Fork in the Road: SoCal Strawberry Cupcakes

Sunday, December 12, 2010 28 comments
Slow-Roasted Strawberry Cupcakes

The Noodle transition from Minnesota hotdish to Philippine palayok is nearly complete! Our stuff has (mostly) arrived, the dog has grudgingly accepted the small balcony that is now our only outdoor space and I'm getting the hang of my half-sized stove and oven. In the few weeks since moving to Manila, I've been exploring the local foodscape and have already found so much to inspire both my cooking and my blogging. So, with the boxes unpacked and the contents tucked into their proper places, I turn my full attention to reviving Tangled Noodle and eagerly look forward to sharing these inspirations with you.

But first, let's pick up where we left off with Fork in the Road, a series of posts in which I recount the places we've been, recreate the most memorable meals we've enjoyed, and rehabilitate the ones we'd otherwise rather forget. Before our big move to the Far East, Mr. Noodle and I embarked on a tour of the Great American West, where we indulged in local fare, such as Navajo frybread in Flagstaff, Arizona. When twinges of homesickness struck, we found the cure by heading into the sunset, toward the Pacific Ocean and the comforts of a family home...

After an exciting yet tiring day of exploration, I want nothing more than a pleasant dinner and a comfortable bed. But when you're on a budget roadtrip, as Mr. Noodle and I were, such small pleasures can prove to be tall orders. For every dish of savory posole at a hidden gem of a restaurant in New Mexico, there is a bowl of microwaveable udon noodles from the Walmart just off a Nebraska interstate highway. For every bed & breakfast suite with a tranquil view of a moonlit Colorado mesa and a serenade of muted calls from wildlife in the distance, there is a ground-floor motel room with curtains tightly drawn against prying eyes and walls too thin to muffle the ecstasy of an amorous couple next door.

I shouldn't complain: after hours spent behind the wheel, staring down an endless ribbon of asphalt while surrounded by the crumpled remains of Goldfish cracker bags and other travel detritus, any hot meal eaten at a standstill and a chance to rest in a horizontal position seem like luxuries. That is, until dawn's early light exposes their inadequacies and magnifies a sudden longing for the comforts of a home that's nearly 2000 miles away. Thank goodness, then, for a home away from home!

Sunset at Redondo Beach Pier

I'm Going Back to Cali, Cali, Cali . . .

Better known as my sister's place in Redondo Beach, just south of Los Angeles, it's where my husband and I found rest and relaxation from our roadtrip R&R, immersing ourselves in everyday life in the midst of vacation life. As with past visits, there are no formalities when Mr. Noodle and I knock on L's door - we know where to stow the luggage, where to find the towels and where she keeps the breakfast cereal. Soon enough, we slip comfortably into their regular routine which, for a few days at least, become our own. We join them in cheering on Nephew at his flag football games and share their pride in Niece's graceful form during ice-skating practice. While my husband accompanies his brother-in-law for a workout at the local gym, I tag along with L to the neighborhood grocery, then help put our purchases away in the freezer, fridge and pantry (to be raided later by me in full make-yourself-at-home mode).

Best of all are the boisterous get-togethers at the house when my other sisters join us - baby sister P and her husband (and occasionally, her stepkids), and eldest sib M, who can be counted on to bring abundant good eats, from pizza to sushi, for whatever the occasion. One such recent illustrious event (ahem) was my birthday, which Mr. Noodle and I had already celebrated a few days before in New Mexico. But how could I possibly disappoint my lovely siblings by turning down a small fête in my honor, especially when it involves cupcakes?

Birthday Sprinkles

The cupcake craze may be on the decline, but true to form, I'm chasing after the bandwagon as it rolls downhill. It's not that I was oblivious to the trend; after all, my meet-up spot of choice in Minneapolis was a bakery/café called Cupcake. Quite frankly, I find paying close to $3 apiece a tough crumb to swallow. But if someone else is treating . . . well, that's a whole 'nother bowl of batter.

(Photo credit: Rachel Kramer Bussel)
After months of emails and tweets from M dangling the temptations of LA's famous Sprinkles Cupcakes, she made good on her promise to provide said goodies when Mr. Noodle and I returned to Redondo. True to her word, big sister brought an assorted dozen of the cupcakery's most scrumptious flavors: milk chocolate, strawberry and red velvet. And they certainly lived up to their hyped reputation - the cake was satisfyingly moist and substantial while the thick frosting was sweet without being sugary and so velvety smooth. I could even be persuaded to pry open my purse for more of these treats, if I hadn't found an economic and equally satisfying alternative on hand.

