Strawberry Lemon Zest Cupcakes
I have an obsession: strawberry cake. I think it stems from those boxed cakes (popular in the 1980’s for sure). You know the ones! Deep pink with that artificially flavored strawberry taste. Add some vanilla frosting and you’re back at your 8th birthday party for sure. The thing is, natural strawberries have an amazing color and flavor but it’s a bit more subtle than the boxed variety. I used that inspiration to make grown-up-style Strawberry Lemon Zest Cupcakes. These are lower in sugar, have so many added health benefits from whole grain cornmeal, fresh lemon juice and zest and….so many strawberries. You’re going to love them.
I made these for a family party and I noticed that the kids and adults loved them. The fresh (you can also use frozen) strawberries on top make them pretty irresistible to grab. The single-serving aspect of cupcakes is perfect for a picnic, birthday or party. Biting into the Strawberry Lemon Zest Cupcakes has some added surprises. They are actually filled with jam for even more strawberry flavor and the sweet flavor is packed with fresh, zesty lemon which really brightens up the flavor and adds an unexpected depth of flavor. The cornmeal adds a texture that’s really hearty but the cake is soft. These are so GOOD.
Strawberry Lemon Zest Cupcakes Ingredient Highlights
Did you know that due to the popularity of strawberries, they are one of the top cultivated fruits in the U.S? Of course, like most fruits, they usually taste the best when they are in-season locally. Look for strawberries during the summer season at your local farmer’s market. Not the season where you are? Not to worry. Even though they don’t pack as much flavor, out of season strawberries are still a good source of vitamin C, manganese, folate and potassium. Manganese helps with collagen production (important for skin health!), and vitamin C is essential for immune system function. Strawberries are also a good source of antioxidants called polyphenols that benefit heart health and promote balanced blood sugar levels because of their high fiber content.
While jam should be consumed in moderation due to its sugar content, it also has some beneficial health properties. Jams are made out of crushed or ground fruit, meaning they retain some of the same antioxidant properties. Jams also contain pectin, which is a type of carbohydrate naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables. Pectin is a prebiotic, meaning our friendly gut bacteria can use it as food, which promotes good gut health.
When I read jam labels, the thing that I look for is: is the fruit the first ingredient? If not, I pass. I also like jam that, if it has added sugar at all, the source is fruit juice concentrate rather than sugar or syrups. If you’re super creative, make your own at home!
Vanilla extract is a prized flavoring agent for good reason. It has many health benefits including its calming effect. Vanilla provides a satisfying, comforting flavor that can help add flavor while reducing added sugar in recipes. I really love using natural herbs and spices in all of my recipes. You’ll find vanilla in so many of my top beverages. Try my single-serving hot chocolate, my London Fog, or my Golden Milk Tea.
Lemon Zest and Juice
Utilizing the lemon peel not only cuts back on food waste, but also has health benefits. One tablespoon of zest contains ~9% of your daily value of vitamin C. Lemon peels are high in the antioxidant d-limonene. Studies suggest that d-limonene can reduce oxidative stress, which is a marker of aging and inflammation. Using lemon is one of my favorite types of flavors. It adds such a beautiful, balanced flavor and brightens up any dish – sweet OR savory.
Making the Strawberry Lemon Zest Cupcakes
These are really fun and simple to make, actually. Once you preheat the oven and prepare the cupcake tins, you’ll simply mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Then you’ll whisk the wet ingredients together. After that, you’ll simply beat them together to combine and then gently mix in the oil – this makes a really moist product.
Once you fill the cupcake tins, dropping in and blending the jam and then topping with strawberries is very fun. This is a great opportunity to get kids in the kitchen with you, placing the strawberries however they want on top. You really can’t go wrong. I used as many as possible 🙂
The most challenging sub here is the egg because that’s pretty integral to the texture of the dish. Non-egg folks can try a vegan flax egg (mixing water with ground flax) or an egg substitute and it will still work.
There are many excellent non-dairy versions of sour cream so you’ll have lots of options there, depending on your local stores. If you want to, you could sub plain dairy or non-dairy yogurt.
For a lower sugar cupcake, feel free to reduce by 1/4 cup. You could also try swapping in monkfruit for a lower sugar product.
Try other fruits! You could get creative with swapping or adding in blueberries or raspberries. If you try that, let me know!
Strawberry Lemon Zest Cupcakes
- 8 oz strawberries thinly sliced lengthwise
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup fine ground cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 cup sour cream dairy or non-dairy
- 2 lemons zested and juiced with seeds removed
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/4 cup no sugar added strawberry jam
- Preheat oven to 350℉ and prepare 12 cupcake tins with liners
- Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set it aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat gently to combine. Gradually add the oil, folding it in with a rubber spatula until incorporated and the batter is smooth.
- Scrape the batter into the cupcake tins until they’re ⅔-¾ full.
- Using a small spoon, dollop 1 teaspoon of jam in the middle of each cupcake and gently swirl it into batter with a butter knife.
- Arrange the strawberries on top of each cupcake - about 4-6 slices per cupcake
- Bake until golden brown and springy on top, about 30-35 minutes.
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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