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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Gingerbread Cookies

Run, run as fast as you can... Because I'm going to eat you, and I'm going to have so much fun doing so!
This was my last chance to bake with Christmas flavors and sprinkles at school for the year. Now that it’s January, I have to switch back to more season-neutral treats. But as I’m posting old recipes, you get these wonderful treats! I made some classic gingerbread cookies to celebrate surviving my first semester of grad school, the approaching holidays, and the amazing people I’ve met here. That final reason is one of my favorite parts of baking: in return for passing out cookies, I received two hours of great conversations. Worth every second of baking for sure! And one shamelessly proud moment: my professor emailed me over break to request this recipe for his family baking. Are you tempted to make them yet?!

Okay, enough babbling: what you really want is this recipe. These cookies are great. Flavorful, crunchy on the edges, and soft in the middle – classic goodness. I combined two different recipes with my own ideas and this was the result. If you want to make gingerbread cookies (and don’t have a family recipe that you could never bear to abandon), then definitely try these!

I drew from two of my favorite blogs:
Annie’s Eats – Gingerbread Cookies
Smitten Kitchen – Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

Follow the instructions on Annie’s Eats, but use these ingredients (I changed/added a few things):

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GINGERBREAD COOKIES

5 cups flour
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. black pepper (seriously – weird, I know, but it’s good!)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used ½ cup unsalted butter + ½ cup butter flavored shortening because I ran out of butter)
1 cup dark brown sugar (you could also use white, but brown sugar will make it more flavorful and chewy)
1 cup molasses
1 large egg
1 tsp. orange juice (water if you don’t have OJ)*

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*Orange juice is the secret to making really awesome gingerbread. If you have a different recipe that you insist on using instead of mine, I won’t mind – but please trust me and substitute orange juice if your recipe calls for water! Or, do what I do: add the orange juice to the recipe and bump up the flour & spices to make up for the additional liquid. Orange juice brings out the flavors and will make your gingerbread extra awesome. I promise.

The instructions are very clear on Annie’s website, so I won’t replicate them here. I’ll just give you my tips:

1. Divide the dough into thirds, wrap with cling wrap, and then refrigerate for an hour before rolling the dough out.

2. Refrigerate the cookies again for 5 minutes (or more) before baking them. Then you won’t need to leave 2 inches between each cookie when you bake them, because they will retain their shape better.

3. If you don’t have parchment paper (darn you, Shaws, for running out!), coat your pans with baking spray and your cookies will be fine (just a bit darker on the bottom).

4. 10 minutes is key! Don’t bake them any longer! 9 minutes might even be enough. Or 8. Find out how your oven cooks and be careful not to overcook these or they’ll be crunchy all the way through.

5. If you’re impatient like me, you don’t have to let them cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes. They’ll be fine being transferred immediately to the cooling racks (they’re just soft, so be careful – they’ll harden up later).

6. Decorate with frosting! A very simple recipe that I used = 1 cup powdered sugar for every 1 tablespoon water (I ended up using about 5 cups of powdered sugar to decorate them all). Add water as needed, in very small amounts, to keep it smooth enough to spread. Too runny, though, and it will not stay on your cookies! Find that sweet spot that allows you to spread it with a knife (like on the gingerbread men) or pipe it out with a frosting bag (like on the snowflakes).

7. Use the crystalized sugar sprinkles instead of crunchy/harder sprinkles. The crunchy ones will distract from the gingerbread’s texture. Put the sprinkles on immediately after you frost each cookie, or else it’ll harden and the sprinkles won’t stick.

8. Let the frosting harden overnight. Store the cookies with wax paper between each layer. The less stacking you have to do, the better, because they’ll get a bit smashed if you stack them too high.