Citrus Cornmeal Cupcakes with Fresh Strawberries, Fig Jam, and Goat Cheese Frosting


Whenever I move to a new place, I always start by baking a batch of vanilla cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery. I've baked the recipe so many times now that I know it by heart — if somebody were to point a gun to my head and told me to bake something from scratch as if my life depended on it, this would be the recipe that I would shakily bake. Even under the dire (and hopefully, fictional) circumstances, I know that its results will be solid and dependable, and the recipe will make a batch of tasty cupcakes with a hearty crumb and a beautiful golden color.

As a result, the recipe has become my litmus test. The first thing I bake in every house I've ever lived in is a variation of these cupcakes — they were the first thing I baked in Colorado, for this blog and my new oven in Denver. They made an appearance when I moved back to Portland (but this time with some rose flavored extract). I know what they're supposed to look like and taste like in the best circumstances. If they come out too dry, I know that the oven runs too hot. If they're taking longer than the 20 to 25 minutes that the recipe calls for, the oven has uneven heating and perhaps runs too cool.


When I first made these cupcakes in my new apartment in San Francisco, I nearly cried. The new oven appears to simultaneously run too hot and too cold, resulting in half the cupcakes being overbaked and the other half underbaked. The second run, in which I rotated the muffin tin halfway through in an attempt to fix the uneven baking, resulted in the exact same overbaked/underbaked cupcakes. Oh, and did I mention that the new oven can't even fit a regular cookie sheet? It was certainly a big change from the brand new double oven I had left behind in Portland.

SOB.

But real talk — yes, it's a big disappointment.

And yes, it's going to be a big adjustment.

HOWEVER, this blog was borne from similarly frustrating circumstances — teaching myself how to bake at high-altitude after having lived at sea-level my entire life — and so it's about time I stop resting on my laurels and my spacious, beautiful kitchen and go back to the blog's roots: challenging myself to be the best baker I can be in imperfect circumstances. But this time around, instead of figuring out how to bake in the mountains, it'll be all about figuring out how to bake in a finnicky apartment oven that's only big enough for one rack and a 9 x 13-inch pan.


In any case, uneven and misshapen cupcakes can always be hidden by some frosting and pretty fruit. I added some lemon zest (because I have a lemon tree in my new yard, and couldn't resist) to the original recipe, as well as a dash of cornmeal to give the cupcakes a slight crunch in their crumb. To complement the citrus and cornmeal, I topped the cupcakes off with goat cheese frosting (think: a tangier cream cheese type frosting with that unique umami flavor from goat cheese), fresh strawberries, and the best fig jam from Bonne Maman. Because is there a better combination than strawberries, figs, and goat cheese? Nope, there really isn't.


Some baker's notes:
  • Bonne Maman fig jam is available online, or in specialty gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods.

  • I like to use a 1-tablespoon sized cookie scoop to divide the cupcake batter evenly between cupcake case — it makes dividing the batter a breeze, and clean-up a cinch. For this recipe, I put 2 tablespoons of cupcake batter in each case.

  • Frost your cupcakes immediately after you have made the frosting. If you let the frosting sit out too long, it will start to crust and you will have a hard time frosting your cupcakes. However, make sure your cupcakes are cooled completely before frosting, or they will get soggy.


Citrus Cornmeal Cupcakes with Fresh Strawberries, Fig Jam, and Goat Cheese Frosting

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Ingredients

For the Citrus Cornmeal Cupcakes:
(makes 12 cupcakes)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • fresh zest from 1 small lemon
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, divided into two 1/4 cup portions
  • 1 large egg

For the Goat Cheese Frosting and Fruit Topping:
(makes enough for 12 cupcakes)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons Bonne Maman fig jam

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Recipe

For the Citrus Cornmeal Cupcakes:
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 (F). Prepare a muffin tin by lining each of its cavities with a cupcake liner.

  2. In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar and the fresh zest from 1 small lemon. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar, until the zest is well incorporated throughout the sugar and the mixture becomes fragrant. Set aside.

  3. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the lemon-infused sugar (from the 2nd step), 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt, and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter. Beat on the mixer's lowest setting until the mixture turns sandy and the ingredients are well combined. Pour in 1/4 cup of the milk and continue beating until the milk is just incorporated.

