Saturday, August 11, 2018

Fresh Peach Pie

Perhaps nothing is more anticipated in the later summer in America's north than the arrival of fresh local peaches. While enjoyed simply as fresh fruit, they are also prepared in many dishes from savory to sweet. Most often, people look forward to fresh peach pie. Unfortunately, a good fresh peach pie seems harder to come by than ever before.

Julian's Fresh Peach Pie
Some of the reason for this is the difficulty in producing a peach pie that isn't soupy. Some have taken to simply peeling fresh peaches and placing them in a premade peach-flavored gelatin and quickly serving before they lose their juices, much in the way strawberry pie is produced.

Julian's Fresh Peach Pie with Lattice Cutout
However, this classic peach pie recipe deals with their extra juices by first macerating the peaches to draw out excess liquid and then removing it. Then, you use both cornstarch and pectin to thicken what juice remains. (Thanks Cooks Illustrated for this tip.) Using two thickeners leaves the pie with a clear, silky texture. Using one alone in larger quantity leaves you with a gummy, gelatinous texture which also is not ideal. Finally, I often use a lattice crust because it's open structure lets excess moisture evaporate as the pie bakes. I happen to have several pie crust cutters (show above) which make the top crust quick to prepare, but of course the classic lattice top crust is always appreciated.

Julian's Fresh Peach - Solid Top Crust
As I always recommend when making pies, know your pie plate basics before just pulling one out of the cupboard. Certain types of pie plates work better than others depending on your pie. If you need a refresher on pie plate selection, check my link here.

Ingredients
Prepared pie dough, homemade or purchased
    2 discs of dough, 1 for top and 1 for bottom, crusts required
3 pounds peaches
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons low- or no-sugar-needed fruit pectin*
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
2 tablespoon cornstarch
   or 3 tablespoons Instant ClearGel
1 egg lightly beaten
1-2 tablespoons water
Sanding or crystallized sugar for decoration

*For fruit pectin purchase either Kraft Sure.Jell for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes or Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin.

Instructions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Immerse peaches for 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on ripeness of the peaches (the more ripe, the shorter the time); remove with a slotted spoon.  Let cool briefly in an ice-water bath, then slip off the peach skins with your hands. If they will not come off use a potato peeler or knife to remove them.  Pit and slice the peaches into a medium mixing bowl.

Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice, and salt to the peaches and toss gently. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Combine pectin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 2 tablespoons sugar in small bowl and set aside.

Prepare your pie crust and place the bottom crust in the pan, leaving at least  1/2" overhang. Refrigerate the bottom crust and leave the top crust sit out while you finish preparing the peach filling.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and place a baking sheet on the rack. Preheat oven to 425F degrees.

Transfer 1 cup peach mixture to small bowl and mash with fork until coarse paste forms. Set aside. Drain remaining peach mixture through colander set in large bowl. Transfer peach juice to liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1/2 cup liquid; if liquid measures more than half cup, discard remainder). Return peach pieces to medium mixing bowl and toss with cornstarch or Instant ClearGel. Transfer peach juice to 12-inch skillet, add pectin mixture, and whisk until combined. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and pectin is dissolved (liquid should become less cloudy), 3 to 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Athe cooked pectin mixture to the peaches in the medium bowl along with the peach paste and toss to combine.

Remove the dough-lined pie plate from the refrigerator and transfer peach mixture to the pie plate, mounding peaches toward the center.

Cut the top crust pie dough into 8 strips. Lay 4 dough strips parallel to each other across pie, about 1 inch apart. Lay remaining 4 strips perpendicular to first layer of strips, about 1 inch apart. If you want a woven crust, lay the 4 dough strips as noted. Then when laying the additional 4 strips perpendicular, one by one lift the first strips so the dough weaves under every other strip, rather than over the top of all four.

Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Press edges of bottom crust and lattice strips together and fold under. Folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Crimp dough evenly around edge of pie using your fingers. Beat the egg with the water and brush the lattice strips and edge to moisten. Sprinkle with sanding or sugar crystals.

