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  • Writer's pictureKelly

Fruit-Sweetened Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Fruit-Sweetened)

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

It's summertime, so you know what that means... SUMMER RECIPES season on The Dimpled Date!! My first summer-themed offering on The Dimpled Date this year are these D-E-L-E-C-T-A-B-L-E Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes. Basically, moist & soft vanilla cupcakes meet a vibrantly fruity homemade strawberry filling meet a decadent strawberries 'n cream buttercream frosting. And you would never guess these are sweetened with fruit and don't have any refined sugar! These cupcakes are 100% vegan, gluten-free, and are sweetened entirely with dates and strawberries (yes, even the frosting and the strawberry filling!). Even better? These cupcakes can be made 100% nut-free! (***HOWEVER, PLEASE BE AWARE: these cupcakes contain coconut in the form of coconut oil, coconut butter, and coconut cream. Some people who are allergic to tree nuts may have an allergy to coconuts [even though coconut is technically not a nut], so if you are allergic to both tree nuts and coconut check out the "Substitutions" section of this post to see if the suggested substitutions for the coconut ingredients work for you***). These cupcakes are gonna be your new favorite summer treat that are also healthy at the same time! Delicious + healthy = guilt-free, so treat yourself and bake these cupcakes!!



This is my first cupcake recipe on The Dimpled Date! You've seen my various muffin recipes, like my Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Muffins or my Spinach Spirulina Apple Muffins, but it was long overdue to share my scrumptious cupcake recipes with you all. Surprisingly, this Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake recipe wasn't the first I've experimented with for The Dimpled Date. I've experimented with Peppermint Bark Cupcakes, Chocolate Cupcakes, Pistachio Ricotta Rose Cupcakes, and many more. I found that I needed to tweak a lot of these cupcakes before posting them though. But lo and behold, I finally have a perfected cupcake recipe with this one!


For these Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes, I created a fluffy vanilla & almond cupcake with a DIY fruit-sweetened strawberry preserves filling, and a rich strawberries 'n cream buttercream frosting (naturally colored w/ vegan/sugar-free/natural food dye). The combo is irresistible, with the perfect contrast of flavors. Incredibly, these cupcakes get their fluffy and ultra-supple texture from a combo of oat flour and tapioca flour (who'd a thought?!). At first, I was skeptical of using oat flour and tapioca flour for cupcakes because I thought it would make the cupcakes too chewy, dry, and tough. But after a little trial and error, I found that this flour choice yields an ideal cupcake that is also allergy-friendly as well.



These cupcakes are 100% vegan, gluten-free, and are sweetened strictly with fruit (dates and strawberries). Even the 6-ingredient strawberry filling is only sweetened with date paste and fresh strawberries. Believe it or not, even the frosting is sweetened with dates! Yes, you heard me correctly, there is no powdered sugar in the frosting. Instead, I've used dates blended into a paste to sweeten my frosting, and it still has a fluffy, luxurious texture! (Albeit, the frosting may be slightly on the watery side due to using the date paste, but a quick chill in the fridge will get it to achieve that wonderful classic buttercream texture, without the sugar or dairy). And yes, technically this cupcake recipe is nut-free, but it does contain coconut ingredients, so please be aware of this if you have allergies to coconut.


These cupcakes are bursting with vibrant fruity flavor, ample sweetness, dreamy creaminess, a little tartness, and light vanilla, and are sure to make your tastebuds and your tummy happy. And the heavenly mouthfeel from the light and soft cupcakes and smooth, luscious buttercream gives you the ultimate dessert experience. Don't believe me? Make these and see for yourself. Once you bake these cupcakes, it will be love at first bite! And trust me, you won't even miss the dairy, gluten, or sugar.


By the way, be sure to store these cupcakes at room temperature for up to two days without frosting if you want to maintain the moist, fluffy texture. When you want to enjoy one, take the frosting out of the fridge, frost the cupcake, and indulge your sweet tooth. Make sure the frosting is kept in an airtight container in the fridge, and when ready to use, defrost at room temp as necessary then frost the cupcakes.



