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Posts tagged ‘Special Occasions’

Cougar Graduation Cap Cupcakes

For the last three years we’ve coordinated the university ministry for our church and when it’s graduation time we have an open house with cupcakes for our grads. Washington State’s colors are “Crimson and Gray” so red velvet cake with gray cream cheese frosting works beautifully. The caps are made of little cookies with frosting tassels perched on a dollop of black frosting.

Notice how I’ve managed to work cookies into a cupcake design! Here’s how they’re made:

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup butter (cold – straight from the fridge)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp Wilton food coloring in your choice of color
About 1 TBSP water

Cut the butter into cubes and drop them into the food processor with the flour and pinch of salt.

Process into crumbles then add the sugar.

Separate the yolk from the white and drop it in. I do this by cracking the shell in half and plopping the yolk back and forth between the two shells until all of the white has dropped away. If some of it is clinging I kind of use the other shell to cut it away. I think this saves me a whole $2.00 splurge on an egg separator.

Add the vanilla.

Process again. It will get to a crumbly state like this. Then you can add the food coloring.

It will still be crumbly.

Add water a few drops at a time through the food processor’s feed tube until you get a ball of dough like this.

Divide the dough into four parts.

Flatten each piece into a pancake with your hands on an oversized piece of parchment paper.

Stack the “pancakes” and refrigerate them for an hour or two.

While you’re waiting, it’s a good idea to get the food processor cleaned up unless you want to see the stains from that food coloring for weeks to come. By the way, my food processor’s name “Princess P.” The P stands for what it can do: process, pulverize, pulse, puree. And, for how it sounds: it purrs. And, for Priscilla – because that also starts with P.

Okay, back to the dough. Usually by the time I pull the dough out of the fridge, I’ve overshot the target by a little and I need to actually let it warm back up slightly. When it is firm but pliable, place each pancake under a second piece of parchment paper. (So many P-s!) Then roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness between the sheets. (I now have a nice wooden rolling pin, thanks to my Uncle Pete’s suggestion, but it’s not getting anywhere near this much food coloring!)

Peel away the top paper.

Use a pizza cutter to form a grid of one-inch squares for the caps, with smaller lines of buffer dough between each row of caps. The buffer will be peeled away from between them and the caps will not leave their place on the parchment paper until after they have been baked. With cookies this thin, it is almost impossible to move them without mutilating their shapes.

Lift and peel the dough from between the cookies.

Poke little steam holes into the center of each cookie to avoid puffing. (I don’t know how critical this is but Julia Child says to do it with dough like this, so I do.)

Place the sheets of parchment onto a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes.

Remove them on their paper to cool on a rack.

Once they are cool, use your clean fingers to rub off the inevitable crumbs that will be stuck around the edges. Set them aside to wait while you go on to the cupcakes. The cupcakes can be any kind you want to make. If you want to hear about the escapades involved in making mine, go to…. Lessons in Red Velvet.

For this post we’ll go on to the dreamy cream-y cheese frosting.

2 boxes of cream cheese (at room temperature)
2 sticks of butter (at room temperature)
1 (2lb) bag of powdered sugar
Gel Food coloring

Drop the cream cheese and butter into the mixer and cream them

Add the powdered sugar. I don’t sift the sugar for frosting and the only time I’ve ever had trouble was when I used a cheap generic package. I also don’t add the sugar gradually…big surprise for those of you who’ve read my cookie recipes, I’m sure. Then, mix until it’s nice and creamy like this.

Pull out two small portions – one for the tassel color and one for the base of the caps.

Color the remaining frosting to the main color you’ve chosen. I made gray by adding a small amount of black Wilton gel food coloring. Gel food coloring is critical for frosting because it doesn’t mess with the consistency like liquid.

Don’t forget to color the other bowls of frosting. I use a table knife to get the color out of those tiny jars and then just use it to mix.

The final colors….Go Cougs!!

I pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes with a large frosting tip. I am only a perfectionist when I want to be and with frosting – I don’t want to be. As long as I come out with kind of cute layer on the cupcakes some way or another I’m happy.

Next I put on the base of the cap with a pastry bag that just has the tip cut off. Sandy and Susie taught me this tip-less trick while we were working on the Victorian Tea together. You get the cutest little dollops.

Press the cookies into place.

