Strawberry Basil Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream

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.

IMG_4381I’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.

IMG_4348

Basil sugar

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

Make your cupcakes

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Make your basil sugar, following the link above in the ingredient list
  3. Use a medium mixing bowl, and mix your basil sugar, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  4. Add butter, then mix until it’s fully combined
  5. In a small mixing bowl, whisk your eggs, yogurt, oil and vanilla until the mixture is smooth
  6. Add your egg mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until it’s all just combined
  7. Fold in your strawberry puree, and mix until just combined
  8. Add in your milk, and mix until it’s just combined
  9. Line a cupcake pan with liners, and fill ’em up about 3/4 of the way
  10. 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
  11. Let cupcakes cool completely before you frost them

Make your frosting 

  1. First, whip up your basil powdered sugar using the link in the recipe list above
  2. 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
  3. Add your basil powdered sugar in increments, mixing in between each addition
  4. Mix in your regular powdered sugar in increments, mixing in between each addition
  5. Add in your salt, and mix thoroughly to make sure it’s evenly distributed
  6. Frost your cupcakes!
  7. Wow people with this totally unexpected-but-amazing flavor combo 🙂
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Lemon Basil Chocolate Chip Cookies

This cookie’s flavor is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

You know how most cookies with additions taste just like you’d imagine? Add M&Ms to a chocolate chip cookie, and you know what you’re going to get. But this cookie is a stunner, and far exceeded any expectations I had. It doesn’t taste like lemon, it doesn’t taste like basil. It just has this most delicious, inexplicable essence that I can’t quite describe. It feels sophisticated, fresh, satisfying. I guess you’ll all have to try it yourself to find out!

I had been eyeing this recipe for a while, and finally got to try it when I had leftover basil sitting around. This cookie takes some extra prep and waiting than other chocolate chip recipes, but it is definitely worth it. The recipe’s creator, Izy, calls it the “best ever chocolate chip cookie”- and I totally agree that this takes chocolate chip cookies to a whole new level.

You brown your butter with pieces of basil and lemon in there so that all those flavors meld into the butter. Then that butter becomes the base of a nicely balanced cookie. I was a little worried that my dough was so crumbly, but all fared fine once baked. The texture IS different than many other cookies- it’s still a little more sandy when it’s baked up. But it just adds textural intrigue rather than causing any issues.

I love the story behind these cookies, too. Lacoste asked Izy to create a recipe that mirrored the flavor notes of one of their perfumes. That perfume included verbena, chocolate and basil- so she decided to try those same “ingredients” in cookie form and loved how it turned out. I couldn’t find verbena so I followed Izy’s suggestion and subbed in lemon zest.

I took the first batch to a dinner party, and the second batch to work. I found that people were a bit split on whether they wanted to give it a shot: mentioning basil definitely scared some people away. But once someone actually tried the cookies, they were usually on board. I’d suggest keeping the ingredients a secret upfront and seeing what people say before you reveal that basil is in there! Often, people’s conceptions of ingredients steer them away from trying it, or even liking it once they DO try- so why not just keep it a secret and see what happens? It’s a very unique flavor but I doubt anyone could guess what’s in there if you don’t tell them upfront!

PS My final photos turned out terribly so if you want a better idea of what it will look like, check out Izy’s original post. Please. Because I want you to want to make these!

Lemon Basil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original recipe: Top with Cinnamon;  I’ve changed the instructions a bit and added commentary 

Yield: ~20 cookies 

Suggested equipment: Mixer makes it easier but you don’t need one 

Total Time: ~45 minutes plus however long you let it chill (minimum of 1 extra hour for that) 

Cook Time: ~10 minutes 

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup (4 tbsp) fresh basil leaves
  • Zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 10 tbsp butter (aka 2/3 a cup. Or you could just weigh your butter and aim for 5 oz, which is what I did)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup + 3 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 egg
  • 7 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. (I used Trader Joe’s semisweet chocolate chunks but you could use regular chocolate chips or chop up chocolate if you’d prefer something else)

Step by Step Directions

Get your add-ins ready

  1. Wash and pat dry the basil. It’s better to do this a bit early on so it’s not sopping wet when you add it into the butter
  2. Zest your lemon

Brown the butter

  1. Roughly chop your basil
  2. Add butter to a small saucepan and turn it to medium-low on the stove
  3. Add both the basil and lemon zest to that saucepan
  4. Brown the butter until it starts to smell nutty and gets sort of foamy. Butter burns fast so you really need to keep a close eye on it as it browns
  5. Once it’s browned, add the vanilla extract and stir it altogether
  6. Let the butter cool for 10 minutes before adding it to the dough

Make your dough

  1. Use a stand mixer or bowl to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt
  2. Once the butter is cool, strain the butter through a sieve so that you’re left with just the liquidy part and any browned butter specks; you want to strain out pieces of basil or lemon
  3. Add the butter into your dry ingredients and mix it all until it looks like “moist clumpy sand with no floury patches.” (Don’t worry if it looks really crumbly and like it won’t hold together. I was worried at this point in the recipe but it all came together just fine. It just won’t “come together” like most cookie doughs do)
  4. Add the egg and mix for a few seconds
  5. Add the chocolate and mix by hand so it’s distributed. Don’t over mix!

Form your cookies

A note: resist the urge to chill the dough in the mixing bowl instead of in pre-formed cookie scoops. I tried it in the bowl the first time and it was such a mess when I went to scoop the cookies later. It’s better to just chill them in the shape you want to bake with 

  1. Line your cookie sheets
  2. Scoop dough into a 1/4 cup measuring cup until it is full. You really will need to scoop it in because this dough is so crumbly
  3. Turn the scoop onto a lined cookie sheet, spacing them a bit apart so they don’t meld together when they bake
  4. Cover your tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate it up to 3 days. I did it for 1 day and it worked great but the longer you let it chill, the better flavors will blend

Bake your cookies

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400F
  2. Take your cookies out of the fridge and sprinkle each cookie with a moderate amount of sea salt. I did a very light sprinkle… but I don’t love tasting lots of salt
  3. Bake for 8-12 minutes until the cookies are a bit browned with set edges and a puffy center
  4. Let cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack