In honour of the simple cup of strawberries and cream, I've created these strawberry filled cupcakes with vanilla bean cream cheese frosting. An ode to strawberries and cream in cupcake form, with an added biscuit base to give some crunch!
Summertime in Britain is synonymous with strawberries! From Spring to Summer, the beautiful little berries are pretty much everywhere. When I lived in Scotland, local farms would sell them from their trucks on the side of the road. The simple dessert of strawberries and cream is famous at events such as Wimbledon or the Henley Royal Regatta. Once the strawberries are in season, I just can't get enough of them!
Multi Layered Cupcakes
I've become a massive fan of layered desserts - cupcakes, cakes and various bars. Its a fun way to include a variety flavours and your favourite elements of different bakes into one dessert. For these cupcakes, my inspiration is mostly from strawberries and cream, with a touch of a cheesecake thrown in! One of my favourite parts of a cheesecake is the biscuit base. To that end, I've added a biscuit base to these cupcakes. A bit of an experiment in practice, but a pleasant changeup to a standard cupcake with a nice additional texture.
If you're interested in trying out some other layered desserts, have a look at some of my other layered bakes:
For this cupcake, I've included a crushed biscuit base. As some of my other recipes may suggest, I love a good cookie crust. Whether its crushed graham crackers, lotus biscoff biscuits, or Oreo, they all add a great texture and flavour addition to a bake! In the case of these cupcakes, the base also helps to call to mind the base of a cheesecake, especially when paired with the cream cheese frosting.
A crushed biscuit base is super simple to whip up and far quicker than a pastry shell. All that is required is the ground up biscuits and butter. Often recipes will also call for a bit of sugar, but I find this is dependent on the biscuits/cookies being used. If you're using graham crackers, you may want to add a bit of extra sugar to counter the otherwise dry biscuits. If you are using lotus biscuits or Oreos, the sugar is less necessary as the cookies are already quite sweet or spiced themselves.
Just mix your crushed biscuits and the melted butter together. This will form a coarse mixture that will be packable and moist, but shouldn't be smooth like a paste or have excess liquid unabsorbed. Divide this amongst cupcake cases in your 12 hole cupcake tin. I started by adding 1 tablespoon to each and then splitting any leftover. Pack this down firmly with the back of a spoon or your fingers to create the bases for your strawberries and cream cupcakes.
Light and Airy Vanilla Cake
The cake portion of these cupcakes is a light and airy vanilla cake. A fairly standard cake batter made even lighter by the inclusion of meringue!
Making the Cake Layer for the Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes
Start by preheating your oven to 350 F and ensuring you have your ingredients divided out and ready.
Most of this is standard - stir your dry ingredients (flour, cornflour, salt and baking soda) in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, beat ⅓ cup of your sugar and your softened butter. Due to the meringue element, you will want to separate your egg. Leave the egg white in a large bowl for a later step, but incorporate the yolk into the butter and sugar mixture along with vanilla. Add the flour and milk to this in alternating additions. Then set this aside to mix up the meringue.
Cake Batter with Meringue
The key to this recipe is the meringue - this will make your cake light and airy. With the egg white that you have reserved, you will need to whisk with a handheld electric whisk on high until soft peaks form. Once you have soft peaks, start incorporating the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar. Adding a tablespoon or so at a time, beat this to stiff peaks. Add this meringue to your cake batter and fold to incorporate, careful not to knock out all of the air.
Meringues are popular in a lot of classic American recipes such as Devil's Food and Angel's Food cakes. It is a great way to lighten a cake if you don't want something dense. I've shared my family's Devil's Food recipe including the meringue and a twist of red wine.
Once the meringue is. incorporated, you are ready to bake! Divide the batter evenly on top of the biscuit bases and bake in the centre of your oven. They will bake for about 30 minutes - I would recommend keeping an eye out and start checking after 20 minutes. Once a toothpick inserted in the middle of the middle cupcake comes out clean, they are ready. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Fresh from the oven, these are perfectly tasty vanilla cupcakes with a biscuit base. You could stop there and skip to frosting. But, if you are wanting to make these into my strawberries and cream cupcakes, we need to add the jam!
So you may be wondering Should I make my own jam? Is it hard to make my own jam?
Making your own jam for this recipe is entirely up to you. If you have a bit of spare time, I would highly recommend it - nothing is better than fresh fruit jam! But, if you are in a bit more of a rush and have a readily accessible jar to hand, by all means go ahead and use it.