Then put the tassel-colored frosting into a piping bag with a fine line tip and make the top part of the tassel. (I am learning how to spell t-a-s-s-e-l by the way! Word is faithfully correcting me from “tassle”. I wish it would do so automatically and let me live in ignorance though.)

Then switch to a little frilly tip for the bottom part of the t-a-s-s-e-l.

Keep a toothpick handy to help cut off the end of each one if needed because it goes through open space from the cookie to touch down on the cupcake and it can be hard to lift the tip away without pulling the t-a-s-s-e-l away too.

Voila!!! Not one cupcake is perfect, but they’re pretty cute, especially with the happy graduates:



And, my hubby, the Army’s newest if not only Ph.D in Radio (Nuclear) Chemistry. He’s great looking for such a brain!

Last, but not least, a special thanks to Chris and Katie for making the sandwiches and setting everything up for the party while we were all at the graduation ceremony.

Lessons in Red Velvet

I know that we learn from our mistakes, but over the years I have decided that I am not a fan of this approach, which is why I read trustworthy cookbooks and put into practice what I pick up. This also happens to be a big reason why I study the Bible. I’d rather take wisdom where I can find it and not have to learn the hard way that God had a good reason for what He said to do.

Of course, in spite of the best guidance, I occasionally think I have better ideas, like with red velvet.

The foundation for this lesson started on Good Friday when I procrastinated about buying a cake mix (my usual approach to cake baking) and couldn’t find a red velvet mix in Pullman. A bunch of students were coming over after the Good Friday service to watch The Passion – and have dessert. I had racked my brain for what kind of desert might go with such a gut-wrenching movie and come up with a plan to make a cake that illustrated Isaiah 1:18. There was no time at the local IGA to think of a plan B. Thankfully, I had been ogling the Pioneer Woman blog and happened to remember that she had recently posted a red velvet cake. (See it here.) It was beautiful and I had looked pretty closely at the ingredients so I grabbed buttermilk and red food coloring and trotted home.

The cake turned out nicely – until I hurriedly tried covering over red crumbs with cream cheese frosting that was too thick for the job. It turns out that hiding crimson with white is harder than it looks in cakes, not to mention the cosmos. Anyway, there were crumbs of red embedded in the frosting, but the point was made, maybe even accentuated. Here are a few shots of that cake.

The real trouble with red velvet began when I watched a re-run episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown a couple of days before I needed to make red velvet cupcakes AGAIN for our graduation open house. (Note: If you missed my prior plug for that show, please check out the post on pulled pork (here). I’m still looking for someone who can explain the Zans!) In the episode we watched, a woman who owns a bakery made red velvet cupcakes, and she talked about how you shouldn’t use butter in cupcakes because it makes them dry. She believes in using oil. That got me thinking about the Pioneer Woman cake I had recently made, which called for shortening. I wondered if perhaps that perfectly delicious cake might have been too firm to be parlayed into scrumptious cupcakes. Meanwhile, Bobby Flay, used butter in his cupcakes and won, but I was already well down the destructive path of second guessing sound wisdom. Oil, butter, shortening – conflicting expertise – what a dilemma!

My solution – when the experts can’t agree appoint yourself as one. In my visions of blogging grandeur, I even took a picture of myself writing my own hybrid recipe from the two mentioned above. Stupid! I have studied cookies to the point that I can alter recipes with predictable results, but I have no business trying it with cake recipes, when my usual method involves pictures of eggs and oven dials on the back of a box.

This photo is now quite embarrassing!

But, we will never know exactly how this recipe might have turned out, because I failed to even follow my own plan correctly. Here’s how it happened.

Holly and Megan came over to bake with me, which was great fun.

I guess I was distracted with the novelty of a sifter being operated in my kitchen as Holly was measuring the flour and I told her the wrong amount. (It matters how much flour you put in cake, by the way.)

The batter tasted great, but I kept looking through the oven glass at cupcakes that weren’t rising and wondering why it was taking so long. Finally I pulled them out in a fit of aggravation and found that the bottoms were burned. WHAT!?

Worse yet, they tasted burned.

What you cannot see in this trash can is the chunk of my ego buried under the pile.

I called Ric who was already leaving the grocery store after shopping for other graduation party supplies and asked him (in a very miserable voice) to go back in and shake the place down for a red velvet cake mix. He felt so sorry for me that he bought me these flowers to make me feel better.

Maybe I should have baking mishaps more often!

