Patriotic Cupcakes

Happy Independence Day, Americans! I haven’t done a lot of red, white, and blue baking, so this year I thought I’d whip up some patriotic cupcakes and practice my frosting tinting and piping skills while I was at it. I also experimented with a new buttercream, based on a Wilton recipe that uses both butter and shortening. I’m pleased to say it turned out very well!

Tint-wise, I wanted to make “colonial” colors – darker blue and red than what you’d get with your standard gel food coloring. To make a color darker, you need a hint of black, and let me stress the word “hint” here – it’s really a teeny, tiny amount. While my colonial blue turned out very well, my colonial red turned out more like raspberry. I’ll use it on something else, but I was glad to have plenty of white frosting for a second batch of red – this red is just your standard red gel food coloring, though in a very generous amount. Design-wise, the flag cupcakes are my favorites; alas, my fireworks cupcakes (the ones on the center ends in the photo above) look far too much like something that contains genetic material for my liking. Oh well…we pipe, and we learn.

Ingredients

For the vanilla cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

For the Wilton-inspired buttercream

  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 –  1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
  • Royal blue gel food coloring
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Black gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-count cupcake tin with paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined; scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times during this step.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into cupcake wells, dividing evenly and filling about 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from the tin; cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, place butter and shortening in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat for 1-2 minutes, until very well-combined. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing very well between each addition. Add vanilla and heavy cream, beating for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed; if your frosting is too thick, add another 1/2 tablespoon of heavy cream.

Divide frosting into three portions. Reserve 1 portion for white; using an offset spatula, frost the tops of each cupcake with a base of white.

Tint one portion colonial blue using royal blue and a very, very small amount of black. Tint the other portion red.

Fit two pastry bags with small star tips and pipe designs as you like. I chose the following:

  • Stars (top left and bottom ends in the photo above) – pipe a ring of blue around the edge of the cupcake, then fill in with red stars
  • Fireworks (center ends) – pipe red and blue stars with tails
  • Waves (top right) – pipe alternating red and blue waves
  • Flags (center) – pipe a patch of blue on the upper left-hand side, then add red stripes
  • Full coverage stars (bottom center) – pipe blue stars to totally cover the top of your cupcake, then add red star accents

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Makes 12.

 

Whale Cookies

My beach/aquatic cookie cutter set that yielded last week’s octopus cookies also includes this adorable whale. It’s just such a fun, happy-looking cookie, I feel kind of bad eating them (but only for a second, because this recipe really is delicious).

I chose a light blue frosting for these cookies and frosted them by hand, then piped on the whiles of the eyes and water spouts, then the pupils and mouths. I decided to give these happy little whales smiles, but you could leave them without mouths if you like.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • dash of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Blue food coloring
  • Black food coloring

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy; add eggs and beat well.

Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in three portions and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each portion into a disc and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut with an octopus cookie cutter, placing cookies a few inches apart on your baking sheets; I fit 6 cookies on each sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden.

Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting:

Combine shortening, egg whites, salt, and one cup powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

Reserve a small portion (about 1/2 cup) of white frosting for eyes and water spouts; set aside.

Reserve a very small portion (about 4-5 tablespoons) of frosting for pupils and mouths; tint black and set aside.

Tint the remaining frosting pale blue and frost the bodies of the whales first.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with white frosting. Pipe on eyes, then switch to a star tip and pipe on water spouts.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with black frosting. Pipe on pupils, then mouths.

Allow frosting to set before storing; store cookies in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature for up to 3 days. The eyes and suction cups may flatten a bit, but that’s okay.

Makes about 48.

Octopus Cookies

Starbucks has these adorable octopus cut-out sugar cookies right now. I posted a picture of one on Facebook a few weeks back, and a friend of mine commented that I should make them. And so, I did.

I have a set of beach/sea life cookie cutters, and they just happen to include an octopus. The next time I make these, I may pipe their little eyes further down on their heads so they look more like real octopuses (much to my surprise, the plural of octopus is not octopi), but I think these turned out really well. I used a combination of piping/hand frosting for these, as it’s much easier to pipe the frosting onto the tentacles and up onto the body than it is to frost the whole cookie by hand.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • dash of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Blue food coloring
  • Green food coloring
  • Black food coloring

 

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy; add eggs and beat well.

Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in three portions and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each portion into a disc and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut with an octopus cookie cutter, placing cookies a few inches apart on your baking sheets; I fit 6 cookies on each sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden.

Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting:

Combine shortening, egg whites, salt, and one cup powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

Reserve a small portion (about 1/4 cup) of white frosting for eyes and suction cups; set aside.

Reserve a very small portion (just a few tablespoons) of frosting for pupils; tint black and set aside.

Tint remaining frosting using blue and green food coloring for a blue/green shade. Fit a large piping bag with a large plain tip and pipe frosting onto each cookie, filling in the tentacles first and piping up onto the rest of the body; use a small offset spatula to spread the frosting.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with white frosting. Pipe on eyes, then pipe suction cups on tentacles.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with black frosting. Pipe on pupils.

Allow frosting to set before storing; store cookies in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature for up to 3 days. The eyes and suction cups may flatten a bit, but that’s okay.

Makes about 36.