For small batch jam making, especially if you are going to use it quickly rather than preserving for months, all you really need is your fruit, sugar and a bit of pectin. If you have jam sugar, this is perfect for helping to stabilise and thicken the jam. Jam sugar includes pectin, so doesn't require any other addition. If you are using regular sugar, you will most likely need to add pectin in some form to thicken the jam.
Pectin in fruits
Many fruits have a fair bit of naturally occurring pectin. Strawberries, unfortunately are not one of them. Strawberries require the addition of pectin to help the gelling process. In my case, rather than resorting to store bought pectin, I chose to use a bit of orange juice. Oranges are naturally high in pectin and can be used to boost the setting process of a jam. Plus, orange pairs well with strawberry to offer a zesty addition to this!
Super Fast Small Batch Strawberry Jam
Since the jam for this recipe does not need to be very solid, I threw it together quickly. My super simple jam recipe was about a cup of chopped strawberries, two tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of orange juice. I popped all ingredients into a pan over a medium heat. While stirring, the strawberries will break down and release their juices.
Once the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts boiling, raise the heat a bit and cook until it begins thickening. I cooked mine until an instant read thermometer showed 105C (220F), which is the traditional jam setting temperature. If you don't have a thermometer, its not a massive problem with this recipe. Since you'll just be looking for a thick sauce to form in order to fill the cupcakes, it is less significant for the purposes here whether it properly sets or not.
Once ready, pour the jam into a separate heat proof bowl. Be cautious as it will be very hot! Allow this to cool to at least room temperature. My recipe below does not factor in the time to make the jam yourself. If you do go this route, I'd add an extra hour for the making and cooling!
Filling a Cupcake with Jam
When it comes to adding jam to the cupcakes, you'll want to start by cutting a hole in the top of a baked cupcake. This is best done once the cupcakes have cooled. I used a large piping nozzle to act as a guide. The wide end of a piping tip can be twisted into the top of a cupcake to provide a stencil for the hole and to even help chisel this out.
Once marked out, a small sharp knife can also help to provide a cut into the cake. You want to do this carefully as your goal is not to cut all the way through to the bottom. I aim for about midway down - enough to give a good healthy centre of filling, without risking a leaky bottom.
When you have cored the centre of the cupcake, add in a small spoonful of filling (in this case jam). Some people fill clean to the top of the cupcake and then frost straight over this. I prefer to re-add the cap from coring the centre so that there is a little bit of cake on top of the filling. This is a personal preference, but can also make frosting a bit less messy since your filling will be mostly sealed away. It is less likely to smear.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Lessons Learned as an Expat in Britain
So a bit of a learning curve as an American in Britain was the reality of ingredient substitutions and limitations. For most things that I grew up with in the USA, there will be a roughly equivalent product in Britain. This is especially true in the London area, where I live now. The brands may be different and there may be some alterations needed to meet the exact specifications of a recipe. Overall, availability has vastly improved over the years.
One ingredient that has been a recurring issue for American expats is cream cheese. Don't do what I did when I first got to the UK - try to make an American recipe for Cream Cheese frosting unabridged. I still remember trying to make Ina Garten's Coconut Cake Frosting with the cream cheese from a British grocery store. It simply doesn't work and will look a mess on your cake.
You may ask Why doesn't British cream cheese work in cream cheese frosting? Its a fair question since the brand is actually the same I would use in America - Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The problem is that you can't buy blocks of the solid cream cheese in the British grocery stores. The only version usually available is spreadable. Pretty much all good cream cheese frosting recipes from the US will involve room temperature blocks, rather than the spreadable version. This means that the consistency difference is massive and the liquid to solid ratio in the recipe will be off.
Making Cream Cheese Frosting with Spreadable Cream Cheese
So, if you are in Britain (or if you just want to make a quick cream cheese frosting and only have the spreadable stuff available), this recipe is for you. The key here is to increase the ratio of butter that you are using. Another lesson learned the hard way is that adding more icing sugar or more cream cheese to an American recipe would not solidify the frosting. The icing sugar will effectively melt into the liquidy cream cheese and your puddle of frosting will just get worse. Again, speaking from experience and many runny cream cheese disasters. What you need is more butter!
