Sweet Iced Tea Lemon Cupcakes

Frills of lemony iced tea buttercream on fluffy lemon-scented buttermilk cupcakes.  It's like sunshine in every bite!

Sweet Iced Tea Lemon Cupcakes

I know some of you are still recovering from the cupcake craze of 2004 and probably either cringed or rolled your eyes at first sight of this post.  Yes, I know... cupcakes.  But who doesn't love a cupcake?  I get.  The world went overboard between Cupcake Wars, cupcake boutiques on every corner, and the place that started it all (the tiny Magnolia Bakery in the West Village) began multiplying around the country.  But hey, don't you think we should give cupcakes another chance?

There was a time where I too snubbed the thought of adding yet another cupcake recipe to the Internet.  I even remember the feeling of my clenched jaw when my bridal clients at the bakery circa 2012 would come in and tell me how trendy cupcakes for a wedding cake were... But most trends come for a reason; the original is top notch.  And you know what?  Cupcakes are damn delicious!  And I bet 9 out of 10 of you would take a bit if I put one of these Sweet Iced Tea Lemon Cupcakes down in front of you.  So who cares if the fad is long gone.  Cupcakes were tasty when we were kids, well before Sex on the City put Magnolia's on the map, and they still are now.  So let's enjoy 'em!

**on a side note, I'm totally not hating on Magnolia Bakery, BTW.  Their banana pudding is TO DIE FOR!  The cupcakes, too.  I would not turn one down if one happens to fall onto my lap.

Sweet Iced Tea Lemon Cupcakes

Anyways, these Sweet Ice Tea Lemon Cupcakes are like sunshine in every bite.  The base is a fluffy lemon buttermilk cupcake with just enough zest and zip to nearly beat the summer heat.  The frosting though...So good.  I simply reduced bottled lemon iced tea into a syrup before adding it to lemon-scented buttercream.  I have a similar recipe in my book Layered, but using bottle iced tea really cuts down some of the process.  

I posted a video of me piping the two-toned buttercream here on Instagram if you'd like to check out how I created the ruffle effect.  Using a 104 petal tip with the narrow end facing away from the center of the cupcake, I piped concentric circles of petals on the tops of each cupcake.  For the two-toned effected, I simply striped the piping bag with a bit of yellow buttercream in a line directly up from the narrow end of the piping tip before adding in the plain buttercream.  You can also pipe in the different shades like I've done here.

Sweet Iced Tea Lemon Cupcakes

Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes
makes about 12 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers and set aside.

Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.  Add in the vanilla and mix until combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

With the mixer on low, gradually add in half of the dry ingredients.  Slowly stream in the buttermilk and mix until combined.  Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mix until the last streaks of flour disappear.  Mix on medium for no more than about 30 seconds.

Evenly distribute the batter using a mechanical ice cream scoop into the lined pan.  Do not fill the cupcake liners more than about 2/3 of the way full.

Bake the cupcakes in the preheated over for 8 minutes.  At 8 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue to bake until done, about an additional 12 minutes (20 total minutes).  When done, they should be slightly golden on top and toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.

Cool cupcakes in the baking tin for 5 to 10 minutes, then continue to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Lemon Iced Tea Buttercream
small recipe Swiss meringue buttercream 
1 cup lemon iced tea
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pour 1 cup of lemon iced tea into a small saucepan.  Place on the stove and bring to a simmer.  Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 1 hour, or until the tea reduces down to about 1/4 cup.  Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, prepare the buttercream.

Once the tea syrup has cooled, mix 3 to 4 tablespoons into the buttercream.  Add in the fresh lemon juice and adjust to taste.  Depending on how sweet vs lemony you'd like the buttercream, adjust the tea syrup and lemon amounts accordingly.  However, do not add too much of either liquid or the buttercream may split.

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

Mini pockets of juicy cherry and chocolate goodness wrapped in hand-held flakey pastry.

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

My 33rd birthday was on Sunday.  I celebrated with my dear husband and toddler by hitting up the Farmer's Market, grabbing a delicious brunch at a funky vegetarian restaurant, squeezing a bit of work during nap, and then an early bird dinner at my top Italian restaurant in town.  So many of you asked who makes the birthday cake for a cake baker like me?  Nobody.  We had Blizzards from DQ and I couldn't be happier.  Oh, and these Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies.