Roadtrip Dinner Redux: Better-Than-Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes

My favorite among the aforementioned flavor trio was strawberry, of which I would've ordered a dozen for the road if only Mr. Noodle, spooked by the thought of me, twelve cupcakes and the resultant sugar highs (and lows) in an enclosed vehicle, hadn't nixed the idea. Back in Minnesota, I went into an extended pout upon learning that the closest Sprinkles location was in Chicago, until I came across a recipe for these very same strawberry cupcakes from none other than the company's founder, Candace Nelson.

To tangle a venerable proverb: If Noodle can't go to the cupcake, let the cupcake come to Noodle.

Decorated by Niece and Nephew

The icing on this cupcake story is that I had the priceless opportunity to make them at my sister's house with my darling Niece and Nephew at a particularly bittersweet time. Mr. Noodle and I had just packed up all of our worldly goods, sold our dream home and left behind dear family in Minnesota to begin anew in the Philippines. At a time when we were in limbo, without a home to call our own for the time being, I baked these in our home away from home. It was a joy to make them with the most terrific kids in the world and to share them with the people I love best. These are small pleasures, now forever treasured.

Slow Roasted Strawberry Cupcakes

I don't consider it a redux if it isn't just a bit different from the original experience. So, while these cupcakes adhere closely to the recipe shared by Sprinkles' Candace Nelson, they are given an extra intensity of flavor courtesy of Adrienne at Gastroanthropology and her recipe for Slow Roasted Strawberries. The additional time required in Adrienne's process is worth every minute as these simply sweet cupcakes achieve a depth of strawberry-ness that may be lacking from plain fresh or frozen berries. The purée made from the slow-roasted fruit is used in both the cake batter and the icing, but the flavor really shines in the latter. Happily, the frosting recipe yields more than enough for a dozen cupcakes, so lay it on thick or eat it by the spoonful - either way, it's pink-hued bliss!

Slow Roasted Strawberry Purée

For complete ingredients and instructions, please see Adrienne's recipe at Gastroanthropology.

Melted butter and vanilla extract are mixed together, then spread evenly on the bottom of a glass baking dish. Whole hulled strawberries are then tossed with brown sugar and placed cut side down in the dish, to be roasted in a 'low' oven (about 200°F) for several hours until the strawberries, as Adrienne notes, shrivel and 'slump into what looks like a Hershey kiss'. After cooling completely, the roasted strawberries can then be processed in a blender or food processor until achieving a smooth purée.

Strawberry Cupcake and Frosting

For complete ingredients and instructions, please see Candace Nelson's recipe for the cake and the frosting online at Martha Stewart Living.

For the cupcake:

In one bowl, all-purpose flour, baking powder and coarse salt are whisked together, while in another bowl, whole milk, vanilla extract and slow-roasted strawberry purée (see above) are combined. With an electric mixer, unsalted butter is whipped until light and fluffy, to which sugar is gradually added until well combined. Then, a whole egg and egg whites are added, followed by half of the dry ingredients, the milk mixture and finally, the remaining dry ingredients. After baking, the cupcakes should be cooled completely before being frosted.

For the frosting:

Unsalted butter and coarse salt are beaten together until light and fluffy. At a lowered mixer speed, confectioner's sugar is gradually added, followed by vanilla extract and roasted strawberry purée (see above); the ingredients are well-blended but not overmixed. According to the original recipe, the frosting should be result in a texture that is 'dense and creamy, like ice cream'.


  • lisa said...

    Love the whole post but I can totally relate to the line "but true to form, I'm chasing after the bandwagon as it rolls downhill." I am so with you!

  • kat said...

    Yum, I am a big fan of strawberry cake but have to say I was disappointed by the Sprinkles cupcakes I had in Palo Alto. Welcome back to the blogging world.

  • skip to malou said...

    Hi Tracey!
    So great to see you back! I wish I met you when you were here in Cali. I love Sprinkles albeit they are a little pricey. I will have your cupcakes anytime, I bet they are as good.
    Good luck to you and Mr Noodle on your move to Manila. I look forward to reading your posts when you start sharing your "expat" life!

