Strawberry Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

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I’m turning 32 today. Thirty-two. Am I feeling like 32? Probably… yes, I do. For instance, I now embrace a 10:30 bedtime which allows me to get plenty of sleep and renders me fully functional when I wake-up in the morning. I also adore my memory foam pillow, which has become a necessary requirement for a good night’s sleep.

I often write a blog post when it’s my birthday. On this particular one, I find myself on vacation in Washington DC visiting my friend Kristelle. It’s been almost three years (four years for Matthew) since we moved away from DC and this is our first time back visiting. It is pretty difficult to put into words the various things that make me absolutely love DC. It’s a diverse city where people come from various backgrounds, making the District vibrant, dynamic, and ever changing. Each neighborhood has a distinct feel and I miss the ability to walk or use public transportation to get everywhere. In one day of vacation alone, I walked 10 miles in the city. 

If you’ve followed Sweet Precision for a while you might remember my Strawberry Birthday Cake tradition. This year I decided to switch things up a little bit and made birthday cupcakes instead! Let’s talk a little bit about these cupcakes. Are you one of those people who feel like buttercream is too rich and heavy? If so, you’ll love the Swiss-style meringue buttercream that I used for this recipe which is light and delicate. Swiss meringue is prepared by cooking egg whites and sugar together in a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. The mixture is then removed from the heat and whipped at high speed until it forms stiff peaks and has cooled. After this, room-temperature butter is slowly added into the mixture. Meringue-based buttercreams are light and creamy in texture, which I love. They also don’t ‘crust-over’ as with simple buttercream.

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Strawberry Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes approximately 24 cupcakes 

Cupcake Ingredients
1 box white cake mix
1 (6 oz) box strawberry jello
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup oil
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup water

Frosting Ingredients
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
red food coloring, optional

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two cupcake pans and set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix wet ingredients together, including strawberries. Slowly stir wet ingredients in with the dry being careful not to over mix the batter. Pour batter into cupcake tins and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan and then remove to a baking rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Pipe or spread frosting onto cupcakes.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Working with meringue buttercream frosting can be tricky. If your frosting is “broken” the fat and liquid won’t emulsify, and you’ll be left with a bowl of fat globules that look like cottage cheese. If this happens to you, first try mixing the frosting a little longer to see if it comes together on its own. If it doesn’t come together with additional mixing, scoop out a cup of curdled mixture and microwave 5 to 10 seconds, until melted but not hot. Pour the melted buttercream into the mixer while on medium speed and whip until combined. This works every time!

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Italian Cream Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Buttercream

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Today is a special Sweet Precision post for two exciting reasons. The first reason that I can’t stop thinking or talking about is that I am now engaged! Matt surprised me by coming to DC this week from Ann Arbor and proposing to me! When I heard the knocking outside my door on Tuesday night I was trying to ignore the intrusion assuming it was just another solicitor. But when the knocking continued, I finally opened the door to find Matt there with his suitcase in hand. He came into my apartment and proposed on the spot—I was completely shocked and elated! So the remainder of this week has been a whirlwind, but in an amazingly good way.

Oh right, was there was a second exciting component to this post? Today is our work baking competition and I’m revealing the Italian cream cupcakes that I’ll be entering. I created this recipe by combining ideas that I got from some of my favorite baking blogs. This is the second time I’ve made these cupcakes and with a few tweaks that I made, I think they’re just about perfect. Much like my triple salted caramel cupcakes, these little beauties are a labor of love. Make sure you’ve set aside a few hours in the kitchen to make these. I promise that the finished product is worth the work though!

As a post baking contest update, the cupcakes beat out some tough competition to take first place!! 

Italian Cream Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Buttercream

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Italian Cream Cake Batter
5 large eggs, separated at room temperature
2 cups superfine granulated white sugar (sometimes called baker’s sugar)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon sea salt
zest of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups cake flour

Preheat the oven to 325˚. Line two muffin tins with 24 paper liners.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar to the egg white until it thickens up and looks like meringue. Put aside.

Cream the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter, shortening, salt and lemon zest with a mixer until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides, and add the vanilla extract. Mix and add an egg yolk at a time (stopping periodically to scrape down the sides) until the mixture is yellow, thick and well blended.

Stir the buttermilk and the baking soda together and add 1/3 of it to the butter mixture. Mix and then add 1 cup of the flour and mix again. Repeat with the buttermilk and then the flour, ending on the buttermilk.

Using a large spatula gently fold in the egg whites. Divide the batter and spoon into the paper liners. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through. Cool the cupcakes in the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing.

