These aren't just any strawberry lemonade cupcakes, they're Easter-dinner-at-the-Wealers' cupcakes. That means they came with an Easter egg hunt, magical cheesy potatoes and a makeshift pawn shop for swapping candy and trinkets. And I'm not just referring to any ta-tas. I'm talking about those belonging to Jenny W. That means they come with perseverance, bravery, magical mom skills and some serious sass.
I've mentioned Jenny before as part of our "Michigan Family." She beat breast cancer in 2008, which involved a double mastectomy. In celebration, she walked 60 miles as a survivor in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. Then the cancer came back. And in her words, she walked again in 2009 in anger because she was going through it all again. But she crushed cancer a second time (though these few sentences hardly do justice to the countless doctors' visits and surgeries and tears that she went through over the years).
Cancer aside, Jenny gets more done than most women I know in perfect health. She is raising three wonderful kids (with a military husband who is not deployed, but sometimes on tour for weeks at a time). She runs a business from home. She always finds time to send out cards and messages for birthdays and holidays (I got a birthday greeting one year from the hospital!). She writes a funny blog, I Am A Pink Warrior. And although she jokes about not being able to bake some of the things on this blog, I've seen her turn birthday cakes into castles and horse ranches.
Most of all though, she would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. Just this weekend, one of the women at Easter dinner mentioned that she had to leave town for something and was worried about finding someone to watch her four(!) children (her husband is also military and is away for training). Without hesitation, Jenny offered to have all four children stay with them for the weekend. Like, no prob, what's four more? She would make it work.
Jenny is now walking 60 miles for a fourth time, this year in Dallas, TX. She's walking because she beat cancer and so that others will too. And for the first time, her husband is able to join her (as you can imagine, with three kids it takes some coordination for both parents to participate). As a family, they have pledged to raise at least $4600 ($2300 each). When I think about how much someone like Jenny has given in blood, sweat, tears and dollars, it's hard not to want to give. So if you've got any money burning a hole in your pocket, stop on over and donate to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. They are accepting donations in cash and 10-gallon hats.As for the cuppies, it's no secret that sometimes I make them from a box. But that doesn't mean I don't have baking knowledge to impart on the subject. Because here's something I learned this weekend...not all boxed cake mix is created equal. Since I was making "lemonade" cupcakes, I figured I would start with a box of lemon cake mix. Newsflash: boxed lemon cake mix is gross. It tastes like someone swapped the eggs for Lysol. Blech. Also, when I added the fresh strawberries, I didn't take the proper precautions to keep the cake from getting soggy. Once the cupcakes cooled, they separated from the liners and started to get all cake-sweaty. Round 1 was a bust.
For Round 2, I went straight to my go-to cake-mix, Betty Crocker's Supermoist French Vanilla. I doctored it up with lemon juice, lemon pulp and lemon extract, plus the fresh strawberry chunks. Round 2: success!
Strawberry Pink Lemonade Cupcakes
Makes 18-20 cupcakes
1 box vanilla cake mix (my fave is Betty Crocker French Vanilla), 2 tbs. reserved
eggs and oil as directed on box
juice and pulp from two lemons + water to make 1 cup of liquid
1-1/2 tsp. lemon extract
10 large strawberries, diced
(Note: I used two-thirds box of mix and got 13 cupcakes. For instructions on dividing boxed mix, see the note at the end of this post. If doing this, use one lemon, 1 tsp. extract and 6-7 strawberries.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
6 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3 tbs. strawberry puree
1 tbs. lemon juice
1-1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/4 tsp. salt
5 cups powdered sugar
First, to prepare the strawberries, wash and dice into small pieces, discarding the hulls (the tops and flavorless white bits on the inside). Place diced berries on a paper towel and cover with another paper towel, pressing down gently to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Repeat. Set aside. Reserve three tablespoons of dry cake mix to sprinkle on berries.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Next, cut lemons in half and loosely squeeze excess juice into a bowl (don't squish, just squeeze out enough so that you can work with the lemons). Using a sharp knife, slice around the perimeter of the lemon pulp on each half and lengthwise a few times until you can work the pulp out of the lemons and into the bowl, avoiding the stringy membrane where possible (see photo above). Squeeze any excess juice into the bowl and fish out seeds. If you have a mini-chopper, food processor or blender, mix the pulp for a few seconds. If you don't, or if you just don't feel like getting out a whole appliance for 5 seconds of work, cut/mash up the lemon as best you can using a knife and spoon. Small chunks are fine.
Add water to the lemon pulp/juice mix until you have 1 cup of liquid. Prepare boxed mix as directed, using the lemon juice in place of the water (note that this is less than the 1-1/4 cups of water called for). Mix in lemon extract.
Fill the cups of a greased or lined muffin tin halfway full of batter. Toss diced strawberries with reserved cake mix. Place a small spoonful of berries evenly into each muffin cup (stick to a single layer of berries). Cover berries with another spoonful of cake batter so that cups are 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.
Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool before frosting.
To make strawberry puree, blend 4-5 strawberries in a blender or mini-chopper. Or macerate berries with the back of a fork.
Using an electric mixer, blend softened butter and cream cheese together. Mix in strawberry puree, lemon juice, lemon extract and salt. Then slowly add powdered sugar, mixing well. Spread or pipe onto cupcakes.
Serving suggestions: Garnish each cupcake with a strawberry slice. Share with friends while donating money to help fight breast cancer.