Red Velvet Fourth of July Cupcakes

red velvet fourth of july cupcake stars

Have you thought about the fact that we’re days away from July, the SEVENTH month of 2013? Where did the first half of this year go?!

red velvet fourth of july cupcakes stars

This also means we are rapidly approaching the Fourth of July! Just for you all, I made these cupcakes in advance so you can try your hand at them for your own July 4th celebrations. Just for you, I endured the puzzled looks of my professors and fellow grad students, who weren’t sure if I had just gotten the dates mixed up (“You do know the Fourth of July is on July 4, right?”) or if I was feeling suddenly patriotic (perhaps as a celebration of the recent SCOTUS rulings?). Just for you, I stayed up way past my bedtime to make these cupcakes and stars, then woke up early to cut out each red and white striped cupcake wrapping, whip up a batch of beautiful blue frosting, and assemble these star-spangled cuties. I did all of this so you can impress your family and friends at your own parties. So please, try these out and let me know how they are received!

fourth of july star spangled red velvet cupcakes

Reasons why I am extra excited about these cupcakes:

  1. I am utterly obsessed with the ease and beauty of adding chocolate decorations to everything (see: my last two posts).
  2. I found these red and white striped cupcake wrappers at You Make Do. For only $1, you get a pdf download of three wrappers with different stripe sizes, and can print off as many as you want! The only downside is you have to individually cut them out, but it’s much cheaper than purchasing pre-made striped wrappers.
  3. I finally ordered some large Wilton tips for decorating cupcakes, and I am completely in love with them. Frosting these cupcakes was such a cinch and so fun. You’ll be seeing more cupcakes on here now that I can actually make them look pretty! If you’re interested, I got: 1M, 2D, 6B, and 2A. A large coupler helps so you can easily switch between decorating tips for the same bag of frosting.
  4. I got a soft gel paste set from Americolor that is absolutely gorgeous (did you see that red velvet above? and how about the vibrant blue frosting?!). I may or may not be regularly pulling the box down from my cupboard just to gaze lovingly at the sweet little bottles of so many beautiful colors just begging to be used…

red and white stripes cupcake blue frosting stars

I’m usually a normal human being. I promise.

july 4 cupcakes american flag

I searched for cupcakes like this when the idea popped into my head, but couldn’t find anything. I found loads of red white and blue cupcakes, cupcakes with sprinkles, swirled cupcakes, american flag cupcakes, etc. but nothing quite like what I wanted. Which is surprising, because these cupcakes are designed to resemble American flags: red and white stripes on the cupcake wrapper, red velvet cupcakes, and blue frosting with white stars on top. Maybe someone’s done this already and I just couldn’t find it? Either way, I am quite pleased with how these turned out and hope you like them, too!

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RED VELVET STAR-SPANGLED CUPCAKES

Makes: 24 cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes:

Barely adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Saveur

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 tsp. salt

2 large eggs

1½ cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

3/4 tsp. red food coloring gel (liquid requires 2 tbsp.)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

Buttercream frosting:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3-4 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp. milk or heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

a pinch of salt

a few drops of blue food coloring gel

Stars:

~8 oz white chocolate chips

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1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line cupcake pans with foil cupcake liners (paper will work, but the grease will stain your red & white outer wrappers more).

2. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend. In a separate bowl using an electric hand mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar. Beat on medium speed until well blended. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. While the cupcakes are baking and/or cooling, make the star decorations. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.). Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process. Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe stars of various sizes onto the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to one of the bottom points (at least 2 cm) that will stick in the cupcake and hold the stars up. I made 3 stars per cupcake for a total of 72 stars, plus a few extras in case I broke any. Put the chocolate stars in the refrigerator to harden up.

5. When you’re ready to assemble the cupcakes, make the frosting. Beat the softened butter, vanilla, salt, and blue food coloring gel together until uniform. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, adding milk or cream as necessary to reach your desired consistency. If you decide to add extra blue food coloring, make sure you mix it in evenly. Scrape the sides of the bowl often.

6. Put the cupcakes in their red and white striped cupcake wrappers. Fill a decorating bag with frosting. Pipe frosting in large swirls on each cupcake, switching decorating tips throughout if you want a mix like I have here. When all cupcakes are frosted, remove the chocolate stars from the refrigerator and gently push them into the tops of the cupcakes.

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red white and blue stars and stripes

Beautiful and easy – my favorite. These sweet cupcakes will make you look like a professional cupcake decorator even though we all picked up paper-cutting and star-drawing skills before kindergarden. They’re just so cute, with the vibrant colors and patriotic vibe!

wilton frosting tips cupcakes

red white and blue cupcakes stars stripes

Have a wonderful Fourth of July!

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Heart-Filled Cupcakes

heart cupcakesValentine’s Day is almost here! It should come as no surprise that I am quite fond of this holiday. Not the processed, packaged, generic, store-sold Valentine’s Day stuff… well, except for those cards that kids pass out. I have a weak spot for those. They’re just so cute and silly, and remind me of being a kid. And some of them have stickers or holograms! So, so cool. But aside from those, I don’t like the Valentine’s Day that stores try to push on you. What I do absolutely adore is everyone dressed in pinks, reds, and whites. I’m smitten with all the hearts, hugs, smiles, songs, and handmade cards. And I truly treasure the celebration of friendship, appreciation, and love. What’s not to love about all of that?! Add the chance to make super cute, heart-themed treats and this becomes a holiday worth celebrating!

