Saturday, April 28, 2012

Roasted Strawberry Basil Cupcakes

Today, I'm feeling very nostalgic because in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan class of 2012 is gathered in the Big House to graduate. I have many friends there right now, and am thinking of many more who were with me this time last year.

Here are my roommates and me on the football field this time last year:

Still, in the midst of all the nostalgia and Wolverine Pride, I can't help but keep baking and innovating.

These latest cupcakes are strange and unusual, somehow simultaneously sweet and savory. Filled with roasted strawberry puree, freshly chopped basil, and balsamic vinegar, the flavors hint at a crisp summery salad as much as a sweet dessert.

These Roasted Strawberry Basil Cupcakes are topped with a Balsamic Swiss Meringue Buttercream and will definitely tease the senses. More than one co-worker expressed the same sentiment: "I can't tell if I'm eating a cupcake or a salad," and every single taster enjoyed my weird creation.

I made these cupcakes over a few days, first roasting two pints of strawberries with butter and sugar on low heat for two hours. This brought out the sweet flavors and saved all of the slightly over ripened strawberries from the trash.

I originally thought of a summery strawberry balsamic cupcake and then flip-flopped between basil and balsamic for two days before I decided to just go for it and throw a bit of both into the batter. The recipe was a gamble... and it paid off!

I decided to try my hand at making a Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the first time mostly because I didn't have the heavy cream I would have needed to make a Balsamic Whipped Cream, per my original thought.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a frosting that is often used for wedding cake decorations because it is sturdy, silky, and can sit at room temperature for several days without going bad (like my favorite cream cheese and/or whipped cream frostings). Swiss Meringue Buttercream is made by first whisking egg whites and sugar together in a double broiler until the mixture reaches a certain temperature and consistency, whipping the egg whites into a cool meringue, and then adding chunks and chunks of butter until the whole thing comes together in a silky smooth, subtly sweet frosting. It's really pretty good, although I thought my first batch was a little too buttery and maybe too flavorful of the Balsamic Vinegar. I will be making Swiss Meringue Buttercream again though, and experimenting with many more flavor combinations when I do!

Roasted Strawberries (Recipe adapted from Baby Center):
Makes 2-3 cups
  • 25-30 strawberries, hulled and washed
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter, cut in small squares
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees
  • Line 8 x 8 pan with strawberries, dot with butter, and sprinkle sugar on top
  • Bake for 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until strawberries are very soft
  • Pour berries and juice into a blended and puree
  • Store in refrigerator and/or bring to room temperature before using

Roasted Strawberry Basil Cupcakes (Young Idealistic Baker original recipe)
Makes 12-13 cupcakes (use a silicone liner for the extra batter)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup roasted strawberry puree
  • 2-3 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan with cupcake liners
  • In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated
  • In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt
  • Alternate between adding flour mixture and milk to batter, mixing until just incorporated
  • Add extracts
  • Stir in strawberry puree and chopped basil
  • Distribute batter evenly in cupcake cups and bake for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
  • Allow to cool completely before frosting

Balsamic Swiss Meringue Frosting (adapted from Martha Stewart):
Makes enough to frost 12-15 cupcakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 - 2 sticks butter, slightly softened and cubed
  • 3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Over a double broiler, whisk together sugar and egg whites until mixture reaches 140 degrees or until mixture feels smooth to the touch rather than grainy, about 3 minutes
  • Pour mixture into a very clean bowl and beat at medium speed for about 10 minutes until bowl feels cool to the touch and stiff peaks begin to form
  • Add butter, one cube at a time and beat until mixture transforms from a crumbly gross mess into a silky smooth frosting (this WILL happen, just keep beating it)
  • Add flavor and beat until combined

 And because I just can't help myself, here's my whole gang last year at Graduation!

For today, goodbye. For tomorrow, good luck. And, forever GO BLUE!

Happy Baking folks!

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