FABulous Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

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Graham cracker. Cream cheese. Cake. Strawberries. Need I say more?

For my BFFAEAE’s 30th birthday, I searched and searched for the perfect recipe and finally discovered the winner: strawberry cheesecake cupcakes. What could be better for a low key girls’ night in than that?

It was one of the more ambitious cakes I’ve tried, so ambitious that about halfway through I started sending desperate Plan B texts to the birthday girl. But then, they came out of the oven, and you know what?

A. MA. ZING.

Seriously. The biggest hit ever. At the office, with the hubs, and – most importantly – with the BFF. So good, in fact, that I made them again within a couple of weeks – this time, with some tweaks to make it my own.

FABulous* Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes
Adapted from Tortillas and Honey

Graham Cracker Crust:
2 pre-made graham cracker pie crusts
3 Tbs of melted butter

Cupcakes:
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature ( 1 1/2 sticks)
1 c.  + 2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. sour cream
4 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 c. fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8 oz.) packet of cream cheese, room temperature
8 Tbs. salted butter, room temperature (1 sticks)
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners. Pour both graham cracker crusts into a medium bowl and break up all large pieces until you’re left with crumbs. Add melted butter and mix evenly (I used a whisk). Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of the crushed graham cracker into the bottom of each prepared muffin tin. Press down to create your crust and bake for 4-6 minutes or until slightly browned (Remember: they’re going to get baked again with the cake, so don’t overcook).  Remove immediately from oven and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Next, add half the flour mixture until incorporated, then mix in the sour cream. Add remaining flour and mix until just blended.

Now. This is where I got nervous. The batter was much thicker than I expected. Much thicker. More like a cookie dough. Don’t worry. It’ll all be okay. Promise.

Add the egg whites into a clean bowl in your stand-up mixer with the whisk attachment. Start on low speed and add the cream of tartar slowly.

Why cream of tartar? Well, the hubs has started falling asleep to Good Eats with Alton Brown every night. Just after I made this the first time, we watched an episode where Alton was beating egg whites and he mentioned this idea. I was skeptical, so I searched around, found others who did the same, and ultimately asked the second most trusted baking advisor (after my Nana, of course): my dad. He concurred that it helped to stabilize the egg whites and keep them from collapsing. So I went with it.

Gradually work the mixer up to high speed and beat the egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks appear, about 3-5 minutes, careful not to overbeat.

Gently fold 1/3 of the egg into the batter until combined. Add remaining egg and fold in the chopped strawberries. Fill each muffin tin about 3/4 of the way. I like to use a good 1/4 cup measuring cup, just because it seems to work out (and not because I am that exact, believe me). For this recipe, I fill them a tiny bit more than others, since there is added height from the strawberries. Bake for about 18 minutes depending on your oven. Start lower than you think it will take, and use the toothpick test! When it’s clean, they’re ready.

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Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes, then place on wire racks (or just out of the way) to cool completely.

For the cream cheese frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the heavy cream and beat until it starts to get fluffy. (I do this with most of my frostings because I find it makes for a lighter topping and helps it hold up for piping without needing as much sugar.)

Now for the sugar. Confession: I don’t really like icing. It’s way too sweet for me. For this recipe, since I was going for a cheesecake feel, I especially wanted to go light on the sugar to get closer to a cheesecake taste than a super sweet buttercream. I generally add sugar slowly (and without measuring) until it tastes okay and is thick/stiff enough to pipe onto the cupcakes. For this recipe, I used around two cups of powdered sugar, but you could easily add more without it being too sweet. At this point, it’s all a matter of taste.

Add the sugar slowly in small batches, beating on low speed until incorporated. Once all sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and mix until light and fluffy. Spread or pipe onto the cupcakes and garnish with leftover graham cracker crumbs or strawberries or both!

 

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I usually don’t refrigerate my cupcakes, mostly because they get eaten pretty quickly, either at work or whatever function I’m making them for (or the hubs). For these, to help reinforce that cheesecake texture in the frosting, I do refrigerate overnight, and then let them thaw 45-60 minutes before serving. My husband thinks they’re best if you eat them straight from the fridge.

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Enjoy! And if you plan to take them to work or a party, be sure to bring plenty. I’m telling you, they’re a big crowd pleaser!


*Because they were first made for her birthday, the BFF had naming honors for this recipe. Their official long-form name is: F*@#ing Awesome Birthday Cupcakes. 🙂

Update 1: substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream (I used vanilla) to tell yourself that it’s healthier. Add a little more than the recipe calls for a thinner batter too.

Update 2: also amazing as a turtle cheesecake cupcake. Swap the strawberries for pecans, add extra yogurt/sour cream to make up for the lost moisture, and top with caramel and chocolate drizzle. (Or even poke into the cake for richer flavor.) Still a crowdpleaser!!

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