These lemony cupcakes are so refreshing and delicious. They get some added zest thanks to Limoncello.
Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur generally produced in Southern Italy, particularly in the region around the Gulf of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the coast of Amalfi, and islands of Capri, Ischia, and Procida. It’s also produced in Sardinia, Sicily, Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Menton in France, and the Maltese island of Gozo. In northern Italy, this liqueur is usually referred to instead as limoncino. It’s also a popular homemade liqueur, with numerous recipes available online and in print.
Even though there is a debate about the exact origin of the beverage, it’s at least one hundred years old. Traditionally, limoncello is made from the zest of Femminello St. Teresa lemons, also known as Sfusato or Sorrento lemons. Lemon zest, or peels without the pith, is steeped in rectified spirit until the oil is released. The resulting yellow fluid is then combined with simple syrup. Varying the sugar-to-water ratio and the temperature affects the flavor, viscosity, and clarity. Opaque limoncellos are the result of spontaneous emulsification (otherwise known as the ouzo effect) of the sugar syrup and extracted lemon oils.
This liqueur always reminds me of my Christmas holidays in Verona, my hometown, when we used to drink it for the holiday season after desserts – it was our family thing. Today, I prepare these lemony cupcakes at any season – because I really like the taste of lemon and I also like cupcakes – so this combination is totally my jam!
For the cupcakes:
- 1 box white cake mix
- 1 ¼ cups water
- ¼ cup Limoncello liqueur
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3 egg whites
- Grated peel and juice of one medium lemon
For the frosting:
- 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup butter, softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon Limoncello
For the garnish:
- A few lemon slices
- Heat oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4 (325°F/ 165°C/ Gas Mark 3, for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups.
- In a large bowl, beat cupcake ingredients with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full.
- Bake 18 to 23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack.
- In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- On low speed, beat in powdered sugar and Limoncello until mixed; beat on medium speed until fluffy. Frost cupcakes, mounding and swirling frosting in the center.
- Garnish with lemon slices if desired. Store covered in the refrigerator.
Note: Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. For more lemon flavor, fill centers of baked cupcakes with a dollop of lemon curd.
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