Sunday, February 3, 2008

low-fat vanilla cupcakes with strawberry filling and buttercream frosting

Graduation Cupcakes - New Edit

Sometimes my love of feeding people causes me to step completely outside the realm of sensible thinking. Last year The Athlete graduated from high school, so naturally we decided to throw her a little big party. Knowing this event was coming up, I had a quick conversation with her a few months ahead of time:

Graduation Cupcakes - Perfection Me: So have you started thinking about your graduation party yet?
The Athlete: No, not really. I don't even want a party.
Me: Oh...well you have to have a party. Mom and Dad will make you.
The Athlete: I know.
Me: So since you have to have a party, what do you want for dessert?
The Athlete: I don't care. I don't really like dessert.
Me: So...can I make cupcakes for your party?
The Athlete: Sure, if you want.

And with her official seal of approval, I started to plan. I knew I was making a vanilla cupcake (because who doesn't like vanilla?) with strawberry filling (at The Athlete's request), but I had no idea what it should look like. Exactly what shade of purple and gold (her school colors)? What style of frosting swirl? What kind of garnish? So I did test batches. Sprinkles, color sprays -- you name it, I tried it. I even roped in a creative director (one of my closest friends) to help me decide exactly what would look best, right down to the positioning of the strawberry slice on top. These were going to be perfect.

But do you know what it takes to make something perfect? A lot of work! Even after I settled on the flavor and design, I still had to find an economical way to display 300 cupcakes. Enter the Cupcaketree. Not the prettiest thing all by itself, but with some effort I was able to turn it into a cupcake stand to be reckoned with. Can you tell from the pictures below that it's made of cardboard? (No you can't -- don't lie.)

To be honest, I really thought that after I figured all these things out, the hard part was over. And I was wrong. I made the filling and all of the cupcakes in Indiana and then packed everything into the car for the 300-mile trip home. Not too bad. However, I grossly underestimated how long it would take me to assemble the stand and actually stuff, frost, and arrange each of the cakes on the day of the party. With only two hours before the guests arrived and not a single cupcake yet frosted, family members were pitching in left and right to slice strawberries, fetch ingredients, and push the cakes through my decorating assembly line. Technically I finished a half hour after the party started, but it was worth it because, thanks to everyone's help, the finished product was a thing of true culinary, Martha-Stewart-esque beauty. Totally glorious. The sight of the cupcake ziggurat filled my heart with joy.

And did I mention that they were delicious? Mom, out of concern that something would go awry during my cupcake project of epic proportions, insisted on purchasing a sheet cake for the party as well. But at the end of the night, there was 3/4 of a sheet cake left on the table and only a few cupcakes still hanging around. I don't think there is really anything else to say about them. The cupcakes have spoken!

Low-Fat Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Filling and Buttercream Frosting
Yields 300 cupcakes (just kidding...only 24)

Adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskawitz and Terry Hope Romero
1 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 1/3 cups light vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup applesauce
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Adapted from a recipe by Cheryl at The Cupcake Bakeshop
2 cups strawberries (can be frozen), stems removed
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Adapted from a recipe by Cheryl at The Cupcake Bakeshop
1 cup butter, room temperature
6-8 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup light vanilla soy milk

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

To the bowl of an electric mixer, add the yogurt, milk, applesauce, canola oil, sugar, and vanilla and beat at medium speed until combined. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the flour mixture, beating until just incorporated.

Fill your cupcake containers of choice 2/3 full and bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before filling, frosting, or garnishing as desired.

To make the filling:
Add the strawberries, water, and vanilla to a pot. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat.
Sift together the sugar and cornstarch and then stir into the strawberry mixture. Cook until the mixture is thick and the strawberries have broken down, about 20 minutes.

[To fill the cupcakes like I did, cut a cone shape out of the top of the cupcake, add about a teaspoon of the filling, and replace the cone "hat."]

To make the frosting:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy. Add half of the sifted sugar, the vanilla, and the milk. Beat until combined. Gradually add the remaining sugar until the frosting reaches your desired consistency.


  1. More information about the "cupcaketree" that didn't fit into the post:

    It's made of corrugated cardboard and comes flat-packed in a box that is about 3 1/2' x 1 1/2', to the best of my memory. The larger disks are folded in half in the box. Here's how I took mine from boring cardboard to something that was both reusable and worth looking at:

    1. I painted all those vertical edges you see in the in-progress picture white. Then I covered each edge with a narrow piece of white grosgrain ribbon, cut to height.

    2. I spray painted the top of each of the disks with a non-toxic, flat metallic paint. The natural white of the disks didn't match my color theme and it would have prevented the white cupcake cups from standing out like I wanted them to. Plus, the paint helps prevent grease from soaking into the cardboard.

    3. I cut clear pieces of cellophane wrap to fit on the top of each disk. (The kind of wrap they use for gift baskets. It's in the wrapping paper section of any discount store.) I wanted to be sure no frosting or grease got on the stand.

    4. I cut pieces of wide, striped ribbon to cover the edges of each disk. The ribbon in the picture is by Martha Stewart (available at Michael's), but because she doesn't make one with a yellow stripe like I wanted, I glued a narrow yellow ribbon on top of her stripe (which was blue).

    Postlude: I haven't had a chance to use the stand again (there are only so many opportunities to serve 300 cupcakes), but I am going to purchase the smaller stand the manufacturer sells because I do often have occasion to serve about 50 cupcakes at a time. Anyway, I was extremely happy with how the whole project came off, from the design of the cupcakes (sketches through completion!) to the final presentation.

  2. Those have to be some of the tastiest-looking things I've ever seen in my life. Mmmmm...

  3. WOW!! Those are superrrrrrrrrrrr spectacularrrr!!! Thanks for entering the Cupcakes Spectacular 2008, Dana. some good job feeding people!! Cheers!

  4. They are gorgeous! The whole set up is splendid! Bravo!!

  5. Thanks, Tartlette! I've been reading your blog for quite some time and love it. (Which reminds me that I need to add it to the "favorite blogs" section of my own site!)

  6. Stunning presentation. How fun!

  7. How I love your cupcakes!! Still more because they are vegan - Will try it soon.

  8. Thank you for the compliments. "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" is a must-own book for any vegan baker; definitely pick it up if you don't already own it.