May is peak dandelion season, in case you haven’t noticed. These cheery golden flowers are blooming en masse, blanketing grassy fields and — horrors! — scattered across your lawn. I don’t mind a dandelion or two or 20. I admire their scrappy determination to flourish in spite of our best efforts to eradicate them. They’re doing exactly as they please, ignoring our fussy rules about where they should and shouldn’t grow. It’s a flower after my own unruly heart.
I recall that my father attempted to make sweet dandelion wine when I was about 8 years old. He went out into our yard and picked buckets of dandelions, then bagged them up and put them in the freezer to use when he was ready. When he pulled them out of the freezer later, the little rascals had all turned into puffballs. Foiled again by the crafty dandelion.
While I’ve been admiring them, I’ve also been wondering about eating them. The entire dandelion plant is edible — roots, stems, leaves and blossoms. Battle Ground horticulturist Eve Hanlin once told me that she likes to bake the blooms into muffins to “freak out her friends.” That’s the kind of baked good I can get behind.
I looked up recipes for foods containing dandelions — dandelion jelly is quite easy to make, it seems, though I’ve never tried it myself — but nothing really tickled my fancy. I combined elements from a few different recipes to make lemon dandelion cupcakes with a honey-cream cheese glaze. They are tart and zingy with a very subtle floral note. My daughter imagines that they’re something Tinkerbell might eat; she called them “fairy food.” You supply the fairy dust.
First, go pick some dandelions. I walked around my yard and snipped off about two cups of dandelion blooms. (Make double-sure you collect flowers only from areas untreated with weedkiller, pesticides or fertilizers. Poison cupcakes are a real bummer.) I thought it would be tedious to remove the petals, but they came apart relatively easily; just grasp the green part at the base of the bloom (called an “involucre”) and pull the yellow bits out. There might already be a bit of white fluff underneath the petals, but it’s fine as gossamer and won’t bother the cupcakes one iota. I kept pulling until I had 1 heaping cup of petals, then set them aside. I turned the oven on to 350 degrees and put cupcake liners in muffin tins; this recipe makes about 16 cupcakes.
Next, the sugar. Zest an entire large lemon, enough to make 2 tablespoons of lemon zest, and mix it with 1¼ cups sugar. The sugar will absorb the lemon flavor and give the cupcakes an extra pop of lemony flavor. Set it aside.
Put 1½ cups flour in a large mixing bowl, along with 1 teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon salt. Work a whole stick of chilled butter into the flour with a pastry cutter, like you’re making biscuits. Add the sugar, 2 beaten eggs, 2/3 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon lemon extract. I also added 4 tablespoons of lemon-infused olive oil, just because I have some. You can use regular vegetable oil to give the muffins a little extra moistness. If you do want to use lemon oil (which is yummy in all kinds of things), you can find it at Navidi’s Olive Oils and Vinegars in Camas, Cost Plus World Market or Fred Meyer.
Now take the lemon that you’ve zested, cut it in half and squeeze the heck out of it. You should end up with about ¼ cup lemon juice (minus the seeds, I hope, although I wasn’t quite successful on that count). Add the lemon juice and use a hand mixer on medium to blend everything until just incorporated. Use a spatula to fold in the dandelion petals. Pour the batter into the lined muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes spring back a little when poked. Allow them to cool completely in the muffin tins.
While the muffins are baking, make the glaze. I made about three million times more glaze than was necessary. I used 1 cup of cream cheese, ¼ cup honey, ¼ cup lemon juice and 4 cups of powdered sugar. I made enough that I can add eggs and flour, bake it and get a whole cheesecake. Next time, I’ll cut it in half: ½ cup cream cheese (about half a bar), 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 to 3 cups powdered sugar, depending on how thick or thin you want your glaze. A note on the glaze: You will need to use a hand mixer, and you will need to run it on high for several minutes to get a smooth consistency. Don’t despair, you’ll get there.
I dipped the cooled cupcakes directly into the glaze and then spooned a little more on top, so the cupcake was sealed to the edges. If you garnish the cupcakes with fresh petals, you might notice a slight bitterness. I thought it was an interesting counterpoint to the sweet glaze. At any rate, the glaze will eventually harden to a smooth surface that crackles slightly when you bite into it.
If you still have glaze left, make another batch of cupcakes or just pour it directly into your mouth. It might also make an invigorating facial mask, like clay but tastier. Now you’ll enjoy a youthful glow while you nibble on cupcakes. It’s nearly as effective as fairy dust.