Dark Chocolate Crumb Bars

Sometimes recipes work out exactly how you plan. Sometimes…not so much. Such was the experience with these dark chocolate crumb bars, a recipe I got from the back of a bag of dark chocolate chips. I expected the middle layer, a combination of dark chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk, to bubble up and allow the top layer to bake into it, securing the crumbs, dark chocolate chips, and chopped almonds. Alas.

Much of the crumb topping fell off when I cut the bars, so if I make them again, I’ll either add a bit more crumb mixture to the bottom crust or press the top layer into the chocolate layer with the back of a spoon to help it hold. I adapted the recipe to include unsalted almonds instead of walnuts, but I suspect walnuts or pecans would be good as well.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces dark chocolate chips, divided
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whole almonds, chopped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter for 1-2 minutes, until creamy. Add flour, sugar, and salt and beat until crumbly. With floured fingers, press 2 cups of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare chocolate layer. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate chips melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla; pour over hot crust.

Stir remaining chocolate chips and chopped almonds into remaining crust mixture and sprinkle over chocolate layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes; remove from oven and cool completely. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 24 bars.

Almond Joyful Cookies

The folks at King Arthur Flour came up with this wonderful take on the Almond Joy candy bar, an interesting blend of an almond coconut cookie, rich chocolate icing, and chopped toasted almonds. I suspect that the cookie base would also be delicious with an almond drizzle icing for those of us who can’t have chocolate, so I’ll have to try that next time.

While the original recipe was supposed to yield 39 cookies, my batch made about 28, as I used a 2-inch cookie scoop. I also adjusted the recipe slightly to use 1/2 cup of chopped toasted almonds instead of a full cup, which was more than enough.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract (or flavor)
  • 1/4 cup almond paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 2 1/3 cups flour

For the icing

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter

For the topping

  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped*

*To toast almonds, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and toast at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes; almonds will become golden brown and fragrant when done. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, almond extract, coconut extract, and almond paste; batter will be slightly lumpy, but that’s okay. Add egg, beating until fairly smooth, then beat in coconut. Once coconut is incorporated, beat in flour.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto baking sheets and flatted with your fingers slightly.

Bake for 14-16 minutes, until the edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine chocolate chips, corn syrup, and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring well until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is smooth.

Dip tops of cookies into icing, then top with chopped almonds. Allow icing to set before storing; store cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 28.

Raspberry Crumb Bars

A while back I made these amazing chocolate raspberry walnut bars, and ever since I’ve wanted to make a non-chocolate version. These bars, which I found at Cooking Classy, are a delicious treat for those of us who live chocolate-free lives.

What I really like about these bars is that you use raspberry jam, rather than fresh raspberries, for the filling, making these a year-round possibility. I suspect they’d be delicious with blackberry or apricot jam as well; I’ll have to give those a try sometime. I might also incorporate some chopped walnuts into the crumb mixture next time.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and softened
  • 3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil, extending foil over the sides. Lightly grease foil or spray with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, oats, and light brown sugar. Mix with a fork until completely combined.

Add butter and toss to coat the cubes, which will make it easier to rub into the dry ingredients. Rub the butter into the dry mixture with your hands to incorporate it very well; you’ll have a crumby texture, but it should stick together if you press it between your hands when it’s ready.

Place 2 cups of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing into an even layer. Spread jam on top, leaving about 1/4 inch border around the edges. Top with remaining crumb mixture and press it into the jam layer just slightly.

Bake for 34 minutes, until top is light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan; lift bars out of the pan by the foil, then cut into squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 16.

 

Butter Pecan Blondies

Blondies are easy to make and easy to customize. Start with a basic batter and pick flavors that you like for your add-ins, then stir it all up, pour it into a pan, and bake. Simple, low-maintenance, and delicious – three of my favorite things! Just remember to keep your stir-in portions under control; you don’t want to crowd your dough too much, and you can always sprinkle more of the add-ins on top for extra flavor and texture; that’s what I always do.

Blondies are also a wonderful option for those living chocolate-free lives like me. I’ve always been a huge fan of butterscotch, so I’ve been thinking about a butterscotch blondie for a while now. Then I remembered the amazing combination of butterscotch chips, toffee bits, and pecans from these butter pecan cookies I made a while back, and it seemed like a great idea for blondies, too. I’m pleased to say that they turned out very well, with excellent texture and flavor.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butterscotch chips, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons toffee bits, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped pecans, divided

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan completely with foil and lightly spray with baking spray.

Reserve 2 tablespoons each of the butterscotch chips, toffee bits, and chopped pecans for sprinkling on top of your batter; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and brown sugar; mix well to combine.

Add melted butter and stir to incorporate slightly; add eggs and vanilla extract and stir well to fully combine. The dough will be fairly dry, so you’ll want to use your hands to fully incorporate your ingredients.

Add 1/4 cups each of the butterscotch chips, toffee bits, and chopped pecans; stir very well, using your hands if necessary to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Press dough into the prepared pan, then sprinkle the top with the remaining chips/bits/nuts and press them into the dough.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then lift out by the foil and place on a wire rack; peel foil back slightly and allow to cool completely.

Once cool, remove foil entirely and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 24.