Blackberry Basil Buttercream

Chocolate Cupcakes with Blackberry Basil Buttercream | Sarah Kieffer | The Vanilla Bean Blog
‘Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardized international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine today) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.’ -CS Lewis The Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol. 1
Chocolate Cupcakes with Blackberry Basil Buttercream | Sarah Kieffer | The Vanilla Bean Blog
I’ve slowly been working my way through CS Lewis’ letters (Vol. 1 and 2 are currently in my possession, while Vol. 3 seems to be out of print and unattainable, alas, as I can’t quite justify spending over $400 for it). The above paragraph stuck out to me a few nights ago while reading; first, Lewis casually mentions having conversations with Tolkien like it’s a totally normal event (which it was), and second, the concept of ‘Home’ has been on my mind frequently, as I’m working out what it means to be part of a family.

Home, to me, is this small unit of four I reside with daily, although, it is also the dwelling we sleep and eat and nest in. The dwelling can and does change, and while I care about the walls that keep out the rain and snow, that part isn’t the most important.

Well, usually. Sometimes hard wood floors and paint color and kitchen back splashes and throw pillows and bed spreads and shower curtains and coveting marble counter tops and redoing the patio seem more like home then things like eating dinner together and snuggling during a movie and talking through our day and learning to compromise and laughing and family hikes and working things out and holding hands and reading books in bed.

I wonder sometimes if I am so concerned with the appearance of our dwelling and the materials that make up our home because I don’t have such rich history? I hardly know those that came before. I haven’t walked the winding paths my ancestors did; the small lot my house sits upon was owned by strangers. Most my history is lost, scattered in attics and basements I never knew. My great-grandchildren may never set foot here. Sometimes I forget to look ahead to them, focused on leaving this place, this earth better than I found it. The focus shifts to things, and not people, because the connection between generations has slowly been chewed away.

We have been uprooted, we are wanderers.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Blackberry Basil Buttercream | Sarah Kieffer | The Vanilla Bean Blog

I worked with a man years ago at a small cafe who offered up this quote to me: ‘People aren’t a means to an end; people are the end.’ It has always stuck with me, and when I find myself getting wrapped up in things, forgetting that relationships are the heart of this whole experiment called life, those words find me every time. I’m still learning.

‘There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.’ – Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

Blackberry Basil Buttercream

This recipe is inspired by the Chocolate Cake with Basil Buttercream I posted several years ago. I had some buttercream left over recently and added blackberries to it – delicious. (I have a thing for basil + blackberry together, as you can see.)

Your favorite cupcake recipe will work just fine here. I always bake my favorite chocolate cake into cupcakes (only fill the muffin cups halfway if using this recipe, or the cupcakes won’t bake up right).

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces (about 70 degrees – butter should be  soft enough to mix well, but firm enough to give some structure to the buttercream)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup blackberries, chopped into small pieces
Blackberry jam (optional)

Combine milk, heavy cream, and basil in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Heat gently,  until just simmering, and remove from the heat. Let cool, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Remove basil leaves from cream, squeezing any ‘basil juice’ from the leaves into the cream.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk-cream-basil mixture and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool, 7-9 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about another 1-2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Add the chopped blackberries and mix on low until combined.

Cut the tip of a pastry bag and place a closed star piping tip (Ateco #848) inside the bag. Place 1 tablespoon of the jam on the inside side seam of the bag and, using a spoon, smear it up and down the seam in a wide strip. Repeat along the other seam, using 1 tablespoon of jam. Carefully add buttercream to the bag, trying not to disturb the jam and leaving a little space at the top so the buttercream doesn’t fill the entire bag.

Working with one cupcake at a time, start with the pastry tip on the outside edge of the cupcake and work your way around the edge of the cupcake. Spiral around, working toward the center. The jam inside the bag will make pretty lines and swirls in the buttercream as you spiral around. If you need to refill your bag, place more jam on the seams each time.

  • Reply
    Wednesday, May 31, 2023 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Does it keep long?

  • Reply
    Monday, June 6, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Lovely piece and excited to try this recipe. Do you think it will still turn out well if I omit the basil? (Though I will have to try another time!)

    Thank you,


    • Reply
      Sarah Kieffer
      Monday, June 6, 2022 at 2:50 pm

      Yes, it will still be a delicious frosting.

