Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Life is Liiiiike a Batch of Cupcakes

Recipe below: Strawberry Margarita Surprise Cupcakes

A healthy diet is all about balance. I’m a firm believer in working all the things you love into your life. Let’s be realistic. If you deny yourself something you truly love, how long are you going to be able to do it? And how happy are you going to be? And if you’re unhappy, what’s the point? Better to just figure out a way to work it in and be done with it. We’re not looking for temporary crash dieting here!

If we lived in a perfect world and could eat whatever we wanted with no repercussions, what foods would you ecstatically chow down on that you wouldn’t in this cruel, real world we live in? Me? It’s dessert! Ok technically, that’s not so much a food as a course, but how can you narrow down dessert? It’s one thing to justify high calorie foods that are also high in nutrients, but as much as I love them, desserts tend to be empty calories of processed flour and sugar. But I don’t care! I love to bake, and I love sweets after dinner. So I just find a way to work it in.

A friend asked me, after I told her about these cupcakes I’m about to drone on and on about, how I’m able to eat such things and stay so skinny. I told her I exercise a lot. And I do. But don’t just dismiss it! Getting fit really does just boil down to calories in and calories out. That’s boring, I know, but it’s true. Does that mean you have to meticulously count each calorie you eat and painstakingly track each calorie you burn everyday? Heck no! I mean, you can...but, ick! It’s all about finding what works for you. What’s really important is having a general understanding of what’s going in, and what’s coming out burning off. Some people like keeping a food journal. As much as I love documenting what I eat (via this here bloggy blog), I hate keeping a food journal. Go figure! There are websites to track and calculate exact calories in your meals, but that’s another post. The main idea is to have an idea of how many calories you’re consuming each day. I’m just talking in the general sense, here. Like, you ate a 1/2lb hamburger topped with a hot link and a side of fries vs. you ate a salad with grilled chicken on top.  But all that is another post because today I want to talk about exercise.

Anyone still here? Oh, I think I see someone in the back! You’ll be so glad you stayed.

A lot of us, including myself until very recently, have forgotten how important it is to move around! With everything at our fingertips, we’re lifeless blobs! Convenience is on its way to being a sin, and I’ve already embraced gluttony, so it’s off the table because I think we're only allowed one. Of course, one woman’s sin is another woman’s motivation! See, I love to eat. I don’t just love food (and oh do I ever love food...), I love the act of eating. I chew ridiculous amounts of gum between meals, just to keep my mouth busy...

[insert dirty joke here]

And since I love to eat ever so much, if I want to keep my trim figure up, I’ve got to run, run, run! The hardest part about starting an exercise routine is that starting part. The key here is routine, as in something you do more than once, regularly even! It's easy to try something once or twice, but really sticking with a regular exercise program is by far the hardest part about getting in shape, I think. The good news is, once you commit and keep it up, it becomes a part of your life, and thus, it becomes easier.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel!  It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you’re moving around. Though it does make sense to pick an activity you actually enjoy. Now don’t cop out on me people! I will maintain that anyone can find some activity they can do regularly they don’t completely hate. If you belong to a gym you never go to, chances are the gym maybe isn’t your thing. Try saving some money and finding other modes of movement! I didn’t know until I tried that I actually just preferred walking (and eventually running) around my neighborhood. Have a Wii? Try one of the many fitness games they have (and email me if you want some reviews). Try hiking somewhere scenic in your area, or a lake or forest or the beach! There’s always sports like tennis, basketball, or soccer, but since they require a friend, it’s best to find a lone activity for the everyday. The point is, move around, and do it several times a week. You don’t have to devote hours and hours to every workout. My motto is something is better than nothing. I know everybody’s daily lives are hectic and...well...packed!  It’s hard to imagine working more into your day, but trust me, it's all about baby steps. Once you work in 10 minutes, before you know it, you’ll find yourself extending it to 15. That’s how I started and look at me now! I learned to make exercising a priority in my routine and just...worked it in!  A little bit at a time.

And just one more quick rant: don't cop out on yourself!  Don't be one of those people that tries exercising once, doesn't see results, and then gives up.  It takes time, and you know it.  Don't be one of those people that chooses an activity that doesn't raise their heart rate above what it would take to get off the couch and go to the bathroom.  Exercising burns calories because your heart rate is raised.  Higher heart rate = more calories burned.  And this isn't really wrong, I just think it's silly: don't drive the two blocks to the gym (a ten minute walk, tops), and then walk on a treadmill once you get there!  There are a thousand and one excuses to not work out, and all they do is help you justify skipping something you aren't excited to do.  In the end, it's just a cop out.  Save the excuses.  You're in charge of yourself, and it's far better to just be honest with yourself.  If you don't want to exercise, then don't!  But no cake for you!

Ok, enough about exercise. Let’s talk dessert! I know they’re disgustingly trendy right now, but I’m kind of into cupcakes lately. They’re just so pleasantly pre-proportioned! And cake is so fluffy and sweet! And frosting! I love frosting. I could eat it by the spoonful. And when I say "could", I of course mean I totally have.  When I fill a pastry bag with frosting, I’m tempted to just squeeze it right into my gullet. Just tempted, haven't actually done that one...yet.  And by pastry bag, I mean a ziplock with the bottom corner cut off.  We're fancy at Chez Julie.

And now that my latest deep, dark secrets are out in the open, let’s talk about these cupcakes! They were awesome! The cake was light and fluffy, moist and delicious. It’s the buttermilk. Buttermilk does magical things with baked goods. And full of fruit! You’ll notice from the picture below that my strawberries sank to the bottom, which doesn’t so much matter to the overall flavor, but doesn’t make for such a pretty pic. It’s all about presentation! But fear not, I have a trick! By tossing the strawberries with a little flour, the theory is they stay properly suspended. I had to guess at how much flour to use, since obviously I'm coming up with it after the fact, so more flour might be necessary.  I've heard about this trick many times in the past, but I've never tried it, so you'll be like my guinea pigs!  Naw, it'll work.  If you're worried, you could always puree the strawberries first and just fold them into the batter, but I liked the burst of fresh berry goodness.

