When I’m presented with a fruity confection and a flourless chocolate cake on a dessert menu, I will almost always choose the latter. My attitude about dessert is, if I’m going to go for it, I want it to taste rich and satisfying. These cakes delighted me with how much flavor they had for what I might have considered a dainty dessert.
These cupcakes would be ideal for impressing a crowd at your friend’s baby shower. I’d pair them with lemon meringue cupcakes and just sit back and watch your guests swoon as they circle the cake stand. Conversely, they would satisfy the dessert craving of the rib eaters at your Fourth of July BBQ. I took them to a Memorial Day party and I wasn’t finished explaining what they were before two had been plucked from the box. If you want to make an impact with a dessert that is unexpected, flavorful and is completely doable at home (even for the boxed cake cook), this is it.
This recipe is originally a Smitten Kitchen cake recipe that Deb Perelman adapted from one of her favorite cookbooks, Sky High. She used it for a pretty princess birthday cake, which I’m sure would be fabulous, but I decided to make them into individual cakes. Ina Garten maintains that adults are just like children when it comes to desserts: they want their own and they don’t want to share. I’m inclined to agree. This isn’t to say I don’t love a great big slice of cake, but these just seemed appropriate for the Memorial Day potluck I was headed to. If you’re inclined to think these are a little too cutesy for mixed company, just know the depth of flavor really balances the girly factor. Some fruit cakes try too hard to be light that they can end up tasting like the whipped air version of the original fruit. But this cake and frosting combination is like that solid strawberry shake (the kind with little bits of berry still intact) that would make you return to the burger joint. It has a richness that fills the small space of a cupcake wrapper.
A word to the chef: this recipe is a departure from the usual cake baking process because it tells you to combine the butter with dry ingredients and strawberry puree, rather than creaming the butter and sugar first. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind this at first, and I’m not sure I do now, but it works. Just go with it. And listen to the warning from Perelman to resist eating the batter in its pre-baked stage, you may not be able to stop yourself from stealing more than one spoonful. The recipe calls for frozen strawberries, which is great to know because they are so accessible, but I used fresh strawberries and found the flavor was bright, and the color was vibrant.
A word on the icing. I’m a big fan of cream cheese icing, especially when you want to achieve that rich but light quality for a dessert. This frosting really exceeded my expectations because it was only slightly sweet and didn’t taste like it was made of butter. The layer of icing really didn’t overpower the airy strawberry flavor of the cake, and I think it’s because the recipe is heavy on the cream cheese and easy on the butter and confectioners sugar (relatively speaking of course). I piped this icing using a star tip, but you can also spread the frosting and top with sugary items that strike your fancy. For me those were the strawberry gummies at the grocery store checkout.
If you decide to make the cupcakes and transport them to your next party, I suggest investing in boxes like these so all your icing labor doesn’t go to waste. I bought a pack of 10 and I would buy them again because they have the cardboard cup holders, and just make anything you put in them look professional. Let’s face it, in cooking, as with many things in life, presentation is important.