A couple of months ago, we had a cooking challenge at work. There was only one rule: you had to use basil. People tried all kinds of recipes, from pesto to pizza. But the minute I heard the challenge, I knew I had to bake with basil, rather than cooking with it.
I’d baked with basil before, and loved these lemon basil chocolate chip cookies from a bit ago. So, I had good faith in basil as a baking ingredient. Now I just needed the perfect recipe. Given that 1) I work at Pinterest and 2) I’m obsessed with Pinterest, it felt pretty appropriate to turn to Pinterest for ideas. I stumbled on this recipe for basil cupcakes, and knew I’d found my winner.
And this recipe was a winner in every sense of the word. The cupcakes turned out great….and I won the cooking challenge, too! I ended up submitting two entries, and will share the other recipe another time (hint: it involves tangerine).
For now, let’s talk about these cupcakes. When you bake with herbs, you have a few options. You can throw the herb directly into batter, infuse it into an ingredient, or mix it into an ingredient. This recipe takes the latter route, and you mix bits of basil into regular sugar for the cake, then powdered sugar for the frosting.
I loved the cupcakes the minute I tasted them: strawberry’s sweetness balances nicely with basil’s earthiness. And since the basil is mixed into the sugar, you don’t get distinct bites of basil as you chomp on the cake. At first, I wasn’t so sure about the frosting, though. I tried a bit of it on its own and couldn’t decide if it was distinctly delicious, or too salty, or too basil-y. I figured the only way to know for sure was to slather it on some cupcakes, and pass them out to taste testers.
Readers, let me tell you: do not doubt the basil buttercream. It was the perfect complement to the strawberry cupcakes, and worked really well once you took a bite of cake and frosting together. It’s super hard to explain what it tastes like, but every bite of cupcake gives you a really nice range of flavors. You get a bit of saltiness, then herb-ish flavors, and then the sweetness of the strawberry cake.
You’ll need to try this recipe to see what I mean! It’s probably not a cake flavor you’ve ever dreamt of before…but trust me, you should give it a shot.
Strawberry Basil Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream
Original recipe: Cupcake Project. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Suggested equipment: Food processor, mixer
Total Time: ~1 hour, 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
For the cupcakes
- 1 cup basil sugar (Make this first; you’ll need 1 cup sugar and 1 handful fresh basil leaves)
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup greek yogurt (plain)
- 1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup fresh strawberry puree (I used 7 strawberries)
For the frosting
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups basil powdered sugar (you’ll need 2 cups sugar, and 2 handfuls of basil)
- 2 cups regular powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Make your cupcakes
- Preheat your oven to 350F
- Make your basil sugar, following the link above in the ingredient list
- Use a medium mixing bowl, and mix your basil sugar, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
- Add butter, then mix until it’s fully combined
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk your eggs, yogurt, oil and vanilla until the mixture is smooth
- Add your egg mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until it’s all just combined
- Fold in your strawberry puree, and mix until just combined
- Add in your milk, and mix until it’s just combined
- Line a cupcake pan with liners, and fill ’em up about 3/4 of the way
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the cupcakes bounce back a little when you touch the tops. Mine took 19 minutes on the dot
- Let cupcakes cool completely before you frost them
Make your frosting
- First, whip up your basil powdered sugar using the link in the recipe list above
- In a mixing bowl or mixer, beat your butter until it’s light and fluffy. It should take just a few minutes if you use a mixer on high speed
- Add your basil powdered sugar in increments, mixing in between each addition
- Mix in your regular powdered sugar in increments, mixing in between each addition
- Add in your salt, and mix thoroughly to make sure it’s evenly distributed
- Frost your cupcakes!
- Wow people with this totally unexpected-but-amazing flavor combo 🙂