It’s not just His Lordship who doesn’t get cake for his birthday. Since His Lordship isn’t much for baking, unless we go out to dinner somewhere with a creditable pastry chef, I don’t get one on my birthday either. The fact of the matter is that Chez Disdain is a birthday cake-free zone.
That isn’t to say that you should pity me, because while His Lordship doesn’t bake cake, he does, in fact bake on occasion. And what he bakes on those occasions is this:
That is a chocolate souffle, and it’s part of a long-standing tradition which began with his deciding to surprise me back when we were in grad school. Being no fool, I’ve insisted on repeat performances every year since. At this point I can’t imagine celebrating my birthday any other way.
But. As much as I adore the souffles and would never give them up, every few years, I kind of miss cake. Since this year’s birthday not only fell on a weekday but the one on which His Lordship would be out all evening at an orchestra rehearsal, I decided to use the time alone to make my own damn cake. Specifically, almond cupcakes topped with a frosting of the quick Meyer lemon jam folded into creme fraiche.
The cupcakes were a quick and painless mix job, came out beautifully tender and cloud-light, and provided a nice neutral base for the brightly lemony cream. They would have had more almond flavor if I’d had almond extract and time to toast almonds instead of using pre-ground almond flour, but they were still quite birthday-worthy, and made me more than content enough to wait all the way to this weekend to get my souffle.
Almond Cupcakes with Meyer Lemon Creme Fraiche
(Adapted from Almond Cake in Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Cake Bible and Lemon Jam from Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook)
Makes 12 cupcakes
1 large egg
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Amaretto liqueur
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
13 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sifted cake flour
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ground almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
For lemon cream:
1 recipe Quick Meyer Lemon Jam
8 ounces cold creme fraiche
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the egg, 2 tablespoons sour cream, the Amaretto, and the vanilla.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, almonds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed briefly to blend. Add the butter and remaining sour cream and mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 90 seconds, then scrape down the sides. Add the egg mixture in three additions, blending for 20 seconds between additions and scraping down as needed.
Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter evenly between the twelve lined cups. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the tops are firm and golden and a tester comes out clean.
While the cupcakes are baking, fold the jam into the creme fraiche until completely combined. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.
When the cupcakes have cooled sufficiently, top with the creme fraiche and, if desired, a twist of candied Meyer lemon.
The lemon creme fraiche will still be pretty fluid when freshly made, and will firm up to a softly spreadable frosting if refrigerated for a few hours. You could serve the barely-cooled cupcake atop a pool of the sauce-like cream, or cool them completely and top them with the chilled cream. Your call.
You can double the quantities for the cake and bake for 35-40 minutes in a buttered and floured 9-inch cake pan for a full-sized cake instead.