Showing posts with label frosting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label frosting. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Red, White, and BLUE VELVET CUPCAKES for July Fourth from Cleo Coyle

Like red velvet cake, blue velvet cake carries a wonderful hint of cocoa. This recipe makes a beautiful cake (or cupcakes) for birthday parties, for baby and wedding showers, for school and sports teams with blue colors, or even, yes...a Doctor Who Wedding Cake!

Laine Barash, a longtime reader of our Coffeehouse Mysteries, sent me these photos after using my Blue Velvet Cupcake recipe for her daughter Johanna's big day.... 

Doctor Who Wedding Cake Slice
Design and Photo by Laine Barash

Doctor Who Wedding Cake
Design and Photo by Laine Barash

With July Fourth almost here, I'm sharing this recipe again as a fun dessert idea for Independence Day celebrations.

There are many ways to add the "red" and "white" to the Blue Velvet bakery concept. You can ice half of the blue cupcakes with blue icing, for instance; half with red icing; and use white star sprinkles to decorate the tops of all of them. 

Or, if you're really ambitious, you can make a batch of red velvet cupcakes, a batch of white cupcakes, and a batch of these blue babies. Then you can line them all up on a tray or dessert table to resemble an American Flag. 

Cleo Coyle has a partner in 
crime writing—her husband. 
Learn about their books
by clicking here and here.

I confess I didn't bake and photograph those ideas for this post because I'm working hard with my husband (and partner in crime-writing) to complete our next Coffeehouse Mystery. BUT...

If I did have the time, I can tell you it would have been a fun project. So however you use this recipe, I sincerely hope you have a Happy Fourth...

May you eat with red-white-and-blue velvet joy!

~ Cleo Coyle 

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

Click Here for the
Free Recipe PDF.

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Cleo Coyle's Blue Velvet Cupcakes
with Blue Buttercream Frosting

Makes about 16 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) 

*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 may 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.) 

For the Cupcakes

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.

Buttercream Icing

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)

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: (A) Start with softened butter. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to cream it. (B) 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.

Happy July Fourth, Everyone!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of  
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Comfort Cake

by Sheila Connolly

Winter has finally found us, and newscasters are calling this past weekend’s storm “The Blizzard of 2016.” New England, particularly the northern part, got lucky: the storm stopped at Boston. We won’t complain—we had more than our fair share of snow last year.

We stocked up early, before the snow started, and were happy to hunker down in a warm house (with power!) and three cats and the Patriots on the telly. But being snowbound, even voluntarily, brings out the urge in me to cook something. I pulled out a couple of standby recipes—gingerbread and Irish stew (both of which have appeared here), and made both.

Then I decided to think about what said winter “comfort food” to me, from my childhood. There were always cookies on hand (mostly Toll House, from the recipe on the bag), and stews (most often beef). Soups usually came from a Campbell’s can or a Lipton packet. (Sorry, Mother, but you really weren’t into the whole cooking thing, although to be fair my sister and I were always well fed, with healthy fresh ingredients and plenty of vegetables.)

As an experiment, I pulled out the tattered Fanny Farmer cookbook my mother used when she was newly married, and looked to see where it fell open (or more accurately, where most of the stains were). Funny how many of the recipes that were used most often were for desserts—my mother didn’t like desserts, but apparently the rest of the family did! So I looked at Cakes and came upon Snow Cake. Nice in spirit, but kind of boring. But the alternative recipe that came with it was for Burnt Sugar Cake, which sounded much more interesting.

Burnt Sugar Cake with Penuche Frosting


3 Tblsp Caramel Syrup
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup coffee
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melted sugar
Now caramel (wonderful color, isn't it?)
First you have to make the caramel syrup. Melt 1 cup of sugar in a pan until it turns a dark brown. Slowly add 1/2 cup boiling water, stir to dissolve, then simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool a bit.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add half the sugar and set aside.

Cream the butter and add the rest of the sugar gradually, beating steadily.

Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the coffee. Mix in the caramel syrup.

Fold in the egg whites. (The original recipe suggested adding sliced nuts—up to you.)

Eek! Nowhere in the recipe does it say how large a pan to bake this in! (Or whether to grease it.) Looking at the volume of the batter, I took a wild guess and used a 9” springform pan, liberally greased. A 9” x 13” pan would probably work as well.

The recipe said to bake for 45 minutes. Mine took closer to an hour.

Now for the good stuff: frosting! This was possibly the most-used section of the cookbook. My family loved penuche frosting, which is very simple. Even my non-cooking grandmother made it.

1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
A few grains of salt
1-1/2 Tblsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream

Here’s the entire recipe as given:


Cook to soft ball (234 degrees F—helps to have a candy thermometer! But my grandmother taught me how to test for the soft ball stage.)


Add 1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat “until of right consistency to spread” (which is whatever you think it is)

Frost cake. Done!

Think that's enough frosting?
All right, I confess. I adore frosting. My grandmother also adored frosting—she thought cake existed only to provide a base for it. I made a double recipe of frosting and used all of it on the cake. You can’t have too much!

Coming next week: A Turn for the Bad (the 4th book in the County Cork Mysteries). It involves smuggling in Ireland. But there is no frosting in the book, although smuggling does support a number of other vices.