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies
Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

I made these because, honestly, flakey pastry and sweet cherries were the only thing currently missing from my 12,045th day on Earth (give or take a few leap years).  I got to celebrate with my two favorite humans eating and exploring in my favorite city which I am lucky enough to call home.  33 is not young nor is it old, so don't expect too much wisdom coming from me yet.  But as I get older I do realize that I don't need much to feel special or even have the desire to be celebrated (I'll gladly take a small dinner party {or even just the hubs and a toddler at 5pm} over the dancing and sparkles {in my wine and on my dresses} of my twenties), and the important stuff I already have.  I don't mind being another year older if I get to spend it with a husband that I adore and the sweetest yet silliest toddler on the planet, working on career that I am truly passionate about, living in an always messy yet happy home that I promise to finish decorating this year, and cherry chocolate hand pies, of course.

Sometimes it's hard to talk about being happy or even perfectly content without sounding like a total asshole, but I really couldn't ask for more.  Don't get me wrong.  Life isn't totally perfect and will probably never be.  Even birthdays come with 6:45am wake-up calls and toddler tantrums.  I still miss our Remy girl every day, but other than that, I wouldn't have it any other way =)

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

I admit there's nothing super unique or life changing about this recipe.  Just perfectly flakey pastry, sweet juice cherries, and my favorite dark chocolate.  When you are working with great ingredients, then there's no need to alter their "pure-ness" just for the sake of coming up with an outrageous recipe.  I used my favorite all-butter pie dough and stuffed the hand-held treats with the filling from Yossy's Chocolate Cherry Turnovers from her book Sweeter Off the Vine.

I become both oddly frugal and frivolous when it comes to buying produce.  As a cook/baker, I am constantly buying ingredients.  I also have a toddler that can eat his weight in fresh fruit.  I know all the money spent at the grocery store is well spent either into a recipe I'm testing or into the bellies of my family members.  But damn - good, fresh fruit can be soooo expensive!  But most always necessary.  Especially when you are buying out-of-season for a recipe.  

Anyways, I love cherries so much.  They are so pricey, a pain to eat, and have such a short season that I tend to forget just how good they can be.  Growing up, I remember insisting on climbing to the top rung of our ladder in order to pick paper grocery bags full of cherries from the trees in our backyard.  Those were the days... Now, I am so stingy with cherries you'd think I somehow confused these ruby orbs for actual gems.  I can easily down a big $12 bowl of cherries in one sitting (I have to hold myself back from actually doing it), so it's almost criminal to me to bake them in a dessert.  But guys.... cherry pie is soooo good too!  See, I'm so confused and torn.  

To help solve my dilemma, I opted for hand pies.  For one, they are super cute.  And who doesn't love super cute food that you can eat with one hand?  Secondly, they require much less filling than a full cherry pie.  So if you are like me and find that you've eaten all of your filling while catching up on Netflix while your son is napping and no longer have enough for a full pie, then make these! 

All-Butter Pie Dough
makes 8 to 10 hand pies (may be doubled)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter, diced
about 1/3 cup ice water
1 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1 egg, beaten
splash milk
turbinado sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar.  Place the ice in the water and set aside.

Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or by hand, rubbing the pieces of butter between your thumb, index, and middle fingers.  Once the pieces are no longer lager than about a peanut, begin to flatten the pieces of butter in sheets between your palms.  Be careful not to over-work the butter or let it get too warm.

Working with only a couple tablespoons at a time, add in about 6 to 8 tablespoons of the water along with the vinegar.  Stir together using a wooden spoon or even just a clean hand in the bowl.  The dough should appear fairly shaggy and not sticky.  Once you can squeeze a few pieces together and they hold, the dough is done being mixed.  Do not over-mix.

Divide the dough into half and shape each piece into a rectanlge.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or overnight (preferably).

Meanwhile, make the filling (recipe to follow) and let cool.

Once ready, bring one piece of dough out of the refrigerator and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.  Liberally flour the work surface and begin to roll out the dough into a rectangle, working from the center out – rotating the dough after each roll.  Roll the dough until about ¼ inch thick and about 13 X 9. 

Trim the dough.  Cut along the long edge into 3 strips (each should be about 8 X 4 inches).  Repeat with the second piece of dough, using an scraps to squeeze out extra pies.

Place a heaping tablespoons of cherry filling in the center of one end of each strip of dough (you will be folding the dough in half), about 3 to 5 cherry halves.  Sprinkle with a good pinch of the chopped chocolate.  Try not to over-stuff your pies.

Gently take the empty end of each strip and fold it over the filling.  Using the tines of a fork, crimp all four edges of the hand pies to seal. 