Place pie on the pre-heated rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust begins to brown, about 25 minutes. Rotate pie and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue to bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is bubbly at center, another 30 minutes. If crust becomes too brown, cover loosely with foil. Remove from oven and let sit on a wire rack until room temperature. Refrigerate the pie for 3 hours, then bring to room temperature for serving. The latter refrigeration causes the corn starch to set and it will remain so even when brought back to room temperature.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Asparagus Soup

After buying a large bundle of Costco asparagus, I wondered how I was going to use up the extra. While we enjoy asparagus roasted as a side dish, I didn't want to serve it daily for a week. So after using it twice in a week, I decided I would turn the remainder into soup.

Julian's Asparagus Soup
After serving a bowl for lunch, I then froze the remainder of the soup and thawed it some weeks later. It was equally delicious. This recipe was originally from Cook's Illustrated and may be slightly modified as I now make it without following the written recipe and have noted it here from memory.

Preparing the vegetables. 
Frozen peas give this soup a subtle sweetness and a boost of green. Using up the thin spears which are not as tender for roasting as the thicker ones is also fine in this soup. For spears 1/2 of thinner, there is no need to peel them. But if you have thick spears, do use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin of the lower portion of the spears.

Ingredients
2 pounds asparagus, stem ends trimmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small leeks, white and light green parts only,
               halved lengthwise and sliced thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions
Cut tips off asparagus spears and chop stalks into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add asparagus tips only and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining butter and asparagus, leeks, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to empty pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.

Add broth to pot and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in peas and Parmesan. Puree soup in blender in two batches and return to pot. Stir in the optional cream if using, lemon juice, and asparagus tips, and warm until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sauteed Corn with Bacon and Leeks

With great sweet corn plentiful, today I'm making an easy side dish that includes everyone's favorite... bacon.

Julian's Sauteed Corn with Bacon and Leeks
It's quick and easy to prepare so it's ideal even on a weeknight. I got the original recipe from Cook's Illustrated but have modified a bit over time. You really can't mess this one up!


Ingredients
6-8 slices bacon
2-3 leeks
salt
5-6 ears corn
1/4 cup fresh chives or thyme
cider vinegar, to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
black pepper

Instructions
Cut off the bottom root end of the leeks and halve lengthwise. Wash thoroughly. Cut off the white and light green parts for use in this recipe and slice thin. Discard dark top ends or save for another meal.

Shuck the corn and cut the kernels from cobs. Dispose of cobs. Cut the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces. Mince the chives or thyme.

Cook bacon in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate. Pour off and reserve fat from skillet. Wipe out burned bits with a paper towel and tongs, and return 2 tablespoons of bacon fat to the skillet. Reheat 30 seconds.

Add leeks and pinch of salt to skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer leeks to large bowl and wipe out skillet.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons reserved fat in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add corn and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook, without stirring, until corn is browned on bottom and beginning to pop, about 3-5 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until corn is spotty brown all over, 3-5 minutes longer. Transfer corn to bowl with leeks.

Stir in chives/thyme, 1 tablespoon vinegar, a pinch cayenne, and bacon.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste. Add additional vinegar and cayenne as needed. Serve warm.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Homemade Ice Cream

Recently my sister and I spent time in the kitchen working out the best possible homemade ice cream. Here you have my recommendations for fruit flavored, chocolate or vanilla ice cream. It's important to note that the recipe is only half of the equation for success. The equipment and technique is the other half.

Julian's Homemade Black Raspberry Ice Cream
While we may all have fond memories of summer, with the family gathered around cranking the old ice cream machine, it's quite likely those memories are seen with rose-colored glasses. In reality the ice cream was usually too runny or grainy or both. And no doubt, we had tired, sore arms after the cranking.

Fact of the matter is you can purchase very good commercially made ice cream. But if you want a flavor not typically found in your grocer's freezer, then you can make your own. It's for this reason I rarely make chocolate or vanilla. I can buy those. So I favor fruits like berries or peaches for a great homemade ice cream. But this recipe will also make excellent vanilla and chocolate if you are so inclined.

Frances Testing Two Old-Style Machines
Equipment:  Today there are many options for making ice cream from an equipment standpoint. So let me start here, as that is half the key to success in homemade ice cream. The fact is, the quicker the custard freezes, the smoother the ice cream will be. Long freezing causes ice crystals to form making the ice cream taste gritty. For freezing to happen quickly, you need the right equipment operated in the correct fashion.

