Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lady Bug Cupcakes Tutorial

This past weekend I made the trek home to my hometown in NH to spend the weekend with my mom for her birthday.  The last few months have been rough on her so I decided some lucky ladybug cupcakes would be the perfect birthday treat to bring smiles and lots of luck to her this year.  My mom has believed the little red bugs bring good luck ever since I can remember; she even kept faith in their powers as they forged a mass invasion on my brother's bedroom!  I knew that these cute cupcakes would be the perfect birthday treat to bring a smile to her face and remind her of how lucky she is!
I started with a banana caramel muffin baked in a red scalloped cupcake wrapper.
I swirled cinnamon cream cheese frosting on each cupcake.  This was the base for my ladybug decorations!  Feel free to use whatever flavor of cupcake and frosting you desire.  I would not use chocolate frosting, I think the ladybugs stand out best against the white. (=
To make the ladybugs:  Pull out a batch of sugar cookie dough that you have had chilling for at least an hour.  Roll to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.  I rolled mine pretty thick because I wanted the ladybugs to really stand out on the cupcake.
I used the back side of a random tip I had lying around to cut out the small round shape for the ladybug.  I gave each cut out a little press after to flatten the top out a tad.  You can use a tiny circular cookie cutter if you have one as well.  Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at 350 until the sides begin to brown slightly...these are tiny so keep an eye on them!  Set aside on a cooling rack until they are completely cooled.
I used a circular cookie cutter to create the leaf shape for the cupcake.  If you happen to have a leaf shaped cookie cutter feel free to use it.  You can also cut out a template to cut around if you prefer; however I found it was just as easy to do it this way (= 
I turned the circular into a leaf in 4 simple steps.  Step 1:  Punch out a circle with your cutter (you could use the top of a small glass as well)
Step 2: Pinch one side of the circle to create the stem of the leaf.
Step 3:  Using your thumb and fore finger press against the sides of the circle as you stretch them out slightly to create an elongated shape from the pinched edge.
Step 4: Pinch the last edge to create a pointed tip.  Feel free to play with the shape until you like the way it looks.  Don't get stressed about making them all look exactly the same...imperfections add to the charm of these cupcakes!
I wanted the leaves to have some natural shape to the so I baked them on the curve of my cookie sheet.  I baked some lying vertical and some lying horizontal along the curve to add some contrast.  I couldn't fit very many on each sheet so had to do multiple bakes, but it was worth the effort.
Bake until the edges of the leaves begin to turn a golden brown.  Remove from baking sheet and transfer to wire cooling rack until completely cooled.
Once cooled, thin some green Royal Icing to painting consistency with a small amount of water.  Using a pastry brush or paint (clean!) brush, paint the icing onto the top of the cookies in a thin and even layer.  I first just painted the tops of the leaves and then decided I wanted them to look completely covered, so I went back and painted down the sides as well.  The finished look of the leaves was cute but it made the process a little messier!  If you want to get fancier with the leaves you can pipe veins on after the base coat dries.
To make your ladybugs, fill your piping bag with black royal icing fitted with a very small round tip (I used size00).  Pipe a straight line down the center of the cooled cookie.
With the same bag, pipe a circle at one end and fill in for the head of the ladybug.  Try to use icing that is thin enough to melt back into itself slightly, but not so thin that it doesn't keep its shape on the cookie.
Fit a piping bag filled with red royal icing with the same size 00 tip.  Pipe the outline of the ladybug wings on either side of the black middle line. 
I used the same icing bag to then fill in the centers of the wings since these guys were so small. If you have more patience and want a more precise look, you can thin out some red icing and flood the wings after the outline dries instead.
After the red dries, add details such as black dots on the wings and little antennas to complete your lady bugs.  Let dry.
To decorate your cupcake, press your cookie leaf into the soft frosting of your cupcake.  Attach the ladybugs to the leaves by dipping them in a small amount of royal icing and pressing them onto the leaves.  Have fun arranging the ladybugs as you desire.
These cupcakes are sure to bring lots of smiles, good luck, and happy bellies to any celebration.  Have fun making these lucky bugs to adorn your next cupcakes and make sure to spread the luck around as much as you can!

Love you Mom <3

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Starbucks VIA Sugar Cookies---An Anniversary Gift

Two years ago I was sitting in an NYC Starbucks in Soho, sipping a cappuccino and staring at the door. I was waiting for my blind date to arrive and was BEYOND nervous. Minutes later a tall, dark, and handsome man walked in looking nervously around. I waved him over and he sat down across from me with a huge smile. He was SO nervous to meet me that his hands were shaking was adorable.  I reached across the table and held his hand to calm him down and from that moment on Francisco and I have been absolutely inseparable...the very best of friends.  Today is the two year anniversary of our meeting and to honor that moment I created anniversary Starbucks Cookies as a treat for my amazing boyfriend.
To make these cookies I simply added Starbucks VIA into my regular regular sugar cookie recipe.  I doubled the amount of milk in the recipe, warmed it, and dissolved one package of Starbucks VIA instant coffee.  The next time I make these I might add a little bit more coffee because I LOVE a strong coffee flavor!
I printed out pictures of the Starbucks drinks and sized them to between 3 and 4 inches.  Using my x-acto knife I cut out a hot vanilla latte, java chip and peppermint mocha frappuccinos, and an iced caramel macchiato.