Place on a baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator while you pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Once ready to bake, create an egg wash by whisking the egg and a splash of milk.  Brush over each pie and sprinkle with turbanado sugar.

Use a paring knife to cut a few vents in each pie.

Reduce the over to 375 degrees and bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Carefully lift up a pie and check to see if the bottom has some coloring before removing.  

Allow to cool before serving.  Enjoy by hand or on a plate with ice cream.

Keep wrapped in foil for up to 3 days.

Cherry Chocolate Filling
adapted from Sweeter Off the Vine

10 ounces sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
splash vanilla
6 tablespoons dark chocolate, chopped

Place the cherries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla in a small saucepan.  Stir to combine.  Cook, while stirring intermittently, over medium-high until the cherries begin to soften and the juices start to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool before using.

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

Fluffy coconut cake soaked with a coconut simple syrup and adorned with spirals of pastel vanilla bean buttercream.  Instead of weighing down the subtle coconut flavor with thick slabs of frosting or muting it with vibrant tropical flavors, the semi "naked" frosting allows the coconut cake to be the star!

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

There’s a reason why beauty stores sell sea salt spray to create perfectly beachy waves at home.  What I didn’t know until this morning is that you can get some pretty good, natural-looking curls after an evening of beach volleyball in a sand/wind storm.  Had the power not gone off at 9pm when we got home last night I would have certainly washed my hair, but none of this is really even relevant to my story…

Brett and I will have been married 7 years this July.  After knowing each other for nearly a decade and multiple careers, moves, and children later (fur and human), I think he sometimes knows me even better than I know myself – our entire relationship being summed up in one game of recreational volleyball.

Brett and his co-workers signed up for a rec league a couple months back.  Long story short, last night was the playoffs and with my mom in town to babysit, I was invited to play as one third of the females needed in the co-ed division.  Brett knows how at times I crave other adult human interaction, how much I enjoy silly things like rec sports, but also how I get incredibly anxious over new situations.  I’m an adventurous introvert – constantly forcing myself out of my comfort zone while loathing the anticipation of trying something unfamiliar but secretly wanting to be in on all the action. 

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

All day yesterday he reassured me that yes – it was still okay for me to tag along, that he warned the other players to not set their expectations for me too high (per my request), and that it would be fun.  He humoured me when I asked what to wear (pants you can bend over in, haha) and reminded me to drink water (because he knows I tend to forget). He gave clear instructions, including a pick-up time that was 15 minutes earlier than normal knowing how I am always running a bit behind but also hate being late.  And after 9 years together, I am in no way offended by his anticipation of me running late because he also knows I can respectively hold my own in front of his co-workers in a casual yet competitive setting.

On the other hand, I know him pretty well, too.  Even though I was hesitant at first, I trusted Brett when he said that I would have fun and that there would be nothing for me to worry about (he was right).  I know his own competitive nature and could tell that he was purposefully serving into the wind when we were behind, making it nearly impossible for the opposing team to return the ball (even if nobody else picked up on his strategy).  But Brett is also sensitive and compassionate, so I also knew how bad he felt for the girl who kept leaving a hole open for him to serve into once we were ahead as he tried to quiet his competitive spirit for the sake of the playful nature that this rec league was all about.  I knew that he would still find me beautiful even with sand in my ears, eyes, nose, and everywhere else.  And that he would, without question, let me have the first shower when we got home while he put Everett to bed after missing him all day.  Most importantly, I knew that no matter what position I was in, both in the game and in real life, he always had (and has) my back.

Anyways, it’s not Father’s Day nor is it our anniversary, but I just wanted to share this little slice of our life.  Because, why not?  Things just click right now.  We’ve finally found somewhat of a rhythm between work, family, and play.  And while we still love a spontaneous date-night in or adventure with our son, we can mostly anticipate each other’s moves and thoughts and it really makes for a happy, healthy, and productive situation right now - not in a mundane way, but it a nurturing, intimate, I-know-you-better-than-I-know-myself-sometimes kind of way.  

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

Does this all have anything to do with this cake?  No, not really – except that when I told Brett it would take me only an hour to decorate and photograph it, he knew it really meant three.  And knowing how much Brett despises shredded coconut, I intentionally left it out of the cake and only to create the delectable coconut simple syrup.

