Friday, August 19, 2011

Serviceberry Cupcakes from the Street (An economical alternative to store-bought berries)

Back in Orlando, I'm still thinking of the summer in Ann Arbor and missing my friends. Months ago, I concocted a cupcake recipe and matching frosting made from berries I found growing on a tree next to a bank. The story is as follows:

On a warm, beautiful evening in Ann Arbor, my roommate and I casually strolled up the streets leading from our house to the Farmer’s Market.  Along the way, we stopped to pet a dog and ask its owner what sort of berries she was picking from a tree outside a bank. They looked like miniature pomegranates crossed with grapes.

The woman told us they were called serviceberries and encouraged us each to try one. She said the darker berries were the ripest and therefore tastiest, and cautiously we each plucked a berry from the small tree, closed our eyes, and tasted it.

It turns out, serviceberries taste a lot like blueberries, but with a more noticeable seed in the middle. We decided (I insisted) that we would get a little bag at the market to fill up with some berries to bring home and bake with. Woo-hoo, free food!

As we walked from tree to tree picking the darkest berries, we witnessed several baffled expressions from onlookers and a handful of people stopped to ask what sort of berries we were picking and whether they were safe to eat. We said we assumed they were OK since neither of us had dropped dead after the first sample.

When I got home I started looking up blueberry recipes to adapt to accommodate my serviceberries and found time to make them a couple of days later.

I decided I would make Lemon Serviceberry Cupcakes with Serviceberry Buttercream Frosting. 

My roommate and I experimented with possible names for these cupcakes from "street cupcakes" to "bank cupcakes" to "hood cupcakes from the street." Nothing really stuck, so we're back to serviceberry cupcakes.

Serviceberry Cupcakes from the Street (adapted from a lemon-scented blueberry cupcake recipe at
Makes 12 cupcakes

NOTE: Blueberries will make a FINE substitution for serviceberries!

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I actually created my own buttermilk using 1/2 cup milk + juice from 1/2 a lemon because I didn't have buttermilk and don't like buying it. Do whichever works for you)
  • 1/2 cup milk (yes, in addition to the buttermilk or milk/lemon concoction)
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 cup service berries (or blueberries)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • line 12 muffin 
  • In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda
  • Blend melted butter and egg in another medium sized bowl
  • Add buttermilk, milk, and zest to the butter and egg mixture and mix until incorporated
  • Mix buttermilk mixture to flour mixture until just incorporated
  • Fold berries into batter
  • Distribute mixture evenly among muffin cups 
  • Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
  • Cool in pan for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely

Serviceberry Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (I used less and my frosting wasn't stiff enough) 
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Fresh service berries, mashed (as many as you want!)


  • Blend cream cheese, butter, zest, vanilla, and salt in a bowl
  • Gradually add powdered sugar until just incorporated (don't over beat) 
  • Stir in lemon juice and berries
  • Spread or pipe frosting onto cupcakes and garnish with a berry
As soon as I filled a Ziploc bag (easy substitute for pastry bag if all you need is a small-ish circle tip) with the frosting, our neighbors came over to ask if we wanted to accompany them to the Ann Arbor Arboretum for the afternoon. Hanging out at the Arb is a favorite pastime for Ann Arborites so my roommate and I happily obliged, and once I finished piping the cupcakes, I packed a few in a Tupperware container and brought them along for a snack.

Word of advice: if you eat a cupcake in the middle of a forest, make sure you have on plenty of bug spray — we didn’t do this and were consequently bitten up by mosquitoes. Just the same, we had a great outdoorsy day!

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