Ever since Katie sent me Megan Seling’s book, Bake it in a Cupcake, for my birthday, I’ve been obsessed with the heart-filled cupcakes that grace the cover. I’ve waited three months now for Valentine’s Day to come just so I could make these, and I’m so glad I did – they are adorable! You have to cut into them just right in order to see the heart, but the wonderful surprise of seeing a heart inside your cupcake never gets old and makes it 100% worth the effort.

You’ll need a small heart-shaped cookie cutter for this recipe. For me, this proved to be surprisingly difficult to find. After visiting numerous stores without luck, I finally ended up asking one of my labmates to help me make a cookie cutter in the lab’s machine shop. He is really talented and has made all sorts of utensils and whatnot, so I figured he would be up for the challenge. I wasn’t wrong! Check out this awesome, handmade cookie cutter he made for me:

cookie cutter

Impressive, right?! He said he’s going to make an octopus next, so keep an eye out for some crazy cookies… ha!

The one downside to these cupcakes is that despite all their visual bravado, they are a bit on the bland side. I think the strawberry frosting included in the recipe would remedy this, but since I strongly dislike artificial strawberry flavoring and I am the baker, I decided to go with a buttercream frosting (which could also easily be tinted pink). I think next time I would make the hearts white and bake them into a red velvet cupcake, or keep the hearts pink/red and bake them into a chocolate cupcake. Don’t get me wrong – these are still very good, and their cuteness quota is off the charts, but I’m a chocolate loyalist at heart. Try whatever sounds best to you!

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Megan has posted the recipe on her blog so follow this link to make the cupcakes: Pink Heart-Filled Cupcakes. Because I dislike artificial strawberry flavor, I topped them with this fluffy frosting recipe from Cooking Classy.

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A few hints:

1.Vanilla beans are great but expensive; 1.5-2 tsp. vanilla extract can be used as a substitute.

2. When you’re cooking the small pink/red cake for the hearts, put the rest of the batter in the refrigerator. Do not leave it on the counter! I made two batches, and the first batch I didn’t refrigerate the batter (it doesn’t say to in the recipe) and half of the hearts floated to the top of the cupcakes during baking. Oops. The second time around, I refrigerated the batter and didn’t have any issues getting the hearts to stay upright in the batter. Much better. Learn from my mistake and you’ll save yourself the heartache of a bunch of cupcakes with rotated hearts!

3. On that note, once the small pink/red cake is done baking, pop it in the refrigerator/freezer for a few minutes to cool it down asap. The longer you wait, the “flatter” your batter in the refrigerator is going to get and the denser your final cupcakes will be.

4. These cupcakes won’t rise too much, but if you fill up the cupcake liners more than 4/5-ths full or so, the batter will run over the edges and cement the liner to the cupcake tray. I lost a cupcake that way: trying to pry it loose from tray, I ripped the cupcake in half. You win some, you learn some. On the upside, I got to do some quality assurance, so I can’t complain too much!

5. She provides a single baking time (20 for the small cake, 24 for the cupcakes) but you should start testing your treats earlier. Mine were done at 19 and 22 minutes; if you don’t know how your oven behaves, then just keep an eye on your cupcakes to make sure you don’t over-bake them.

6. For the buttercream frosting, use gel food coloring to dye it pink/red. Gel food coloring doesn’t affect the consistency like liquid food coloring does, and it gives the frosting a nice vibrant color. Since I made 24 cupcakes (2 batches), I frosted 8 with plain white frosting. Then I added some red food coloring to the remaining frosting and beat it until the frosting was light pink, and used that to decorate 8 more cupcakes. For the remaining cupcakes, I adding additional food coloring to the frosting and brought it to a darker pink color. The three shades of frosting looked quite cute sitting together on the cupcake tray!

heart cropped

Joyeuse Saint-Valentin! I hope you spread and receive lots of love this week!

Spiced Orange Cupcakes

orange cupcake

Wow, I did not expect that… These are strangely good!

Just as I am terrible at eating bananas before they go ripe, I’m awful at eating oranges quickly. I usually eat two or three and then I’m sick of the peeling and the smell all over my hands and the white pith everywhere and maybe I’m just weird?! It’s perfectly fine. I can manage just fine. Except I had five oranges on the counter threatening to go bad and requiring some creative re-purposing, and the thought of peeling and eating them was enough to make me want to throw them away immediately.

Enter these orange cupcakes.

Yes, you read that right.

Orange cupcakes. Have you ever heard of anything like it before? Banana, sure. Lemon, of course. But orange? It’s certainly news to me! Except, when I went searching for a recipe, it started to seem like maybe this wasn’t such a novel idea after all. Plenty of people have made orange cupcakes, and they don’t seem to be too awed by the concept. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes because you eat orange cupcakes every day, but if this is news to you and you’re thinking, “Hmm I’m not so sure I’d like that…” then trust me on this: if you like oranges, you should like these cupcakes. I was a skeptic at first, but I was so intrigued by the idea that I tried it anyway. And I’m so glad I did! They’re moist, dense cupcakes with just the right amount of spices in them to make you smile. And the frosting (which is optional, because the cupcakes are fantastic on their own) is its own special breed of amazing.