A good electric ice cream maker makes it easy to produce homemade ice cream. If you were thinking of hand cranking, don't if you want good results. The electric machines come in two main styles: canister-style and self-refrigerating. The former has a removable canister that must be frozen before use. If it's the older wood-barrel type, the canister is simply metal. If it's a new better model, it comes with a double-walled coolant lined canister. Both types of canisters must be frozen before use. This means it is a one use per day activity, as it must be refrozen overnight (or even 2 nights) before a second use.

If you want to make volume, then a self-refrigerating machine is required, and they are much pricier. These come with built-in compressors that chill the canisters so there’s no need for long pre-freezing. No matter which you choose, a small volume canister (half gallon or less) is really best. There are some large (gallon and six quart) machines on the market. I don't recommend this no matter how much ice cream you want to make. It's nearly impossible to get them to freeze the custard fast enough for a creamy smooth result, and even if you do they are loud and messy.

Remember, no matter your need for volume or flavor, you are not making ice cream to serve the day it's made (or at least for a few hours). It must always be made in advance so it has time to ripen (harden) in the freezer. So you'll have to find something else to do for family entertainment on the day of your event. 


From the Old Wood Machine - Ready in 30 Minutes
Smooth, Creamy Texture - Freezer Bound
Milk Chocolate Flavor
Canister Style: The best electric canister style (non-self freezing) machine is the Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker. It's inexpensive (under $60), easy to use and freezes fast. It only makes 1.5 quarts. They make larger, fancier versions as well, but the added features don't add much benefit so I wouldn't bother.

If you have an older-style wooden barrel machine with a non-insulated metal canister, you can still use it. These typically make 2 quarts (one-half gallon). But you must attend it constantly, as the ice will melt quickly and requires constant refilling with sprinkles of rock salt to keep it cold enough. We had success with this older machine which could freeze a half-gallon canister in under 30 minutes if the recipe below is followed and the machine is attended constantly. As the bucket was wood, it did leak a bit, despite soaking it in water first. So we did this in the kitchen sink. It is also quite loud. But it works.

If you have an older style machine with a plastic bucket, I would purchase the new Cuisinart and put this old thing out at the garage sale. No matter what we did with this unit, we could not make the plastic bucket (it was smaller than the wood bucket, although the canister was also 2 quarts) hold enough ice and keep the ice frozen to freeze the custard fast enough for a great result. 

Self-Refrigerating: If you're going to make alot of ice cream, either in a single day or simply weekly, you'll need to invest the $350+ to get the Breville Smart Scoop. It too makes 1.5 quarts, and is really the only device that can not only continue to make ice cream batch after batch, but is also a completely hands-off experience once you add the prepared custard. Simply set it, and forget it, as they say. You can even tell the machine how hard you like your ice cream. (Note, a friend that has this machine reports excellent ice cream results but indicated that sorbet came out with some ice crystal formation. He also says he tried less expensive self-freezing machines and not one of the could provide a creamy, non-gritty, result for ice cream.)

Sister and brother in the kitchen... again!
Technique:  We had success putting our ice cream rapidly into the freezer right in the metal canister. However, we were equally successful scraping it into a pre-frozen metal baking pan which did speed up the hardening, making it available to eat sooner.

If using a canister-style ice-cream machine, be sure to freeze the empty canister at least 24-48 hours in advance. Longer is better. Even for self-refrigerating machines, pre-chill the canister by running the machine for 10 minutes before pouring in the custard.

Stabilizers: An ice cream stabilizer is simply an ingredient that improves the texture and consistency. Commercial operations frequently add guar gum, xanthan gum, or carageenan to make their ice cream more stable for storage and transportation. These also help prevent ice crystal formation.  I don't recommend these for home use, although they are widely available.  If you are going to eat the ice cream within 5 days or so, you really don't need these and why include processed items like this if you don't really need them. If you do use them, remember that overuse of stabilizers will give you a slick and gummy result., with a sticky texture on the tongue and a tacky finish. I use a little corn syrup instead.