Nutritional Profile of Fruit-Sweetened Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes


Oat flour- oat flour is a great source of healthy carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and iron. Healthy carbs provide long-lasting, high-quality energy, while fiber stimulates digestion. Protein builds muscle and iron forms red blood cells. Make sure you buy certified gluten-free oat flour if you're strictly gluten-free because even though oats & oat flour are naturally gluten-free, they can be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing crops. Pro tip: don't have oat flour or ran out? Make your own! Simply place the amount of oats equal to the amount of oat flour you need in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend on high until ground to desired consistency (grind to a fine powdery consistency to make it more like store-bought oat flour).


Medjool dates- Medjool dates (or the "King of Dates") are one of the largest and sweetest varieties of dates in the U.S., and are incredibly soft with rich caramel notes. They are my absolute favorite type of date, and my preferred variety to use on the blog. Dates are antioxidant powerhouses that are also rich in fiber, protein, potassium, and iron. Fiber slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream and aids digestion. Protein builds and maintains muscle mass. Potassium regulates blood pressure and balances electrolytes. Iron builds red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body. Antioxidants in general help protect against numerous diseases because of their ability to fight disease-causing free radicals in the body. Dates also benefit bone health, can help regulate blood sugar levels in moderation (believe it or not!), help promote healthy bowel movements, may help alleviate symptoms of PMS, and show potential as a way to naturally induce (or at least shorten) labor, according to emerging research. Opt for organic dates with no added sugar to reap the maximum benefits of the dates (I use Natural Delights' Whole Fresh Medjool Dates that are grown with zero pesticides and have no added sugar).


Coconut butter- coconut butter is chock-full of healthy fats (specifically, medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs), fiber, protein, and iron. MCTs provide the body with high-quality, quick energy. Fiber can help prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. Protein maintains muscle mass and iron builds hemoglobin. Coconut butter, which is essentially puréed coconut meat, is different from coconut oil, which is the oil extracted from pressing coconut meat. You may see coconut butter labeled as coconut manna.


Sea salt- sea salt is healthier than table salt because it is much less processed than table salt. Sea salt balances electrolytes, nourishes the body with numerous micronutrients, and may benefit adrenal health. As a result of being less processed, sea salts tend to be rich in minerals and other micronutrients that you won't find in table salt. Choose Himalayan pink sea salt, Hawaiian black lava sea salt, Hawaiian red alaea sea salt, or another healthy sea salt. My go-to sea salt is Himalayan pink sea salt. Be sure to choose a sea salt that goes with the recipe you're making, though, as certain kinds of sea salt like Hawaiian black lava sea salt or smoked sea salts can add an intense or pungent flavor to your recipes.


Flaxseed- flaxseed (and thus flax eggs, which are just flax meal + water) is a good source of healthy fats (including omega-3s), protein, fiber, and iron. Healthy fats are good for the nervous system and cardiovascular system. Protein builds muscle while fiber aids digestion, promotes heart health, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Iron builds red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body. Choose flaxseed meal over whole flaxseeds, as flax meal is easier to digest and is better for baking.


Unsweetened almond milk- unsweetened almond milk is chock-full of vitamin E, vitamin D, and calcium (if fortified). Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is good for your skin and hair. Vitamin D and calcium help build healthy bones, and vitamin D is good for the immune system. Choose unsweetened almond milk with minimal additives or opt to make your own!


Coconut oil- coconut oil is rich in healthy fats (including MCTs). Healthy fats are good for heart health, brain health, skin, and hair. Medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs), specifically provide high-quality, quick energy for the body. Emerging research is suggesting that plant-based saturated fat (the kind found in coconut) may be better for you than animal-based saturated fat and may even benefit your health. Coconut oil may also have antimicrobial properties. Tip: choose unrefined, cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil when purchasing to get the maximum amount of nutrients. Also, coconut oil can be used as an all-natural hair mask to boost hydration and shine (search online to see how to properly use coconut oil as a hair mask).


