fresh strawberry cupcakes + strawberry cream cheese frosting.

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.

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  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog May 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Don’t you just hate getting a batch of flavorless fruit. I love when it looks beautiful but tastes like nothing. Spring and summer are my favorite seasons for produce. Everything is so fresh and vibrant. These cupcakes look so good. I want to stick my finger in the fluffy frosting and take a taste.

    • Reply shannon May 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      flavorless fruit is. the. WORST. it’s just deceptive and when you’re expecting amazing juiciness and end up with cardboard, it’s unfair. I love spring and summer (especially mid-summer) produce, although i have a soft spot for the fall things also. winter is just a dead zone around here and it makes me sad, so when spring gets here, i’m all over it. 🙂

      I’ll say from experience that the frosting is great on it’s own…or on a finger. 🙂 a little like strawberry cheesecake.

  • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina May 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    So, I make this strawberry cake that is amazing. I was actually thinking of making it here soon-like. But here’s the thing I hate about it…the cake browns on the top because of the acidity in the strawberries. Hate that. I also top it with a cream cheese strawberry frosting.

    But, now I’m thinking, ummm, I want pink strawberry cake, damnit.

    Also, I don’t like the domed mushroomy cupcakes. Because visually, they are very unappealing to me…they don’t resemble anything pretty, anyway.

    Also, I’ve been drooling over that cookbook. Guess I’m going to have to break down and copy you. Again. Like the mad stalker that I am.

    • Reply shannon May 18, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      twins: i knew it. somehow these don’t really brown, which is a curiosity to me since they pack so much strawberry flavor in them. I’m surprised, but i’ll take it. They end up a nice pale pinky-ish color, and i probably underdo them for a minute or too because i think they’re nicer that way.


      please, please get it! it has sooooo many great things i can’t wait to try, and even some awesome savory numbers that are going to show up (someday) here. i don’t always fall in love easily with cookbooks, but when i do, i DO.

  • Reply TastefullyJulie May 18, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Ugh! I keep seeing so many delicious strawberry recipes and they’re not ready here yet. When they are ready I’ll have about 2 weeks to get my fix and then poof! gone. People in Florida are lucky.

    • Reply shannon May 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

      Julie, for strawberries, Floridians are lucky. Maybe not so much for the year-round heat, so i’ll consider that the trade-off. I’m just happy we get them early here. You have such a short season! ugh…that’s frustrating. we have a few things like that here too, and it seems like by the time you’ve decided what to do with them, they’re done. i feel your pain.

  • Reply Brianne May 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

    I had to make a strawberry rhubarb pie a few weeks ago when I first spotted rhubarb at the store, but the strawberries I bought were so awful that the pie ended up being mostly rhubarb with some seriously subpar strawberries thrown in. In my northern climes, I can’t even imagine consuming an in-season strawberry until June. They’re definitely weeks away from showing up at the farmer’s market here. I can’t wait to see them! They’re the best.

    Also, holy tons of butter and sugar in frosting! Those proportions freak me out as well. I far prefer the frosting you came up with…cream cheese frosting is SO dreamy. Finally: if those cupcakelettes were ever in my presence, I would eat at least a dozen. In one sitting. Yum!

    • Reply shannon May 18, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      strawberries can be so deceptive that way! You can get what looks like a beautiful batch of them, take them home, cut into them, and yicks: nothing. I had some i bought a few weeks back that i thought were gorgeous and upon cutting them, were like, white and seemingly dry…i didn’t even know how that was possible. Horrid; people shouldn’t be allowed to sell things like that.
      thank you! i would be a terrible pro baker, as buttercream gives me the chills most of the time. i have two i will use, and they’re very good, but i use it when i need to – like for stability. This frosting is definitely on the softer side, but makes up for it by tasting like strawberry ice cream (in my opinion). 🙂
      i’ve…whoops…eaten probably at least a dozen by now. one-bite things are WAY too easy to inhale around here.

  • Reply Willow May 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Haha – I saw fresh, good looking strawberries just a couple weeks ago and immediately purchased a few pounds of them!