What goes well with coconut? More coconut! I found that many coconut cake recipes are paired with lemon or vibrant tropical flavors. For this cake, I wanted to make sure that the coconut remained the star and wasn’t weighed down by other overly sweet or tart ingredients. The cake layers themselves are made with creamy coconut milk then brushed with coconut simple syrup. The coconut simple syrup adds great depth to the otherwise subtle cake layers without the use of coconut extract. Trust me, it tastes like heaven! I first considered a coconut cream cheese frosting, but a simple yet pure vanilla bean buttercream ended up being the perfect match.
— Tessa Huff for The Cake Blog

For the full recipe, head on over to The Cake Blog


Mini Layer Cake Tutorial

How to assemble and decorate mini layer cakes made from a sheet cake!

Mini Layer Cake Tutorial

The countdown until Mother's Day is officially on!!  If you still need a last-minute gift or dessert recipe, then this is the recipe for.  Made from a simple SHEET CAKE, these little baby cakes are so cute and quick to put together.  The best part?? The decoration, of course!  Making these minis means you can customize each one.  Or create an army of minis that all look the same – it's totally up to you!

Mini Layer Cake Tutorial
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial

My love for mini cakes runs deep.  Not only are they super cute, but I like the idea of creating an individual cake for guests or loved ones.  I've devoted the last 10 years to making layer cakes, but sometimes you have to switch it up, ya know?  When a slice (of cake) won't do and you want something a bit fancier than a cupcake, then MINI CAKES are the answer!  Customize them, give them as gifts, and/or place one at each place setting at your next brunch or dinner party.

Seriously, what's not to love?  They pretty much speak for themselves, so let's get started...

Mini Layer Cake Tutorial
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial

Here's what you need to get started:

  • Baked and cooled sheet cake (recipe to follow)
  • A batch of your favorite buttercream (recipe to follow)
  • A round cookie or biscuit cutter (about 2 to 3 inches in diameter)
  • Piping tip(s)
  • Piping bag
  • Assorted cake decorating accessories

How to Make Adorable Mini Layer Cakes:

  1. Bake, cool, and trim your sheet cakes.  If they bake up with a dome on top, feel free to shave it down with a serrated knife.
  2. Cut out rounds of cake with the cookie/biscuit cutter out of the sheet and set aside.  You should be able to cut out at least 12 rounds per 1/4 sheet cake.
  3. Fill a piping bag fitted with a medium start tip with buttercream.  Pipe buttercream on half of the cake rounds.  Take the plain cakes and place them on top to make mini 2-layer cakes.
  4. For the top, pipe on more frosting like you did for the filling or decorate as desired.
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial

Decoration Ideas:

  • Fresh flowers!  I like to purchase a mixed bouquet and dissemble it a bit.  This way, you can still make individual cakes that are unique, but they still coordinate with similar colors and textures.
  • Sprinkles!  I like to mix together sugar pears, jimmies, and quins to make my own custom mix.
  • Meringues!  I whipped up some French meringue earlier this week for a different project.  Fortunatly for me, I added a bit of gel food coloring to the extra meringue, piped them into little stars/kisses, and baked them.  Cute, right?
  • Buttercream!  Yup, regular buttercream with a touch of pink using a petal tip can make a world of a difference.  For the frilly, flower mini cakes, I used a #103 petal tip.  Keeping the narrow end pointing away from the center, begin piping petals around the outer top edge of the cakes.  Continue around until complete.  Begin a second row of inner petals in the center of cake.  Finish by sprinkling sugar pearls into the center of the "flowers."
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial
Mini Layer Cake Tutorial

Basic Buttermilk Sheet Cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 + 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line two 1/4-sheet pans (9" X 13") with parchment and set aside.

Combine dry ingredients together; set aside. 

Beat butter on medium-low speed of electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and mix on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and pale in colour, about 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed until blended. Add vanilla extract; beat on low speed until blended.

Add in half of the flour mixture.  Once this is incorporated, pour in the buttermilk while the mixer is running on low speed.  Once the milk is absorbed, add in the remaining flour mixture. After the last streaks of flour are incorporated, mix the batter on medium-low speed for about 20 seconds until smooth. 

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Spread until smooth.  Bake for 24 to 26 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centre comes out clean.  Let cool on a wire rack.  Use just after the cake has completely cooled or wrap with plastic until ready to assemble.

– add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract with the vanilla
– add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or cardamom with the dry ingredients
– add the zest of one large lemon with the sugar; replace 1/4 cup buttermilk with lemon juice


Whipped Vanilla Buttercream
1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

Beat butter at medium-low speed of electric mixer until smooth and creamy (1 to 3 minutes.) 