Lemon Curd Filling
2 large eggs
7 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick unsalted butter

Add the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, zest and lemon juice in a double boiler and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens up – around 10 minutes, all the while whisking it. Once the mixture starts to thicken, turn the heat up to medium and cook until it thickens and “tracks” when you pull the whisk through it. Add the butter and strain, discarding the solids. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least an hour before using. You can store it in the fridge for a couple of days.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 cups (approx. 1 lb.) confectioner’s sugar sifted
Additional lemon juice or milk (optional)

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add lemon juice and zest; beat well. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, if icing is dry, add additional juice or milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Re-whip before using.

Candied Lemon Wedges

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1 large lemon
1 cup sugar

Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut lemon into 12 paper-thin slices; discard seeds and ends of rind. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, and add lemon slices; stir until softened, about 1 minute. Drain, and immediately plunge slices into ice-water bath. Drain.

Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium skillet, swirling to dissolve sugar. When liquid is clear and bubbling, reduce heat to medium-low. Add lemon slices, arranging them in one layer with tongs. Simmer (do not let boil) until rinds are translucent, about 1 hour. As water boils, set a wire cooling rack over a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. With a set of tongs, remove slices from syrup, allowing excess sugar to drop off, and set on a wire rack to dry. This may take up to 48 hours.

Assembly Instructions
Take the cooled cupcake and cut a 1/2″ wide and 1″ deep cone in middle of the cupcake with a paring knife. Remove the cone, spoon the lemon curd into the cupcake, and replace the top of the cone on the cupcake (you’ll have to cut a little off so it fits back in). Take the lemon buttercream frosting and pipe onto the top of the cupcake. Garnish with candied lemon wedge.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
This recipe is originally designed for a wedding cake. It’s important to note that when you make wedding cakes you want flat level cakes to stack. This recipe results in a flat cake without a lot of dome. However, when making cupcakes, people seem to like more domed tops, which you won’t get with this one. The advantage of a flat topped cupcake is you get to put more frosting on top! However if you are one of those people who wants a domed cupcake top, increase the temperature of the oven to 375˚ for the first 15 minutes and then drop the temperature back to 325˚ for 10 minutes and then test for doneness.

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Vanilla Cupcakes with Fondant Icing

Hurricane Sandy is in full force, but as long as I have power I’ll be baking up a storm!

Okay, okay, I’m sorry for the terrible pun, but I couldn’t help myself. Today was one of those days when it was great to be tucked inside. It was one of those— I want to put on a big comfy sweatshirt, curl up with a good book, and drink some hot tea—type of days. When I got the notice that the federal government was closed on Monday and Tuesday, I felt like a kid that just found out they had a snow day. I got all giddy and wondered what I was going to do with all my extra time. Easy question. Assuming I still had power and gas, I was going to have a baking extravaganza!

For the longest time I’ve wanted to work with fondant (the fancy frosting you find on lots of wedding cakes) but I thought it was just too time intensive, and quite frankly beyond my abilities as a baker. Today I decided to scale my expectations down from a full-fledged wedding cake and try to tackle a fondant cupcake recipe. To my surprise the process was still pretty time intensive. I had to bake the cupcakes, glaze them, make ganache, cover them, let them dry, make fondant, and finally decorate them. Sigh… what a project! However, being that I had some extra time, I thought it would be the perfect project to take on.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fondant Icing

Cupcake Ingredients
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold milk

Ganache Ingredients
16 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
2 cups heavy cream

Fondant Ingredients
2 tablespoons gelatin
1/2 cup corn syrup
5 teaspoons glycerin
2 1/4 pounds pure confectioners’ sugar
2 drops flavor extract

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place liners in 12 muffin tins. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir together all dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture and stir in milk. Place in oven and bake for 18-20 minutes.

For the ganache, put the chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Put the cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and mix with a hand whisk until the ganache is smooth. Allow to cool completely and then leave to set overnight. Using a knife spread 2 1/2 teaspoons of ganache across the top of each cupcake. By the time you have ganached your last cupcake your first cupcakes should be ready to “hot-knife”. Place a long knife in a pan of boiling water and leave for a few seconds. Glide the knife over the surface of the ganache using even pressure. Let the cupcakes sit until the ganache has set hard before you start decorating them.

To make the rolled fondant icing, sprinkle the gelatin over 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Leave until the gelatin is spongy. Place the bowl over a saucepan of hot water and stir until the gelatin has dissolved. Add the corn syrup and glycerin and stir until melted. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the gelatin mixture. Mix until it becomes too difficult to stir with a spoon. Tip the mixture onto the counter, add the flavoring if using, and knead with dry hands into a smooth and pliable dough. Add food coloring if you wish to dye the frosting at this point. Roll out the icing to 1/8 inch thick using a rolling pin. Cut out circles of different sizes using a round cutter. Feel free to get creative with the colors and shapes you use- that’s the fun part of working with fondant!

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Cupcakes dry out very quickly. One way to prevent this is to treat them with syrup. With a fork, make some holes in the top of the cupcakes and then brush fairly liberally with syrup (1/3 cup of apricot jam and 6 tablespoons of boiling water whisked together).