Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes (gluten-free or regular)

Cupcakes have become a bit of an obsession for me lately. I absolutely love the joy I get from baking them, and the creativity that can be employed when making them makes it more fun than ordinary baking.  There are so many different flavors, fillings, and frostings, not to mention garnishes, baking cups, sprinkles......the possibilities never end!  

Recently I was asked to bake cupcakes for a luncheon that some friends and I were hosting.  We were honoring a friend who is about to move away to another town.  While it is a sad occasion to say goodbye, I am very excited for her and her family as they begin a new adventure.  When trying to decide what flavor cupcakes to make, there were a few things that came to mind.  
1)  I know that my friend likes fruity flavors, and since it is summertime that seemed like a natural fit.
2)  Since I was making two dozen cupcakes, I thought it would be nice to make two different flavors 
     for the guests to choose from.  
3)  I had these cute baking cups that I have been waiting for just the right occasion to use, so I wanted
     to choose a flavor that would look nice in them.
So, with all of that in mind, I decided to make Lemon Blueberry and Key Lime.  (I'll share the Key Lime recipe at a later time).  

These cupcakes were my inspiration.  Because I often bake gluten-free (I have celiac disease and so selfishly I want to be able to enjoy my goodies), I have gotten into the habit of doctoring a gluten-free cake mix.  Perhaps I need to experiment more, but I just haven't found a from scratch recipe that tastes as good as the doctored recipe I use.  I mixed up the cake as usual, adding pudding, eggs, oil, sour cream, milk and vanilla to a Pamela's gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix.  I love the texture and flavor of this cake.  When I finished mixing the cake, I added the zest from two lemons, then I mixed the blueberries called for in the recipe with about 2 teaspoons of gluten-free flour.  You could also hold out a little of the cake mix and toss the blueberries in that.  I gently folded the blueberries into the batter and scooped into my cute baking cups, filling about halfway.  

After baking and cooling, I cored out the center of the cupcake and filled with the lemon curd.  Then, since I didn't have the ingredients to make the icing called for in the inspiration recipe, I decided to make a traditional cream cheese frosting with lemon curd.  For a garnish I cut some mint leaves from my herb garden and then added a blueberry.  I thought they turned out lovely, just right for a ladies luncheon.  The baking cups make a dainty size that is a little smaller than a traditional cupcake, but still plenty of cake.  

So, how did they taste?  They got rave reviews from the guests at the luncheon, and I thought they were fantastic.  Also, my husband got home and tested them (he loves that job!) and gave them a thumbs up as well.  I definitely recommend this flavor combination! And I don't think anyone even realized they were gluten-free (except my friends who saw me enjoying one!). 

Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes

1 basic vanilla cake mix (gluten-free or regular)
1 small vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
Zest of two lemons
3/4 cup blueberries, tossed in two tsp. reserved cake mix or two tsp. gluten-free or regular flour

Combine the first seven ingredients in mixer bowl; mix on low speed until moistened, then mix on medium speed for two minutes.  Add the lemon zest, and mix briefly until combined.   With a rubber spatula, fold in the blueberries.  Be sure to coat them with cake mix or flour so they don't bleed in the cake.  

Fill cupcake liners.  Depending on the size of your cakes, bake 15-20 minutes or until pick inserted comes out clean.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  

Lemon Curd:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of two large lemons
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.  Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and zest.
Mix together the sugar, salt and cornstarch and add it to the pan.  Whisk in the egg yolks until smooth and return to heat. Cook over medium-low heat for roughly 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
Once thickened, strain the mixture though a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Allow to chill in the refrigerator completely before using.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2/3 cup lemon curd (recipe above)
Zest of two lemons

To assemble, take cooled cupcakes and core a hole in the middle (you can use a vegetable peeler to make a small indention in the center of the cupcake).  Fill hole with lemon curd.  Use a decorating tip (Wilton 1M) on a pastry bag to pipe icing on the top, then garnish as desired.

Click here for printable recipe

I hope you enjoy these as much as me and my friends did! 


Tuscan Panzanella with Quinoa

That may seem like an ordinary blog title, but boy, it means so much more to me.  That title is a great descriptor of a fabulous birthday trip from my awesome husband.  I just celebrated a HUGE birthday (ahem....50), and we celebrated in an amazing place--Italy.  It has long been a dream of mine to go with Bob and after many years of sending children off on wonderful trips, it was finally our turn.

Being the foodies that we are, you can only imagine how excited we were to be going to a place so well known for eating, cooking, and fresh ingredients.  For those that know I follow a gluten-free diet due to having celiac disease, you may be thinking "poor thing, all that pizza and pasta and other Italian specialties she wasn't able to have!"  But no, Italians are much further along in their education gluten-free living than we in America are.  Everyone understood "senza glutine" (gluten-free in Italian) and I had tons of gluten-free pizzza, pasta, bruschetta, tiramisu, etc.  And it was all delicious!

One of the highlights of the trip was a cooking class in Florence that Bob and I took.  We didn't know what to expect, and it was such a treat!  Chef Vary welcomed us into her wonderful kitchen and we made ricotta gnocchi with squash blossoms, guinea fowl with balsamic and homemade red pepper sauce, chickpea soup with pecorino cheese, limoncello tiramisu, and a very traditional Tuscan dish, panzanella, made with quinoa. It was a delightful evening. 

Panzanella is normally made with bread; it is somewhat like a "bread salad".  Since we needed to make it gluten-free, rather than simply substituting with gluten-free bread, Chef Vary decided to use quinoa instead.  This thrilled me since quinoa has quickly become a favorite dish for Bob and I when cooking at home.
This panzanella was the first dish I replicated once we returned home and I got back in the kitchen.  I made it for a get together with some ladies from my church, and had several requests for the recipe, so I am happy to share!  Keep in mind that quinoa is a very versatile dish.  I have made this many different ways, and have never been disappointed.  You can add most anything you like!  Simply cook the quinoa first (according to package directions) and then add any combination of flavors.  Some of our favorites:  mixed blanched vegetables with this homemade mustard vinaigrette or black beans, tomatoes, onions, with a homemade vinaigrette and a little red cayenne pepper.  Experiment, and have fun!  I promise you won't be disappointed.  You can even use a bottled dressing if pressed for time, or just olive oil and spices.

 Chef Vary's Tuscan Panzanella with Quinoa
1 cup dry quinoa (about 3 cups cooked)
Water according to package directions (I use two cups)
Salt (to taste, but I use 2 teaspoons)

Cook quinoa according to directions on package.  The only difference for me is sometimes I use chicken or vegetable broth instead of water to add more flavor.  Also, be sure to add salt.  It is important to season in layers when cooking.  Allow to cool.

Two large tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely diced
1/2 cup sweet Vidalia onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
FRESH basil, chopped (use a lot--probably 10 leaves or so)
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Freshly grated ginger to taste

Mix all the above ingredients.  I drizzled olive oil, and probably wound up with 1/4-1/2 cup added.  I added very little grated ginger.  As Chef Vary says, it is the secret ingredient.  Just enough to give it a fresh taste and leave you wondering what that flavor was.

Please comment and let me know if you make this, or one of the other versions I mentioned above, or if you create something of your own!