  • Reply
    Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 4:25 am

    Beautiful, absolutely stunning Sarah. 🙂

  • Reply
    Carolyn Wright
    Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I’m so inspired by your blog. Thank you for sharing your refreshing point of view on life and food. Do you know if gluten free flour would work for the Blackberry Basil Buttercream Frosting? Thank you in advance.

    • Reply
      Saturday, June 25, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Carolyn – Thanks so much for the nice words. I’ve never tried substituting gluten free flour here. The flour helps thicken the buttercream, so it would have to be a gluten free flour that could thicken and not get gummy. I’ve heard King Arthur Flour makes a good gluten flour mix that can be substituted in gravy, so it might work here? Let me know if you try anything!

  • Reply
    Thursday, June 16, 2016 at 5:22 am

    It’s too delicious, I love this. Thank you for this post. It’s really awesome post

  • Reply
    Kelly A
    Thursday, June 9, 2016 at 10:12 am

    This was a very beautiful post and brings up a lot of emotions within me. I’m a newly married, (new) homeowner and have moved back to where I grew up and I am continually finding and rediscovering my roots and what home and family means to me. I come from farming roots and have been steadily rebuilding these “skills”, dreaming big, and trying to make it happen. This post struck me and I am so very glad for it. Thank you. Plus, can’t wait to try this recipe!! Thank you.

  • Reply
    Ann Burns
    Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Hi Sarah
    A very thoughtful post – thank you for that and also for the cupcakes! The librarian in me can’t help but ask – have you tried using interlibrary-loan for the 3rd volume? Your local public library might be able to help.

  • Reply
    Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    All of this was beautiful. And this buttercream is the dreamiest.

  • Reply
    Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Ahhh…I really love that quote that people aren’t a means to an end…so beautiful. That’s going to be ringing in my ear forever. So true…thanks so much for sharing that.

    This buttercream is so lovely! Those soft swirls of blackberry jam are making me swoon!

  • Reply
    Chelsea Zwieg
    Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I love C.S Lewis so much! Have you read any of his other books? He has a way of writing that is just so profound and yet totally understandable. I so appreciate your writing and all of the quotes and thoughts that you include in your posts.
    Also, these cupcakes looks SO wonderful. Blackberry and basil is such a killer combination and the swirls of jam are so perfect. Definitely going to be trying that!

  • Reply
    Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 7:30 am

    This is a thought-provoking piece and I love C.S.Lewis also. You must remember that baking (and preparing food generally, with love, as you do) is perhaps the greatest memory maker of all and you do this daily! Also, the very fact that you recognize the potential vapidness of how our lives can be (“should I paint the guest room almond/bone/riverbed sand, I’m soooo stressed out” I once heard a co-worker whinge) is everything. Thanks for those cupcakes too, yowza …

  • Reply
    Elise | Les Filles de Madeleine
    Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 2:48 am

    Beautifully written, Sarah.

    I agree that it’s easy to get caught up in the appearance of our house and it’s just as easy to think that this is what offers us a home. But in the end, I believe our experience invariably centers around the people we share that dwelling with (or not even that dwelling, just our lives). I am one who gets extremely attached to places (and objects, if I’m honest), but I do so because of the moments I’ve experienced there. Therefore, home is not a single place for me, but all of the spaces that I’ve lived in and with. It’s my history and my present. People who are still here and some who aren’t. All of it is home.

  • Reply
    Abby | Lace & Lilacs
    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful, Sarah. <3

  • Reply
    Sarah // The Sugar Hit
    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    I think it’s so hopeful that more people now are trying to get back to a local diet. Which I know is only a small part of that CS Lewis quote, but there is something comforting and particular about a strong sense of place. Home and place are definitely different things, as you wisely point out.

    Plus, these cupcakes look incredible. Awesome cure for homesickness I bet. xx

  • Reply
    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    This looks delicious! Is there a good way to freeze this? I am not that familiar with making frosting

  • Reply
    Ellie | Hungry by Nature
    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I saw you post this on Instagram and had to come over and check out the recipe – that buttercream! But this post was wonderful and really made me think about my home and what it truly means to me. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Melissa@Julia's Bookbag
    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I love this. I’ve been meaning to get my hands on the writings of C.S. Lewis for some time, thank you for the remind!

  • Reply
    Sarah| Well and Full
    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 10:04 am

    This was such a beautiful post, and really made me think about what home means to me. It’s not a house or a place – it’s being with my partner whom I love very much. It’s funny how your sense of family changes as you get older – as a child you think of your mom, dad, and siblings as your immediate family, but then you meet that special someone and they become your family. And to me, that family means home 🙂

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