Strawberry N' Cream Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: These cupcakes are what I'd call "delicate beauties" that need to be devoured quickly lest they wilt in the heat. They'll keep, if chilled, for a couple days after assembly. You can also make the components and chill them until ready to serve. You'll have a good amount of filling and frosting left over, but fortunately they're good on their own, too!

Vanilla Cupcakes (Recipe below)
Whipped Cream Frosting (Recipe below)
2 quarts strawberries, hulled [reserve the 12 smallest and prettiest and slice the rest]
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp fresh mint, finely minced (optional)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp Kirsch (optional but highly recommended)

Toss strawberries several times in a bowl with sugar, lemon juice, mint, vanilla, and Kirsch (if using) until very syrupy and set aside. Make whipped cream frosting (see below).

Use a paring knife to cut a shallow cone in the middle top of the cupcake. Spoon some strawberries with syrup over top, allowing it to absorb into cupcakes. Top each with a dollop of cream frosting and a strawberry half. Enjoy!

Vanilla Cupcakes
Adapted from Amy Sedaris

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the tops of 2 standard muffin tins, then line with 24 paper liners. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a different larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix until combined into the batter. Then add the vanilla and mix again. Finally alternately beat in dry ingredients and milk. Fill liners until they are about 2/3 full (I like to use my large cookie scoop for this). Bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely.

Whipped Cream Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature [reduced-fat is fine]
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream

Place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment [or use a large mixing bowl and hand-held mixer]. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; then increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 1/2 cups).