I get a little over-excited when early summer fruit starts to hit the markets. Around here, fruit is about this close to being completely inedible during the winter months, and normally I throw up my hands after one too many boxes of flavorless little nothings and just wait it out for spring to hit. I’ve paid my winter dues. I’ve waited. Made muffins with frozen fruit. Drowned my sorrows in banana cake. I know what you’re thinking; it was rough. Thankfully, my wait is over, and hopefully yours is too; a few weeks ago, the first big, deep red, beautiful strawberries caught my eye. Finally, it is time for fresh strawberry cupcakes.
My mom lives in Florida right now. I say “right now” because I think she’ll be back someday; she has a difficult time when she’s away from my wee one for any length of time. To console her, she has access to some of the most magnificent strawberries you can get, and for dirt cheap. When they’re in season, I’m pretty sure they sell strawberries for maybe a $1.oo for 10 pounds, or something like that. And the strawberries? they are gigantic, deep red all the way through, and taste bright like the sun. I get exceedingly jealous around this time every year because she gets to have them whenever she wants them, and I don’t.
Nevertheless, there are some consolation strawberries here, and although the warmer climates may be enjoying the best of them, I get some pretty great ones too. Natalie over at Wee Eats got me thinking about strawberries a few weeks ago with her gorgeous strawberry galette, and ever since, I can’t seem to get my mind off of them.
If you know me, you know I prefer to make things from scratch. It’s not that I have a problem with things like box cake mix or pre-made crust (indeed, I love a good pre-made pie crust every so often), I just prefer the flavor and texture of homemade things. So I have my from-scratch recipes for vanilla cupcakes, brownies, etc which I use all the time; however, I had never found a really great recipe for strawberry cake. it’s the one time box cake won out, simply because the homemade strawberry cakes I’ve tried in the past lacked real strawberry flavor, often times coming out tasting like vanilla cake with some strawberries thrown in. Lame.
These were very, very different. They’re from the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook my mom gifted me with on her last visit. I have yet to really put this book down: you see, they’re from Savannah, Georgia, y’all, and evidently they know how to bake some cakes down there. Not just cakes, mind you, but caaaaakes. First off, look at the color: pink like spring. That’s due to a hefty dose of fresh strawberry puree in the batter, which leaves your oven smelling like you just baked a strawberry pie. I imagine with a little timing adjustment, these would make a terrific layer cake stacked with fresh macerated strawberries and whipped cream, which I’ll be attempting very, very soon. I’ll get back to you when I do.
My only stumbling block came with the frosting from the cookbook. Now, you’ve seen my other posts; you know I’m up for almost anything. There are very few things I shy away from, or get hesitant about. I’m not a fan of using vegetable shortening or lard, although if someone presented a worthwhile argument, I’m sure i could be swayed. More importantly, however, I kind of flat-out refuse to use 4 sticks of butter in a frosting recipe.
I can’t do it; I just. Can not. Do. It. And the accompanying frosting recipe called for that and, as if that weren’t like, mind-bending enough, I was supposed to use 8 cups of confectioners’ sugar.
So I created my own little frosting for you instead. It still has some butter in it, but i used cream cheese to cut the butter down, used less sugar, and raised the strawberries-to-other things ratio so the strawberries really shine in this frosting. The end result? intoxicatingly strawberryish. Especially after letting it chill in the fridge for a few hours, which I normally suggest when making frosting, if you can. I think it lets the flavors blend together and gives it all a chance to set back up before you frost them. For example, the first photo of the finished cupcakes above shows the cupcakes frosted immediately after making the frosting; the second photo immediately above (as well as the one at the top) is after a few hours of chill time. And as the months get warmer and your house gets more difficult to cool down, that little trick becomes very handy.
Cupcakes adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day & Griffith Day. The frosting was loosely based off of their recipe, but is mostly my own randomness hard at work.
Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes + Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
for the cupcakes:
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups pureed fresh strawberries (about 2 1/2 cups whole strawberries)
- 1/2 cup whole milk, at or close to room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I used clear vanilla extract for one batch of these, and pure vanilla extract for another. I enjoyed both results.)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs, at or close to room temp (stick them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes if you forget to take them out of the fridge ahead of time)
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
for the frosting:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 4 ounces cream cheese (please if you can, avoid a reduced fat or fat-free), softened
- 4-5 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup fresh strawberry puree (from about 1 cup strawberries)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
make your cakes:
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Position a rack to the lower third of the oven.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. In another medium bowl, whisk together the strawberry puree, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer) cream the butter on medium-high speed until light in color, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and pour in the sugar gradually, mixing for 3-4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and egg whites one at a time, mixing well after each addition (maybe a 10-seconds-each time frame, if that helps.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour in 2 parts, alternating with the strawberry mixture, beating on low speed. Once everything has been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on medium-low speed for another 1-2 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter from the bottom of the bowl up in a folding motion, which should catch any ingredients that escaped mixing. I said this in above, but zest clings to beaters and paddle attachments like it’s magnetic, so pay special attention. Mix until everything is fully incorporated. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop the batter into prepared muffin pan, filling each one about 2/3 full.* Bake for 18-19 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. If you’re doing the mini cupcakes, time them for about 12-13 minutes. I do like these on the “just done” side of things, so don’t let them go for a second longer than needed. Let rest in the tins for about 15 minutes, and after that, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
*a note on filling your cupcake liners: you can fill them as high as you want, but i like my cupcakes to stay inside the liners (see the photos above) and not blob out or get little mushroom cap heads on them. These especially are a dense cupcake, which i would imagine be prone to girth rather than height. If you don’t want a mess, I’d stick with the 2/3 full, no higher.
Make your creamy, dreamy frosting:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, (or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer), beat the butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, and salt together on low speed until creamy, smooth, and incorporated, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the strawberry puree. Beat again on low speed until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioner’s sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed after each addition until incorporated and desired consistency is reached. If it’s getting close to where you want it, start adding it by half-cups so you don’t over-sugar it. Remove your bowl (if you’re using a stand mixer) and use rubber spatula to mix any stray ingredients, checking again to make sure everything is fully mixed. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days, if needed.)
Assemble those cuties:
When your cupcakes have completely cooled and your frosting has had a little time to chill, you can frost your cupcakes. Depending on my mood, I use a small spatula or butter knife, which works great if you’re going for what I call the “unassuming, I’m just a little cupcake” look, which I always like. If you want swirls, you can use a pastry bag or my standby, a plastic zipper bag with a corner cut from the bottom. Squeeze your frosting out on to your cakes and pile it as high as you like.
Serving note: I suggest frosting these immediately before serving, as this frosting, with all it’s cream cheese and fresh strawberry puree is prone to gooeyness if left at room temperature for any length of time. If you want to frost them ahead, do so, but I would pop them back in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.