strawberry balsamic cupcakes

strawberry balsamic cupcakes 2We’re back from Jamaica! After all of the wedding craziness and then wrapping up the school year at work, I was READY for relaxation and some fun in the sun!  We had an amazing time on our trip – can’t say enough good things about the Couples Tower Isle resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  The staff there really go out of their way to ensure that you have everything you could possible want or need.  And, the food was amazing! Seriously, some of the best I’ve ever had.  Don’t worry, I made Daren take pictures of almost every meal we had – so I’ll be sharing those at some point down the road :)

strawberry balsamic cupcakesBack before our honeymoon, I made these cupcakes for our friends Christine and Brandon’s housewarming party.  They are renting the most adorable house, and we had a wonderful time celebrating with them! These cupcakes definitely seemed to be a hit amongst all the party-goers.  Strawberry and balsamic is a flavor combo I’ve been meaning to try for a while, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it- or really found the right vehicle to do so.  Well, my friends, this is it! These cupcakes start with a browned butter cake base, which was an amazing idea by Annie over at Annie’s Eats.  Browned butter is always a good choice in my book, and the unique but not overwhelming flavor of the cake really allows the balsamic to come through in the frosting.  Speaking of the balsamic, in these cupcakes it really adds depth to the strawberry flavor – just gives it a little extra something without being too vinegar-y or anything like that.  Mmm, just looking at these makes me wish we had more stashed away somewhere – hooray for cupcakes!

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

  • 16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (7.5 oz) light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 cups (12 oz.) cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature*

*For the first time with these cupcakes, I tried using buttermilk powder instead of fresh buttermilk – I was really happy with the results! Couldn’t tell the difference in the finished cupcakes, and this way I don’t have to worry about 1/2 of a container of buttermilk going bad before I can use it (happens EVERY time :) )

For the frosting:

  • 3 cups (1 lb.) fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and coarsely chopped
  • 1¼ cups (8 3/4 oz.) plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the topping:

  • 3 cups (1 lb.) strawberries, diced small
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar

Directions:

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line 2 (3 if you have them) cupcake pans with paper liners.  Melt the butter in a medium skillet set over medium heat.  Once melted, continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until the butter is a deep golden brown color.  The butter should take on a nice nutty smell – be careful not to burn it!  Allow the butter to cool slightly, then transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add in the granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium speed until well combined – the bowl should be just slightly warm to the touch.

In another bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt and whisk to blend.  Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix each addition just until incorporated.

Scoop the batter into the paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes total.  Allow to cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Re-line a cupcake pan and repeat with the remaining batter as needed.

To make the frosting, combine the chopped strawberries, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries have softened and the liquid is somewhat reduced- about 5-8 minutes.  Let cool slightly, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Chill the puree well before using in the frosting.

Once the puree is chilled, combine the egg whites and the remaining 1¼ cups sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Be careful not to allow the egg whites to begin scrambling.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed.  Continue to beat until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.  Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more after the previous addition is fully incorporated.  If the frosting begins to look soupy or curdled, don’t worry – just continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again.  Blend in the strawberry-balsamic puree until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

To make the topping, combine the chopped strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir together.  Let the mixture sit for at least 20-30 minutes.  In the meantime, make the balsamic drizzle by combining the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan or skillet.  Heat over medium heat until just simmering, then lower the heat and continue to cook until significantly reduced (to about 4 tbsp.)  Set aside to cool.

To assemble the cupcakes, transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.  Pipe a round of frosting onto each cupcake.  Using a small spoon or an offset spatula, scoop out some of the center of each frosting round to create a well.  Add a spoonful of the macerated strawberry mixture to each well, then drizzle the cupcakes with some balsamic glaze to finish.  If not eating that day, the cooled cupcakes should be stored in the refrigerator because of the fresh fruit.

Yield: about 3 dozen cupcakes

Source: Annie’s Eats; original sources listed there

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