Recipe Tips: Every ice cream machine comes with a recipe book. Further friends and family supplied theirs, all claiming they made great ice cream. After testing several, it became apparent that was not true. As it turns out, “French-style” ice cream, made with a custard base relying on egg yolks, far surpasses "Philadelphia-style" ice cream, made without eggs. In texture as well as flavor, the egg yolk version simply is more rich and creamy. As for cream, an equal amount of heavy cream and whole milk worked best. Although I was convinced all heavy cream would be better, it was not. Also, temperature of the cooked custard is key. Cooking cream at too high a temperature (above 175F degrees) gave the cream a heavy 'cooked cream' taste that was clearly noticed by everyone who sampled it. It was edible, but it didn't taste right. It also sometimes resulted in curdling. An instant-read thermometer is critical for the best results. If you don't have that, use a candy thermometer. Whatever you do, not rely on terms like 'until it coats the back of wooden spoon' or 'scald the milk'. Use a temperature reading instead.


Ingredients
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (or a vanilla bean)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons flavoring (vanilla, or fruit of you choice)
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum, optional; for creamier texture

For Chocolate Ice Cream: 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate*
For Fruit/Berry Flavored Ice Cream: 2 pints (or about 3-4 cups) of fresh berries or ripe stone fruit**

* Chocolate Ice Cream Flavor: In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Set aside to cool. Add the melted chocolate at the end of step 2 and beat until fully combined.

** Fruit /Berry Flavor: At least 24 hours before you plan to make ice cream, prepare the fruit by cleaning and washing berries, or peeling, stoning and cutting up your fruit into small chunks. Place 1 1/2 pints of the berries in a sauce pan and add sugar. If making a fruit flavor like peach, cook all of them. The amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit. Typically I use as little as possible, but always at least 1/4 cup. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring regularly until the fruit is cooked down.

*** Mocha - Coffee Brownie Flavor: Replace the vanilla with 2 to 3 tablespoons espresso powder. Add 1/2 to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks and a 4-inch square brownie, cut into bite-sized pieces.

For berries place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour in the cooked fruit and its syrup. Using a rubber spatula, work the mixture through the strainer until only the solids are left behind. Stir the reserve whole uncooked berries into the mixture. Place a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours. Add the chilled compote at the end of step 2 and beat until fully combined.

For fruits, cook to your preferred doneness level. I like to keep peaches a little bit more firm than the berries I'm cooking into a sauce.  Place the cooked fruit and its sauce in a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours. Add the fruit compote at the end of step 2 and stir until fully combined.

Julian's Black Raspberry Compote Before Adding Fresh Berries

ICE CREAM INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare Chocolate, Mocha or Fruit flavors per above instructions a day before the below process. Refrigerate until completely cold, about 38F degrees.

Step 1: Place 8- or 9-inch-square metal baking pan in freezer. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise if using and scrape out vanilla seeds. (For the mocha version, add the espresso powder in place of the vanilla bean). Combine vanilla and/or bean, seeds, cream, milk, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, corn syrup, optional xanthan gum, and salt in medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is 173F degrees and not any hotter. Remove pan from heat.

Step 2: While cream mixture heats, whisk yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in bowl until smooth, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk 1 cup heated cream mixture into egg yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and registers 178 degrees. Immediately pour custard into large bowl and let cool until no longer steaming, 10 to 20 minutes. If making chocolate or fruit flavors, add the chilled flavor now (without any solids) and stir until completely combined.

Step 3: Transfer 1 cup custard to small bowl. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap. Place large bowl in refrigerator and small bowl in freezer and cool completely, overnight (up to 24 hours). The small bowl of custard will freeze solid.

Step 4: Remove custards from refrigerator and freezer. Scrape frozen custard from small bowl into large bowl of custard. Stir until frozen custard has fully dissolved. Strain custard through fine-mesh strainer and transfer to ice-cream machine. Churn until mixture resembles thick soft-serve ice cream and registers about 21F degrees, 15 to 30 minutes. If using, stir in any solids like fruit pieces, chocolate chips or cookie/brownie chunks. Transfer ice cream to frozen metal baking pan and press plastic wrap on surface. Freeze for 2 hours.

Step 5: Transfer ice cream to airtight plastic container, pressing firmly to remove any air pockets, and freeze overnight. Ice cream can be stored for up to 5 days.

Julian's Black Raspberry Custard

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Coconut Cheesecake - Easy Version

This recipe, originally from King Arthur Flour, is an easy cheesecake, made in a pie pan with no water bath required.

Julian's Coconut Cheesecake - Easy Version
It has a great coconut flavor. However the ingredients are somewhat hard to find at your local market, although they can be purchased online.