Strawberries- strawberries are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, and potassium, all while being very low in calories. Fiber stimulates digestion and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that benefits immune health and boosts collagen production. Antioxidants fight free radical damage while potassium regulates blood pressure & balances electrolytes. Strawberries as a whole fruit are good for heart health due to their high fiber and high antioxidant content. Opt for organic fresh strawberries when possible (I personally find organic strawberries to be sweeter and juicier than conventional ones. If you get a good batch of organic fresh strawberries with no added sugars it can almost taste like they're dipped in sugar water due to their natural sweetness).


Lemons- lemon juice & zest are filled with antioxidants, vitamin C, and beneficial plant compounds that boost the immune system, aid iron absorption, and fight free radical damage. Pro tip: drinking lemon water is a great form of detox for Lyme disease and in general! Simply juice at least half a lemon and enjoy that juice in half the amount of water you drink in a day.


Vegan butter- vegan butter (such as Earth Balance or Miyoko's) is mainly made of healthy vegetable oils and/or plant milks. Healthy vegetable oils are full of healthy fats that are good for your heart, brain, skin, and hair. Plant milks tend to be a good source of healthy fats, protein, and vitamins & minerals. Protein builds muscle, while vitamins & mineral generally nourish the body and help to keep it functioning properly. Choose soy-free vegan butter if necessary.


Full-fat coconut milk- full-fat coconut milk is rich in healthy plant-based saturated fats (which actually may have health benefits), protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and electrolytes. Coconut milk benefits heart health, is good for brain health, boosts skin & hair health, aids digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties, helps with hydration, and may have antimicrobial properties. Be aware that if a recipe calls for coconut cream, it most likely means you need to use the hardened white cream that floats to the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk or a can of coconut cream after it's been refrigerated for at least 24 hours. The coconut milk/coconut cream will separate into cream at the top of the can and water at the bottom of the can. You don't have to worry about discarding the coconut water at the bottom of the can though! The coconut water can be used in smoothies, juices, wellness shots, and even desserts! This recipe requires the hardened white coconut cream that floats to the top of the can.



Substitutions


For the cupcakes, I do not recommend substituting the oat flour, as it is key to the amazing texture of these cupcakes. If you're not strictly gluten-free you can use non-gluten-free oat flour. Or, if you don't have oat flour on hand you can make your own! Simply place the amount of oats (gluten-free as needed) equal to the amount of oat flour you need in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend on high until ground to desired consistency (grind to a fine powdery consistency to make it more like store-bought oat flour). As far as the tapioca flour goes, you can substitute it with arrowroot flour OR potentially cornstarch with varied results (I know the arrowroot flour will work, but I can't guarantee that the cornstarch will work). For my grain-free/paleo readers, don't worry! I'm currently working on a Paleo Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes recipe made with almond flour, so stay tuned! The baking powder and baking soda should not be replaced, as they're the leavening agents/leaveners in this recipe.


The Medjool dates can be substituted with any other variety of date, such as Deglet Noor. I'm not sure how you'd go about substituting the dates with other sweeteners, as I've only tried this recipe with dates. So I can't definitively say if you can use coconut sugar, maple syrup, turbinado sugar, erythritol, etc. in place of the dates and in what amounts (especially considering that the texture is very finicky in this recipe). But if you try a sweetener(s) other than the dates, let me know how it turned out in the comments!


