Monday, July 30, 2012

Cassata Cupcakes

Difficulty level: Medium
Time consuming: Yeah.

 Have you ever heard of a cassata cake?  Most people think of the typical, Italian styled cake, which is usually a dense cake (like pound cake) layered with strawberries and ricotta cheese.  If you have had a Cleveland-style cassata cake, you are lucky.  In Cleveland, the cassata cake is a heavenly combination of white cake, macerated strawberries, custard, and whipped cream, usually in a layered form.

The first time I made this recipe, I had been craving cassata cake for awhile.  I wanted to share this with the Special Ed team at school but couldn't find any cassata cupcake recipes out there, so I had to forge my own way.  The positive feedback about the finished product was overwhelming - they were a huge hit!

I started by searching for a yellow cake with real strawberry pieces in it.  There are a lot of strawberry cakes out there, but not so much for a cake with strawberries.  I found this recipe from Annie's Eats and it was exactly what I had hoped for.

This was a two day baking project for me.  On the first day, I baked the cupcake and prepared the custard.  Doing these ahead of time are smart because the cupcakes can cool completely and the pastry cream can set overnight.  The second day I made the frosting and assembled the cupcakes.

The first time I made this, I made some substitutions from Annie's original recipe since I did not have cake flour or buttermilk on hand.  I also did not go with her frosting since I was working from my own inspirations.  This is the cake I made when I learned that using a 12-cup muffin pan does not cook the middle two cupcakes in my oven.  The cakes baked okay and the strawberries stayed suspended in the batter, but the tops definitely went concave on me (a problem I fixed the second time I made these, which is the recipe I'm sharing below)

After they cooled, I scooped out the middles using a paring knife.  I have since then bought an apple corer and use that to core the middles of my cupcakes, it's way easier, and also cheaper than a cupcake plunger.

I adapted my grandma's custard recipe (which I think was from Betty Crocker...) and let that set overnight.  The next day I filled the cupcakes* (I would not recommend doing this more than a day before serving, but day of is better if you've got the time - you don't want them getting soggy!) and frosted them.

My plan was to pipe whip cream on top instead of frosting, but what I learned the hard way is that whip cream melts if it's at room temperature for more than 5 minutes.  After a quick call to my mom and some googling, I found a stabilized whip cream frosting recipe that I tinkered with and piped beautifully with no signs of melting.

Garnished with a sliced strawberry and some red jimmies and they were fantastic.  The special ed team gobbled them up.  I will definitely make these again.

*I had a decent amount of extra custard so I whipped up some puff pastry (just the basic recipe that comes with the Wilton cookie gun/press) and ganache and made eclairs.  The special ed team also got to enjoy these treats as well.  And I couldn't let a meeting go by without bringing something with chocolate, right?

Yield: about 18-20 regular sized cupcakes or 60-70 mini cupcakes


Custard (halve this recipe if you do not want extra custard)
 1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 t salt
3 T cornstarch or 6 T of flour
12 oz evaporated milk (preferably not low or fat free)
4 oz of milk (whatever's in the fridge - skim, 2%...) (If you halve the recipe, just use 8 oz evaporated milk and omit this milk)
4 egg yolks
2 t vanilla
5 T room temperature butter, cubed

2 ½ cups cake flour or 2 cups and 2T all purpose flour (I recommend cake flour if you've got it as it yields a finer textured crumb)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, mix and let sit for 5 minutes 1/4 c milk and 1/4T lemon juice or white vinegar - the mixture will look curdled)
1 1/2  oz veggie/canola/etc oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups chopped strawberries (I diced mine into approx 1/4" cubes, and set on a paper towel to blot out some of the moisture before I added to my batter; - you can use frozen berries, but it's super important to blot them)

Frosting (*depending on how generous you are with frosting, you can halve this recipe)
2 eight ounce tubs whipped topping (like cool whip)
1 eight ounce package cream cheese
3-5 T powdered sugar
2 t vanilla extract


1.  Prepare custard:  In a small sauce pan, mix/whisk together sugar, salt, cornstarch.  Stir in milks.

2. In a small bowl, mix egg yolks together.  Set aside.

3. Cook milk mixture over medium low heat, stirring until it boils.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

4. Temper the eggs with a small amount of milk mixture.  Once eggs are tempered, add to saucepan and bring to a boil, let boil approx 1 minute.

5.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter.

6.  Cover surface with saran wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate.

7.  Prepare the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. Sift flour, salt and baking soda into a medium bowl. Set aside.

8.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until just combined. Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla; beat until combined. Add half the flour mixture, stir until incorporated, then add the remaining flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in chopped strawberries.

9. Fill cupcake wells 1/2 to 2/3 full with batter.
  • Bake regular sized cupcakes for 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Baking can take up to 30 minutes, depending on your oven.
  • Bake mini cupcakes for 13-14 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • **Darker pans will bake faster, so keep an eye on your cupcakes.
10. Cool completely on a wire rack. (This is a good time to make the frosting - recipe below!)

11.  Prepare frosting: In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth, then add whipped topping.  Mix until contents seem well mixed.

12.  Add powdered sugar (sifted) until frosting becomes stiff.  This may take several minutes.  Add vanilla and mix to incorporate.

13.  Back to the cupcakes: Using a paring knife, apple corer, or cupcake plunger, create the hole to fill your cupcake - do not go all the way down to the paper liner.  Place prepared custard into a piping bag and fill the cupcakes.

14. Prepare frosting.  Fill a piping bag or gallon sized ziplock bag (either cut off the corner or fit with a large piping tip) with frosting.  Pipe on top of cupcakes.

15.  Garnish with a slice of strawberry and a light sprinkling of red jimmies.

These are a lot of work but they are 100% worth the effort.

**Because these cupcakes turn out soooo moist, some may separate from the paper liners.  If you prefer not to serve less than pretty cupcakes (like me), you can crumble the ugly cakes and mix with extra frosting and make pretty strawberry shortcake cake pops.  Yum!!

Cake recipe adapted from Annie's Eats.

1 comment:

  1. Love them!!! made them for my adult daughters birthday and can't wait for the response! My husband and I tasted them and these are our new favorites!!!!!