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I remember my first Sprinkle cupcake when visiting my almost-sister (best friend since 7th grade, who lives in LA). We got four flavors and shared them all between us in the car as soon as we got them. I'm not sure what flavors we got, but I don't think I tried the strawberry.

    I love the idea of the roasted strawberries in batter and frosting. P.S. I've slow roasted a few other stone fruits in a similar fashion since the strawberry post and love how they all turn out!

    Can't wait to see what Manila treats and experiences you have in store for us. And I so sympathize with the half sized kitchen - I've got a small oven, the tiniest dishwasher, and a freezer that I can barely hide a tiny quart of ice cream in, but somehow you manage and are still able to make and create delicious things!

    My Sprinkle's partner-in-crime's birthday is in two days, I'll miss it, but will be celebrating christmas with her a few days later so I may just have to surprise her with some strawberry cupcakes! Fingers x'd that I can get some strawberries.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    It feels great to have finally put up a new post after such a long break! 8-D

    Lisa - I'm so cautious by nature that it's inevitable I'll catch up to the latest trends only after they become yesterday's news. But no worries - I still enjoy them!

    Kat - I'm happy to be back blogging and eager to share! Sorry to hear about your subpar Sprinkles experience. I thought I'd be disappointed given how hyped up they were but the ones we got were quite tasty. Hope you'll try these out - the slow roasted berries are incredible!

    Malou - Hello! I'm happy to be back and also wished that you could have joined me, Caroline and her family when we met up in Redondo. But perhaps we'll see each other here in Manila and we'll check out all the hotspots together!

    Gastroanthropologist - There were so many Sprinkles flavors but so little time! 8-D I'm thrilled to hear that you've successfully roasted stone fruits: due to the sky-high price of strawberries here in Manila, I would like to try mangoes instead, so it's great to know that it can work!

    As for our new small space, it is a blessing in disguise; I'm learning to buy ingredients only as I need them, resulting in less waste. And I'm having fun improvising in the kitchen to make up for all the stuff I left behind in the US. But I would love to reclaim my Kitchenaid mixer...

    Thanks for sharing such a fantastic recipe as the slow-roasted strawberries!

  • zerrin said...

    It's great to hear you back! It must be dfficult to leave people and things you are used to behind, but I'm sure you will become a part of your new community soon.
    It sounds like a great fun to work in the kitchen with Niece and Nephew. I'm looking forward to cooking with my niece when she gets old enough.
    Your strawberry cupcakes look so yummy! I love the strawberry flavor and its fragrance in cakes. I must go see what other slow roasted fruits gastro has.
    Can't wait to read about your new discoveries there.
    Best wishes to you and your husband!

  • Andrea (Off Her Cork) said...

    TN I've missed you! I'm glad that you posted an update to how you all are doing and getting along. :) I hope the mushface is doing well! We are currently getting slammed with crazy snow, I'm guessing you all won't miss that too much. ;)

  • Jeanne said...

    I'm even farther behind on the cupcake trend: I still haven't visited Sprinkles. But I'm definitely going to make these at home! Slow roasted strawberries? I'm in! :) Glad to hear that you're making the transition to a new home, I've missed reading your posts.

  • Midge said...

    So you've moved and settled in! Hurrah! I look forward to reading about your foodie forays here in the Philippines. :)

    Oh, and I had to do a double-take when you said slow-roasted strawberries. First time ever to encounter such a thing; strawberries are usually pureed fresh in most of the recipes I've encountered.

    (I'd invite you to the next Chocolate Appreciation workshop this January, if you don't mind. :D)

  • Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

    So glad to see you back blogging again and to hear that life is finally starting to settle down for you. Can't wait to read all about your adventures in Manila! I love the story behind these cupcakes (like all your stories!) and they look to die for - "better than sprinkles" indeed!

  • Chef E said...

    Wow! I had no idea, I hope things are really going well. My son is going to Korea for a year, maybe longer with his sweetie, so I may be coming to Asia!

    I also made strawberry muffins this weekend, and yours look great!

    Look forward to hearing more of your journey...