    These cupcakes sound so tasty – and I’m so pleased to see you didn’t post a recipe calling for 4 sticks of butter and 8 cups of confectioner’s sugar. The butter doesn’t bother me as much as the sugar, though… frostings that are made of nothing but confectioner’s sugar are filmy and tend to taste like, well… confectioner’s sugar. And not much else. Yours sounds much better! 😀

    • Reply shannon May 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      we food bloggers are all the same; see something fresh, grab tons of it and like, race home to make something. i love spring!

      i’m so pleased to hear from you and others that i’m not alone with this whole “i’m terrified of 4 sticks of butter/8 cups of confectioner’s sugar” thing! and i completely agree with you: too much confectioner’s sugar and it gets that weird consistency and blah taste. “filmy” is the perfect word…yyeeeach. i hate to rip the BITD Bakery, because honestly i’ve tried several recipes from the book and they’re divine. I’m sure there’s a fan base for butter/sugar frostings like the original one, i’m just not in that particular club. 🙂

  • Reply movita beaucoup May 20, 2012 at 5:10 am

    1. I have been dying to get that Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. LIke, dreaming about it every night.
    2. Do you read Joe Pastry? ( There was a big discussion a few months back about lard, shortening, butter, etc. I am not so ascared of lard anymore.
    3. I love butter. And my body is basically a temple to butter and sugar. But even I wouldn’t use four sticks of butter in my icing. Nope. No way. I use two sticks in my favourite recipe. And I think that’s a lot. That being said, I like knowing that I could be doing more to kill my friends, and I haven chosen not to.
    4. I have to bake a cake and cupcakes for a friend’s kid next week. The birthday theme is Strawberry Shortcake. I wish I meant the baked good. So, I’m making a buttery shortening filled monstrosity of a cake and some cupcakes. Aaaaaaand now I’m thinking those strawberry cupcakes just might fit the bill. Thank you for that.
    5. Have you noticed that Strawberry Shortcake looks a little more… you know… up-for-anything than she used to?

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      preface: i LOVE it when people talk to me in outline format. ask my sister; it’s how we write emails back and forth so we don’t lose track of our 67+ topics. so organized.

      1. you must get it. i’m about ready to blog the mexican hot chocolate cookies from the book, and they. are. stupendous. make those dreams a reality and we can compare notes, my little future pastry chef.

      2. i didn’t, but i’m going to now; signing up to follow as we speak. I hearts me some information, and this looks like it’ll be right up my alley. I need to get over my fear of various things, like lard, shortening, etc. there’s no reason for it, and i’ve heard the benefits, so i need to go for it.

      3. same. big fan. but too much is too much. i also enjoy sprinkles, but you can’t make an entire cookie out of them. 2 sticks is my maximum, and the vanilla buttercream standby i love has two sticks. i mean, it IS called ‘buttercream’ for a reason, so poeple have fair warning. but it IS a lot, and I can’t actually look at more than two sticks of butter in a mixing bowl without feeling guilty.

      4. kids would love these cupcakes: it’s real strawberry enough for the adults, but it’s tasty-sweet enough (and also pink enough) for the kiddies. and good luck peeling those kids off the ceiling after duo cake treats.

      5. um, yes. it’s funny you should say that, because i remember Miss Shortcake wearing a floppy bonnet and apron dress, sometimes going over to Orange Marmalade’s house for tea, and going fishing with Huckleberry. I feel like now, she sneaks out of the house and drinks with the college-age fruit. Less Strawberry Shortcake, more Strawberry Tart. ew. bring back the seventies and eighties, when wee babes weren’t wearing bustiers and texting. *i’m old*

  • Reply Matina May 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    LOVE these!!! Strawberries are starting to show up here too. I think these are greenhouse ones because it’s not quite time but I snatched them up anyway. I’m not a gue fan of cupcakes but these sure do look good. And I so agree, 4 sticks of butter?!?!?!!!! I can barely stand it if a recipe calls for more than one stick just because I use so much butter anyway, baking all the time, eating it on bread, cooking eggs in it, cooking mushrooms in it. I should just start bathing in butter!

