Marine Corps Birthday Cupcakes – Rhubarb Cupcakes with Lemon Meringue Buttercream

The American flag in the background was flown over Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Being a military brat, this weekend was a big weekend with lots of meaning.  Yesterday was Veteran’s Day, which is being observed today, and  Saturday was the Marine Corps’ 237th birthday.  Looking good for their age, aren’t they?

Well, about three weeks ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to make Marine Corps Birthday cupcakes, complete with the scarlet and gold colors of the Corps. Not wanting to use just food coloring, I started racking my brain for scarlet and gold flavors.  Yellow would obviously be lemon, which I’d used for a buttercream frosting, since imitation banana freaks me out and butternut squash could easily turn into a disaster.  Now for the red cupcakes. Strawberry was too pink, raspberries too purple…and as I was contemplating a bag of frozen cherries I noticed right beside it was a bag of frozen rhubarb. Rhubarb is red and it’s different! Let’s try it!

Then the battles ensued. The rhubarb was easily won.  Though the sauce cooked down into a strawberry red sauce the batter came out a pale pinkish white; easily fixed by the food coloring.  Rhubarb is also known for absorbing flavors. The sauce was deliciously tart and tasted like strawberries,  but the only rhubarb I could taste in the cupcake was a hint of earthiness which followed the rich buttery cake. The scarlet cupcakes were beautiful and delicious, so I considered it a win.

Fresh from victory and feeling good about my progress, I was taken by surprise by what I have now dubbed the Battle of Buttercream Hill. Having “mastered” Italian Meringue Buttercream early this year, I believed another easy win was heading my way. Boy was I wrong! Three batches destroyed. The final cupcakes did not meet the birthday deadline. I was so sad! What was going on? The first batch was a gloppy, greasy, slip and slide mess. The second and third batches separated and curdled. With the third batch I even tried separating the solids and liquid  to recombine as suggested by TheKitchn.

It was Sunday night, two days trying to take Buttercream Hill,  and I was being very thankful to have the next day off for the holiday as I could not share this mess with my co-workers (You may recall that I work for the Marine Corps. Have you ever seen a sloppy looking Marine? No!)  My friends were sending in their tips on Facebook (though their tips were for the powdered sugar based American Buttercream, their support made me smile). I headed to the grocery store one last time for more butter and eggs.

My enemies lurking on Buttercream Hill had been identified: the acid from the lemon and temperature.  The lemon juice could still be used, it was the timing on when to add it.  Instead of using the lemon juice in the simple syrup , which would cause an immediate breakdown on the butter once it started hitting the meringue, I changed directions  and waited until all the butter had been added.  Then turning my mixer speed all the way to 10, I slowly drizzled in the lemon juice. This provided a safe, non damaging incorporation of this delicious flavor. For the butter, I had to be patient, yet vigilant. My first batch, the butter was so soft that the buttercream could not hold it’s shape and would slide off the cupcakes just like Rachel on Puck’s buttered floor in the Glee episode, “The Substitute”. I also had to be careful about the temperature of the egg whites, which are cooked by the hot syrup. A warm bowl means your butter will melt instead of cream on you!

The battle plan was set. Acid last, butter cool enough to be spread but able to hold it’s shape, and an egg white meringue cool down. Fingers crossed….

Oh thank heavens, the battle of Buttercream Hill was won!

Now it’s time to eat a well deserved cupcake!

Rhubarb Cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients

  •  1 ¾ cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces white chocolate, melted (optional)
  • ½ cup rhubarb sauce*
  • Red gel food coloring

Cupcake Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F and line cupcake pan with liners
  2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine. Set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl, add the butter and sugar and mix together using a hand mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.
  4. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla together in another bowl and whisk together.
  5. Set your mixer at medium speed.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk mixture to the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.  Be careful not to over mix the batter.
  6. After all the wet and dry ingredients have been mixed, add the melted white chocolate and the rhubarb sauce.
  7. Taking a toothpick, dip it in the red gel food coloring and stir it into the batter.  Mix color into the batter using low speed. Continue to add color until a crimson color is achieved.
  8. Pour batter into cupcake liners until 2/3 filled and place into oven.
  9. Bake cupcakes 15-20 minutes, turning once, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.

Rhubarb Sauce Ingredients

  •  2 cups frozen chopped rhubarb, thawed
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water

Rhubarb Sauce Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in medium sauce pan over medium heat.
  2. Gently bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until rhubarb is soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Taste. If too tart for your liking add more sugar. Be careful though, rhubarb easily becomes overly sweet.
  4. Puree mixture with an immersion blender to get a smooth sauce. Alternately, a blender will work, too.
  5. Allow to cool to room temperature before adding to the cupcake batter.

Lemon Meringue Buttercream Ingredients

  • 1 ¼  cups sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4-5 large egg whites
  • 1 pound butter (4 sticks)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  •  zest of 1 lemon
  • Yellow gel food coloring


Follow the directions for my white chocolate Italian meringue buttercream outlined here.  The directions are towards the end of the post. Changes include the amount of ingredients, removal of the white chocolate, and the addition of lemon juice and lemon zest and food coloring.

  • In step 1, reserve 1/4 cup of the sugar.
  • In step 3, as you begin to whip the egg whites, slowly pour in the reserved 1/4 cup of sugar.
  • In step 5, make sure egg whites are cool before adding the butter. Touch the bowl, if it’s warm, keep whipping or butter will melt and the buttercream will be too soft.
  • In step 7, omit the white chocolate and add  lemon zest and lemon juice slowly to prevent buttercream from breaking into a curdled mess.
  • As with the batter, use a toothpick to add the yellow food coloring. You are looking for a rich, golden color. (Scarlet and Gold!)

Cupcakes at attention!


7 responses to “Marine Corps Birthday Cupcakes – Rhubarb Cupcakes with Lemon Meringue Buttercream

  1. Like a true Marine…you didn’t quit. You should be proud of your end result.

    • Oooo rah, Karen! I didn’t think of it that way…then again I guess there is a reason they call them jar heads, too. We’re a pretty stubborn lot, hehehehe! 🙂

  2. Gosh,, your bakes looks so cute! =D

  3. I’m glad you kept trying, these turned out so pretty.. I may have overlooked it.. but what have you popped on top? xx

    • Thank-you, Smidge! Man did that buttercream wear me out this weekend! Buttercream Hill is definitely one of the reasons I don’t make cake or cupcakes very often lol.

      The toppers are molded white and dark chocolate coins with the Marine Corps’ eagle, globe, and anchor. I didn’t put those in the post since the the molds could be a bit difficult to get your hands on (I picked them up at the Marine Corps Museum). Those toppers taught me that not all white chocolate is made equal! Eventually, I got my hands on some nice, meltable chocolates, tempered them in a double boiler, and patiently waited for them to harden. Then I gave them a quick spray of gold with some Wilton color mist to make them nice and pretty 🙂

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