Showing posts with label birthdays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birthdays. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blue Velvet Cupcakes and a Cupcake Menorah for Hanukkah Week from Cleo Coyle

Like red velvet cake, blue velvet carries a wonderful hint of cocoa. This is a beautiful cupcake for birthday parties and baby or wedding showers. Because blue is also the color for Hanukkah, I used this recipe to make a cupcake menorah for the first night of Hanukkah this past Saturday evening--and, no, unlike the oil, they did not last eight days! My husband and our friends ate them all on the very first night.

As for the recipe, I'm passing on an easy one to make. It even uses a cake mix as a starter, but there are some tricky aspects, which is why I’m sharing some tips, too.

Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Yule, I send you the warmest wishes for these cold, dark months...

May your own holidays be bright!

~ Cleo Coyle 

Cleo Coyle's 
Blue Velvet Cupcakes 
Basic Buttercream Frosting 

 To download this recipe in a PDF document that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Makes about 16 cupcakes


For the cupcakes

1 box of white or vanilla cake mix (with pudding in the mix)

4 teaspoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder 

1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)

3 eggs (lightly beaten with a fork)

1 cup whole milk + ¼ cup whole milk (add separately)

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1-2 teaspoons Royal Blue food coloring gel or paste (also called Icing Color)

For the basic buttercream frosting

10 tablespoons butter, softened

3 cups confectioners’ sugar (aka powdered or icing sugar)

3 tablespoons whole milk (+ maybe a little extra)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Royal Blue food coloring gel paste (also called Icing Color)

*Important Note on the food coloring: Because of the brown cocoa powder in this recipe, your cupcakes will end up turquoise in color (or even greenish) instead of blue if you use the wrong kind of food coloring or the wrong amount. To get the beautiful shade of blue in my photos, be sure you do two things: (1) Do not use water-based food coloring such as McCormick’s brand. Use a gel paste coloring. I used Wilton Royal Blue Icing Color gel paste. Michael’s stores carry it in their baking supplies section, but you can also buy it online; click here to see. (2) My other piece of advice is to use enough of the food coloring. Don’t skimp. Start with 1 full teaspoon, at least. You made need up to another full teaspoon to see your batter turn the shade of blue you like best. (Some bakers add a very small amount of violet gel paste to help achieve a deep, royal blue. Give that a try, if you like, but I did achieve a pretty blue color using only blue gel paste.)

Directions - For the...


Step 1: First preheat your oven to 325° F. Place the vinegar in a measuring cup and fill to the 1 cup line with whole milk. Set aside for five minutes.

Step 2: Into a large mixing bowl, combine the box of cake mix, cocoa powder, vegetable or canola oil, and eggs. Add the sour milk from Step 1 and an additional ¼ cup whole milk. Beat with an electric mixer for about a minute until a smooth batter forms. (Be sure to scrape down the bowl as you mix.)

Step 3: Measure out 1 teaspoon of the royal blue gel paste and add it to the batter. Mix well and observe the color. You may need to add up to 1 more teaspoon of gel paste to achieve the depth of blue you want.

Step 4: Line cupcake tins with paper liners. Take out the ¼ cup container in your measuring set. Use it to measure out the batter for each cupcake. This will keep the size consistent.

Bake in your preheated 325° F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes (exact time depends on your oven). Cupcakes are done when the top is set and a toothpick inserted into the center of a test cupcake comes out free of wet batter. Transfer pans to a cooling rack and allow the cupcakes to cool in their pans at least five minutes before removing.

Directions for the...


Notes for success: Canned icing doesn’t come close to comparing to the wonderful taste of homemade buttercream. It’s easy to make. Just be sure to: (1) Start with softened butter. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to cream it. (2) When adding milk start with the lowest amount possible and add it in very slowly until you achieve a smooth, spreadable icing. If you throw in a large amount of milk, you will end up with watery frosting—at that point, even if you whip more butter into it, the frosting may remain grainy. (Ask me how I know.)

Step 1: Into a mixing bowl, cut the softened butter into pieces. Measure in the vanilla. Using an electric mixer, cream these ingredients until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer.

