Copycat Panera Strawberry-Rhubarb Mini Cakes a.k.a. Strawberry-Streusel Muffins

*Update on 6/27/15 – This post is getting a ton of views from Google searches lately, so everyone else must have discovered these goodies at Panera now that the weather’s warm again 🙂 I’d love to hear your feedback if any of you try this recipe or if you have any thoughts on the style of the post (do you want more pictures? more detailed instructions?) Thanks so much and happy baking!*

You guys – there’s actually some baking going on over here today! Get excited.

I was running errands a couple weeks ago after a long day at work and decided that I needed an iced coffee and a bit of a snack to hold me over until dinner. Panera was the closest place to grab something, so I went in to survey their pastries and walked away from the counter with one of their summer specials: the Strawberry-Rhubarb Mini Cake. It’s no longer on their online menu, but it was absolutely delicious and I knew I had to re-create it at home. Moist vanilla cake batter, thick to point that it was almost like a pound cake, topped with a mix of strawberry-rhubarb sauce and chunks of strawberries, and finished off with a lovely crumbly streusel. Yum. Here’s how my version ended up – spoiler alert, they’re delicious! 🙂

I paged through all my cookbooks, browsed for a copycat recipe online, and couldn’t find anything that sounded right, so initially I decided to cobble a few recipes together – a vanilla coffee-cake recipe from one place, with a crumble topping recipe from somewhere else, and some strawberry-rhubarb sauce I found at a local grocery store. Friends, it was a total fail. The recipes/sauce didn’t mesh well together, and I don’t even have a photo for you because one muffin-tinned batch burned and was immediately tossed in the trash, and the other tin stuck to the pan so hard (even after I had greased it with butter) that I couldn’t get a whole muffin out. They were a crumbly, sticky mess.

So, back to the drawing board. Getting the batter right was the hardest part, because most recipes I found were just a little off – too fluffy and boxed-cake like, not rich-enough looking, too thick, etc. Then, I found this recipe via Foodgawker, which is a take on a recipe by Alton Brown. Since AB is the one who came up with the base recipe, I knew this would work. I’ve modified it a bit and made the directions clearer and I think it’s perfect! It’s late enough in the season that I couldn’t find any rhubarb that wasn’t outrageously expensive, so this is a strawberry-only version, but I’ve adjusted for that below in case you have some rhubarb on hand (I think the tangy rhubarb would make this even better!) I used a standard sized muffin/cupcake tin and got 18 muffins from this recipe, but you could also use a jumbo muffin tin and get 12 larger muffins (if you do go the jumbo muffin route, just note that you’ll need to add a few minutes on to the baking time – keep an eye on them until they’re nice and golden brown and firm when you press on the tops!)

Strawberry-Streusel Muffins

Yield: Makes 12-18 muffins

For the muffins:

  • 12 1/2 ounces cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Heavy pinch coarse salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh strawberry pieces or 1 cup chopped strawberries with 1/2 cup chopped rhubarb (you could also use blueberries or blackberries – or raspberries if you’re not allergic to them like I am.)

For the streusel (I lifted this out of my handy-dandy Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, which is the greatest for basics and old-school recipes):

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3-4 Tablespoons chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the muffin pan with non-stick spray or use paper muffin/cupcake liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg, yogurt, and vanilla.
  4. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the dry ingredients and toss with the berries.
  5. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir mixture until just combined. Add berries to mixture and stir until they are distributed through the batter (try not to over-stir, as it may make the batter tough!)
  6. Using an ice cream scoop or a large spoon, portion the dough into individual muffin tins.
  7. To make streusel topping, combine brown sugar and flour in a small bowl and cut in the butter with a pastry blender or large fork. Once combined, add the pecans or walnuts (if desired.)
  8. Bake muffins for 8 to 10 minutes, then add the streusel topping and rotate pan when placing it back in the oven. Bake an additional 8 to 12 minutes until muffins are firm to the touch and the streusel has browned a bit. Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack. Serve immediately or store in airtight container for 2 to 3 days.

I’m sure everyone else is moving on to Fall-themed foods, but I’m still squeezing the last bit of summer out while I can! Are you on to Pumpkin-spice everything, apple cider, and Halloween decorations, or are you holding on to the last of the warm weather like I am? Any requests for a baked good you’d like to see here at Barks & Baking?

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2 thoughts on “Copycat Panera Strawberry-Rhubarb Mini Cakes a.k.a. Strawberry-Streusel Muffins

  1. So I am a Baker at paradise bakery and we actually do not use rhubarb in it. we use 1 strawberry for each, and use the butter streusel for the top.

  2. Hi Sally, an actual Panera Baker here. Your recipe sounds pretty good but I will say our mini cakes use the apple cinnamon muffins as a base, sans apple of course. And there’s also cinnamon in the topping. If you’re going for the look I’d also recommend some sparkling sugar mixed in to the topping.

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