My favorite summer fruit is the strawberry. Apart from the fact that they’re so very pretty when they’re ripe and ready to eat, strawberries are hardy during transportation and handling—all you have to do is look at a raspberry the wrong way and it’ll fall apart on you. Strawberries can handle being dumped into a colander and washed under running water. Also, they freeze beautifully. And they don’t give up all those annoying little seeds that stick in your teeth. The strawberry’s seeds are so small as to be inconsequential. Is it any wonder that I love this tough, yet self-effacing berry?
One year—the same year of The Great Zucchini Harvest, as it happens—I had a strawberry patch behind my house that wouldn’t quit producing, and I ate myself silly on strawberries all the way through July. (I was pregnant with my daughter that summer, so I had a convenient excuse: Strawberries are full of Vitamin C. The baby needs lots of Vitamin C. Do you want me to give birth to a child with scurvy?) I had planted a variety of berries that my father, the master gardener, didn’t recommend, but he wisely made no comment when they turned out to be so productive for me. Besides, he’d already proven himself right about the zucchini.
I haven’t kept a garden for years. Partly this is because I live in an area of Texas where the soil is terrible and needs constant augmentation; partly this is because the heat here is so extreme for much of the year; partly this is because I’m very lazy. And I’m happy to pay a local farmer to keep me in strawberries as long as possible.
There are few things I love more than a bowl of sliced strawberries topped with the lightest sprinkle of sugar. But sometimes you’re in the mood for something a little more elaborate; sometimes, you want those strawberries to be all they can be. And sometimes that desire coincides with the moment when your strawberries are on the brink of being too ripe and, on top of that, you just really need a cupcake. That’s when you whip up a batch of Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting.
A few words before we get started: one quart of strawberries yields about 1 ¾ cups of strawberry puree. The following recipes call for ¾ cup of puree, so you can either throw 10 to 12 hulled strawberries in the blender (depending on their size) or just take care of the whole quart at once. Leftover strawberry puree can be frozen in an ice cube tray—you can make a great smoothie with two cubes of frozen puree, a banana, a small container of yogurt and a splash of milk—or in a freezer bag, in anticipation of your next batch of cupcakes.
When making cakes, I don’t like to use an electric mixer. Over-mixing the batter creates sheets of gluten that lead to a dense, heavy texture—think of how bread differs from cake. That’s because bread dough is kneaded until those sheets of gluten form. If you use a mixer, make sure to keep it on a low speed and mix only until the dry ingredients are no longer visible. If you don’t use a mixer, then make sure your butter is softened before you start stirring. Otherwise, you’ll end up with chunks of butter in your batter and feel compelled to stir more than you should after the flour has been added.
And finally, a warning: this is not a low-fat recipe. Three sticks of butter are involved. But if you’re in the mood to indulge your sweet tooth, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
For the cupcakes:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 cup sugar
¼ cup buttermilk
½ cup strawberry puree
For the frosting:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup strawberry puree
About 3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a cupcake pan with paper liners or spray each cupcake well with non-stick spray. I like the paper liners because they make cupcakes easier to handle later while frosting them.
Measure the first three ingredients into a small bowl and stir them together with a fork. Set this bowl aside.
In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar; add the eggs one at a time and stir thoroughly after each one. Add the buttermilk, then the strawberry puree, stirring after each addition.
Add half of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir just until flour is no longer visible. Add the rest of the dry mixture and stir again. Make sure all dry ingredients have been incorporated, but don’t mix any more than you absolutely have to.
Fill the cupcake pan and bake for 23-25 minutes, until the tops of your cupcakes look dry. Let them cool completely before you start frosting.
When you're ready to frost the cupcakes, beat the butter until it's smooth; add the strawberry puree and vanilla, then mix to incorporate. Add the powdered sugar in small amounts (about half a cup at a time), stirring after each addition. Keep adding sugar until you reach the desired consistency. You’ll want your frosting to be a little stiff, since it will absorb some moisture from the cupcakes.
Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator, due to the butter in the frosting.