  4. In the bowl of a liquid measuring cup, whisk together 1 large egg with the remaining 1/4 cup milk. Pour the mixture into the rest of the batter, and continue beating until just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix!

  5. Spoon the batter into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden and the cake bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the center of each cupcake should come out clean. Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before turning out into a wire rack to cool completely.

  6. When the cupcakes are completely cold, spoon the frosting on top and decorate accordingly.

For the Goat Cheese Frosting and Fruit Topping:
  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 8 ounces cream cheese and 4 ounces goat cheese. Beat on medium-high speed until well combined, before adding 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar a tablespoon at a time. Once all the confectioners' sugar is added, add 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and beat until just incorporated.

  2. Use a piping bag or an offset spatula to spoon the frosting on to the top of each cooled cupcake. Garnish each cupcake with strawberries and a dollop of fig jam. Serve immediately.
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42 comments

  1. I love how these are almost savory, but not quite! A delightful mix of flavors, I think, and some of my favorites (goat cheese and fig jam). I'm really interested in the addition of cornmeal!

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  2. Having a go-to recipe like vanilla cupcakes is fabulous! I could make a pie without a recipe, but cake? Nope! I will definitely be saving this recipe for later. Cornmeal anything makes me so happy!

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  3. Your styling is perfect in this post. Beautiful cupcakes. Also sending you good vibes as you adjust to your SF life!!

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  4. Gabriella SusantoMay 27, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    Hi Michelle! These cupcakes look so good! the flavour combinations of strawberries, goat's cheese must taste incredible, these cupcakes are on the must try of my recipe to do list! <3 Having a litmus test recipe is genius, it helps really get to know your oven!

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  5. Bhiravi @ Kitchen in the HillsMay 27, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    I had a similar experience when I moved into my 1920's Bay Area apartment! Super old ove, a Wedgewood. Everything was burnt yet underdone. For the first month, anything I baked in it came out strangely over or under cooked. I eventually got an oven thermometer (like $5 at the grocery store) and it changed everything. Turned out my oven ran 50-100 degrees hot depending on what temperature I had it set at. Once I knew that, my baked goods turned out perfectly. I now love that oven, and know I could make anything in it. I love it, because it runs so hot that the oven hits 800 when left on broil... Pizza!!!!!

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  6. These cupcakes look incredible, Michelle! That frosting... woah.
    And I'm so sorry about your new oven... but if anyone can handle a baking setback like that, it's you. I can't wait to see all the lovely creations you whip up over the next few months.
    xoxo! <3

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  7. Thanks Kristin! Goat cheese is currently one of my favorite ingredients to bake with; I love the slight touch of umami they bring to desserts.

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  8. Thanks Katrina! I have a handful of trusty cake recipes that I always rely on; you never know when you need to whip up a birthday cake!

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  9. Thanks Erica! I actually was a little bit disappointed in the pictures since I'm still not used to the light in my new apartment, so your words are really reassuring. Every time I move, I feel like I start the process of learning how to take good photos all over again!

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  10. Thanks Gabriella! I've always loved strawberries, and I'm a little obsessed with goat cheese at the moment. I figured it was time to combine my two loves ;-)

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  11. I got an oven thermometer, but it hasn't really helped! I think the problem is that the oven is so old that it moderates itself by turning on and off every so often, as opposed to just keeping a steady heat. Oh well. I forsee a ton of cookies and stovetop desserts for the next year.

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  12. Thanks Abby! Your words made me feel a little better; I really appreciate the support!

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  13. Sounds like a good litmus test to me! Love that goat cheese frosting :)

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  14. They're still absolutely stunning, you've got real talent. Speaking of taking good photos, I just got my first ever DSLR today and I'm so excited to learn how to use it! Finally graduating from the point and shoot camera :D

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  15. How do you always bake the most wonderful things?!?!? These sound amazing. Anything with fig jam in it gets my heart, and I love the addition of cornmeal and goat cheese frosting (which I need to try). Your oven sounds like a real bitch. :-| I'm practically weeping for you because you left your gorgeous new kitchen behind. Good luck with working your way around this new one - if anyone can figure it out, I'm sure it's you!

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  16. Oh, love! Haha, I love that you use these as a way to test your new oven. These look so beautiful and bright!!!

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  17. I love, love, love your attitude. You've totally got this, girl. You'll show that oven who's boss in no time. And, good gracious. These cupcakes are a dream come true.

