These strawberry cheesecake cupcakes are like a bite-sized version of a slice of cheesecake with strawberry sauce, and they’re perfect for just about any celebration! Strawberries are cooked down to concentrate their flavor, and then used in the cake batter, filling, and as a frosting swirl. Sweetened cream cheese pulls double duty, as it’s used in both the cupcake filling and the whipped cream cheese frosting.
To make the strawberry reduction: Rinse the strawberries, remove their leaves and stems, then dice; you should have approximately 3 cups (about 400g) of strawberries at this point.
Transfer the strawberries to a medium pot and add the sugar; mix to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries have released their juices and softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Pulse the strawberries and their liquid in a food processor or blender until smooth; you should have approximately 1 1/2 cups (about 370g) of strawberry liquid. Pour the liquid back into the pot and return to the stove. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to purée the mixture off the heat, and then return it to the stove.
Bring the mixture to a low boil over medium heat and continue to stir for 6 to 8 minutes. The mixture will become foamy, slightly thick, and darker in color.
In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice and cornstarch until smooth. Add to the strawberry mixture and continue stirring at a low boil for 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. You should have approximately 1 cup (about 275g) of strawberry reduction at this point. The strawberry reduction can be made up to 5 days in advance. If making in advance, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a standard muffin pan, or line with baking cups.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment or working with an electric hand mixer in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix at low speed until the mixture looks sandy.
Beat in the egg, egg white, water, and vanilla, then mix until no dry spots of flour remain. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl and beater attachment(s) as needed; the mixture will be thick.
Add the strawberry reduction and food coloring, then continue to mix on low speed until the batter is smooth. Stop to scrape the bowl and then mix again at low speed for 30 seconds.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan; a muffin scoop works well here.
Bake the cupcakes for 20 to 24 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the middle cupcakes comes out clean.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and as soon as you can handle them, remove them from the pan and transfer them to a rack to cool. Allow them to cool completely before filling and frosting.
To make the filling and frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment or working with an electric hand mixer in a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, 1 1/4 cups (141g) of the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat until smooth.
Transfer 2/3 cup (about 140g) of the sweetened cream cheese to a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, stir to combine, then cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble. This will be the cupcake filling.
Add the cream to the bowl with the remaining cream cheese mixture. If using a stand mixer, switch to the whisk attachment and whip on medium-low speed until soft peaks form.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons (14g) confectioners’ sugar and Instant Clear Jel. Sprinkle over the top of the whipped cream cheese mixture and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble. This will be the cupcake frosting.
To assemble the cupcakes: Use a paring knife or a teaspoon cookie scoop to scoop a 1" to 1 1/4" hole out of the center of each cupcake, reserving the scooped-out top. Spoon a scant tablespoon of the cream cheese filling into each hole, followed by a 1/2 teaspoon of strawberry reduction, then replace the top of the cupcake, pressing gently to adhere. (If you would rather have a baker’s snack, it’s not necessary to return the top.)
Fit a large pastry bag with a plain round tip, about 1/2" in diameter (we like Ateco #806). Tilt the pastry bag to one side and use a spoon to transfer some of the reserved strawberry reduction (about 2 tablespoons) to the bag. Use the back of the spoon to spread a stripe of the strawberry reduction lengthwise up the bag. If your pastry bag has a side seam, use this seam as a guide to spread the reduction.
Once the pastry bag is lined with a stripe of strawberry reduction, carefully transfer small spoonfuls of the frosting into the bag. Tilt the pastry bag to the away from the strawberry reduction to avoid mixing the frosting and reduction while filling the bag. If you find this step difficult, see “tips,” below for an alternative method to filling the pastry bag with a distinct stripe.
When is the pastry bag is full, position the tip at the upper left-hand corner of the cupcake and pipe 3 dots of frosting in a vertical line along the edge of the cupcake. As you finish applying pressure, trail the pastry bag to the right, creating a small tail of frosting resembling a teardrop. Moving left to right, pipe 4 dots of frosting in a vertical line next to the first 3 dots of frosting, dragging the tip slightly to create the teardrop shape. Be sure to slightly overlap the piped rounds so no cake is visible. Continue to pipe vertical lines of overlapping dots until the top of the cupcake is covered. Depending on the size of the piped dots, you should be able to get 3 or 4 columns of piped frosting; this is known as a "fish scale design."
Depending on the size of your pastry bag, you may need to fill it again or use a fresh bag. If re-using, scrape all the strawberry reduction and frosting out of the bag using the flat edge of a bowl scraper, then refill as described above (steps 19 and 20).
To finish the cheesecake cupcakes, sprinkle some graham cracker crumbs over the top of the frosting and garnish with a halved fresh strawberry.
Storage information: Store the cheesecake cupcakes, covered, in the refrigerator for several days. Cupcakes can be served chilled or at room temperature.
Tips from our Bakers
Frozen strawberries can be used in place of fresh when making the reduction. Use 400g frozen strawberries and reduce as directed in steps 2 through 6.
Here’s an alternative way to fill your bag with a stripe of strawberry reduction and frosting that's slightly easier (but uses an additional piece of plastic): Place a piece of plastic wrap that is about as long as your pastry bag on the counter and spread a line of the strawberry reduction down the length; then spread a thicker line of frosting right next to it, roll it up, place it in the pastry bag, and begin to pipe.
Want to make this recipe gluten-free? For great results, substitute King Arthur Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour for the all-purpose flour in this recipe. Be sure to bake thoroughly; gluten-free baked goods often need a bit more time in the oven.
There are many options when it comes to red food coloring. If using powdered natural color, we recommend using 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the hydrated color. If using natural food color gels, we recommend using 24 to 34 drops.