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Vanilla Cupcakes with Colored Cream Cheese Frosting

Scott Phillips

Yield: Yields 12 cupcakes and 1 cup frosting

These are cupcakes you can feel good about serving at a kid’s birthday party, thanks to a few healthy upgrades: some of the butter is replaced with applesauce, to reduce fat and add moisture; a portion of the flour is whole-wheat pastry flour, and the frosting is tinted with natural colorings.

Easter Cupcakes: See the variations below to make lovely pastel frosting for your Easter cupcakes, and read A Fresh Look at Food Coloring to learn more tricks for adding color to food—including Easter eggs—without artificial food dyes.


For the cupcakes:

  • 5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) cake flour
  • 2-1/2 oz. (1/2 cup) whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbs. canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup raspberries, thawed if frozen
  • 1 8-oz. package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Nutritional Information

  • Calories (kcal) : 300
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 110
  • Fat (g): 12
  • Saturated Fat (g): 5
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1.5
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 4.5
  • Cholesterol (mg): 55
  • Sodium (mg): 230
  • Carbohydrates (g): 44
  • Fiber (g): 2
  • Protein (g): 5


Make the cupcakes:

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
  • Combine the cake flour, whole-wheat pastry flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Put the butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Gradually add half of the sugar and continue to beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the oil and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until lighter in color, about 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the applesauce until combined.
  • On low speed, add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then half of the milk, mixing just until combined after each addition. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, adding the vanilla with the milk.
  • Distribute the batter evenly among the cupcake liners and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool in the pan for 15 minutes; remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool completely.

Make the frosting:

  • Put the raspberries in a 1-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat until they begin to release their juice and break down, about 5 minutes. Strain the berries through a fine sieve set over a small bowl, pressing with a spatula to extract all of the juice (you should have about 1/4 cup). Discard the seeds. Let cool to room temperature.
  • Combine the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer on high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the raspberry juice and continue to beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate until thicker and spreadable, about 2 hours, before spreading on the cupcakes. The frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.

For purple frosting: Substitute 2 Tbs. thawed frozen grape juice concentrate for the raspberry juice.

For green frosting: In a small bowl, mix 1/2 tsp. green tea powder (matcha) with 1 tsp. boiling water to form a paste; then stir in 2 Tbs. more boiling water. Cool slightly. Substitute the tea mixture for the raspberry juice.


If you can’t find whole-wheat pastry flour, substitute cake flour.


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Reviews (2 reviews)

  • cheshirecatmom | 03/13/2013

    Im not crazy about store-bought frosting, nor do I like the idea of adding food coloring to anything, so these were perfect. I used the green variation for a St. Patricks Day party at my kids school. Not one cupcake left!

  • Robinpow | 09/14/2012

    I LOVE the idea of the natural color which is what drew me to this recipe. I will use that part. BUT the cupcake recipe is junk. They are spongey in texture and mediocre at best for flavor. I wanted to like them because I need them for my sons birthday party. Instead of going to bed I will be making new cupcakes using my old recipes because I simply can't serve these. I threw them in the trash. I thought using a fine cooking recipe was a safe bet because I have never run into a bad recipe but unfortunately I found one.

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