Ingredients

Crust
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
The flavorful crust does
not require pre-baking.
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Filling
2 cups cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk powder
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon coconut flavor

Topping
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Instructions
Select a pie pan whose inside top dimension is at least 9", and whose height is at least 1 1/4". Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the crust: Stir together all the crust ingredients, mixing until thoroughly combined.
Press the crust mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan, making a thicker layer on the bottom than on the sides.

To make the filling: Mix together the room-temperature cream cheese, sugar, and coconut milk powder until smooth. Mix in the eggs and coconut flavor, again mixing until smooth. To avoid beating too much air into the batter, use a mixer set at low-medium speed. To avoid lumps, make sure the cream cheese is softened, and/or at room temperature.

Set the pie pan onto a baking sheet, if desired; this makes it easier to transport in and out of the oven, and protects the bottom of the crust from any potential scorching. Pour the filling into the crust.
Place the cheesecake in the oven. Bake it for 20 minutes, then add a crust shield; or shield the crust with strips of aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 10 minutes (for a total of about 30 minutes). A digital thermometer inserted into the crust 1" from the edge should read between 165°F and 170°F; the filling won't look entirely set in the center.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven, and set it on a rack to cool.

Toast the coconut for the topping in a 350°F oven on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes, until it’s just beginning to turn golden. Once the cake is cool, top it with the toasted coconut, cover it loosely, and refrigerate it until you're ready to serve it.

Store any leftover cheesecake, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

Baked and ready for topping with toasted coconut. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lobster Rolls

This New England favorite is not all so common here in the Midwest, but after visiting America's 'lobster land' I know why they enjoy this sandwich so much.

Julian's Lobster Roll
I like to cook my own lobster so it's really fresh. And as our grocer's fish case always has a tank of live lobsters at reasonable prices, they are easy to come by especially this time of the year when they are most plentiful.

New England Hot Dog Buns
You will need some special ingredients for a classic lobster roll, but you can substitute if you can't find these items.  For example, they use a special hot dog-like roll that is not browned on the sides. Rather you pan fry the lobster roll in a little butter to toast the sides of the roll. You can substitute with a standard hot dog or hoagie roll. They also use the Boston lettuce which is soft, green and buttery in texture. If you don't have it you can use standard green leaf lettuce. I make a 'special sauce' rather than just the classic mayonnaise that you usually find in New England. It is more flavorful, adds a little color and a bit of crunch.

Julian's Steamed Lobster
Prepare the Lobster:  Rather than boil lobster for this purpose, I prefer to steam them. You end up with much less water inside and they cook just as easily. In this case, I simply bring a pasta steamer or other large pot to boil making sure I have some barrier to keep the lobster(s) up out of the water. You can do this with a vegetable steaming basking, pasta basket or even bricks. Once the water is boiling simply add the lobster and let them cook. A 1-pound lobster takes about 10 minutes to steam. I increase the time by about 2 minutes for every quarter pound. A 2-pound lobster takes about 18 minutes and a 3-pound lobster about 25-30 minutes. You really don't want anything bigger than 3-pounds or the meat is overly tough and chewy. If you are making several, pull one out and crack it open to be sure it's done before taking all from the pot. Then let cool until you can handle them easily, crack them open and remove the meat from the tail and claws, discarding the shells. This can be done well ahead and I typically just put in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready for use.



Make the Sauce: The sauce ingredients are listed below and are sufficient for  1 1/2 to 2 pound lobster which will feed two adults. Simply mix the ingredients together well, then toss with the lobster meat. If you'd like to lighten the dish up a bit, as I did here, just slice some of the lettuce into small pieces and mix into the dressed lobster.

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ketchup
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoons minced celery
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt
Pinch cayenne pepper

This makes a light dressing for the lobster.

Toast and Assemble:  If using the classic New England lobster rolls, butter the sides lightly and toast in a warm skillet until lightly brown on both sides. Then place a large leaf of the lettuce on the inside of the bun, and stuff it with the lobster filling. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

Baking with fresh strawberries can be challenging, as the berry has a significant amount of water. However, if you can solve this problem you can make cupcakes that will have a wonderful fresh strawberry flavor as well as a pink strawberry color.

Julian's Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes
for the July 4th Celebration
Today I'm decorating these cupcakes for a U.S. Independence Day celebration, but you could easily just use them as a spring/summer cupcake or for any number of celebrations. See photo at bottom. Without the holiday theme they are pretty in pink inside and out.