The coconut butter can be replaced with creamy almond butter, creamy unsweetened cashew butter, creamy mild tahini, OR another creamy mild nut/seed butter, knowing that the flavor of the cupcakes may change from a swap with one of these nut/seed butters. The sea salt may be substituted with table salt or can be omitted. The vanilla extract is key for the flavor of the cupcakes, so I don't recommend omitting it. However, you can use an equivalent amount of scraped vanilla bean, pure ground vanilla bean powder, OR sugar-free vanilla paste/syrup in place of the vanilla extract. If you must, you may replace the vanilla with additional almond extract, sugar-free coconut extract (like OliveNation's), orange extract, OR lemon extract, starting by using 1 tsp of one of these extracts per single batch, and increasing more to taste with varied results (knowing that using a different flavor extract will change the flavor of the cupcakes themselves). The almond extract can be replaced with additional vanilla OR one of the aforementioned extracts or may be omitted (I do recommend using it though, as it contributes a lot of flavor to the cupcakes).


The flax eggs can be replaced with 2 chia eggs OR 6 Tbsp aquafaba (the water from a can of chickpeas) per single batch. The unsweetened almond milk can be replaced with your unsweetened plant milk of choice OR your sweetened plant milk of choice (if you can have sugar on your diet). To make these cupcakes nut-free, be sure to use a nut-free unsweetened plant milk such as oat milk, rice milk, hemp milk, OR pea milk. The melted coconut oil can be substituted with avocado oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, OR another neutral-flavored oil. Possibly, you could use olive oil with varied results, keeping in mind that olive oil has more of a robust flavor.


For the homemade strawberry filling, you can substitute your vegan, refined-sugar-free strawberry preserves/jam/jelly of choice instead of making the strawberry preserves filling yourself (I highly recommend using Rigoni di Asiago's Fior di Frutta Strawberries and Wild Strawberries fruit preserves. They're vegan, natural, refined-sugar-free, and sweetened with just fruit juice concentrate. I know this isn't technically fruit-sweetened since it is sweetened with fruit juice concentrate, but it's the next best thing when it comes to store-bought fruit preserves). If making the strawberry filling from scratch, the strawberries can't be replaced as this is a recipe for Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes. The date paste can be replaced with a sticky sweetener such as 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup coconut nectar, OR 1/4 cup date syrup, plus more to taste with varied results. OR you could potentially use a granular sweetener such as 1/2 cup coconut sugar, 1/2 cup maple sugar, OR 1/2 cup turbinado sugar, plus more to taste with varied results. For 100% sugar-free, you could try 1/2 cup erythritol plus more to taste OR liquid monk fruit to taste OR stevia to taste with varied results (***PLEASE NOTE: I HAVE NOT tried any of the sweetener substitutions mentioned in this paragraph and therefore CANNOT guarantee good results***). If you tried any of these sweetener substitutions, let me know how it turned out in the comments!


For the lemon juice & zest in the strawberry filling, you could try substituting fresh orange juice & zest OR possibly fresh lime juice & zest (although, this will add a lime flavor to the strawberry filling). The citrus in this filling serves to bring out the vibrant strawberry flavor and impart a slight tang and subtle but bright citrus flavor. The water cannot be replaced, as it is key for cooking the strawberries to make this filling. The only thing I could think of using to replace the water is coconut water with varied results. The tapioca starch can be substituted with arrowroot starch OR possibly cornstarch OR possibly potato starch with varied results.


For the strawberries 'n cream buttercream frosting, the vegan butter really shouldn't be substituted, as this is a recipe for a buttercream frosting. Potentially, you could make a coconut cream frosting by replacing the vegan butter with 1 cup coconut cream (the hardened white cream from two cans of full-fat coconut milk that have been refrigerated for at least 12 to 24 hours) and keeping the rest of the ingredients the same. For the Paleo Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes recipe I'm working on, I will post a paleo coconut cream frosting recipe with it once the recipe is perfected, so if you'd rather wait for that recipe than try to make a coconut cream frosting yourself, stay tuned. If going with the buttercream frosting for these cupcakes, the coconut cream really shouldn't be substituted, as it contributes greatly to the texture of the frosting. However, you may be able to substitute the coconut cream by starting with 2 Tbsp of your creamy unsweetened plant milk of choice (such as extra creamy oat milk, macadamia milk, OR possibly even flax milk), plus more as needed with varied results in the texture (***PLEASE NOTE: I HAVE NOT tried this substitution and therefore cannot guarantee good results***). Possibly, you could leave out the coconut cream altogether and just use the vegan butter.


