On Sunday afternoon, I tore myself away from baking and dashed across town for a quick trip to Target to stock up on a few essentials. I only scribbled down three things on my shopping list: spring-themed sprinkles for festive baking, spiral notebooks to stay organized (and remember those brilliant but fleeting recipe ideas in the middle of the night!), and cute greeting cards to replenish my diminishing supply.
After a couple (more like 10) minutes in the store, I emerged from the dollar aisle—my favorite section!—with my basket half-full already and promptly spotted the colorful swimsuits in the women’s clothing department with their tempting Sale stickers. As I turned to take a peek, an employee next to the entryway called out to me. “Would you like a free Lindt milk chocolate Easter bunny?”
You guys probably know me by now… Although I prefer dark, I’m still a diehard chocoholic and can never pass by any opportunity for chocolate—especially if it’s free! So I excitedly accepted her sweet surprise offer and tucked the treat into my purse to save for later. (I avoid nibbling on chocolate in public… It always ends up all over my lips, chin, and even down the front of my blouse. Just part of my charm!)
I left her sample table and consulted my list, yet got distracted once again by the bikinis (I couldn’t resist the light lavender one—it’s my favorite color!), a maxi skirt (I’ve lusted after that style for ages…), patterned appetizer plates (the perfect props for food photography and absolutely essential for blogging), and pastel sticky notes (in my latest attempt to reorganize my work life).
Eventually, after picking up those necessary sprinkles and spiral notebooks, I ended my meandering shopping trip in the grocery section. With the thermometer registering over 80° outside, I headed straight for the ice cream aisle and spotted…
Pumpkin pie ice cream. In April! I wanted to hug the season-confused person in charge of ordering Target’s inventory. With a huge grin, I immediately grabbed a tub and raced to the checkout stand. After less than half an hour in the store, I encountered two sweet surprises that completely brightened my day!
Like the chocolate bunny and pumpkin pie ice cream, these Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Vanilla Yogurt Frosting contain a sweet surprise! With their bright sunshiny base piped high with pastel pink frosting, these classy cupcakes are moist and tender, while the light citrus flavor invites the feel of summer right into your kitchen. They taste just as indulgent as the bakery-bought treats, but—surprise!—they’re incredibly skinny and barely 160 calories each!
The recipe begins with the easy lemon cupcake base. The batter is really thick, so it’s extra important that you measure the flour correctly! Use a light hand with the spoon-and-level method because any excess flour will immediately dry out the cupcakes instead of resulting in the tender texture that we want. Take a quick glance through my Baking Basics for a refresher!
You’ll include both freshly squeezed lemon juice and grated zest in the cupcake base. Most of the flavor actually stems from the latter! Mix a full 2 tablespoons of lemon zest into the batter, and if you accidentally grate a little extra, add that in too. The more the merrier! Even with that large amount of zest, the cupcakes still taste light and sweet, not sour like a regular lemon, and act as the perfect pairing for the creamy frosting.
To ensure the cupcakes’ textures stay tender, alternate between adding the flour mixture and milk to the egg mixture. Alternating additions are mandatory. They prevent over-mixing and over-developing the gluten strands in the flour, which would result in tough cupcakes. Not good! So pretty, pretty please alternate your additions and stir only until the ingredients are just barely incorporated for the ideal airy texture.
Unless it’s thick, rich, and fudgy, I generally avoid frosting. Most bakery-produced buttercreams are too sweet for my tastes as a result of the overwhelming flavor of powdered sugar. But this frosting… Oh my goodness, you guys—I literally ate a quarter of it straight out of the bowl with a spoon! It contains absolutely NO butter and NO powdered sugar but still ends up thick enough to pipe. Too good to be true?
Definitely not! Here’s my secret: Greek yogurt and instant pudding mix. The Greek yogurt already starts out thick to begin with, and the instant pudding mix helps stiffen it up even further. After mixing and chilling, it has the perfect consistency for piping—a true low-fat frosting miracle!
I added fresh raspberry purée to obtain that gorgeous pastel pink color, but the frosting mainly tastes like vanilla, not raspberry. More raspberry purée would add too much liquid to the frosting and make it too thin to pipe. To cut the yogurt’s tang, I mixed in a touch of Truvia as well; feel free to substitute your favorite sweetener (regular or no-calorie) instead.
You must chill the frosting. Just like with no-bake instant pudding pies, it needs time to chill and set. The longer it sits in the fridge, the better! Chill the frosting for at least 1 hour before piping to achieve the proper consistency. If you prepare the frosting while the cupcakes bake, both components will be ready to assemble at the same time.
To pipe pretty swirls…
- Start with the piping tip (I used a 1M swirl one for these) pointed straight down over the center of the cupcake. Some people prefer beginning at the rim of the cupcake, but I find that starting at the center hides the frosting’s “end” slightly better.
- Slowly squeeze frosting out of the tip while dragging the bag to the edge of the cupcake.
- Circle around (clockwise or counter-clockwise; whatever you’re most comfortable with!) the perimeter of the cupcake, still while squeezing out frosting. When staring down at the cupcake from above, you want it to look like you’re almost piping off the edge of the liner! Otherwise, the frosting won’t quite extend far enough outward, and more of the cupcake’s bare top shows.
- Once you’ve finished one complete circle, go around one more time with a slightly smaller radius and a little closer to the center.
- Finish that second circle in the center, and gently raise the piping tip while releasing pressure.
It took me 3 or 4 cupcakes before I finally got the hang of it; I hadn’t piped frosting for 3 years before these! But my frosting recipe makes more than enough for all 12 treats, so you can practice piping swirls on a piece of wax paper before you start on the cupcakes themselves. (Or just top the leftovers with a sprinkle of granola and fresh fruit, and call it a healthy breakfast parfait!)
Don’t they look elegant?
These lightened Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Vanilla Yogurt Frosting taste like warm summer days. The sunshiny cake, the creamy frosting, the subtle hint of berries will satisfy your sweet tooth and leave you with the lingering whisper of citrus on your tongue, tempting you to nibble on another. Go ahead and indulge—they’re only 160 calories each, and with those gorgeous pink frosting swirls, who could resist?
These are definitely the prettiest cupcakes I’ve ever made! All of the men in my life love lemon desserts, so I have a feeling I’ll be baking these for one of their birthdays this year… But with how easy they are to make—and how addictive that frosting is—I’d be a fool to say no!
P.S. Don’t forget to enter my eCookbook Giveaway before it ends on Friday!