Adapted from berkeleyside.com
FOR THE CUPCAKES:
1-2 lemons, preferably Meyer
1 medium bulb fresh fennel with stalks and leaves
¾ c. sugar
½ c. unsalted butter, melted but not scalding hot
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners. Finely zest one lemon; set zest aside. Juice the lemon; strain and measure out 1/4 c. juice; you may need a second lemon to get this amount of strained juice. Cut the bulb from the fennel stalks; set aside stalks for the frosting. Rinse and dry the fennel bulb, then thinly slice off the hard, dark ring from its bottom; discard the slice. Applying firm pressure, grate the bulb with a sturdy standard sized (large hole) grater. Measure out 1 cup moderately packed grated fennel bulb. Quickly place grated bulb in a small bowl and pour the measured lemon juice over it. This will prevent the fennel from turning brown while you make the batter.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar, eggs, and melted butter well, until pale and smooth. Mix in the vanilla. Sift the flour and baking soda over the butter mixture. Mix, scraping sides of bowl often, until batter is even in consistency. Finally, add the lemon-soaked fennel to the batter, and fold in the lemon zest. Mix until evenly incorporated. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin, filling cups 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake for about 15 minutes (begin checking at the 12 minute mark). Cupcakes are ready when their tops are toasty and golden, no longer wet, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out batter-free.
FOR THE FROSTING:
Stalks of fennel with plenty of leaves
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature (or cream cheese substitute)
1/3 c. butter at room temperature
1/4 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt (omit if butter is salted)
1 ¼ c. powdered sugar
Rinse and dry the fennel stalks, then snip the feathery leaves off the ends. (Use any thicker, leafless stalks as you wish; they won’t be part of this recipe.) Very finely mince the wispy fennel leaves until you have 1.5 teaspoons, loosely packed. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth and even. Mix in the vanilla bean until evenly incorporated. Sift the powdered sugar and salt over the mixture, then beat, stopping to scrape bowl often. Keep whipping for several minutes to allow frosting to get fluffy. Finally, fold in in the minced fennel fronds with a spoon or spatula, stirring gently until evenly distributed. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pipe or spread frosting onto the cooled cupcakes. Devour immediately, or keep refrigerated and eat within 24 hours.