BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

April Showers Bring May Berries

51 Comments

Though April may feel like a thing of the distant past, long gone and almost entirely forgotten, it was indeed a rainy one. Gloomy, grey, and wet, it teased mercilessly of a lingering winter, a chill that could not be shaken embedded deep within the core of every moment. Finishing with hurricanes and floods, April sure did go out like a lion this year. But May, oh, lovely little May, did she ever make up for the previous month’s cruelty. Literally overnight, buds on trees appeared and exploded in a flourish of aromatic petals and vibrant green leaves. A forecast filled with nothing but sun for a full week, paired with temperatures around the mid-60’s? I think I can manage with that.

For all the anguish and strife caused by the nature of April, it always feels worth it once we emerge on the other side, into the glorious warmth that is inseparable from spring. Little did I know, there is even more reason to rejoice at the arrival of May; Apparently, it’s also National Strawberry Month. Though this declaration strikes me as being a bit premature, since local strawberries aren’t quite ready for the picking for another week or two, I’m happy to take the opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite fruits even more than usual.

Keeping things sweet and simple, all I wanted was a comforting, classic, strawberry cupcake. Bolstered by a base of strawberry puree in the cake, and topped off with a fresh strawberry frosting, these straight-forward but satisfying treats allow the berries to truly shine. Nothing fancy, no unexpected ingredients or big surprises, but a dessert that quite nearly flew off the kitchen counter as soon as my hungry family laid eyes on it.

What’s worth noting here is the topper- My new favorite means of decoration, as demonstrated by a little red heart this time around. Can you guess what it’s made of, and how?

Yes, it’s strawberry fruit leather! Provided by Stretch Island, I knew I wanted to do something different with these natural fruit snacks, other than just devouring them on the go. Since I have yet to taste fondant worth eating, I’m thrilled to find that fruit leather make for an excellent substitute when it comes to cutting out simple flat shapes like this. All you need are small cookie cutter that fit the size of the leather, and any fruit-flavored confetti or sprinkle you desire is at your fingertips. Although I usually purchase Trader Joe’s fruit leather based merely on the price point, I must admit, the splurge for Stretch Island would be worth it… It struck me how much softer and more flavorful it was!

Since I’ve been very disappointed by various strawberry frostings in the past, most of which are either bland or watery, this topping seemed noteworthy, despite its simplicity. If you’re still feeling stuck for the cake, simply take your favorite recipe for vanilla cupcakes, and swap out the non-dairy milk for fresh strawberry puree. Try throwing in a few chopped berries for added texture, too!

Strawberry Frosting

1/2 Cup Strawberry Puree Reduction*
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
Pinch Salt
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*The strawberry puree reduction is ultra simple to make, but you must have patience. Just take fresh strawberries (at least 1/2 pound, but it’s easier to work with if you start with more berries and make extra puree) and thoroughly puree them in your blender or food processor, until completely smooth. If you prefer your frosting to be seedless, go ahead and strain your puree before proceeding. Transfer the berry goo into a medium sauce pan, and set over medium-low heat. Allow it to simmer gently until reduced by half; the amount of time will vary depending on the size and shape of your pot, so make sure you keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. Let cool completely, and measure out 1/2 cup for the frosting.

Place the 1/2 cup of strawberry puree reduction into a medium sauce pan, along with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk vigorously to dissipate any lumps of starch before turning on the heat to medium. Continue whisking gently until the mixture thickens and large bubbles begin to break on the surface. This won’t take very long since it’s a small amount of liquid, so don’t walk away! It takes mere seconds for it to scorch miserably on the bottom. Let cool to room temperature, and then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Move the whole pot into your fridge to chill thoroughly- This should take about 1 – 2 hours.

Once the thickened strawberry mixture is completely chilled, place the margarine and sugar (yes, granulated! Do not try using confectioner’s here) in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream together until homogenous. Don’t rush this step, as thorough creaming ensures that the sugar granules actually dissolve into the frosting; Allow a solid 3 – 5 minutes here, depending on how cold the margarine is. Finally, add the cooled strawberry mix into the bowl, along with the vanilla. Scrape down the sides as needed, and whip on high speed until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Again, patience is key, so give it time and you will be rewarded!

Makes Enough to Frost 1 Dozen Cupcakes Generously

Printable Recipe

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Author: Hannah (BitterSweet)

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

51 thoughts on “April Showers Bring May Berries

  1. Strawberry fruit leather? That sounds amazing…although I never tried fruit leather. Your weather seems to be similar to ours. We just got the first German strawberries. Definitely my favourite fruit and definitely the perfect fruit for cupcakes.

