key lime cupcakes

The trickling water in the fish pond lends a Zen quality to my Maryland backyard. I’m wearing the sundress I always wear after long, grueling bike rides: the loose, earth-toned one I seldom wear out. The air is close, whisking against my shoulders, taunting with its brief cool. Despite the heat, I spend most of the day outside, soaking up the surprise swelter of May’s first Day of Rest.


Despite an early-morning goodbye, today is perfect in doses: an early-morning chat with my mom, good coffee, a ripe mango, morning doves and squirrels and all the familiar summer sounds. The hours loll by, and the sky slowly darkens, preparing for thunder. Oil spills and bomb threats are peripheral. This cocoon shelters, though it fails to cancel any of this out.key lime cupcakes


This whole weekend, actually, has been one of the most relaxing I’ve spent in D.C. yet. We had to run a short errand yesterday (to deal with recent bank fraud), but found ourselves out in Bethesda, so tried another José Andrés restaurant, Jaleo. We ordered the tapas tasting menu, and it was decent, but we weren’t nearly as blown away as we were by Cafe Atlantico. It was lovely, though, to share a pint of beer and our too-late first meal of the day together on a bright patio.

When we returned home, it was time to use up the rest of last week’s key lime score (a whole bag for $2—half of which we turned into a key lime pie using this recipe—tasty, but not quite as good as the lemon was). What would be a quick and easy way to capture all that tropical tartness?dsc_2236_4571369579_o


When I moved to my first major American city, I tried to ignore the cupcake craze that had captivated food bloggers, critics, and even sweet-toothed males. How good could they be? I’d always found them too sweet, too airy, too dry… uninspiring. I’d choose cheesecake, ice cream, or even a slice of dark chocolate any day. Plus, I blamed cupcakes for the food-as-fashion-accessory trend: they were quickly encroaching on Starbucks’ territory as divas toted ribboned boxes of the little cakes from hair appointments to manicure sessions.

Sometime in the last few weeks, though, I changed my mind about cupcakes. Maybe it’s my boss’s fault: he’s brought cupcakes to the office on two occasions, from the fanciest shops in D.C. Maybe last weekend’s whiskey + cupcakes party pushed me over the line. Somehow, in the midst of (yet stolidly ignoring) this city’s silly cupcake wars, I’ve come to appreciate the class of small cakes. So much so that I decided to devote an hour of my precious Saturday to concocting a key lime variety.

dsc_2251_4572008220_oI didn’t have the energy to start my own cupcake war, reading recipe reviews and researching how to get the perfect “light, open crumb.” I just picked one that looked easy from Bon Appetit, with a plain buttercream icing from some generic website that aggregates recipes. I left out the green food coloring, used kefir instead of the buttermilk, and improvised on the self-rising flour by making my own: simply add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to one cup of regular flour.

The cupcakes turned out quite dense, yet lighter than pound cake, and with a nice chewiness. The icing was too runny (to solve that I’m just keeping the icing in a bowl in the fridge for a quick ice-your-own fix), and on the whole, they weren’t as life-changing as this shop’s. BUT, they were fun to make and share, they honored the last of my Key limes, and even if they won’t win any wars, they made me appreciate even more the world of cakes that fit in the palm of a hand.

Key Lime Cupcakes

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1  1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp finely grated lime peel
  • 1/4 tsp neon-green food coloring
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners. Whisk both flours in medium bowl. Beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar; beat to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then next 3 ingredients (batter may look curdled). Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Spoon scant 1/3 cup batter into each liner.
  2. Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.
By Buttersweet Bakery, Bon Appetit, September 2008

Key Lime Buttercream Icing

  • 1/2  cup butter, softened
  • 1  1/2  teaspoons  Key lime zest
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
  • 3  Tbsp Key lime juice
  • 1  to 2 Tbsp. milk

1. Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

2. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with Key lime juice, 1 Tbsp. at a time, and 1 Tbsp. milk, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Beat in up to 1 Tbsp. additional milk for desired consistency.

Southern Living, March, 2009

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