I haven't baked anything for Coworkers in awhile, and cupcakes seemed like just the thing. If you don't have the patience for buttercream, I suppose you can make an easier version with butter and confectioner's sugar, adding the lemon flavor towards the end. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur; a digestif (to be quaffed after the meal), it is rather sweet and should be served chilled; it is available at any liquor store. If you don't have limoncello, you can replace the liquid with all lemon juice.
I used a modified version of Nigella's fairy cake recipe from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, which makes a pretty fine cupcake. I recommend removing them from the oven before the tops begin to brown, however; take them out when a toothpick comes out clean for a softer cake.
Cupcakes - makes 12:
1 stick butter at room temperature
scant 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Limoncello
zest of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp milk
Preheat oven to 400 and line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and limoncello. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, and blend until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest to the flour, tossing a little with a fork to ensure even distribution, and then gradually add the flour to the bowl, mixing on low speed. Mix until just combined, and then add a tbsp of milk, then a little more until the mixture is a soft batter, similar to (fluffy) pancake batter. Distribute evenly amongst cups and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Place tin on a wire rack to cook slightly and then remove the cupcakes to the rack to cool completely before frosting.
Lemon Buttercream Frosting - will frost more than 12 cupcakes
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp honey (optional)
3 egg yolks
1/2 pound butter, cut into 1/2" cubes and softened
zest from 1/2 lemon
a few drops vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp limoncello
Place the sugar, honey and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil (honey isn't necessary, but it's a natural emulsifier, so I like to add it whenever making frosting as an added guarantee of stability). Lower heat slightly and boil until the mixture reaches 240 (I just allow it to boil until the eggs are ready, without taking temp), being careful not to let it burn - this takes about 3-5 minutes.
In the meantime, place the eggs yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on high (with the whip attachment) until the eggs are light and fluffy. Lower the speed to medium-low and CAREFULLY, add the sugar mixture, pouring it between the whip and the sides of the bowl, as it will harden on the metal. Turn the heat up to high and whip, whip, whip, until the mixture has reached warm room temperature - you can test this by placing your hands around the bottom of the bowl. When it is no longer hot, proceed with the butter addition. This can take up to 12 minutes, so you might want to do something else in the meantime, like the dishes.
Add the butter, piece by piece, allowing each bit to completely incorporate before adding more, about 15-20 seconds. You will probably notice a change in consistency about halfway through, when it will start to resemble frosting. When you have about 2 tbsp of butter left to incorporate, add the zest, juice, and limoncello, then proceed adding the butter. Your mixture should look light and fluffy. If it's a little soft, simply place it in the fridge for 5 minutes before frosting.
Frost the cupcakes and refrigerate until 1/2 hour before serving, bring to room temp and serve!