Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Lemon Velvet Cupcakes with candied lemon zest.

lemonvelvetcupcakesThis here little blog project of mine never ceases to amaze and inspire, amirite? I refer of course to the comment left by some d00d named Kenny a couple weeks ago on a particularly and perpetually popular Palace post entitled Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake:

Definitely the best red velvet cake. I also am planning to use the cake recipe as a base for a lemon cake. The cake itself is so moist and flavorful, I can stop thinking of the different variations of this cake I can make. Again using just the cake and omitting the cocoa and red coloring.

Naturally, I swooned and gushed in reply, “Ooooh, lemon velvet cake. Zest? How much? Do tell plz!” But alas, my new BFF Kenny, who is obviously some major motherfucking cake genius, had gone silent. Still, thoughts of magical lemon velvet cake haunted me in my dreams and drifted in and out of my consciousness to the point of distraction. Enough of this madness, I finally declared! I MUST HAVE THIS LEMON VELVET CAKE! I MUST HAVE THIS LEMON VELVET CAKE RIGHT NOW!

Instead of making the layer cake I practiced with cupcakes, so I could make half-batches and so my neighborhood friends could easily sample my experiments. My first attempt turned out well enough, but just did not quite have the citrus bite I was looking for. The second batch was damn near perfect, except I wasn’t really happy with the garnish. I tweaked it again, and I am very happy with this recipe. Ecstatic, even. Enjoy!



  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flourlemons&orange
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 4 organic* lemons
  • 1 organic* orange
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx. the juice of one small lemon

Frosting: (these quantities are for 24 cupcakes; double them for a layer cake.)

  • ½ pound (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • OPTIONAL: 3 tablespoons Limoncello (you may need to add more powdered sugar to stiffen the consistency)

Candied lemon zest:

  • 3-4 organic* lemons
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Organic citrus is highly recommended: standard supermarket fare usually has a wax coating (and probably artificial coloring) rendering it less than ideal for zesting.

Yield: 24 cupcakes (or one three-layer cake).

zester<—This is a zester.

Use it to scrape the outer peel off of citrus, taking as little of the white pith underneath as possible.

IMPORTANT SAFETY REMINDER: the zester is not recommended for use in the Bedroom without advanced-level training.




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with cupcake papers (for layer cake: lightly oil and flour three 9 by 1½ -inch round cake pans).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. After sifting, whisk the mixture in the bowl so that the dry ingredients are well blended.

Zest the lemons and orange into another large bowl, and whisk together the zest, oil, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and fresh lemon juice. Use one of the  zested lemons for the juice.

papercupbatterUsing a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake papers (or for layer cake among the prepared cake pans). Hack tip: pour batter from the mixing bowl into a creased paper coffee cup, and use that to fill them.

Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake until the edges are slightly golden brown or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through the baking time. (Note for layer cake: this batter does not rise very much; it is extremely moist and dense. If you want a taller layer cake, make a double batch and add more layers.)

donecupcakesRemove the cupcake pans from the oven, and allow to cool for ten minutes. Use a spoon to gently extract the cupcakes from the pans and transfer them to a cooling rack. (For layer cake: run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up.) Let cool completely before frosting.



In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the softened cream cheese, sifted confectioners’ sugar and softened butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to low. Add the vanilla (and optional Limoncello), raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy and well incorporated—you may need to scrape down the bowl again, or just stir it up by hand. Store frosting in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff before using; alternatively, if it is already thoroughly refrigerated let it sit out of the refrigerator for ten minutes or so. You want the consistency to be thick enough to stack up, yet creamy enough when stirred with a knife to spread smoothly. If tightly sealed (e.g. ziploc bag or in a bowl with plastic wrap directly in contact with few air bubbles), the frosting will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost 24 cupcakes (or a 3-layer, 9-inch round cake). And then some.

cupcakezestCandied lemon zest:

With a peeler, remove strips of peel from lemons, without the white pith. Cut the strips into thinner strips: they don’t have to be perfect, but you’re going for something like thin spaghetti.

candiedzestingPut the strips in a medium saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then let them cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the strips in a strainer, and set them aside.

Refill the empty saucepan with 1 ½ cups sugar, 1 ½ cups water and vanilla. Bring it to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until all of the sugar is dissolved. Put the lemon strips back in the pan and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is moderately thick, approx. 10 to 15 minutes.

zestcookingcoolingzestNow at this point recipes for candied zest typically say to transfer the strips from the pan onto wax paper or parchment to cool. This turned out to be a hopeless disaster: they became so stuck to the surface that the process of peeling them off rendered them dull (with trailing strings of candied glaze) instead of glossy. YMMV of course, but I found that using a dinner plate worked better. I used a fork to transfer them to the plate, and to transfer them from the plate to the cupcakes as well. Hack tip: when transferring the strips to the plate, use the fork to twist them into curls. They tend to keep that shape after they cool.

Frost the cupcakes, top with candied zest, take a bite… and thank Vishnu for Kenny.

cupcakeprojectNOTE: For optimal freshness and flavor, keep cupcakes (or layer cake) refrigerated, and sit out to bring up to near room temperature just before serving.

5 thoughts on “Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Lemon Velvet Cupcakes with candied lemon zest.

  1. Sounds amazing! Glad the creme cheese icing is still being used, it’s a life-sustaining basic, like bacon, butter and peanut butter.
    If I baked I would have tried to make the Crack Pie from Momofuku Milk Bar. But the pastry chef, Christina Tosi, just published a cookbook and it’s one of the recipes!

    Thanks Iris!

  2. Upon acquiring this bizarre obsession, I was amazed at the number of my friends who told me that lemon was their hands-down, go-to favorite dessert flavor ever. (I am a lifetime member of Team Chocolate.) Maybe its the crap weather in New York and a pining for spring that got me chasing this whole lemon thing? It’s a flavor I associate with summer and warmer climes, for sure (see: Key Lime pie OMFG). But while lemon may evoke the light & breezy & tropical, make no mistake: this recipe is wickedly decadent. Heh.

    Mr. Born: if we see you later, there’s a lemon velvet cupcake with your name on it.

    • IF you see me?!?! I’ve been circling the venue since I saw the image of the cupcakes.

      I’m a huge fan of chocolate also but Lemon Bars? Lemon pound cake? Lemon Pie? Lemon Jellybeans. Lemon sour balls? Interesting that probably one of the few things it doesn’t compliment is – chocolate!

  3. Pingback: Kelly's Spaghetti with Kale and Lemon

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