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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Sugar Cookie Heart Sandwiches (Chocolate-Dipped and Red Velvet Cake-Filled)

heart sandwich cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear friends!! I hope you feel loved and appreciated today. Even the snow was bitten by the love bug:

snow heart

Many people will try to tell you how Valentine’s Day is pointless, worthless, or silly. But I ask you: if we didn’t have Valentine’s Day, how could I get away with packing this much pink, white, & red and this many hearts & sprinkles into one sweet treat?!

heart sandwich cookies 4

People would think I was crazy or love-obsessed on any typical day for handing these out. But today it is perfectly acceptable to be a bit over-the-top. So I say, embrace the excuse to be ridiculous! Celebrate Valentine’s Day! Make these treats! Though you’ll want to thank me for this recipe, there is no need – I am sharing it with you because (1) it is Valentine’s Day and (2) this is my way of putting just a bit more love out into the world. Because these treats? These are love.

The basic layout: sugar cookie + red velvet cake with cream cheese filling + sugar cookie, edge-dipped in chocolate and topped with sprinkles. Each sandwich has one sugar cookie that’s white with a pink heart and one that’s pink with a white heart, so the sides are reverse mirror-images of each other, sort of like a sugar cookie ying yang metaphor for love. Yup.

A few people declared this their favorite treat that I’ve brought to lab so far. Which is mighty high praise indeed! If you haven’t been convinced up to this point, now I’ve got you: you should really want to make these. And they’re not too difficult! Promise. There are a lot of steps, yes, but it’s quite fun and the payoff is worth it in both appearance and taste. How could you go wrong with sugar cookies, cake, chocolate, and sprinkles? (You can’t.)

I pretty closely followed this Valentine’s Day Cookie Cake Pop recipe from Bakingdom. My changes came in the details: instead of stamping pictures and words on the cookies, I swapped heart cutouts. Instead of lining the edges with candy melts, I dipped the sides in chocolate so you can still see the red velvet filling (and to save time). Finally, I decided to make them little sandwiches instead of putting them on cake pop sticks. Just a few variations, but the general theme of love remains and the genius of combining cookies, cake, and candy belongs to Bakingdom. :)

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SUGAR COOKIES (from: Bakingdom)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

5 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

red gel food coloring

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RED VELVET CAKE FILLING

1 box red velvet cake mix

required ingredients to make the cake (eggs, vegetable oil, water, etc.)

1 can (16 oz) cream cheese frosting

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TOPPINGS

2 bags (~12 oz each) chocolate chips (I used 1 white and 1 semi-sweet)

2 tsp. shortening (for white chocolate only)

Valentine’s-themed sprinkles!

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IMPORTANT SUPPLIES

1 large heart-shaped cookie cutter

1 mini heart-shaped cookie cutter

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Preparation (aka my Day 1):

1. Make cake according to instructions.

2. While the cake is in the oven, make the sugar cookie dough. In a medium bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl + hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well-combined after each egg, and then beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the dry mixture until everything is well-mixed; scrape the sides of the bowl regularly.

3. Remove half the dough and press into a fat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

4. To the remaining dough, beat in red gel food coloring until you are satisfied with the color (keep it mind it will lighten slightly during baking). Press into a fat, round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill with the other dough.

4. When the cake is done, let it cool completely. If you are waiting overnight, cover with plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it.

Baking the cookies (aka my Day 2):

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with baking spray.

2. Roll each chilled dough disk out on a floured surface to a thickness of slightly less than 1/2-centimeter.

3. Using the large heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as you can from both the pink and white dough, pressing the dough scraps together until you can’t make any more cookies.

4. Using the mini heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out small hearts from every cookie. The small hearts should be offset inside the big hearts, on either the right or left side. Make an even number of right- and left-side cutouts for both the pink and white doughs. Swap hearts with the opposite colored dough and gently press the mini heart and the large heart together.

5. Gently transfer cookies to the lightly greased cookie sheet (use a spatula or they’ll fall apart!). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until you start to see any edges turn slightly brown. (Watch these like a hawk: they’ll turn crispy really, really fast. Ideally, you want to catch them right before they brown.)

6. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Assembly (aka my Day 2 continued; could be a Day 3):

1. Match up cookies of opposite color so that when they’re back-to-back, the mini hearts are touching. Do your best to pair up similarly shaped cookies.

2. In a large bowl, crumble the cake and stir in the frosting until very well-mixed.

3. For each cookie pair, place 1.5-2 tablespoons of the cake mixture onto the bottom side of one of the cookies. Gently press the dough until it fills the whole cookie evenly, then top with the other cookie and gently sandwich together.

4. Chill the sandwiches in the refrigerator for half an hour or freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Pour 1 bag of chocolate chips into a bowl and microwave for 1.5 minutes. Stir together until all the chips are melted. (For white chocolate chips, add 2 teaspoons of shortening immediately after microwaving to thin it out.)

6. Dip in chocolate the side of the sandwiches that does not have the mini heart cutout. Using a spoon or the side of the bowl, gently scrape off excess chocolate. Make some sandwiches with the pink side face-up and others with the white side face-up. Set on wax paper to harden and decorate with Valentine’s Day sprinkles.

7. When half of the sandwiches have been dipped, repeat steps 5 & 6 with the other bag of chocolate chips.

8. Do not store or stack until the chocolate has set; you may have to let them harden overnight.

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I recognize that this recipe has a LOT of steps, but it’s really not too difficult. You can do it! And they’re so, so good. Seriously: make these. You won’t regret it!

heart sandwich cookies 3

Also, did you notice how gorgeous these photos are? Robin and Ruby (two amazing people in my department) both told me that my photos had a lot of room for improvement (apparently iPhone photos aren’t good enough for them…). To help me step up my game, they both volunteered to share photography duty. So today, Robin conducted a mini modeling session complete with fancy lighting and a studio box and everything. My little babies, all grown up and turned into supermodels! Expect better photos from now on, folks: I’ve made it to the big leagues. I’ve got PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!!

heart sandwich cookies 2