Step 2: Add in the confectioners’ sugar and 3 tablespoons of milk. (No more!) Beat until the sugar is completely incorporated. If the frosting is still too thick, add in a very small splash of milk and beat again. Add in more milk this way, a little at a time, until you get a smooth consistency that’s easy to spread on your cupcake tops. (Try a test frosting of one cupcake to be sure.)

Step 3: Finally, add a small amount of gel paste coloring to the frosting and beat it again. Add more gel paste to achieve the exact shade of blue that you’d like. My method of adding the gel paste is pretty basic—I dip the tines of a fork into the bottle to scoop out the gel and roughly mix it into the frosting before beating again. Frost your cupcakes and eat with blue velvet joy!

May your
holidays be bright!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of 
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Friend me on facebook here
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Learn about my books here

My new
Coffeehouse Mystery
has just released...

Now a Top-10
New York Times

And an Amazon and
Barnes & Noble
Mass Market Paperback
, nationwide!

A Mystery Guild
Featured Alternate

Publisher's Weekly: “Sprightly…and engaging.”

Kirkus Reviews:
“Jingle bells, beautiful displays, scrumptious treats:
Holiday season in New York City has it all,
including murder…Coyle’s coffeehouse series
captures the New York experience,
from high-society parties to gritty back-street deals.
The fine mystery is followed by some holiday
recipes that will even pack the pounds on readers
who are only browsing them.”

RT Book Reviews
"A fun mixture of family, romance, cooking and...
a perfect Christmas mystery. A treat..."

Holiday Buzz

The clock is ticking down
on some fun contests (links below).

* CONTEST #1 at Fresh Fiction

* CONTEST #2 at Latte Da!

* New Contest at Dru's Book Musings
Read a special excerpt from the opening of Holiday Buzz, leave a comment, and you will be entered to win a stainless steel NYPD travel mug, a personally inscribed copy of my new book, and my recipe card for Candy Cane Frosting. Contest ends Sat. Dec.15th - Click here to enter Dru's contest.

* New Contest at Lori's Reading Corner
Read a brand new exclusive excerpt from the book, a scene between Clare Cosi and her ex-husband Matt that I call: "Manhattan munchies, a tempting patty melt, and a clue to murder..." - Be sure to use Lori's entry form at the end of the post, and you will be entered to win a personally inscribed copy of Holiday Buzz and my recipe card for Candy Cane Frosting. Contest ends Sun. Dec. 23rd. Click here to enter Lori's contest.

Good luck
and have fun,

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Irish Birthday Cake

I've mentioned before that I have no shame when it comes to convenience foods.  One of my favorites is the boxed cake mix.

Oh, sure, I make cakes from scratch, too.  Some of those recipes are wonderful and worth the little extra effort.  But the boxed cake mix makes life so much easier when you need a dish in a hurry.

What's more, there are so many ways to spruce up a boxed mix to make it extra special.  When I was young, my mom made something she called "poppyseed bread."  There was nothing "bread" about it; it was cake, pure and simple.  It started with a box of yellow cake mix, some coconut instant pudding, and a mess of poppyseeds.  I could eat a whole loaf in a single sitting.

In fact, there are so many ways to trick out a boxed cake mix, there's even a book called The Cake Mix Doctor.  I highly recommend the chocolate cake made with sour cream and raspberry puree.  Delish!

Recently, I attended a birthday party (sort of a grown-up slumber party:  a handful of girlfriends, take-out pizza, some schlocky chick flicks, and CAKE).  I chose this cake for a couple of reasons:  (1) it was fast to whip together; (2) I had a bottle of Irish cream liqueur in my pantry, and I'm not much of a drinker; and (3) it looked so, so good.

Dang, it was awesome.  The crumb is dense and moist, almost fudgy.  The Irish cream in the cake itself is just a subtle note, but the liqueur in the buttercream gives it just the right depth of flavor, that heady hint of whiskey and a finish reminiscent of good French roast.  Yum.

Delicious, dense, fudgy cake!

As an added bonus, I got the recipe from the Betty Crocker website (in the interest of time and tidiness, I left off the chocolate glaze and it was still heavenly).  It was such a hit, I think I'll be perusing the company's website for more delicious dishes I can whip up in a pinch.