The Medjool dates could possibly be substituted with a sticky sweetener such as 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup coconut nectar, OR 1/4 cup agave, PLUS more to taste with varied results. OR maybe you could use 1/4 cup coconut sugar, 1/4 cup maple sugar, OR 1/4 cup vegan powdered sugar, PLUS more to taste with varied results. Alternately, you might be able to use 1/4 cup erythritol PLUS more to taste OR liquid monk fruit to taste with varied results (***PLEASE NOTE: I HAVE NOT tried any of these sweetener substitutions for the frosting and therefore CANNOT guarantee good results***). The strawberry filling in the frosting can be replaced with 1/4 cup puréed fresh strawberries (just puréed in the food processor) or can be omitted for a vanilla buttercream frosting. Possibly you could use natural/sugar-free strawberry extract in place of the strawberry filling in the frosting, starting with a little and adding more to taste with varied results. The vanilla extract is essential to the flavor of the frosting, so I don't recommend omitting it. However, you can use an equivalent amount of scraped vanilla bean, pure ground vanilla bean powder, OR sugar-free vanilla paste/syrup in place of the vanilla extract. The sea salt can be substituted with table salt or may be omitted. The vegan/gluten-free/sugar-free/natural food dye is completely optional and is just to color the frosting a nice pink color. My recommended vegan/gf/sugar-free/natural food dyes are Supernatural food coloring and Color Garden food coloring.



Stick Around for the Latest & Greatest


Stick around for the latest & greatest anti-inflammatory recipes, coming to The Dimpled Date soon!


But in the meantime..


Enjoy! <3,

-K.



Fruit-Sweetened Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Fruit-Sweetened)


Prep Time: 55 minutes (including making the frosting)

Cook Time: 51 to 53 minutes (including the 25 min to make the strawberry filling)

Chill Time (optional // for the frosting): at least 25 minutes

Total Time: at least 1 hour 11 minutes to 1 hour 13 minutes

Servings: 12 cupcakes


Ingredients (for the vanilla cupcakes):


-1 1/2 cups gluten-free oat flour

-1/4 cup tapioca flour (can sub arrowroot flour)

-1 tsp baking powder

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-1 1/2 cups Medjool dates

-1/2 cup coconut butter, softened

-1/8 tsp sea salt

-2 tsp vanilla extract

-1/2 tsp almond extract

-2 flax eggs (check out Minimalist Baker's "How to Make a Flax Egg" recipe!)

-1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk of choice

-1/4 cup coconut oil, melted


Ingredients (for the fruit-sweetened strawberry filling):


-2 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed & hulled (pref. organic if possible)

-1/2 cup date paste (check out Detoxinista's "How to Make Date Paste" recipe!)

-1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

-zest from half a lemon

-1/3 cup fresh filtered water

-1 tsp tapioca starch (can sub arrowroot starch)


Ingredients (for the strawberries 'n cream buttercream frosting):


-1 cup vegan butter (like Earth Balance OR Miyoko's)

-1/4 cup coconut cream (the hardened white cream from a can of full-fat coconut milk/a can of coconut cream that's been refrigerated for at least 12 to 24 hours)

-1 1/2 cups Medjool dates

-1/4 cup Strawberry Filling (recipe above) OR 1/4 cup puréed fresh strawberries (simply place the cleaned & hulled strawberries in a food processor and blend until puréed)

-1 tsp vanilla extract

-pinch sea salt

-pink/red natural/vegan/gluten-free/sugar-free food coloring (such as Supernatural's or Color Garden's food colors // optional, to add a pink hue)


For garnish (optional):


-halved fresh strawberries, unsweetened freeze-dried strawberries, edible flowers, etc.