  2. I agree with you that real strawberry flavored frostings are usually lackluster. I’d been thinking that a reduction would be a good solve and you’ve gone and proven it. I also agree about national strawberry month! It feels like this is only accurate in California, why not wait until June so the rest of us can celebrate?

  3. looks very divine! And i agree, most strawberry frosting (or flavored anything) is lackluster to the flavor of an actual strawberry. My middle child will be 8 next month (perfect timing for strawberries in upstate NY!), and this will be perfect on cupcakes for her class, or at home with family.

    i do wonder if this would work well with blueberries too… not only for my son (who’ll be 5 next month as well), but also would pair nicely with the strawberry frosting on a 4th of July dessert :) i may just try it anyways :)

    • I don’t see why blueberries wouldn’t work- Or raspberries, blackeberries, or any other berries, for that matter! With the seedier varieties though, I would much more strongly recommend straining the puree. Give it a try, and let me know what you think! :)

  4. We’re actually already nearing the end of strawberry season here in CA–strange, given that the berries are just starting to appear elsewhere in the States. I didn’t know that May is National Strawberry Month; it makes perfect sense.

    I’m intrigued by the use of granulated rather than powdered sugar for this frosting, but it looks like your method worked beautifully. The cupcake pictured looks flawless.

  5. These are magnificent and I love the idea of using the Stretch Island fruit leather for decoration. We go through CASES of those in our home. I love how you describe May as ‘emerging on the other side’ of April. Beautiful words, beautiful photos, beautiful recipe. Thank you!!

  6. May has definitely been super beautiful so far! I just want to be outside every chance I get! Now if I could be outside WHILE eating strawberries….man I’d be content. These cupcakes look delicious!

  7. I hope I can try this out tomorrow, it looks delicious!

  8. oh Hannah they are beautiful. I must say I am a bit jealous of your weather, it is in the mid 90’s here and working on getting hotter. I took a bike ride to my fav veg restaurant yesterday, and today I am a sun-burned lobster. I think I must have sweat off all of my sunblock! yikes!!

  9. These are so adorable!! I love your use of the fruit leather to make the hearts. Love it!

  10. Yummy cupcake!! Berries make anything so much tastier :D

  11. I’m so glad I know you Hannah (well at least virtually) because you always bring such brilliance into my life. Thank you for the fantastic garnish idea. I can think of so many different ways to use that suggestion. I’m pretty excited :)

  12. That is one cute cupcake :)

  13. You know what? I’m glad my birthday month is full of hope for people somewhere in the world. Down here in Australia, we’ve had some cracker-awful freezing days, and it makes me sad!

  14. So pretty! I love strawberry season & I love the idea of cutting shapes out of fruit leather.

  15. What a great use for fruit leather, it makes such a pretty decoration! Love the consistency of your strawberry frosting, it really looks perfect!

  16. That cupcake! I think I am in love! I love the specks of strawberry seeds goig through the frosting and the fruit leather idea!!!!! Can I copy?!! :D I wish I could hire you to be my personal photographer too. haha I know I have told you this before but your photo skills are AWESOME!

  17. Looks so yummy! Love strawberries, the fruit leather topping is a brilliant touch! :-)

  18. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!! Seriously, your photos just make me smile!

  19. Gorgeous. But, to be honest, I’d likely just use strawberry preserves from a jar here :P I’m a little lazy.

  20. I found your blog through Caroline’s…my lucky day :)

  21. Wow, that sounds like a great frosting. I have some extra strawberries in the fridge to use, too. I know what I’m making this weekend.

  22. This frosting looks dive and I absolutely love the idea of leather for decorations. I LOVE fruit leather so much. :-)

  23. Just made some of this! Excellent! Saw the picture on Pinterest and pinned it! Definitely a keeper among my favorite buttercream recipes! LOVE the fluffiness of the texture!! Thanks for this post!!!

  24. I made this frosting to go on my 3-tiered cake (9″, 6″, 3″). I used half butter and half spectrum vegetable shortening as I’m a lacto-vegetarian. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. I used a paddle for creaming & a whip attachment to whip at high speed. But my frosting now is a bit RUNNY. How to thicken it up to fill & frost my cake? HELP…….

  25. Pingback: Strawberry on a Cupcake | Oats and Beans and Baby Grow

  26. Hi Hannah ! Love your idea of using a fruit leather as an adornment. And sweet too !! I was wondering ……… Can I use brown sugar in place of the granulated white sugar ? Will it affect the texture or outcome of the frosting ?

