Last week was Organic Valley’s employee summer picnic. After a busy summer recovering from the fire, hosting the Kickapoo Country Fair, and dozens of other projects that have kept us all busy, it was great to have an evening to relax and hang out with fellow CROPPies. The dinner was catered by a local restaurant and the desert portion was pot-luck style. Two large tables were loaded down with sweets and there were so many delicious options it was hard to decide what to choose!
I’ve been itching to make a big, pretty cake for a while, but ultimately decided that cupcakes were more practical to prepare on a weeknight and serve at a picnic. The fancy cake will have to wait for a weekend. I used my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe for the cupcakes and filled them with a sweet strawberry filling. For the frosting, I used my ‘go-to’ Swiss meringue buttercream and added some melted chocolate and cocoa powder for a rich chocolate flavor. Swiss meringue buttercream is much lighter and less sweet than traditional buttercreams and I love both the texture and taste on cakes and cupcakes.
Combine the diced strawberries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally until the berries soften and release their juices. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the strawberry juice and pour it in a small bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch to create a paste, then add it back to the saucepan. Cook and stir for several minutes until bubbly and thickened. Remove from the heat and transfer to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with paper liners.
In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water then whisk until smooth. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend, then set aside.
Combine the butter and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter is completely melted. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed for 4-5 minutes until the mixture is cool. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and cocoa mixture. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
Divide the batter evenly between the 24 cupcake tins. Bake for about 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate chips over a double boiler*. Stir in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool slightly (when you add the chocolate to the frosting the chocolate should be mostly cool, but still soft enough to stir).
In a double boiler*, whisk the egg whites and sugar together. Heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove from heat and use an electric mixer to beat the eggs for about 6 minutes until they are cool, fluffy, and hold stiff peaks.
On medium-low speed, add the butter a few pieces at a time. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer on high and beat until smooth and creamy. Add salt, vanilla extract and the chocolate mixture; mix on high speed until combined. Swiss meringue buttercream can be finicky, if at any point the frosting appears curdled just let the mixer keep beating, it will eventually come together!
Use a small knife to cut a cone out of the center of the cupcake. Cut off the point of each cone, leaving a thin lid or cap. Spoon in the strawberry filling, then cover with the cap. Frost the cupcakes and enjoy!
*If you don't have a double boiler there is a very easy workaround. Just pour about 1/2 inch of water into a small saucepan and set a metal bowl over the top, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Heat the water to a low simmer. The steam from the water will heat the metal bowl and slowly and evenly cook or melt your ingredients. I don't have a double boiler in my kitchen either, but a bowl over a small saucepan will work perfectly!
A former member of CROPP’s Sustainability Department, Annie has relocated to Indiana but remains a CROPPie at heart. Annie has a M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana and continues to work in the field of environmental sustainability. When she and her yellow lab Boomer aren't outside exploring local hiking trails, Annie can usually be found in the kitchen. While she cooks for subsistence, Annie’s real passion lies in creating indulgent baked goods for friends and family.