Using the Color Swirl Technique
for the Independence Day Holiday

Standard Size Cupcakes Before Frosting
My recipe is pretty large, making three dozen standard sized cupcakes. In this day and age it's hard to tell what that means. Here I'm talking about using standard pans and cupcake papers; not mini and not jumbo sized. Just the standard cupcake pan your mom used to make. To many these now seem small, but to me they seem just right. For a frosted cupcake you really only want it to be a few bites. These are a perfect treat and not 'too much' or 'too sweet', which you often hear when people get those huge cupcakes.

Melted Strawberry Jammy Bits
In this recipe I use 'strawberry jammy bits' that I purchase at King Arthur Flour. They are available other places as well. When these are added to the mixture, they melt somewhat during baking and provide a big of extra flavor and little pockets of gooey strawberry, which I prefer. However, the cupcakes come out well without them if you don't have them handy.

Finally, these are a good item to make ahead and frost on the day you plan to use them. They store well in the refrigerator for up to three days as noted in the instructions below.

Ingredients (Makes 3 dozen)

Cooking the Strawberries
Cupcakes
16 ounces fresh strawberries
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons strawberry gelatin powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons strawberry flavoring
Ingredients for Mixing
1 1/4 cups milk or cream
8 ounces strawberry jammy bits (optional)

Frosting 
7 cups powdered sugar
2 cup butter, softened
Strained strawberry reduction from above
2 teaspoon strawberry flavoring
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Cupcakes 
Clean and hull the strawberries and slice them in halves. Toss the strawberries in 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Add the lemon juice and stir over medium-high heat until the mixture boils, stirring regularly. Boil for 5 minutes and then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes more, stirring regularly, until the mixture is reduced by about half and a loose jam consistency. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Place a strainer (sieve) over a bowl and scoop out 1/2 cup of the cooked strawberry mixture into the strainer. Using a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon, work the mixture through the strainer until the liquid is in the bowl below. Scrape off the underside of the strainer to gather the strained puree into the bowl. Cover and refrigerate the strained puree. Stir the thick ingredients that wouldn't pass through the strainer back into the pan with the remaining strawberries. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate approximately 30 minutes or until cool to the touch.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line your muffin tins with cupcake papers. (Note. If you only have one 12 piece muffin tin, you can do this in batches.)

Measure the milk and add the vanilla and strawberry flavor to the milk. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, strawberry gelatin and salt together. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy; about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and beat on medium for an additional 2 minutes. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and add to the running mixer one at a time until well combined, about 2-3 minutes more. Turn the mixer to low, and add the cooled strawberry mixture until combined.

With the mixer on low, slowly add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and then half of the milk mixture. Add another third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and then the remainder of the milk mixture. Finally, add the last third of the flour mixture to the batter and mix until will blended. Stir in the optional strawberry jammy bits.

Transfer the thick batter into the muffin papers, not filling them more than half way.. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until a pic comes out clean when tested. Test at 25 minutes, then ever 3-4 minutes. Do not over bake. When done, remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Remove from muffin tins using a fork and place on a wire rack to cool completely. At this stage the cooled cupcakes can be refrigerated if covered with plastic wrap or stored in an air-tight container for up to 3 days before frosting.

Frosting Instructions
Sift the powdered sugar to remove lumps. Beat butter with an electric mixer in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the strained strawberry reduction* and the vanilla and strawberry flavoring. Slowly add the powdered sugar into the running mixer until the butter and sugar are well blended. (*Note for color swirl, separate the frosting into three bowls and only add the strawberry puree to the red batch, leaving the one white and dying the other blue with food coloring.)

Frost the cupcakes with the strawberry buttercream frosting using a knife or a pastry bag. Add any additional garnishes (like sprinkles) and serve. If not using immediately, they can sit at air conditioned room temperature (aka 75F degrees) for 4 hours. Otherwise refrigerate up to 24 hours. Let come to room temperature before serving.

Color Swirl Technique
If you want to do a three color swirl, you can accomplish this in two ways. The first is to load a pastry bag with all three colors, evenly dispersed and in equal quantities. Alternatively you can purchase the Wilton Color Swirl kit which has a special adapter to connect three bags to a single coupler.

Color Swirl Technique - Uses Food Color

Without Holiday Sprinkles and only Strawberry Puree for Color