tip cut off!) with your piping tip of choice and fill it with the prepared frosting. Pipe frosting onto the cupcakes and garnish with a raspberry and lemon wedge, if desired.