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      thank you, matina! you have to love spring when everything starts hitting the markets, right? I haven’t tried it yet, but i could see this recipe making a really nice layer cake or even an old-school snack cake if you didn’t feel like fashioning them into cupcakes.
      seriously, the butter; i’m happy i’m not the only one who feels that way about it in this frosting. 🙂 i use it all the time too, with baking, so we go through butter here embarrassingly fast. i get it!

  • Reply Emma May 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Eeeeeeeeeeeeep these are so pretty!

    I would love to eat a four butter stick-frosting, but that seriously just sounds like it would make a whole buttload of it. Or at least a truckload?

    I can’t wait to take advantage of everything that’s going to start showing up around me! I’ve been making a list so I won’t forget to forage for anything:)

    • Reply shannon May 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm


      i did the math/conversions, and i think that 4 buttloads = 1 truckload. I think the original frosting recipe probably makes about 2 1/2 buttloads. 🙂 although you never know with confectioners sugar…it seems like it sort of dissolves down to nothing when added to liquid. It says in the book the frosting makes “enough for 24 cupcakes,” and in their photo, the icing didn’t look huge? i was concerned. although certainly in my life i have unknowingly eaten a 4-butter frosting.

      i’ve been loving reading about your fiddlehead foraging…i think it’s so awesome you do that. you and brianne make me think Maine must be a pretty magical place to live.

  • Reply Kelly May 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I didn’t think I liked strawberry cupcakes, but a friend asked me for strawberry cupcakes for her birthday. I made these today and they are PHENOMENAL!!! From the description, I expected them to be a little on the dense side, but they are light and even a smidge on the fluffy side. STRAWBERRILICIOUS!! I strongly encourage anyone to try to these, they will surprise you!!

    • Reply shannon May 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      Kelly, i saw this comment and i almost cried a little: to try a new cake recipe for someone’s birthday can take guts, and i’m so, so happy you loved the result! i’m honored you chose this recipe, and i agree: it’s hard to know how fresh strawberry cupcakes will turn out (certainly i’ve had strawberry bread before that was very dense), because you don’t see it often. They are nice and light, and i liked how they stayed a little pink when baked. I’m thrilled to hear it you and your friend enjoyed them.

  • Reply Mira July 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Gorgeous cupcakes! If I wanted to make this into a cake, what size pans would you recommend and how long would you suggest I bake it for? I’m not very good with those kinds of conversions and would hate to waste lovely summer strawberries experimenting … Thanks!

    • Reply shannon July 5, 2012 at 4:32 am

      thanks Mira! this would be lovely as a layer cake, in my opinion; i should have tried that by now. 🙂 since that’s the case, i’m going to tell you what i would do were i to try this as a layer cake, based on other cakes similar to this one.

      I would suggest using 8-inch cake pans – 2 of them – and divide the batter equally between them. be sure to grease both the sides and bottom of each pan, and line the bottoms with parchment. I’d use a 20-minute baketime as my starting point, and then do a cake-tester to see where you’re at by then. If it’s still not done then, bake a few minutes longer, test again, and so forth. It shouldn’t take longer than about 28 minutes in a 350˚ oven.

      all that being said, i have not done it yet myself, so that’s my educated guess. i’m on vacation now, but when i return, i’d be happy to experiment for you and let you know the results. this is my little 2 year old’s favorite cake, and i doubt she would mind if a strawberry cake were laying around the house for no reason. 🙂 let me know if i can do that for you or if you can wait a few weeks for exact baking times.

  • Reply Becky August 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Sorry if I completely missed in the recipe but how many cupcakes does this yield? 12? 24? Looking forward to trying once I know if I need to double the recipe 🙂

    • Reply shannon August 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Hi Becky! I’m sorry; I just re-read it too and i think i forgot to put the yields in, so thank you for the heads-up! you should be looking at around 24 standard-size cupcakes from this recipe. if you’re doing mini cupcakes, you’ll get more like 40 or so. Hope that helps!

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