For this frosting, you will want to beat the butter with the icing sugar on a low speed until light and creamy smooth. Then add the cream cheese and vanilla bean paste. You may be thinking that the amount of cream cheese in this recipe is too small to taste, but trust me, it comes through! It is being used more as a flavouring than the substance of the frosting itself, so this is a bit like a cream cheese flavoured buttercream. The benefit of this is that it is very stable - you could probably pipe flowers with it (though I've not tried!). As you can see below, the piping held a spiral easily.
Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes - the Finished Product
Once frosted, these are ready to serve up! I like to add a few fresh strawberries to the presentation, partly because strawberries are gorgeous, but they're also delicious. A topping of a sliced fresh strawberry would always be a nice touch!
FAQs for my Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes
Absolutely! You can easily double this to make 24 if you need extra. Halving would be more tricky as the recipe for 12 calls for one egg and you would be working with a meringue. Halving an egg can be done, but for this recipe, I would probably suggest trying to maintain using the one egg (both yolk and white). The yolk will work to bind your ingredients. For the egg white, I would make the meringue with the 1 white as this will be easier to whip, but then only incorporate half into the batter. The rest can be repurposed for mini meringues!
You can freeze the baked cupcakes but if doing so, I'd recommend freezing unfrosted for best results. Due to the biscuit base, the cupcake and base may separate a bit unfreezing. Not necessarily a problem, since the cupcake case will keep these parts together, but they may not be as structurally sound at the end! The frosting can be frozen separately, to allow you the opportunity to rewhip a bit once defrosted and pipe onto the cupcakes when ready to serve.
Yes, you can certainly use vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean paste in this recipe. The two are usually roughly interchangeable. Vanilla bean paste is a thicker syrup and will include the black dots of the vanilla bean, which can offer an aesthetic value to some
While my recipe calls for separating the egg and using the white to make a meringue before folding this into the batter, it isn't strictly necessary. You could instead make the cake batter in this recipe by keeping the ⅔ cup of sugar together (creaming it all together with the butter in step 4) and then adding the full egg to this. You would then carry on with the remainder of step 4, skip steps 5 and 6, and return to the recipe from step 7. This should still bake up OK, but may not raise as much and won't be as light and airy a finished product.
As with any cupcake, they're best the day they're made. They can be kept in an airtight container for a day or two. As the cake is so light, this will become stale more quickly than a moist dense cake, so they shouldn't be left much longer than 2 days. Due to the cream cheese frosting, you may want to refrigerate these if you are leaving them overnight. I'd recommend leaving to return to room temperature for about 30 minutes or an hour before serving for best results.
Strawberries and Cream Cupcake
- 1½ cup lotus biscuit crumbs
- 5 tablespoon melted butter
- 1 cup plain flour
- 2 tablespoon cornflour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg, separated
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup strawberry jam
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Icing with Spreadable Cream Cheese
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1½ cup icing sugar sifted
- 2 tablespoon spreadable cream cheese
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- Begin by preheating your oven to 350°F (175C/160C Fan) and lining a cupcake tray with cases.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the crushed biscuit and 5 tablespoon melted butter, then divide amongst the cupcake cases and press into the bases, like you would for a cheesecake. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornflour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together 3 tablespoon of butter and ⅓ cup sugar. Add one egg yolk and vanilla, beating to combine. Add the flour mixture and milk in alternating additions. Start with ⅓ of the flour mixture, then half the milk, ⅓ of the flour, the rest of the milk and the final ⅓ of the flour.
- In a separate bowl, using a handheld electric whisk, beat the egg white until soft peaks form. Slowly begin to add the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time and beat on high until stiff peaks form. This is your meringue and will help to lighten the cake.
- Add your meringue to the cake batter and fold through until well combined. Be careful not to knock out all of the air.
- Divide the batter evenly amongst your cupcake cases and bake in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes - checking after 20 minutes. They will become lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the middle cupcake should come out clean.
- Remove from the oven and from the cupcake case. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
- Meanwhile, make your cream cheese frosting by beating the butter and icing sugar together until light and creamy for a couple of minutes. Add in the cream cheese and vanilla bean paste, beating to incorporate.
To Assemble the Cupcakes
- Using a knife of a large piping tip inverted, you can make an indentation and scoop out some of the centre of the baked cupcake. In this cavity, spoon a teaspoon or so of the strawberry jam. If you have reserved some of the cupcake, you can top this off to create a little cover of cake over the jam. Repeat this on all of the cupcakes.
- Spread or pipe the frosting over the top. They are now ready to serve!