Before baking the cookies didn't look like much....
But after they were decorated they looked as yummy as the real things!
I mixed cocoa powder and peppermint extract into the royal icing to decorated the Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino.  Cocoa and chopped chocolate created the Java Chip flavor.  The Vanilla Latte was flavored with vanilla extract.  I did not have any caramel extract and caramel sauce cannot be mixed with royal icing so the Caramel Macchiato was the only one that didn't taste like its name.  I colored the 'caramel' with light cocoa to avoid using coloring, so the only unnatural coloring used in the cookies was for the green plastic straw!
Today is a day to celebrate LOVE
And a day to celebrate STARBUCKS!
I will never forget the day when I first met Francisco and will always have a special place in my heart for Starbucks for being part of it. It was the best date and cappuccino I ever had! 
Two amazing years and many more to come...
I LOVE you Francisco!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Sugar Cookie Tutorial

I am not even close to being Irish and usually do not become too involved in the festivities; however I wanted to recognize the holiday in the way I do it best.....with COOKIES!  Below is a tutorial on how to make a simple St. Patrick's Day cookie to celebrate the day.
Mix up a batch of Sugar Cookie Dough.  I used the Alton Brown Sugar Cookie Recipe and added a splash of vanilla.  Roll out your sugar dough on a lightly floured surface to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.  Try to roll it nice and even so all the cookies are the same thickness.
Using circular cutters, punch out the dough.  I used two different sizes.  If you don't have cutters you can use the top of a glass to punch the dough out instead.

The cookies were still pretty chilled when I cut them out so I did not put them in the fridge to chill before baking.  Bake the cookies at 350 for about 10 minutes.  The baking time will vary depending on the oven you are using so keep an eye on them.  When the cookies are done they should start to have a slight browning around the edges.
I found this simple design idea for the cookies from this St. Patrick's day craft project on the Martha Stewart website.  The simple stamped clover looked like a quick and cute cookie to celebrate the day.
Once your cookies are out of the oven and cooled completely, set up your icing bag.  The icing should be thick enough to hold its shape, but not so thick that it is difficult to squeeze out of the bag.  Fill your bag with a small amount of the icing (over filling your bag make it harder to squeeze).  I tied a piece of plastic wrap around the end of my bag so there was no worry of the icing oozing out the top of the bag.  I suggest you look at this article and video from the Joy of Baking to be prepared for working with Royal Icing

When drawing the outline, squeeze the bag with a small amount of pressure and slowly move the icing around the outer edge of the cookie.  Notice how I'm holding the bag about an inch above the cookie.  This allows the icing to fall nicely into place in a smooth line.  Holding the bag against the cookie will make it very hard to make a smooth line and will squish the line instead of allowing it to fall in the shape of the tip.
Continue all around the cookie.  Repeat with all the other cookies you will be decorating.  Make sure the icing makes a complete circle so that it will hold the icing you will be filling it with.
After the outline has dried, prepare your royal icing for the fill technique.  Add small amounts of water and mix together thoroughly until you have a consistency that slowly melts back into itself.

Notice how the icing has no remnants of the icing I was dropping into it in the previous picture.  This means that the icing will make a smooth surface on the cookie.  If you make the icing too loose, it might be a little harder to fill the cookie and take longer to set.  If it is too thick, it won't spread easily to a smooth finish.

You can put the flooding into a squeeze bottle if you have one on hand.  I didn't have mine with me so I simply spooned a small amount onto the cookie.  I then lifted up the cookie and shook it to help spread the icing to the edges.
I used the end of my paint brush to help fill the last areas of cookie that were still showing.

The finished cookie should have a solid outline and smooth top.  Notice how this cookie has a crushed outline.  I was rushing with these cookies and did not allow the outline to set properly.  When I picked up the cookies to spread the flooding icing, I  crushed the outline with my fingers.  BE PATIENT! Do not rush like I did! (=

Let your cookies dry for at least an hour before painting on the design.  After an hour these cookies will still not be completely dry so avoid putting pressure on the top of the cookie.  They are dry enough to lightly paint the design on the top.  If you are worried about damaging the cookie then you can let the dry overnight before attempting to paint them. 
I mixed green luster dust with a small amount of lemon extract to make the paint.  You can order luster dust online or find in at your local craft store.  I often use rum to make my edible paints; however the lemon extract gives the cookies a nice hint of flavor.  If you don't have these items you can try using gel food coloring; however,  the drying time maybe longer.