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Sorry for the late replies! 8-)

    Zerrin - Thank you so much! While my husband and I were both sad to leave his family and my sisters back in the US, we are both excited about our family here and all the new discoveries to be found! Your niece will have the best teacher in the kitchen when she's old enough. As for roasting fruits, I'm going to experiment with a few myself! 8-)

    Andrea - The Dogster of Disaster is doing great. He's gotten over the trauma of being stuck in a crate for 2 days and he's prancing around like he owns the neighborhood (many people are quite scared of 'big' dogs like him and they give him a very wide berth as whenever we take him for a walk). As for the snow, I confess that I miss it just a teeny-tiny bit... 8-D

    Penny - Great to be back and Merry Early Christmas to you, too! 8-)

    Chow and Chatter/Rebecca - Thank you! I will hopefully post more pics of Manila, but definitely of the food, as well! 8-)

    Jeanne - I've missed blogging and hope to post much more regularly now. You must, must try these slow roasted strawberries, even if just as a topping to ice cream, pancakes, etc. As for Sprinkles, I'm happy that I finally tried them and will gladly recommend them to everyone. 8-)

    Midge - I'm going to go through your archives as a guide for my foodie forays here! I know what you mean about simply pureed berries, which is why, when I saw Adrienne's post, I just had to try them in this recipe. The slow roasting deepens the strawberry flavor and is just fantastic.

    I would love to attend the Chocolate Appreciation workshop in January! I will email you my contact info and would love to learn more about it. 8-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Mardi - Thank you! I'm happy to be back at regular (I hope!) blogging, especially about all that I'm learning and discovering in Manila. Although I was born nearby, I'm just as new to so much here as my Minnesota-born husband is. As for these and Sprinkles cupcakes, I will have sweet, fond memories of both! 8-)

    Chef E - All's well and I'm excited to hear that you may be coming to Asia! I hope you will take a side trip here. It will be very difficult to wean myself from strawberries, but they are quite pricey here so I will have to find an alternative. Thanks! 8-)

    Kelly - Thank you so much! I can't say enough about slow-roasted strawberries so I hope you will give them a try! 8-)

    Joy - Indulge that craving now! 8-)

    5 Star Foodie - Hello! I'm happy to be back and I will certainly be returning to my regular blog reading as well. I have a lot to catch up on, especially with your blog!8-)

    Conor - Aren't they sweet? Seriously, I couldn't bring myself to eat any of them - at least, until all the rest were eaten and these were the only ones left! Safe, sound and satiated here in Manila! 8-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Doggybloggy! I feel as if I'm in a strange limbo - still alive & kicking in the blogosphere but having to recalibrate sense of time and frame of mind. In the US, I always felt as if I could possibly run into you on the street one of these days! I'm eager to share stories of my transition. 8-)

  • Jenni said...

    I'm so glad you're starting to feel at home, TN! We miss you over on this side of the Big Ocean, though.

    The cupcakes are beautiful. I think I should have to make an Entire Cake, though. Split and filled w/lovely roasted strawberries (what an awesome idea, that!) and pastry cream. What say you?

    Anyway, I have one burning question: Why did your parents name you guys letters. Are you in the witness protection program or something?!

    Looking forward to reading more Tangled Noodle: The Manilla years! :)

  • Table Talk said...

    Hey--welcome back!

    I have this cookbook and have made the icing with my daughter--it is really good.

    Looking forward to hearing about your food adventures in the Philippines~

  • lisaiscooking said...

    I continue to love Sprinkle's cupcakes whenever I have a chance to sample them. And, strawberry is so good. I love the idea of roasted strawberries and can't wait to try that! Sounds fantastic.

  • Lori said...

    Oh, the half size stove. I feel for you. It took me forever to get used to it. So slow roasted strawberries? Wow, what an awesome recipe. I still have not gotten over my cupcake obsession. In fact, we have friends in from Brazil and I'm taking them to a cupcake shop here tomorrow! :)

  • Daily Spud said...

    Well, if my extreme lateness in getting to this post is anything to go by, then, if you're chasing after the bandwagon, I'll be the one trying to figure out which direction the damn bandwagon was going in the first place :D

    Glad to hear you're settling in and, as for the cupcakes, having made those slow roasted strawberries last year, I can only say that your idea to use them here is genius (and wonderful that you could share the making thereof with Niece and Nephew).

  • Charlotte said...

    I love strawberries but never tried baking with them. Usually I make jam, smoothies, ice cream, or just eat them plain when in season.

    The few times I bought strawberry cupcakes (from good bake shops) they left a lot to be desired in terms of strawberry flavor.

    Maybe this is the ticket! Thanks.


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