Mere cupcakes with frosting are not enough to fully excite me. Oh no. Not anymore.  I need to fill them. Because really, these are margarita cupcakes. Sure, there’s lime in the cupcakes, and lime in the frosting, but it’s just a hint. My cupcakes need that sour bite!  My lime needs to shine! By filling the center with lime curd, it gives the cupcakes a bright burst of citrus flavor. Delicious flavor! I love filling cupcakes. It’s a great way to sneak in another layer of flavor, and you never see it coming!  It's a surprise inside every cupcake.  They should change the saying to "Life is liiiiike a batch of cupcakes..."  See, those crazy post titles explain themselves eventually.

And who doesn’t love lime curd? Ok, probably plenty of people...but they don't exist to me.  Ever made your own citrus curd? It sounds intimidating, doesn't it? It’s actually super easy to make, as long as you keep one thing in mind: don’t leave the stove! It’s easy, but it’s also kind of a pain, unless you want scrambled eggs. But it’s only for a little while, and it only requires you to stir. Buck up and push through!

[Full disclosure: tequila doesn't come through very strong in baked goods.  In future batches, I'm still going to use it, and I still liked it in there.  Just don't expect a punch in the face like you can get with a stronger alcohol, like bourbon.  And if you're really in need of booze with only a little tequila left in the pantry, maybe just leave it out and drink a shot instead.]

This was my first time attempting swiss meringue buttercream, and not only was it a resounding success, it made a believer out of me. It’s light as a cloud and oh so delicate! The strawberry jam adds a refreshing flavor, and it’s nice and light to go with the texture. And delicate.  Just note these cupcakes don’t keep quite as well as a regular buttercream because the meringue hardens a bit in the fridge. But they still stay tasty!  And delicate!  And light!  It's like the strawberry frosting flavor is delivered to your mouth and you just have no idea how it got there.

These cupcakes really came together beautifully. The overall lightness of textures went really great with the more delicate and bright flavors of the fruit. Since it won’t weigh you down, it’s a great sweet treat on a hot summer day! This is a cupcake I will always make room for in my daily calorie bank!

Strawberry Margarita Surprise Cupcakes
(aka: strawberry lime tequila cupcakes with lime curd filling and a strawberry lime tequila swiss meringue that?)
cupcakes adapted from Annie’s Eats
buttercream adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes about 18 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
generous 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 TB tequila
1 TB lime zest
2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup AP flour

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line the muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
  2. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated, then add the buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and tequila and mix until fully combined.
  3. Sift the cake flour, baking soda, and salt together and stir into the batter until just combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, toss the strawberries with the AP flour and lime zest. Add more flour if it’s not enough to coat the whole batch. Gently fold the strawberries into the batter.
  5. Fill the cupcake liners with the batter, leaving about a 1/2 inch from the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a cake tester (i.e. toothpick) comes out clean. Cool completely.

For the lime curd:
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 TB unsalted butter, melted

In a small saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lime juice, and butter and cook over moderately low heat. Taste the mixture (if you’re comfortable with the raw egg, which I know many people smarter than I are not) and add more sugar if it’s not sweet enough (I don't like it too sweet). Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes (that means when you run your finger along the coating on the back of the spoon, it should leave a line rather than running back together). Be sure not to let it boil or sit long enough to curdle. Strain curd through a fine mesh strainer and set aside to cool.

For the buttercream:
1 pound fresh strawberries, finely chopped
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 tsp salt
1 TB lime juice
1 tsp lime zest
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

(makes about 2 cups)

  1. Set a small pot over medium heat. Add the strawberries, 1/2 cup of sugar, tequila, salt, lime juice, and lime zest and simmer gently until a thickened syrup forms, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.  Once cooled, you can either puree the mixture or leave it in chunks.  I left mine chunky.
  2. Set a bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Add the egg whites and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and whisk constantly over the heat until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is warm when you stick your finger in it (about 160 degrees).
  3. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until stiff peaks form (not too dry though). Test this by removing the whisk attachment, swirling it around the mixture, and pulling it straight up and turning it rightside-up to face you. If they are properly whipped up, a small droopy peak should stick up on the very tip of the whisk.
  4. Switch to the paddle attachment on the stand mixer, and beat the butter into the egg mixture on a medium-low speed, a few tablespoons at a time. Make sure the butter is fully incorporated before adding the next batch. If mixture separates after all the butter is mixed in, beat at a medium-high speed for a few minutes until it comes back together. Add the vanilla, beating it at medium-low speed, then turn the speed all the way down to low and mix for a couple of minutes to remove any extra air.
  5. Gently fold in the strawberry jam mixture with a rubber spatula and stir until the buttercream is smooth.

Note: Feel free to use store-bought strawberry jam instead of basically making your own, and just cook it on the stove with the other ingredients for a few minutes until it comes together.

To assemble the cupcakes:

  1. Using a pairing knife inserted at an angle, cut out a small cone-shaped chunk, about a 1 inch circle from the top of each cupcake. Fill the hole with the lime curd, about 1 teaspoon worth. You can either replace the chunk you removed, or eat it! leave it off.
  2. Fill a pastry bag (or ziplock with the bottom corner cut off) with the frosting and go to town on your cupcakes. Or, you know, just use a spatula.


  1. I love making swiss buttercream. I've found it so much easier than regular buttercream with the hot syrup and whatnot.

    And I love, love, LOVE fresh fruit in frostings. SO GOOD!