Bon Appétit: How Food Writing Fed My Fiction

by Aaron Hamburger

The Literary Life

Posted 5.1.13

May/June 2013

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Limoncello Cupcakes
Yield: 18 cupcakes

These velvety, lemony cupcakes with a tart, gooey surprise in the center get an added kick from limoncello, an Italian lemon-based liqueur. The cupcakes are also delicious and kid-friendly when you omit the alcohol. TIP: Depending on the temperature of your ingredients, the cupcake batter may appear curdled when eggs are added. The curdling will disappear as you add flour to the recipe.

For the cupcakes:

2 large eggs, room temp.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup buttermilk, room temp.

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon limoncello 

1 stick unsalted butter, room temp. 

1 cup sugar

For the filling:

½ cup lemon curd (homemade or
store bought)

¾ tablespoon limoncello

For the frosting (about 1 cup):

½ stick unsalted butter, room temp.

½ cup cream cheese, room temp.

½ tablespoon limoncello, or more
to taste

juice of half a lemon, strained

3 to 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, about 20 minutes. Grease two standard-sized cupcake pans and fill with cupcake liners. 

2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cornstarch. In a large mixing cup, measure out the buttermilk, then add lemon zest and limoncello. Set aside.

3. In the large bowl of a mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just enough to combine. Next, stir in ¹⁄³ of the flour and ½ of the buttermilk mixture, repeat, then finish with the remaining ¹⁄³ of the flour. Mix ingredients until just incorporated.

4. Using an ice cream scoop, fill each cupcake liner with ¼ cup of batter (about ½ full). Place in oven and bake until cupcakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Allow cupcakes to rest in pan for five minutes, then transfer each cupcake to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Insert a paring knife at an angle into the surface of each cupcake and cut out a cone-shaped cavity. Mix the lemon curd with the limoncello, then use about a heaping teaspoon of the mixture to fill each cupcake. Take care not to overfill cupcake cavities.

6. Make the frosting. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the limoncello and lemon juice, then gradually add confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Fill a pastry bag and pipe the frosting onto the surface of cupcakes. Decorate with dots of limoncello curd, lemon zest, yellow sanding sugar, or small yellow lemon-flavored candies. 

If you live in the New York City area, join us on May 2 at the Bowery Culinary Center in Manhattan, where the author will prepare his delectable limoncello cupcakes and discuss the art of food writing. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Aaron Hamburger is the author of a story collection, The View From Stalin’s Head (Random House, 2004), winner of the Rome Prize, and a novel, Faith for Beginners (Random House, 2005). He currently teaches at the Stonecoast low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

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