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  18. Michelle, I feel for you! Getting used to a new kitchen is no easy feat. When I moved to France (to teach for a year on a fellowship), I moved from a normal American kitchen to a teensy tiny French studio, with an oven that barely fit a casserole dish, let alone a half-sheet pan. But! You soldier on and you figure out how to make it work. And then you serve Thanksgiving dinner out of said teensy oven and you feel good. You'll conquer your new oven, I know. :)

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  19. UGH I'M STILL BITTER ABOUT THAT KITCHEN TOO.

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  20. Thanks Lindsey! So far all my baking attempts have been meh in the new oven, but it's still early days. I know I'll figure it out. I hope. :-/

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  21. Thanks Ashley! And damn those pesky European kitchens. Or maybe we're just spoiled because everything in the US is so much bigger, lol.

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  22. Ugh, I feel you on the sadness of the tiny oven. But so long as it tastes good, right? And they look lovely.

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  23. Testing an oven with the same recipe is the best way to really get to know what you are dealing with in your kitchen. I need to remember this trick when I move out to Seattle. I am in love with the flavor/texture profile going on here. I can just imagine how delicious that crumb is with the addition of cornmeal..

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  24. Yeah, for sure! Unfortunately the weird heating of the oven also affects the taste, managing to underbake and overbake things at the same time. Side eye.


    I'll figure it out.

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  25. Omg, you're moving to Seattle!!! Congrats! I love that city!

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  26. Oh Michelle - it can be so heart-breaking when you're at the mercy of wonky ovens but I love your super positive outlook! I started my blog in a rented property with an oven that had a broken thermostat and would just heat indefinitely. In our current place the oven is about to be replaced - it seems the trick is the accidentally break it....

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  27. I have total and utter faith in you to tame that pesky oven of yours Michelle + I can't wait to see all of the deliciousness that's going to come out of your SF kitchen. I adore goat cheese in anything (and everything) and the combination here with the brightness of the lemon and those beautiful strawberries sounds just perfect.

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  28. Wow, this looks really good. I love baking with tea - it lends such a nice, unexpected flavor to a lot of things. I'm looking forward to trying this. :)

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  29. Jessie Snyder | Faring WellMay 28, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    That is so brilliant - baking the same thing in each apt to test the oven! I need to start doing that. However, I really hope to stop moving so often and settle in with one oven soon. Rooting for you and your tiny, finicky SF oven! <3

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  30. Our Food StoriesMay 28, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    Oh how we love these kind of recipes that have an own tradition. and these cupcakes look so delish!! wish i could have one with my coffee now :D

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  31. Hahah, I like your plan! Maybe I should stage an "accident". ;-)

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  32. Thanks Kathryn! It's definitely a big adjustment from the Portland house, sigh.

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  33. Word. Moving is the worst. Let's stop it ;-)

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  34. Thank you! If I could send some over there, I totally would :-)

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  35. i love the idea of a cupcake litmus test... what a great tradition. Good luck with your oven woes. You will show that thing who's boss i know it!! xo

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  36. I'm so glad we finally got to meet last night and I'm looking forward to next week. I bake bread for my oven litmus test but your cupcakes are a better and tastier choice. BTW, on my way back home, I realized I was hungry for more pupusas.

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  37. Firstly, these sound like the most elegantly complex cupcakes in the world. I love your description of them! Also, I'm sorry to hear about the new kitchen but love your attitude about it. I needed to be reminded of that myself today! See you soon, darlin! xx

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  38. So these might be the prettiest cupcakes to come out of a semi-dysfunctional kitchen ever. Love that you've got the best attitude about it--I had an oven that had hot spots and cool spots when I lived in Mill Valley and literally how I found them was through baking macarons!! Love the goat cheese (love goat cheese anything) and cornmeal combo. Sounds perfectly sweet and savory. YUM.

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  39. NOOoo your oven!!! So frustrating :(:( especially with that gorgeous kitchen back in Portland. :'( But I know with skills like yours you'll tame that pesky thing in no time -- especially with how AMAZING these cupcakes are!! These photos are so stunning (that composition!) and the flavors are beyond perfect. Beautiful, Michelle <3

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  40. i most certainly need some goat cheese frosting in my life! this sounds incredible.

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