Makes 16 cupcakes. (Or, 15 because you have to eat one right out of the oven because you’re totally shocked that it even worked because despite the internet seeming to be an expert on orange cupcakes, this is still totally foreign to you and you need to make sure they worked before you give them away to anyone and wow they sure do taste good – who would have thought!) They were inspired by this Beat and Bake Orange Cake Recipe on Allrecipes.com, which I changed up quite a bit to make sure the cupcakes stayed moist, were bursting with orange flavor, and had some extra spices to draw out the orange flavor and keep things interesting.

These were for a friend’s birthday. We had them in the department kitchen and I was so nervous when everyone started eating them, because what if my midnight taste buds misled me and these were actually awful?? Someone even had to remind me to take one for myself – I was so anxious that I just stood there, fingers crossed, hoping for the best. I can’t even begin to describe my relief when everyone really liked them. Succès!!

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SPICED ORANGE CUPCAKES

2 cups flour

½ tsp. salt

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground clove

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup sour cream

½ cup orange juice

½ cup vegetable oil

3 eggs, beaten

1 ½ tbsp. Grand Marnier (or Triple Sec)

2 tbsp. grated orange zest

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BROWNED BUTTER & ORANGE FROSTING

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (browned; instructions in recipe)

3-5 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp. orange juice

2-3 tbsp. milk

2 tsp. grated orange zest

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a cupcake tray with cupcake liners.

2. In a large bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix in sugar and spices until well-combined, then set aside.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, orange juice, Grand Marnier, vegetable oil, eggs, and the 2 tbsp. orange zest. (Don’t stress when these won’t combine all the way; just get them mixed a bit.)

4. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined, making sure that it mixes evenly.

5. Using a ¼-cup scoop, fill each cupcake liner to about ¾ full. Bake for 20-22 minutes (mine took 21), until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with just a few crumbs on it (but no liquid-y batter).

6. Cool the cupcakes before frosting. While the cupcakes are cooling, let’s brown some butter! Put the 1/2 cup butter in a small saucepan and turn to medium-low heat. Stir gently and continuously. The butter will melt, then start frothing and bubbling (don’t get splattered!), and finally go from a yellow color to a pretty amber. The whole process will take what feels like a few minutes (I honestly have no idea what it actually takes, as I wasn’t watching a clock) but the color switch happens very quickly. Once it’s amber, turn off the stove and move the pot away from the heat. Photos are provided below for reference. Let this sit for a bit and small brown flecks will settle to the bottom. Slowly pour off the top, smooth butter and discard those brown flecks. Don’t worry about losing some butter – you’ll just add less powdered sugar in the next step. The browned butter needs to harden again before you use it, so unless you want to wait upwards of 2 hours for it to harden on the counter, pop it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

7. To make the frosting, cream the browned butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Gradually beat in 1/2-1 cup of powdered sugar and orange zest until well combined. Alternately beat in small amounts of orange juice, milk, and extra powdered sugar to bring to a fluffy consistency good for spreading on the cupcakes. The ranges in orange juice, milk, and powdered sugar are so you can keep adding bits of each until you’re satisfied with the amount and consistency of the frosting (liquids will thin and powdered sugar will thicken the frosting).

8. Use a knife or spatula to spread on frosting. Or, use a decorating bag or thick plastic bag with the tip cut off to pipe on frosting (what I did). If you have extra orange zest, sprinkle some on top and gently press it into the frosting so it stays in place. Merveilleux!

Keep the flame low or else you'll risk heating the butter too quickly and burning it.

Keep the flame low or else you’ll risk heating the butter too quickly and burning it.

As you heat the butter, it'll start to bubble. Keep stirring almost constantly and watch closely. When you stir, look at what color the butter is underneath - when it switches from yellow to amber, you're done!

As you heat the butter, it’ll start to bubble. Keep stirring and watch closely. When you stir, you’ll be able to see the butter below the bubbles. Look at what color it is – when it switches from yellow to amber, you’re done!

The butter will take a few minutes to change color, but once it does, it goes FAST. As soon as you see this amber color develop, turn off the stove and move the pot away from the heat. (Another indication that it's done is when it smells almost nutty; you'll notice a difference in aroma once it's "browned.")

The butter will take a few minutes to change color, but once it does, it goes FAST. As soon as you see this amber color develop, turn off the stove and move the pot away from the heat. (Another indication that it’s done is when it smells almost nutty; you’ll notice a difference in aroma once it’s “browned.”)

Save some of the orange zest to decorate the tops of the cupcakes. So cute & fragrant!

Save some of the orange zest to decorate the tops of the cupcakes. So cute & fragrant!

*Note: In researching ideas for using oranges, I came across this impressive post all about oranges. If you ever wanted to know anything about oranges, I’m sure you could find it here!