Lemon and Bitters Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream

Let’s talk about bitters.  Bitters have long and storied history dating back hundreds of years.  The short explanation is that bitters are extracts of roots, barks, vegetables, herbs, fruits – pretty much anything can be turned into bitters.  Most of you are familiar with them being used in cocktails like Old Fashioned’s, but there is so much potential flavors to be unlocked in using bitters in your cooking and baking.

Angostura Bitters are one of the most popular brands of bitters.  It is a potent combination of gentian root (a plant from the violet family) and secret herbs. When you taste the bitters by itself, it tastes medicinal and very floral, the perfect foil for citrus flavors.  Who doesn’t want to taste the essence of flowers themselves, especially in cupcake form?  This recipe is easy and tastes of Spring in all the best ways.  In fact, your mother would love to see these beautiful cupcakes on her special day.

Lemon and Bitters Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream
Author: Alais Petersen
Serves: 24 cupcakes
  • 3 C. all-purpose flour
  • 2 C. granulated sugar (subtract 2 teaspoons and put in a small bowl)
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 16 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 C. full fat sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. Angostura Bitters*
  • 16 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 C. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Angostura Bitters**
  • 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • CANDIED LEMON ZEST (optional):
  • 4 lemons
  • 2 C. granulated sugar
  • 2 C. water
  • 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  1. For the candied lemon zest, the night before, peel the lemons with a peeler. Try to make one long ribbon of zest. Put 1 cup of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat.
  2. While the water is on the stove, take a butter knife and scrape away the pith (the bitter white stuff on the inside of the zest). I would recommend keeping a damp paper towel on hand to wipe your knife.
  3. With a chef’s knife, finely slice (julienne) the lemon peel. Try to keep the slices to 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch. Place in a small, heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water over the lemon zest and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Let stand for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, drain the lemons in a colander and leave until ready to candy.
  4. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water, sugar and corn syrup to a boil over medium heat. Stir once in a while to help dissolve the sugar. Once syrup is boiling, place the lemon zest in the saucepan and bring back to a boil. Turn down to medium-low heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Cover, remove from heat and let sit at room temperature overnight, or at least 12 hours. When you’re ready to use the zest, use a spider skimmer or slotted spoon to remove and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
  5. For the cupcakes every ingredient should be at room temperature. Adjust an oven rack to the middle and heat the oven to 350°. Line two cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
  6. Take the lemon zest and put it in the bowl with the 2 tsp. of sugar. Using a spoon, press the lemon zest into the sugar until the sugar is moistened.
  7. Fit a standing mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine flour, sugar, lemon sugar, baking powder, and salt in the mixer. Add the butter, sour cream, eggs, yolks and Angostura Bitters to the mixer and beat at medium speed until the mixture is light and smooth. This will take about 30-45 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and mix with a spatula to make sure everything is completely mixed.
  8. Fill each cupcake liner with batter to a little beyond half-way. Bake until the edges are light brown and when a toothpick is inserted, it comes out clean. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
  9. Immediately, use a butter knife and remove the cupcakes from the tin and place on a cooling rack. Let cool for at least an hour before frosting.
  10. For the buttercream frosting, butter should be softened (slightly warmer than room temperature). All other ingredients should be room temperature. Fit a standing mixer with the whisk attachment.
  11. Beat butter and lemon zest on medium-high until smooth and light yellow, 30-45 seconds. Mix sugar and and salt, then add the mixture to the mixer. Mix until there is no more dry sugar, about 1 minutes.
  12. Add the lemon juice, Angostura Bitters and cream and beat on medium speed until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high and beat until super fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape the bowl if needed.
  13. To assemble the cupcake, use a butter or frosting knife and add a dollop to each cupcake (or more if you’re a wild-child). Top with 5-10 strands of the candied lemon zest, then enjoy! These cupcakes last about 3 days in an airtight container.
  14. * – bitters can be substituted with 2 tsp. of vanilla extract
  15. ** – bitters can be substituted for 1 tsp. of vanilla extract

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