Lemon Strawberry Cilantro Cupcakes

I promise this is the last post about strawberries for awhile. I know it is low on the local ingredients, but I did use local eggs and milk from the Farmers Cow. Indulge me a little bit, I miss getting to bake every day.

Local strawberries always remind me of my friend Zephir who happens to be the better half of one of my oldest friends Jeff. When I was in culinary school, I did my baking internship at a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard. This also happened the first summer Jeff and Zephir moved to the vineyard, so Jeff could run the hostile. Zephir is my most favorite cook in the whole wide world. I always love cooking meals with her. That summer she had a job at another bakery, and we both had Tuesday’s off which we spent exploring the island as it was new to both of us. One of our first adventures involved riding bikes to pick our own strawberries and it’s one of my fondest memories. Locally berries often tend to be on the smaller side and Zephir takes delight in proving my brother’s theory that all things in miniature are adorable. So whenever I get a pint of tiny local berries I think of her and about my time on the vineyard.

She and Jeff are still out there, but they have moved on to bigger and better things and run their own farm – The GOOD farm –  located in Vineyard Haven. They were both key in introducing me to the wonders of local fresh ingredients. So in honor of Zephir I created a special cupcake using the last of the berries from our CSA share.

She’s gluten and dairy free these days so the cupcake would be off limits to her, but I’m sure she would appreciate the flavor combinations, and maybe if I’m lucky she will come up with a version that suits her diet and let me feature it in the blog.

On to the cupcake, it’s a lemon butter milk cupcake filled with cilantro and lemon zest infused pastry cream and topped off with a Swiss meringue strawberry butter cream frosting. Here’s how I went at it:

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Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes

2 2/3 c. cake flour 1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp baking soda 4 eggs
1/4 tsp salt ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. sugar zest of one lemon
1 c. unsalted butter juice of one lemon

Preheat oven to 350

Line cupcake pans with baking cups

Sift together dry ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy

Add eggs one at a time while continuing to beat creamed butter/sugar, scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula between each egg

Add vanilla, lemon juice and zest to creamed mixture

Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry, mixing until just combined (remember to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula)

Fill cupcake baking cups 2/3 full.

I mostly made mini-cupcakes so I could increase the number of test tasters. I brought them to a family party and got good reviews, but you know, they may have been biased as my family is pretty great and all about the love and support.

For the Pastry Cream

1 c. whole milk ½ vanilla bean or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 c. sugar 1 Tbs. butter
3 egg yolks 1/3 c. fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. cornstarch 1 tsp. lemon zest

First combine the milk and ½ of the sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan and place on very low heat, whisk to dissolve sugar.

Split the ½ vanilla bean lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape each side of the bean. Add scrapings and the remaining bean case to the milk. Add cilantro and lemon zest as well and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally.  The sugar will help keep the milk from scalding but I like to keep the heat as low as possible to maximize time for infusing the flavors. The milk should not come to a boil.

Keep an eye on the milk and stir occasionally.

Whisk together egg yolks and cornstarch and other half of sugar in a separate bowl.

When the milk is hot enough temper it in to the egg mixture slowly while pouring through a mesh sieve to remove cilantro and bean pod. The point is to introduce the heat slowly to the yolks so they don’t immediately start to cook.

Once all the milk has been added to the yolks whisk to combine and then pour through the sieve again back into the sauce pan.

Heat the mixture over medium heat while whisking constantly, makes sure to get the rim of the bottom of the pan at that is the area that will burn first if you are not keeping the heat low enough.

Bring the mixture to a boil; it will start to thicken at this point. I like to keep whisking and let the mixture boil for a few minutes to insure the cream will be thick because I always cut my cold pastry cream with whip cream to reduce the egginess flavor and if it’s not thick enough to start it will get runny. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so that it is touching the surface of the cream to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate.

Once the pastry cream has cooled I like to cut it a little with whipped cream. Since I really wanted to infuse the cilantro and lemon flavor into the filling for the cupcakes I first simmered the cream for about 10 minutes with about a cup of fresh cilantro and the zest of half a lemon. Then I let in cool in the refrigerator with without removing the cilantro and zest until I was ready to fill my cupcakes.

At that point I strained the cream, whipped it up and folded it into the pastry cream. I like to start with about a half cup of whipped cream and then add more if I think it needs it. It’s all dependent on personal preference; you really don’t have to add the whipped cream to the pastry cream if you like the richness without it, I was going for something lighter and more summery so I cut mine.

For the Strawberry butter cream

4 egg whites

1 1/3 c. sugar

1 lb butter, softened and cut into chunks

2 c. fresh strawberries

Puree the strawberries and set aside

Fill a pan with about two inches or so of water and let simmer. Combine the egg whites and sugar in bowl of kitchen aid mixer and place on top of simmering water. Whisk the sugar and egg whites until they reach 160 degrees. You don’t really need a thermometer for this but if it’s your first time making Swiss butter cream I suggest it because you do not want to cook the eggs. I usually just heat them until it’s slightly uncomfortable when I stick my finger in there. Not the most precise of methods but it works for me. When I was in pastry school my instructor used to call it the ouch test.

One the whites have reached the desired temperature beat them until they form stiff glossy peaks continue to whisk at a lower speed and add the butter one piece at a time.

It can look like your butter cream is breaking if the meringue was too hot when you added the butter, but if you cool it down and continue to beat it will get to the desired consistency.

Now it’s time to add the pureed strawberries, you can switch to the paddle if you’re worried about the frosting becoming too airy, but I just continued with the whisk.

Now that you have all the components it’s time to assemble the cupcakes. I use a paring knife cut out a wedge in the center of the cupcake.  Then I put the pastry cream in a pastry bag to fill the cupcakes. If you use a plastic one you don’t even need a tip. Just snip the end off.

Once all the cupcakes are filled, frost them with the strawberry butter cream. I usually pipe the frosting on in a circular motion using a star tip. I also topped each one off with some tiny berries that I had left over.

I’m hoping Zephir, and Jefferson, as he is calling himself these days (way too long of a story to get into and he will always be JD to me, but since most people know him as Jefferson of the GOOD Farm I am begrudgingly going with it for now) will let me do a detailed post about their farm, after they have time from their crazy busy summer schedules to host me for a visit once things settle down in the fall.

I’m also hoping both Zephir and Jefferson will guest post for me one of these days as they both are fantastic chefs and have taught me a lot. Some of my best memories are cooking meals with them.

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