Gradually add 3 ½ cups powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste or extract with mixer at low speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Mix until blended.

Beat at medium-high speed 3 to 5 minutes, until buttercream is light and airy and nearly white.  If needed, add the additional powered sugar or milk until desired consistency.  

– add the seeds of 1/2 a vanilla bean
– add 1/2 teaspoon rose water
– add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
– add 1 tablespoon freeze dried raspberry powder (or to taste)
– add the zest of one lemon; replace 2 tablespoons milk with lemon juice

10 Best Mother's Day Desserts

From lavish layer cakes to simple bundts, pies, and pastries, I've gathered together my TOP 10 favorite dessert recipes to celebrate all the moms this Mother's Day.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Layers of lightened-up coconut cake have been soaked in tres leches, or "three milks."  Inspired by the Latin American dessert, this layer cake version is frosted in clouds of whipped cream sweetened with condensed milk and then garnished with toasted coconut for added flavor and texture.  I first made this with my own grandmother in mind a couple years ago, and I bet you mom and grandmother will love it too.

Carrot Banana Bread Cake

Honey Carrot Banana Bread
A lightly spiced cross between a delicious carrot cake and decadent banana bread - all sweetened with honey and no refine white sugars!  You guys actually really love this cake.  And what's not to love?  If I were you, I'd bake up several of these, wrap them as gifts, and give them out to all the moms in my life.  In fact, I better pick up a ton of bananas tomorrow so they ripen up in time to make a few batches myself!

Lemon Thyme Layer Cake

Lemon Thyme Layer Cake
Citrus and herbs pair together beautifully in this vibrant lemon thyme cake.  Light lemon cake is flecked with fresh thyme and layer with lemon buttercream.  Add a ripple of homemade lemon curd for an extra pop of flavor.  Need a fuss-free decoration?  Use the fresh thyme to create a simple, rustic crown around the cake!

Grapefruit Lemon tart recipe with whipped cream

Grapefruit Lemon Tart
Tender, buttery crust is filled with vibrant grapefruit and lemon curd before being topped with clouds of whipped cream.  So sunny and perfect for spring!  If fresh berries and rhubarb have yet to arrive in your town, then this it the dessert for you.

Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers

Classic Carrot Cake with cream cheese icing
I know I just shared this cake for Easter, but the flowers just shout MOM to me.  If you didn't get a chance to make it last month, then I strongly recommend making it now.  It truly is the best and only carrot cake recipe you will ever need (in my humble opinion).  Best of all, you can adapt it to whatever mom likes!

Olive Oil Lemon Bundt cake with toasted coconut

Olive Oil Citrus Cake with coconut
Citrus and olive oil go hand-in-hand in this bright, delightful cake.  Vibrant lime zest and a sprinkle of toasted coconut add instant flavor and texture to each bite.  Like most Bundts, this one whips up easily and can be made in advanced.  Wrap well in plastic and store at room temperature.  Add the glaze before serving.

Eton Mess Cake

Eton Mess Cake
Layers of light, fluffy sponge cake, sweetened whipped cream, crispy meringues, and fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries – this is a take on the classic British Eton Mess and Victoria Sponge Cake turned into one delightful treat.  Everything here is so light and refreshing, so don't be afraid to serve a large, tall slice.  If transporting this cake, then definitely pack the cake and filling separately.  Gently re-whip the cream by hand and assemble on site.

Lemon Mousse Cake with fresh raspberries

Sunny Lemon Mousse Cake
This simple and slightly understated cake is full of flavor from both the tart lemon mousse and the juicy raspberries.  In this case, a single-layer cake works best.  The cake itself is light and spongey.  It is the perfect canvas for a mound of heavily lemon mousse.  Add the raspberries just before serving so the juices down spill onto the cake.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cake

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cake
If your mom is more into chocolate and decadent desserts than the light and fresh confections, then this is the cake for her.  Fresh strawberries, classic chocolate cake, blushing pink frosting, and a gorgeous glaze?  Who could as for more?

Chocolate Cherry Pavlova recipe

Chocolate Cherry Pavlova
If you are lucky enough to already have cherries in stock this season, then this pavlova is the first thing you should make with them.  But don't worry, you can always substitute in whatever else you have on hand.  Berries, figs, roasted rhubarb – they all work.  Pavlova is actually one of my mother's favorite desserts.  The meringue is so light and crisp while the cream is like pillowy clouds from heaven.  I bet your mom will love it too.