The only trace of my nephew’s and nieces’ visit is a swimming pool still littered with pool toys, flippers, goggles and floating loungers. The last few days were a whirlwind of activity as we tried to squeeze in as much fun as possible until their departure this past Sunday. We were tired at the end of each day…wait, correction. I was tired at the end of each day (and also the beginning of the next). Kids have boundless energy–the best I could do was follow along. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Moms, you have my admiration and respect for doing what you do every day!
For the kids, each day started and ended the same way–by swimming in the pool. I was no match for its allure but I understand. I was–still am–the same way. I love being in the water. So when the girls forgot about our plans to bake together Sunday morning, I passed on a more involved cake recipe and decided to go the easy route: cupcakes.
I’ve mentioned here before that I would always choose to bake a cake over cupcakes but there is something to be said about the convenience of the latter. Plus, they have kid appeal, a feature I was after since my youngest nieces, aged 5 and 3, would also be joining us later in the day. Not having much time to research recipes, I decided to use my fresh strawberries to make the famous Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes. I don’t normally select recipes lightly and I hoped that I wouldn’t regret my rush decision.
You might wonder about my reservation to use a recipe from a cupcake bakery with an almost cult-like following. The truth is, I was not impressed by my first (and only) taste of Sprinkles cupcakes. When the bakery set up shop at the Stanford Shopping Center a few years ago, I was struck by the lines that went out the door, day in and day out. When the excitement finally waned a few months later, I stepped over the threshold, my high expectations in tow and anxious to taste cupcake perfection.
But it didn’t happen. Permission to be honest? While the cupcakes were certainly a nice treat, the Wow! factor I was expecting based on their reputation was missing. My experience using their recipe at home was similar. I liked the cupcake but I was not wowed. The batter was bursting with flavor, full of the essence of fresh strawberries. My disappointment was in the texture of the finished product–I was hoping for light and airy little cakes but mine were a bit dense. This is not a bad thing–again, my judgment was based on my high expectations. I added some chopped strawberries to the batter and I think this helped to make them better–the strawberry chunks were a nice surprise as I bit into my little cake. The frosting? I skipped the Sprinkles recipe in favor of my favorite cream cheese version from Joy of Baking. I simply added some strawberry purée to the mix. I admit, this was a nice touch.
So tell me. Am I being overly critical? Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of Cupcake Wars on Food Network and fancy myself a qualified judge when really, I am not. These may be good cupcakes but I still need help understanding their mass appeal. Using a completely subjective cupcake grading system for the ultra picky (me), I give these a B, but don’t let me discourage you from trying them. They were a hit with the kids (and as it turns out, with my office mates, too!).
Update 5/1/2012: This has become, by far, my most popular post since publishing it in June 2011. Sharon, a reader, has kindly shared that the reason these cupcakes are dense is that the recipe should have 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in it. I have updated the recipe to reflect this. And as for my frosting, with that little bit of puree, it will come out a bit runny. I don’t mind this at all but others have worked around this by adding more confectioner’s sugar than I listed below. Hmm, maybe I should give it another try!
Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
* Cupcake recipe from Sprinkles Bakery, Frosting from Joy of Baking, makes 12 – 16
For the Cupcakes:
- 2/3 cup fresh or frozen whole strawberries (thawed if frozen) (plus 3 or 4 chopped to add to batter, optional)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour , sifted
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda (Updated 5/2/2012: recommended by reader to add this to solve texture issue)
- 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
- 1/4 cup whole milk , room temperature
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter , room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg , room temperature
- 2 large egg whites , room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese, cold
- 5 tablespoons softened butter
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- (scant) two cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh strawberry purée
- To prepare the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°. Line a muffin tin with baking cups (or use silicone molds like I did).
- Purée strawberries in a small food processor; you should have about 1/3 cup of puree. Add a few more strawberries if necessary, or save any extra puree for the frosting.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla and strawberry puree.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.
- With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended. Stir in the chopped fresh strawberries if you decide to use them.
- Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.
- To prepare the frosting: Using a hand mixer, beat the top three ingredients together until well combined. Gradually add the powdered sugar as you continue beating the mixture. Lastly, stir in the strawberry purée.
- When the cupcakes have cooled to room temperature, add the frosting.