He may have also been feeling bad about breaking the news that he did not find a mix. Instead, he found more red food coloring. Oh, yippee – a chance to redeem myself.

For the next batch I humbly followed the Bobby Flay Throw Down recipe exactly – almost. You can find it online here. The only exception was that I mixed the cocoa and the red food coloring like The Pioneer Woman recipe because it’s much prettier to dump red coloring into white batter. You get a picture like this….

Instead of like this…

…which is how it looks if the cocoa is added in with the dry ingredients. If I wasn’t blogging, I wouldn’t care, but now you’ve gotten to see some pretty red swirls. If you really want to see pretty red batter photography, check out the Red Velvet Sheet Cake on Ree’s Blog.

Both recipes made delicious cake – much better than I’ve ever gotten from a mix. So, the wheels are turning in my brain on this whole cake thing. I will conquer this process!

In the end, the lessons learned were profound. Follow directions when you’re not an expert and be careful about measurements.

Next Post: the graduation cap cupcakes that all of this trouble went into producing. Here’s a sneak peek.

Edible Easter Baskets

The boys have outgrown snap-together eggs and plastic grass, but Easter is still about surprise in the morning – the surprise of life and of an empty tomb. Treat filled baskets can’t hold a candle to that, but they do add joy to the morning.

Thankfully, I’ve awakened to the world of food blogs, where culinary creativity abounds. (Maybe not so much on this one, which is why I’m staking my claim on corniness.) There are plenty of ideas out there so I decided to modify one of the cookie nests.

Recipe: The basket is a fortified rice crispy treat.
¼ cup butter
10 oz marshmallows
4 cups rice crispy cereal
2 cups shredded wheat cereal crushed

I added the crushed shredded wheat because I wanted a more “nesty” look than plain rice crispies would give me.

Melt the butter over low heat then add the marshmallows and stir until they are melted and smooth

Dump in the cereal and stir together.

Spray the inside of the cereal bowls you are going to use for molds.

Divide the mixture between the bowls.

Spray your hands with cooking spray to avoid sticking to your work and press the cereal goop into a nest shape.

Let the bowls sit overnight then pop out the nests and use them like baskets in the morning.

Joy to you this Easter!
(Originally published 4/24/2011)

Molly and Becky’s April Flowers

My friend Molly and her sister Becky brought me this GORGEOUS fruit arrangement on Wednesday. They made it themselves! Then Molly brought another one to Bible study on Thursday. What a treat!

I could hardly stand the thought of eating it, but it was too big to fit in the fridge. Thank goodness for photos. I asked if she took pictures while she was making it, because I’ve been trying to drag her into this blogging project. And, she did! So, enjoy…

And last but not least, you’ve got to see the one that her youngest daughter made to take to one of their neighbors. I think it’s adorable that it’s sitting in front of their homeschool chalkboard with flowers already drawn on it.

Thank you so much, Molly and Becky for such a delightful gift!

Victorian Tea – Tour of Tables

As I mentioned in my last post, our church has a Victorian Tea each spring. I was on the kitchen staff which meant I had the chance early Saturday morning to see all of the beautiful tables that had been set up by the hostesses the prior evening. I decided to take pictures. Some of them are missing centerpieces that probably arrived later in the day while I was busy with food, but they were still beautiful. I’d love to hear which ones were your favorites if you care to comment!
We’ll start with the first table I photographed, which was also probably my favorite. I love the colors and theme. The tea pot is an Appaloosa horse, which is named for the area where we currently live – The Palouse.

Here’s the table that was set by Shelley who did a marvelous job of coordinating the whole event. I love the colors and the fun bottles of old-fashioned soda she set out for her ladies.

Here you see beautiful soothing colors from our very-gifted Children’s Ministry coordinator.

Fun bright colors from one of our most dedicated youth workers who just had a precious new baby.

I love the feminine feel and colors of this classy table.

This one had gorgeous china and napkin rings with a cute tea-cozy from The Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC if I’m not missing my guess?

What fun colors with the classic vintage glassware on this beauty.

Serene colors and a very dignified arrangement for this lovely table. Photography falls a little short on this one.

I’m a sucker for blue and yellow, so this was one of my favorite tables. I loved the lemon drops and little packages. (I would like to know what was in them but I resisted the urge to sneak a peak in the empty room on Saturday morning.)

