strawberry cupcakes – and how to fix buttercream frosting

strawberry cupcake main

I’m still working through the summer strawberry harvest, not that I’m growing them – but I can’t seem to stop buying them. I don’t know what I plan to do with all these strawberries, but I always seem to find something. Today? Strawberry cupcakes with strawberry swiss meringue buttercream frosting (quite a mouthful, no?). This is probably my favorite frosting in the whole world, and I’m not generally a “frosting” person. I’m usually perfectly content to eat my cupcakes sans frosting and call it a day, but this frosting… this frosting is absolutely divine.

This wasn’t my first time making buttercream frosting, but it was my first time breaking it. “Broken buttercream” is apparently a common problem in the baking world, I guess I was just lucky that I’d never encountered it. It was so scary… I didn’t know what to do with myself. Luckily, I remembered this book that I got when I worked at Sur la Table.

I remember the exact moment I decided to buy the book, a coworker was looking through it and commented on how “it even shows you how to fix broken buttercream!” That seemed like a handy enough thing to know, and it gave me that last little nudge I needed to buy it. Not that I “needed” to buy it, I don’t think I “needed” a single thing I bought there. Sidenote: never work for a store you enjoy shopping at – I’m pretty sure I made negative money working there. I basically paid them to let me work there. Sad.

Broken buttercream happens when your mixture becomes too warm or too cold, and it causes the buttercream mixture to separate. The initial problem, I thought, was that my buttercream was too warm. I am in the desert, after all, and the butter was definitely a bit too soft as I was adding it. I remember thinking “I’m surprised this is working” just moments before I saw the frosting separate. The solution for broken buttercream that is too warm is to cool the bowl in an ice bath while continuing to beat How the heck am I supposed to create an ice bath around my mixer anyway? I tried holding a bag of ice up, but then my hand got cold so I just stuck the whole thing in the fridge for about 30 minutes. After that, I took it out and began whipping to no avail. I chilled it longer… another 30 minutes… nothing.

My stupid buttercream was stupid broken and I was so angry (since I didn’t really care about the cupcakes, they were merely a vessel for delivering this magical frosting into my mouth). Then I realized I had probably chilled the buttercream too much, and that now I had the opposite problem – my buttercream was too cold. Apparently, buttercream is the Goldilocks of frostings. Stupid Goldilocks, I never liked her much anyway.

I was one step from throwing it out and starting over when I had one last burst of motivation. The book said to put the bowl over simmering water for a few minutes until it was warmed… that wasn’t happening. Instead, I just soaked a dish towel with really hot water, rung it out, and held it against the side of the bowl while whipping with the paddle attachment. Voila – great success! Now that I spent like four times as long making this frosting as I had intended, it was FINALLY time to frost my cupcakes. At least I learned a valuable lesson… just look at those beauties :)

Strawberry Cupcakes

Printable Recipe

  • 2 3/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C cake flour, (not self-rising)
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 C sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 C whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 C diced strawberries
  • Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk flours, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

2. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, then eggs (1 at a time) beating after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl.

3. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk and ending with dry (so 1/3 flour>1/2 milk>1/3 flour>1/2 milk>1/3 flour). Mix on low until incorporated. Scrape sides of bowl. Stir in strawberries.

4. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake cupcakes until testers about 20 minutes until testers come out clean. Let cool in tins on wire racks. Cupcakes will keep, covered & unfrosted for up to 3 days, unless otherwise noted.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

Printable Recipe

  • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into tablespoons
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, pureed
  1. Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. (or until the mixture is smooth when rubbed between fingers)
  2. Remove from heat and attach bowl to a mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition.
  3. Switch to a paddle attachment. With mixer on low, add strawberry puree, and beat until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Use immediately, or cover, and refrigerate up to 2 days.

[Recipe from Martha Stewart: Cupcakes]

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8 thoughts on “strawberry cupcakes – and how to fix buttercream frosting

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  2. I was very pleased to discover this great site. I want to to thank you for ones time for this particularly wonderful read!! I definitely savored every little bit of it and i also have you book marked to look at new things in your website.

  3. This post saved me this weekend. I don’t usually make my frosting ahead of time but I did this weekend because I had to make so many cupcakes. I just took it out of the fridge and tried to bring it back to life but it BROKE! I googled broken buttercream and you popped up. I figured out that is was probably too cold and used your hot towel trick. It worked!!! Crisis adverted. Thanks so much.

  4. Search and voila — It’s the first time my buttercream broke too — and for me too it was all about the strawberry frosting… Figured it was too warm at first – then put in the freezer too long — I was now blaming the strawberries and maybe they were too juicy… will try one more time with the warm towel idea before I pitch — by the way mine was going on top of meyer lemon cupcakes — was dreaming of strawberry lemonade when I decided to make them. Thanks for the tip – wish me luck.

    • Good luck, Cindy!! I hope that this works for you, your strawberry lemonade cupcakes sound DELICIOUS! I **LOVE** meyer lemons, so if all else fails, I’m sure just a little glaze or a dusting of powdered sugar would be great! ;)

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