Blueberries, bourbon, basil. It might sound like a tongue-twister, or an odd amalgamation at best. But please trust me: this trio of flavors is a sweet symphony of complementary bliss. While I’ve made plenty of desserts with liquor and occasionally with basil, I can’t take any credit for this magical combination. It was fully inspired by the glaze on a gourmet donut that my honey and I shared on a recent day off together. After tasting it, I couldn’t shake the vibrancy of its fruity, grassy warmth from my mind. I found myself daydreaming of basil and blueberry jam-filled treats, fragrant with bourbon and maybe even some cream cheese. Soon after, these admittedly over-the-top cupcakes were born.
I haven’t yet delved into the world of homemade jam-making, so I chose one as natural and flavorful as I could’ve hoped, with only berries, apple juice and pectin on the list of ingredients. Snippets of fresh basil proved to bloom with herbal deliciousness once whisked into the jam. A tender but sturdy cake batter would be the perfect vessel — one with a dose of bourbon big enough to offer a fragrant kick. And finally, a modest swirl of tangy frosting would keep over-sweetness at bay, while echoing the tart essence of the other cupcake components. Here is the scrumptious success.
Blueberry Basil Bourbon Cupcakes (makes 12)
- ¼ ounce (7 grams) fresh basil leaves (plus 12 tiny leaves or leaf tips for topping the cupcakes; see below)
- 2/3 cup blueberry jam, preferably not too sweet (plus 1-2 teaspoons for the frosting; see below)
Up to 48 hours before serving the cupcakes, rinse and dry basil leaves. Discard stems, then finely mince the leaves. You should have about a heaping tablespoon of minced basil, loosely packed. Whisk it into the jam until evenly distributed. Cover and chill. The longer the jam sits, the more basil-infused it will be.
- 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- ¼ cup (2 ounces) softened butter
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- dash of salt
- 1-2 teaspoons blueberry jam
Up to 48 hours before serving the cupcakes, beat the cream cheese and butter until well blended and even in consistency, preferably using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer. Stop and sift the sugar and salt over the mixture, and keep beating until fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl often. Fold in the jam. Cover and chill. Within an hour of assembling the cupcakes, bring the frosting back to cool room temperature, re-beating if needed, and transfer to a pastry bag.
- ¼ pound fresh blueberries
- ½ cup butter at soft room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 medium/large eggs
- 1/3 cup plain low fat yogurt (preferably not Greek or strained)
- 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup strong, flavorful bourbon
On the day of serving the cupcakes, line a muffin pan with 12 paper liners. Preheat oven to 350 F. Rinse and dry the blueberries. Set aside 12 of the prettiest ones for topping the cupcakes, then slice the remaining berries in half. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla followed by the eggs one at a time. When the mixture is even in color, beat in the yogurt (don’t be alarmed if the batter looks curdled briefly).
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt over the mixture. Stir until even; batter will seem thick. Mix in the bourbon until texture is smooth, scraping sides and bottom of bowl with spatula often. Finally, fold in the sliced blueberries. Scoop batter into lined muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake cupcakes for 15-18 minutes. Centers will be domed and crackly, and the air will emit warm bourbon bliss.
Remove cupcakes from muffin pan as soon as cool enough to handle, transferring them to a cutting board or counter top. Just when they reach room temperature or a little warmer, cut a generous but not too deep cone out of the core of each. It helps to insert a sharp paring knife with one hand, while turning the cupcake with the other. Fill each indention with a spoonful of jam.
Pipe a not-too-tall spiral of frosting over the top of each cupcake, starting at the outside edge and ending in the center. Top each cupcake with a small basil leaf or leaf tip, then a whole blueberry. Serve the same day, at room temperature. If you must refrigerate, let the cupcakes come to room temperature, sitting out for 45 minutes before eating.
Creamy with a kick, the berry-flecked batter of these cupcakes offers a warmth that’s balanced perfectly with a whisper of sweet basil. Surprisingly not too sweet, every bite is somehow both refreshing and relaxing, imparting a softness of flavors that entertains your palate while you sit back and savor it. Tangy, juicy and boozy, these herbal indulgences are satisfying to the last crumb. And if the name feels like too much to say, give your voice a rest, and instead fill your mouth with the very embodiment of the all those syllables.
Maybe next time… Almost any fresh berries or any liquor could be successfully substituted in this recipe — but I stand by my declaration that blueberries, bourbon and basil belong together. (A friend of mine said something like, “Basil always gets coupled with strawberry, but now that I’ve tasted these, I think blueberries are better with it!”) I’m not a big whiskey-drinker, but I really loved the flavor and strength of this bourbon in this recipe; it really held its character, unlike many liquors that seem to evaporate when baked — but choose any kind you like. If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, substitute a thin, not too sweet juice such as blueberry or lemon. Finally, if you’re like me and don’t make homemade jam (yet), there are some great reviews and recommendations here.