    • Hi Vanessa,

      I haven’t tried it personally, but I really wouldn’t recommend using brown sugar here. It’s more hygroscopic, which means it’s more attracted to water molecules, and so the frosting will likely turn out to watery to pipe. Also, I just don’t think that the added molasses flavor would work very well here.

  27. So would substituting with regular butter work? For us non-vegans (:

    • hi chris, this frosting is a knock out as is incredible taste and appearance – dont’t change it! i just made this frosting in a few batches, one with butter. i wouldn’t do it again with butter as the colour is not as pink – more salmon from the yellow butter. ! also tried it with icing sugar – tastes the same but gives a curdled appearance. making a blueberry version today. happy cooking

      • I made it yesterday with regular butter and a just a sprinkling of powdered sugar too. It was fantastic and turned out perfect!

  28. Hi there,

    did anyone try to use oil instead of margarine? Could it work? And what about coconut oil?

    Greetings from Germany

    • Hi Stella- Being that it is a frosting and needs structure from the fat, liquid oil will not work, and neither will coconut oil. The texture is simply not right. I’m glad you asked, because that could have been a very disappointing experiment!

  29. Thanks a lot for the recipe….I just used the recipe for the frosting.
    I replaced the cornstarch with rice flour though as I did not have that at hand and I may have used more strawberries in the end and it really turned out well.

  30. I made this again – this time using only Spectrum shortening. The SUGAR DID NOT DISSOLVE even after 15 – 20 minutes. So, I proceeded with the recipe anyway. It tasted great but could not pipe but I frosted the cake using spatula. WHERE am I going WRONG? The frosting was not firm enough to pipe like your photo.

    • Hi Clarice- The problem is the shortening. To answer your other question, there is a difference between the two, and that’s what preventing the sugar from dissolving. Shortening typically is 100% fat or close to it, while margarine is more like 85% fat and 15% water. It’s that water that allows the sugar to melt.

      • WOW…..That’s a revelation. Thanks. I have never seen “Vegan margarine” even at Whole foods. Either there is the Spectrum shortening (which I have been using all along) or there is the “Vegan buttery sticks”. Or some kind of “spread”. So, is there any specific brand? Does it actually say “margarine” on the package?

      • The “buttery sticks” are exactly what you’re looking for! Made by Earth Balance, the sticks are what I use for baking (NOT what’s packaged in tubs). “Margarine” is just a more generic term, although it’s taken on some negative connotations in the past few years, which is why Earth Balance tries to avoid it.

  31. AND 1 more QUESTION: What is the difference between vegan Shortening & vegan Margarine? So far, I have been thinking both are the same and one can be substituted for the other when a recipe calls for either one.

  32. Thanks Hannah. Your website is not ‘bitter’ at all but just ‘sweet’ !! Guess WHAT? I have the “buttery sticks” sitting in my fridge always. I use it for “sandwich spread”. OMG….NOW I know……better late than never….

  33. If a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, can I use cake flour for CUPCAKES or cakes ? Will there be a difference in texture or a disaster?

    • Cake flour is lower in protein and gluten, which is what gives the cake structure. If the batter already has a lot of liquid, substituting all purpose flour for cake flour could result in sunken or over-risen and then collapsed cake. If that’s all you have on hand, I would recommend adding an extra 2 tablespoons of cake flour for every cup of all purpose flour you replace.

  34. I’m on a strawberry mission here. I went to the strawberry farm in late May and froze a big basket of strawberries the day I picked. So, they are all teasing me. I already made a strawberry napoleon, strawberry shortcake. And now, I’m gonna try this cupcake for the third time. Earlier, when I used a vegan recipe to bake cupcakes, my cupcakes baked slightly mounded and sank a bit in the center when cooled. Now, how EXACTLY should a well-baked cupcake look like?

    • It sounds like there’s either too much baking powder in the recipe, or the cupcakes were pulled from the oven before they were entirely baked through. For the leavener, there should never be more than 2 teaspoons of baking powder and soda combined (and that’s the absolute upper limit; it’s usually less) for 1 dozen cupcakes. To make sure they’re done baking, insert a toothpick into the center of a cupcake when you think they’re done. Once removed, the toothpick should remain dry, and not covered in batter (a clear sign that they need to cook for longer.) Good luck!

  35. I just made this and it is REALLY RUNNY!! I followed the recipe exactly and I’ve been whipping it forever and the consistency never changes. What could I have done wrong? I used margarine from a tub instead of a stick, would that matter?

    • Unfortunately, tub margarine DOES make a very big, negative difference. It has much more water to make it more spreadable straight from the fridge, so it won’t hold up as well in many recipes. This is a case where it really matters to use the sticks.

  36. Has anyone tried using home made jam in place of the fruit purée? I curious to know if it would work

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