What about you?  What's your favorite convenience food?  Or are you a "strictly from scratch" person?

Simple, ingredients
Irish Birthday Cake

1 box devil's food cake mix
1 box (4 serving size) chocolate instant pudding
4 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 c. Irish cream liqueur
1/3 c. oil

Irish Buttercream

1 c. softened butter
4 oz. softened cream cheese
3 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. Irish cream liqueur
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350; spray two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick spray.

Combine all cake ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mixing until well-combined.  Divide batter between pans and bake 35 - 45 minutes (until tester inserted near center comes out clean).  Cool 10 minutes on wire rack, then remove cake from pans and cool completely.

Sour cream creates a silky batter
For buttercream, cream butter and cream cheese.  Beat in powdered sugar until smooth and fluffy.  Add liqueur and vanilla and combine.

For pretty frosting, start with a thin "crumb coat", refrigerate for 30 minutes, and then use the rest of the frosting.  This keeps the crumbs from popping through and leaves the finished cake pristine!

Place one cake on a platter and top with 1/3 of the frosting.  Top with second cake and use remaining frosting to cover top and sides.  Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Birthday Bundt

Did you know I have a day job?

Oh my, yes.  I teach American government to college kids.  The great thing is that I love it almost as much as I love writing.  I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

I remember once upon a time I thought the life of a writer was quite glamorous.  Now I know better.  There's a lot to recommend it (wonderful readers, getting paid to play make-believe, being able to work in your jammies), it's not all dreamy contemplation of the written word.  Witness this quite lovely clip of Meryl Streep as Mary Fisher in She Devil:

Someone recently commented that people have similar misconceptions about my day job (college professor), likely because of movies featuring ivy-covered walls and men in tweed, pipes clenched between their teeth, telling kids to rip up their texts and learn from life and blah, blah, blah.

It's nothing like that at all.

First, I don't lecture to 35 young adults who are all completely absorbed in what I say.  Rather, I have nearly 600 students this semester, and many of them probably couldn't tell you my name.  And those ivy covered walls?  Try ongoing asbestos abatement.

But just as there are tons of unexpected pleasures associated with being a writer, there are tons of unexpected pleasures associated with teaching at a big ol' public university.  While we don't have the gorgeous old buildings you see in the movies, my office is in Sage Hall, and it's a perfectly lovely room with actual windows (two!) and doves (not pigeons) who perch on my sills.  I also get to enjoy my own personal inside joke: my office used to belong to a guy named Warren Watson, and I have kept his name plate.  It's silly, but it makes me laugh to think of the Watson dynasty.

Sage Hall - no ivy, but not bad.

My crazy-messy desk, complete with gorgeous i-Mac

The Watson legacy lives on in Sage Hall
And while my relationship with many of my students remains pretty impersonal, others find a special place in my heart and never move out.  Right now, my kiddos are knocking my socks off with a great project they did rewriting the constitution after the zombie apocalypse.  Seriously, they did a great job.  Makes me about burst with pride.

I also have fabulous co-workers.  Writing is a solitary profession, so having a cluster of colleagues with whom to spend my days is invaluable.  Today, we celebrated the birthday of one of my suite-mates.  Cards all-round, lots of laughing and joking throughout the day, and a birthday bundt cake.  

So that's what I want to share with you today:  the recipe for that birthday bundt cake, so you, too, can share in the warmth of wonderful co-workers.   And tell me what your workplace is like ... what's your favorite thing about your job???

Chocolate Bundt Cake
(from The Veganomicon)

1 3/4 c. brewed coffee
2/3 c. cocoa powder
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/3 c. applesauce
1/4 c. cornstarch
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325.  Spray bundt pan with nonstick spray.  Set aside.

Bring coffee to simmer over medium heat.  Reduce heat to low and whisk in cocoa powder until melted.
Coffee and cocoa powder
In bowl of stand mixer, combine canola oil, applesauce, sugar, and cornstarch.  Whisk until well dissolved.  Add extracts and slightly cooled chocolate mixture.  Add dry ingredients and whisk until combined.

Pour into bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes (until knife comes out clean).  Cool on rack for 20 minutes, then invert on plate or serving platter.  Sift powdered sugar over and serve!