Directions:


1. First, make the filling: chop the strawberries finely. Add the water and chopped strawberries to a medium saucepan*, stir well, and bring to a low boil on medium high heat. Mash up the strawberries a little with a potato masher. Reduce the heat to low to medium-low and add the tapioca starch. Stir well to combine. Add the date paste and lemon juice & zest to the pan, stir until well-combined, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until thickened, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and allow to cool fully. Once cool, transfer to a jar or an airtight container and chill completely in the fridge until set (this may take several hours). A good way to do the preserves is to make them the day before you want to make the cupcakes, so they can be chilling and setting in the fridge.


2. Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a standard-sized muffin tin with cupcake liners. Soak the Medjool dates in hot water for 5 to 15 minutes. Soften the coconut butter, make the flax eggs, and melt the coconut oil.


3. Combine the dry ingredients (oat flour, tapioca flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt) in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.


4. Blend the soaked & drained dates in a food processor until a uniform paste forms, scraping down the sides & re-blending as necessary.


5. Add the softened coconut butter, flax eggs, vanilla, and almond extract to the food processor and blend until incorporated.


6. Transfer the date mixture from the food processor to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir manually until somewhat combined.


7. Pour in the plant milk and melted coconut oil and stir until better incorporated and smooth.


8. Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way. Smooth the tops as necessary. Tap the base of the pan gently and lightly on the countertop to remove any air bubbles.


9. Bake in the preheated oven (at 350 degrees F) for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick/knife inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean, the cupcakes have puffed up, and the cupcakes are fragrant.


10. Allow the cupcakes to cool fully.


11. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting: soak the Medjool dates in hot water for 5 to 15 minutes. Then, blend the soaked & drained dates in the food processor until a paste forms, scraping down the sides & re-blending as necessary. Set aside. Soften the vegan butter in the microwave for 5 to 7 seconds or until just softened yet still firm and solid. With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the softened vegan butter and coconut cream until creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until creamy and fluffy. Add date paste, vanilla, strawberry filling/puréed strawberries, and sea salt and beat on a low speed setting until incorporated, about another minute. Add desired amount of the natural/vegan pink/red food coloring (optional // to color the frosting a light pink) and beat on the lowest speed setting for 30 seconds to incorporate the color. DO NOT over-beat the frosting. Over-beating the frosting will cause it to lose flavor and sweetness. If you want a slightly more firm and thick frosting, chill the frosting for at least 25 minutes, or until firmed up.


12. Assemble the cupcakes: take anywhere from 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp of the chilled strawberry filling (depending on your taste) and dollop it on top of one of the cooled cupcakes, spreading it into a small circle. Spread the strawberries 'n cream buttercream frosting overtop the strawberry filling to cover it (feel free to pile up the frosting, the more the better! *Note: you likely won't be able to pipe this frosting due to the texture of the dates in the frosting. As of right now I'm trying to perfect a date-sweetened pipe-able frosting and will be sharing that recipe ASAP). Repeat with the rest of the cupcakes. Add any desired garnishes or toppings.


13. Serve with refined-sugar-free lemonade, strawberry daiquiris, a vegan iced matcha latte, or serve on its own. Enjoy!


Store leftover unfrosted cupcakes at room temperature for up to 3 days to maintain the best, moist texture. After that, store the cupcakes in an airtight container in the fridge. Store leftover frosting in an airtight container in the fridge immediately. You will likely have leftover frosting. Store any leftover strawberry filling in a jar or airtight container in the fridge immediately. You may have leftover strawberry filling. This is great on toast and atop pancakes!


*Please, Please, PLEASE use a medium-sized saucepan and not a small one. If you used a small saucepan the strawberry preserves would be more prone to splattering up hot preserves, and you could get seriously burnt from the preserves. I speak from experience, as I burned myself when first making this recipe. When in doubt, keep the heat lower and use a bigger saucepan.

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