Sailing out of Summer with Key Lime Cupcakes in Tow

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There’s just something about being out on the water. It could be that it brings me back to my Florida roots and makes me feel at home. Or it could be that the wind and water have a way of reconnecting you with the world around you, reminding you that you’re a part of something bigger. Or it could be something much less emo, and just be an excuse to escape the DC rat race for a Sunday Funday of boat drinks and bronzing. Whatever it is, it puts me in a happy place, and there is never anywhere I’d rather be than in a boat, on the water, boat drink in hand (except maybe, at this time of year, back in The Swamp with 92,000 of my closest friends watching the Gators recover from what I pray was a fluke of a season, but that’s a story for a different day). With fall and cooler temperatures fast approaching, I knew our days on the water were limited, so when Christyn called me about a potential boat day a few Sundays back, I was 100% in.

Just as boat days were winding down, so were opportunities to try my hand at a very long list of summer baking recipes. Key Lime Cupcakes have been on my mind all summer long, so this was my last chance. A little odd to actually bring on a boat, I know, but hey – no one could really hate the girl that shows up with a dozen beach-appropriate cupcakes, right? Ok, maybe they would totally judge the heck out of me, but they’d end up eating their words right along with the cupcakes. That I was confident of. Plus, my mom taught me to never show up to a party empty-handed. I knew what I had to do.

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One of the reasons I was so dead-set on Key Lime was because I wanted to venture into the world of curd again – this time with key lime curd. Clearly I was feeling quite adventurous that day (and had determined that I was fully recovered from the previous curd incident), but at least this time I prepared and made it a couple days ahead of time to account for any dramatic mishaps. Because I didn’t want the lime flavor to completely overpower the cupcake, I decided to pair the curd with some simple Very Vanilla Cupcakes and a cream cheese frosting with a hint of lime juice. And for some extra Key Lime authenticity, I threw in a graham cracker crust as well. I was going for that perfect combination of citrus and sweetness, with a creamy element to balance it out.

I’m happy to report that the curd was super easy and went off without a hitch. Phew! It was much simpler than anticipated to create a make-shift double broiler (as called for in the recipe) with a metal mixing bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. And the mixture thickened up gradually just as the recipe describes. The fine mesh strainer didn’t prove to be my enemy this time around (probably because there were no solid fruit elements to this particular curd recipe), and it strained effortlessly into a bowl. I let and cool and then covered it with plastic wrap, carefully placing it so that it just touched the surface of the curd, and then popped it in the fridge until I was ready to bake the cupcakes.

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The cupcakes themselves were quick and simple, being that the recipe is a tried and true one. What proved to be slightly difficult with this little project, though, was the frosting. Usually when I substitute shortening to a frosting recipe to give it more structure for piping, it stiffens up the consistently without fail. This time, though, the icing was super soft – more along the lines of the consistency you’d need to ice a cake. Translation: not ideal for piping. At all. Since I didn’t have enough ingredients on hand to make a second batch, though, I just went with it. It might’ve been the lime juice I added; it might’ve been the heat. Whatever it was, it wasn’t the best. It tasted good though, and, ultimately, that’s all that matters. After coring the cupcakes and adding the curd, I piped the frosting on using a new method I wanted to try and called it a day. Normally I wouldn’t settle for less-than-perfectly decorated cupcakes, but I had a boat to catch. I popped these babies in a cupcake caddy, threw on a bathing suit and headed out the door. Priorities.

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I’m happy to report that no one judged me in the slightest when I showed up on the dock at Pusser’s in Annapolis with a dozen freshly-baked cupcakes. On the contrary, everyone was super excited. One of the guys even went so far as to ensure they were stowed securely in a little compartment on the boat for safe keeping. Then out onto the water we went. We had some cocktails, cruised around soaking up the sun and scenery, and then anchored and threw around a football for a while. So American. There was even a little wake boarding. Eventually everyone broke into the cupcakes and loved them (yes, even despite the – gasp – imperfect piping). P2P had some new fans. One fellow sailor even took some to go. Success.

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After such a great day made even better by some great cupcakes, I was satisfied that all opportunities were seized. We squeezed in one last boat day and tried out one last summer recipe before we officially trade sundresses, sandals, sunshine and citrus for scarves, boots, foliage, and all things pumpkin. Now I can officially say I’m ready for fall. If you’re not quite there yet, though, this recipe is a fantastic way to rebel against the inevitable onslaught of cooler weather. Who cares that Labor Day is long gone? Rules are made to be broken. Throw on some white pants, blast some Jimmy Buffett, and whip up these summery sweets. I promise I won’t tell.

Key Lime Cupcakes

INGREDIENTS

Key Lime Curd (from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures):
1/2 cup key lime juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Graham Cracker Crust (from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures):
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 6 cracker sheets)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Very Vanilla Cupcakes (from Life, Love and Sugar):
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
3 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk

Key Lime Cream Cheese Buttercream (adapted from Your Cup of Cake):
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon milk (if needed)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Tackle the Key Lime Curd. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the lemon juice, sugar, and eggs together until well combined. Add the butter and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, whisking almost constantly, until the curd has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (it should register at about 160 F on an instant read thermometer). Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a second heatproof bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface and store in the refrigerator.

2. To make the graham cracker crust, preheat the oven to 350 and line cupcake pans with liners. Place graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs. In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and toss until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Place about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each liner and use the bottom of a glass to press into an even layer. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the crust is set. Watch these to make sure they don’t burn! Transfer the pans to wire racks to cool while you make the cupcake batter. Maintain oven temperature.

3. Make the cupcakes! Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter, egg whites, vanilla, sour cream and milk and mix on medium speed until smooth. The batter might be lumpy from the butter – that’s ok! I promise it melts during baking. Fill each liner about 3/4 of the way full and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then move them to cooling rack to finish cooling.

4. Now prepare the frosting In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese for at least 4 minutes. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and mix well. Add lime juice and mix to incorporate. If it’s still too thick, add a teaspoon of milk at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.

5. Now bring it all together. Core each cupcake using a paring knife, reserving the cupcake tops. Fill each cupcake with a dollop of key lime curd and replace each cupcake top. Transfer icing to a pastry big fitted with your piping tip of choice, and pipe frosting onto cupcakes as desired. Garnish with extra graham cracker crumbs and a lime wedge.

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