April Showers Bring May Berries

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