With a thin paint brush, paint a heart on the cookie.  Set the cookie in the position that is easiest for you.  I found it to be easier for my to paint on the cookie when I am always painting on the 'top' of the cookie. 
After I painted the first heart I rotated the cookie to the left so the 'top' space was free for me to paint the next heart.
Rotate the cookie again and paint the last heart.  I decided to make three leaf clovers like the Martha Stewart design but you could easily make these into four leaf clovers.

To finish the design simply make one brush stroke for the stem of the clover.
Let the cookie dry overnight if you want to package or stack them.  It really takes a long time for the icing to settle and you don't want to rush and damage all your beautiful work!  Or you can eat them right away and wash the down with some Green Beer!

To make the criss cross design, I simply painted straight lines across the cookies in two directions to create the mimic the pattern on the Martha Stewart napkin.
Have fun today and enjoy some corned beef and cabbage, green beers, and Irish songs.  Or, if you are like me....recognize the day with some St. Patty's Day theme cookies! (=

Thursday, March 15, 2012

TOTORO Happy Birthday Cookies!

I want to start by saying only really cool people will recognize the movie character I based these cookies on. When my siblings and I were little we had a rotation of 10 or so movies that we LOVED to watch. Above all the others in the cabinet, these videos were the ones we couldn't resist to watch every week because they were THAT good. One of the most unique of these favorites is My Neighbor Totoro, a Japanese animated movie about two young girls using their imagination to escape from the troubles of reality and explore the world of a the fantastical creature Totoro. I have no idea how this movie found its way into our home next to the line of Disney Princess stories and Homeward Bound, but it did, and has become a very fond memory of my childhood.  These are sugar cookies decorated with royal icing to look like the character Totoro (who kind of  resembles a fat gray kitty without a tail) and the 'soot sprites' from the movie.
My sister Gillian is celebrating her birthday today and I wanted to send her a happy memory from our younger years to show her how much I cherish the days when we could spend every day together. Gill is a very special person; she is not only incredibly smart, but UNBELIEVABLY funny. This combination of smarts and silliness gives her the most amazing personality and I have always looked up to how this transfers to the way she lives her life. For some reason, I remember her singing and dancing to the Totoro theme song and it is one of many memories of her making moments so carefree and happy.  I sent her these Totoro cookies as a happy birthday gift; I hope she enjoys the silly throwback to our childhood <3
And if you haven't watched My Neighbor Totoro, I highly suggest you snuggle up with some sugar cookies and give it a watch this weekend. It is truly a GREAT movie. (=

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How To make Filled Cupcakes!

How do you make a cupcake frosted with creamy buttercream even more delicous????  Pipe it full of a delectable filling of course! (=  These chocolate cupcakes are filled with a passionfruit curd and frosted with a passion fruit swiss buttercream.  The steps that follow show the technique I prefer for filling my cupcakes.  Have fun with your favorite cupcake recipe and be creative with your filling to create your own unique and yummy filled cupcake!

Start with your favorite cupcake recipe.  I made my grandma's easy chocolate cake (try this Similar Easy Chocolate Cake recipe).  Bake and let cool completely.  I decided to bake them in a bright green  cupcake wrapper to build another element of fun into these cupcakes.
Using a small melon baller, scoop out the middle of the cupcake.  First scoop in the middle of the cupcake to crack through the top.  Then remove the rest of the insides through the round hole initially scooped out of the top. 
 I like to scoop out a good amount of the insides to make room for the filling; however it is important to leave a good layer of cake on all sides so the filling does not leak out. You can use the leftover cake for a fun cake ball project afterwards!
I am OBSESSED with passionfruit so it was an obvious choice to fill my cupcakes.  If you want to explore this tropical flavor, try this Passion Fruit Curd Recipe.  Any kind of pudding, mousse, or even caramel would taste delicious inside.  When filling your cupcakes, put the filled pastry bag all the way inside the hole you made and as you squeeze the bag, slowly lift it out of the cupcake.  This technique ensures that the entire cupcake cavity fills up for optimal delicousness inside.
Fill the cupcakes all the way to the top (Don't skimp!)  You could make these even more tasty by filling the cupcakes with multiple layers of filling.  A delicious combination would be one layer of lemon curd and one layer of whipped cream.  You could also make some fun cupcakes filled with jelly and topped with peanut butter buttercream.  Oh the possibilities! 
To finish the cupcake and keep the surpise inside hidden, fill a pastry bag with your favorite frosting (I used a blue passion fruit buttercream).  I fit my bag with a medium round tip.  You can use any tip you want, or simply cut the tip off the bag if you don't have any tips.  Using a plastic bag with a cut corner works, but using a pastry bag and tip has neater and more professional looking results.
I finished these filled cupcakes with a Truffula Tree decoration inspired by the recently released move The Lorax, but the bright wrapper and colorful frosting made them pretty enough to eat undecorated as well.  Filling cupcakes is an easy way to make an ordinary cupcake into something extra special.  Have fun experimenting with different can use puddings, whipped cream, mousse, buttercreams, jams, or even caramel sauce!  I hope this project inspires you to explore your passion for the Sweet Life with unique filled cupcakes of your own. 
~Happy Baking!~