You know how it starts, you’re in the mood for…something. You don’t know what, but you know it’s out there. It’s times like these that you wish you were in the kitchen of the Heart Of Gold. But alas, I’ve only a bunch of cookbooks. With a craving for ??? teasing the tip of my tongue I picked up Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. And what to my ravenous eyes did appear, but a petite pink cupcake with a strawberry meringue buttercream veneer. Sorry for the weak rhyme. I didn’t mean to wax The Night Before Christmas, or The Princess Bride even. (No more rhymes now I mean it. Anybody want a peanut!) Of course I can’t leave well enough alone and a cupcake isn’t ready to be eaten until it’s stuffed with something. At first I thought strawberry curd, if there was such a thing, which it turns out there is (find sweet recipes at Allotment 2 Kitchen and Hungry Cravings.) However, I think you’ll find that if the word “curd” pops into your head, “lemon” almost always automatically follows (if not cheese.) Seeing as I was on a sugared track, it was lemon that popped in there. And that’s how the summery Strawberry Lemonade Cupcake was born!
I’m not sure what exactly made me check the Martha Stewart website about this recipe, but I did. I think maybe the fact that he only thing that made these “strawberry” cupcakes was the chopped strawberries tossed into the mix. If I’m going to have strawberry cupcakes I want the entire cake infused with the luscious ruby morsel. I checked to see what other strawberry cupcake offerings Martha had and discovered a couple of other candidates. At first the Sprinkles’ recipe looked good with its inclusion of a strawberry purée until I read the comments which were hit and miss (frankly a lot of misses.) Martha’s recipe here looked appealing with it’s even ratio of cake to all-purpose flour, cake flour giving a more tender crumb. I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two recipes. Well, marginally combine them. I took half of the strawberries and made a purée, adding it to the batter. Doing this upped the moisture factor in my mind, so I cut a quarter cup of milk to compensate. If that wasn’t enough to worry about, I found on the morning of bake day I didn’t have any whole milk on hand, only 2%. After some digging around on the internet I settled on adding a tablespoon of heavy cream to compensate for the fat loss of my milk, but if you have whole milk in the fridge you won’t have to worry about anything like that and can just follow the recipe. The only thing I see changing in the future is the amount of chopped strawberries. Next time I might throw in a total of up to 2 cups (8 ounces), at least 1 ½ cups (6 ounces), to have even more bursts of strawberry coming through. Also, I would fill the cupcake liners up more than the suggested two-thirds. Fill them at least three-quarters full as they didn’t rise all the way to the top of the liner in most cases. The recipe reflects that change.
As to the frosting I’m always up for another attempt at buttercream. I was initially piqued by Martha’s Strawberry Meringue Buttercream until I came to the strawberry jam ingredient. I’d rather do fresh or at least frozen strawberries. While strawberry jam does taste like strawberries, it also tastes like jam. I was looking for strawberry buttercream, not strawberry jam buttercream. Then I came across this strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream recipe (which it turns out is the recipe included in Martha’s Cupcakes book) that included fresh strawberries. That and the fact that it boasts a taste like “a strawberry milkshake or ice cream” sealed the deal. The only thing that I’m changing are the directions. I find Dorie Greenspan’s directions for Swiss meringue buttercream in her book Baking: From My Home to Yours to be a bit more accurate. For instance, I found eight minutes to be waaay too long to beat the initial meringue. Five minutes was more than ample enough time to get the proper consistency. Now, I find most buttercreams too buttery *gasp*. My remedy for the situation is to at least double the number of egg whites, in the case of a meringue-based buttercream. For now I’m including the recipe as written, but feel free to try adding extra egg whites if you feel the same way. One thing to note off the bat, you will need to take the time to beat this at its various stages completely for it to come together properly. I’ve seen a couple of people complain about Swiss meringue in that their mixture curdled/separated and didn’t come together. For the most part that means you didn’t beat it long enough. Also, while the lemon filling can be made a day ahead, this pipes the best the day you frost the cupcakes. If push comes to shove and you must have the time, make it a day ahead but make sure you bring the frosting completely to room temperature and then beat it for a minute or two to regain a fluffier consistency. Trust me from personal experience, if you don’t bring it completely to room temperature it will separate and you’ll get a soupy mess. If that does happen for some reason, wait a couple of minutes or even warm the bowl a bit with your hands to make the mixture warmer. I did this and then beat it for several minutes and it came back together. While all of that is possible, the frosting still doesn’t have quite as perfect as a consistency as on the day that you make it.