More fun and festive colors from a very fun hostess. I wanted to sneak some of those malted eggs too. Good thing she had them tied up in such cute bundles.

Here we have one decorated by our middle-school girls with the help of my delightful neighbor. It had a gummy theme, with gummy worms and bears. Adorable!!

The high school girls, with the help of our youth pastor’s wife, decorated their entire table with duct tape. The flowers for the centerpiece were even made of duct tape. It was really cool and I’m sure that the girls at the table have a cooler word than “cool” to describe their work.

By contrast, this one was so classy with its formal setting and lovely gold utensils and chargers.

This table was almost as striking as the beautiful hostess. Her husband helped her set it and the red was gorgeous.

Here’s another fun one that really fit the vivacious personality of the hostess.

This setting was by our pastor’s sweet wife. I love that her daughter’s places were set with extra special care.

Here we have one that was simply gorgeous and so well appointed.

This table was by our International Pastor’s wife. She is the nicest lady you could ever meet. Her centerpiece was pictured at the top of this post. Check out the dishes and tea pot.

Another one of my neighbors set this one. (I live on a very talented block.) I love Fiesta ware and the colors on this pretty table were so vibrant! I couldn’t resist taking an extra picture of the place set for her daughter.

The last table I photographed had one of my favorite centerpieces. I like the combination of deep colors and spring flowers – very fitting for the spring we’re having on The Palouse.

Thanks to Shelley and all of the hostesses for such an extravaganza of eye candy!
If you’d like a behind the scene’s look in the kitchen, go to my prior post.

Victorian Tea – View into the Kitchen

Our church has a Ladies Victorian Tea every spring and for the last two years I’ve gotten to work in the kitchen for the event. It makes me feel like a member of an elite team. I’ve dubbed it the dream team because these ladies are so good that it’s a dream to work with them. Sandy moves so fast, she couldn’t even freeze for a photo.

Susie and Sandy are the ones who do all the planning and they are geniuses when it comes to large scale production with pretty presentation. Sandy handles most of the sweet treats and Susie is the sandwich and salad queen. Diane and I do what we’re told, as efficiently as possible. A lot has to happen at the end of two days of hard core prep work.

There were 160 ladies this year seated at twenty tables, so everything had to be done 160 times and divided into groups of eight to be placed on trays for the twenty servers. To complicate things further, some things need to stay cold until the very end and the kitchen barely holds 20 trays set out at once, let alone the one’s were trying to load for the next course. Garnishing has to be done at lightening speed! It’s fun.

This is the list of courses:

Day one of preparation looks something like this hodgepodge. Thankfully, we had some extra help that morning.

On Saturday morning it all starts to come together.

Sandy handles the scones which go out as the first course.

Then the parade of tea sandwiches begins.
The cucumber sandwiches were very cute. The dill and pimentos on top make it pretty and force us to hustle at the end! Here’s Susie holding out the first prototype.

Then, she repeated the procedure 160 times.

Egg salad is spread on egg-shaped bread with a little “yolk” window cut in the top. Diane and Ruth cut all of those tops and bottoms…and cut all of those cute little holes. I made the filling and we all worked fast to poke little parsley sprigs in at the last minute.

The turkey avocado sandwiches don’t require cookie cutters so they assemble a little bit more efficiently, but they are garnished with – get this, blanched chives tied into a cute little knot – a sandwich bow tie atop a tomato. Picture me and Diane tying knots in 160 little sprigs of blanched chives. They were adorable…once we were done.

Next up is pasta. Susie handled this one and it gives us a breather during the rush. Easy to put on trays and no garnishes at the end, but delicious!

Kebabs were the very pretty fruit of Sandy’s labor with a sweet creamy dip.

Once the fruit is out, the dessert round begins.

The lemon cupcakes were wonderful – another one of Sandy’s masterpieces.

These little Bavarian cream tarts were Susie’s idea and they came with pre-baked shells, which was great. I got to pipe in the filling and put the raspberries on these little guys.

Last, but certainly not least…brownie bites. Oh, how I wish you could taste the raspberry cream frosting on the top of these guys. I LOVE chocolate and raspberry! Thankfully we had a few extras to “check for quality” in the morning.

Of course, it takes a lot of tea for a Tea. This was about a third of the final pile. We brewed 12 batches in large pots.

In my next post I’ll show you the GORGEOUS tables!