Monday, August 12, 2013

Zucchini cupcakes with lemon cream cheese icing

I can't believe we're nearly midway through August already.   Thankfully, there is still over a month left of summer.  Yes, summer goes until September 21st, don't you forget it!

This time of year is also known as the thick of vacation season.  I've all but given up keeping tabs on friends and family because they seem to be all over the place this year.  Weekend getaways, mid-week business trips extended for pleasure, and epic European adventures.  But I'm so happy to welcome 'em home and ooh and ahh over the hundreds and hundreds of pictures they've taken ;)

A traditional vacation wasn't in the works (so far, anyway) for me yet, but I've found other ways to enjoy a little R&R this summer.

I finally found a mini golf place in the city.  Pittsburgh locals, check out Kniess's on Babcock Boulevard!

I've spent quite a few Saturday mornings traipsing around the Strip District, totally paralyzed by the sheer amount of food around me.

Sunday afternoons have become my favorite time to lazily stroll around Shadyside after church, treating myself to an iced green tea lemonade and browsing with no destination in mind.

And Monday afternoons?  Turns out they are the perfect time to use a few hours of vacation and head home to bake cupcakes!

Last week, I found myself seriously struggling to retain my focus and, for once, the typical Monday reality check wasn't to blame.  All I could think about was baking.  More than usual, too.  I just wanted to bake something, anything!

So, I did what any normal person would do and took the afternoon off and went home and baked cupcakes.  Specifically, yummy zucchini cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting!

It was a matter of using what I had without making a trip to the store to indulge my sugary whim.  There just happened to be a monstrous zucchini, fresh from my father-in-law's garden, sitting on our counter and that was all I needed.

I've churned out quite a few savory zucchini recipes already this season but the sweets column was curiously empty until now.  Consider that remedied with these babies!

Super moist cupcakes made with deeply flavorful brown sugar (could anyone else eat that stuff straight?)  and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are truly good enough to eat on their own.  But when have I ever been known to leave something well enough alone?

A thick layer of frosting never did anyone wrong.  Especially cream cheese frosting with a surprise hint of lemony tang to keep things from being too sweet.

"Too sweet?"  Who am I?  Maybe I really do need a vacation after all...

Three years ago: Pasta with creamy no-cream sauce

Zucchini Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Icing
(cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe)
-makes 12 cupcakes

A few notes: The tart lemon juice was such a nice contrast to the very sweet cream cheese frosting base.  Next time I make these, I'll add lemon zest for additional flavor and color.  Finally, this makes a lot of icing.  I had a little extra (kept in the fridge for up to a week) and used to spread on graham crackers for a snack at a later time.  If you prefer a much thinner layer, halve the amounts.

For cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini, excess moisture squeezed out
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For icing:
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, cold
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest of 1/2 lemon, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a standard muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.  Whisk together dry ingredients in medium bowl.  In large bowl, stir together wet ingredients.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until totally combined.  (Batter will be thick, don't worry.)   Fill cupcake wells 2/3 full and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Remove from pan and cool on wire rack completely.

While cupcakes are cooking, make icing.  In bowl of electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium high until smooth.  Add lemon juice, zest (if using), and 2 cups powdered sugar, mixing on low at first and eventually beating on medium high until light and fluffy.  Depending on your desired thickness, add more powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until thick but spreadable consistency is reached.  Spread on cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

Cupcakes can be covered and stored in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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