Alton Brown’s lemon curd filling from his lemon meringue pie recipe has been a standby for me, albeit with a few tweaks like cooking it longer so it sets up right. It has an awesome super-lemony flavor and turned out to be a perfect cupcake filling. If you don’t feel like DIY (horrors!), feel free to use some of that lemon curd in a jar I’ve seen at the grocery store.
All-in-all this strawberry experiment turned out pretty darned good if I may say so myself. If you’ve ever been disappointed by a dry cupcake, believe me, there are no worries here as the addition of the purée makes these super-moist. If you’re just here for the strawberries, then by all means partake, as it is a tasty little cupcake all on its own. However, I do heartily recommend trying it with the lemon filling as the flavors of the cake, filling, and frosting really compliment each other quite nicely.
Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes
(can be made a day ahead)
4 egg yolks (reserve whites for buttercream)
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 ½ cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1. Whisk egg yolks in medium size mixing bowl and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes whisking constantly. Your mixture should thicken and eventually look kind of like melted plastic.
3. Remove from heat and gradually, 1 whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture.
4. Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and simmer, whisking often, for another 3-4 minutes.
5. With a rubber spatula gently stir in butter, lemon juice, and zest until well combined. Simmer for 1-2 minutes stirring periodically with rubber spatula.
6. Transfer lemon curd into heat proof bowl to cool completely before use. (If making a day early, store in covered container in refrigerator.)
1 ½ cups (lightly spooned into cup) (6.4 ounces/181 grams) all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups (lightly spooned into cup) (6 ounces/171 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 ¾ cups (12.75 ounces/350 grams) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups (10.5 ounces/302 grams) whole milk
1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) strawberries, hulled for purée
1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) strawberries, hulled and finely chopped
optional Red food coloring
optional extra strawberries for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 1/2 standard 12-cup cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside.
2. Place strawberries for purée in a blender or small food processor; process until puréed, set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In another medium bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry purée; set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition. If the mixture doesn’t look pink enough for you add some of the red food coloring to the batter, mix until combined. Fold in strawberries.
6. Divide the batter among the prepared cups so that each is about three-quarters full. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cupcakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on wire racks.
Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1½ cups fresh strawberries (8 ounces), rinsed, hulled and coarsely chopped
4 large egg whites
1¼ cups sugar
3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1. Place strawberries in a blender or small food processor; process until puréed, set aside.
2. Combine the egg whites and sugar in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture should look like shiny and opaque. Remove the bowl from the heat.
3. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
4. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
5. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
6. Blend in the strawberry purée until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. This may take another 5-7 minutes of beating.
Strawberry cupcakes (cooled to room temperature)
Lemon curd (room temperature, give a stir before using)
Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream (room temperature)
Directions (start with #3 if you are skipping the lemon filling):
1. To fill the cupcakes, cut a section or “stopper”, if you will, out of the top to make a whole inside. Slice off any extra cake from your cupcake “stopper”.
2. Drop about a teaspoon of lemon curd into each cupcake. Place cupcake “stopper” back in cupcake, covering lemon curd filling.
3. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip with the frosting. (I used a large, unlabeled star tip to frost these cupcakes.) Frost cupcakes as desired.
4. Optional: Garnish with strawberries, cut into halves, quarters, or left whole, depending on the size.