Find it here:

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Wedding Cake

by Sheila Connolly

Meg Corey and Seth Chapin are getting married in A Gala Event, the next book in the Orchard Mysteries, coming out next week. Some readers might add “finally!” Hey, it’s only taken them nine books to get there. I’m afraid to count how many bodies they came across along the way.

Those of you with eagle eyes and long memories may recognize this recipe, which I posted here two years ago (and it’s the one that appears in the book—but you saw it here first!). It’s so appropriate for these two people—one who raises apples, and one who cherishes historic buildings. It’s an old recipe made with apple cider—how could I improve on that?

But I thought I’d try making cider from my own apples for the occasion. Nice idea, right? I have one tree that has succumbed to fire blight after a year-long struggle, but it made a valiant effort to produce apples this year, and I have picked most of them. Perfect, I say—I will use these apples!

Well, yes and no. This variety—Esopus Spitzenburg, one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites—produces fairly dry apples under the best of circumstances, although with nice flavor, and this has been a dry year. I took half a bushel of apples (all that one variety!) and stuck them into my tiny but authentic antique hand-crank cider press, and…out of that half bushel I produced less than one cup of cider. Not even enough for this recipe. But it’s the thought that counts, right? It did taste good. I added some organic local cider to make up the full amount.

My cider--I have much more respect for
cider makers now!
And since you’re getting a reprise of this recipe, I’ll throw in a recipe for maple cream cheese frosting to go with it (I’m addicted to the stuff). It’s a wedding cake, isn’t it? There must be frosting!

Apple Cider Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2 pounds flour (about 6 cups)
1 pound sugar (about 2 cups)
1 Tblsp baking powder
1-2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of cloves (or more if you like)
1/2 pound of butter, softened
2 cups cider 
(fresh and local if you have it)

In a large bowl (the one for a stand mixer works), place the dry ingredients and blend them together. Add the soft butter and mix on medium speed until it’s evenly distributed (mixture will be crumbly).

Add the cider  and mix until you have a stiff batter.

Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan (since this is a wedding cake, I made two round cakes instead). Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Place in the preheated oven and bake until the top is lightly browned and the edges begin to pull away from the pan—probably around an hour (but start testing early—if you overcook the cake it gets dry). Cool in the pan.

When fully cool, remove from the pan(s) and frost with…

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room 
2 8-oz. pkgs cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup (use the good stuff! I may have gone overboard when I used an artisanal, varietal maple syrup I bought in Vermont, but it tastes really good!)
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar (more if needed)

Cream together the butter and the cream cheese. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and mix. Add the confectioner’s sugar and blend until smooth. If the mixture is still too soupy to spread, add more sugar, bit by bit, until you reach the consistency you want.


Only one main ingredient: marzipan or fondant (which is harder to find). Roll it out thin and cut it into shapes of your choice (of course I have apple cookie cutters!), or mold them any way you like. To color your decorations, you may either paint them with a brush, using food coloring, or make up a solution of food coloring and dip them in whole. Let them dry before applying to the cake.

And next week you can join Meg and Seth as they get married in front of most of the population of Granford!

A Gala Event, coming October 6th! Yes, that's next week!

In case you haven't seen this before, here's what it's about:

Wedding bells are ringing for Meg and Seth in the latest Orchard Mystery

The fall harvest may be just about over, but orchard owner Meg Corey is busier than ever planning her wedding to Seth Chapin. Who knew picking apples would be less work than picking out rings and a dress? And even though the happy couple has invited most of Granford, Massachusetts, to the ceremony, they might have to make room for one more guest…

Ex-con Aaron Eastman has unexpectedly reappeared in his hometown, searching for answers to the tragic fire in his family’s past that put him behind bars twenty-five years ago. Moved by his sincerity, Meg vows to do everything she can to help him solve the cold case. As she cobbles together the clues, it becomes increasingly clear that Aaron may have been considered the bad seed of the family, but someone else was one bad apple…

Available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and in a whole lot of bookstores (I hope!)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Swans Down Chocolate Cake

by Sheila Connolly

A couple of months ago I drove to Pennsylvania and Maryland for a couple of bookstore signings, including a nice one at the Chester County Book Store in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I chose that because it’s literally right down the road from where my most recent book, Razing the Dead, is set. Is that serendipity or what?

I love that area of Pennsylvania—my family lived there for decades, and I lived there for a while myself, years ago. It includes Kennett Square, mushroom capital of the country, so of course I stopped at a café for a bowl of mushroom soup. And then I went antiquing, and I ended up with four hexagonal Swans Down baking pans (among other things!).

A brief history of the company, founded in Evansville, Indiana, can be found here. They’ve been around for a while!

Of course I wanted to try out my new old pans. A quick scan online suggested that they date from the 1920s, so I set out to find a Swans Down recipe from the same era. This one comes from an ad from that time (note: the original recipe was made by hand—I’ll let you use a mixer!). What sold me was the attached recipe for mocha frosting, which was one my mother made often. (BTW, the hexagonal pans hold 3 cups of batter. This is the same as a standard 8” baking pan, BUT it is not as wide and it is deeper, so I had to adjust your cooking time.)

Once again let me note that this is a half-recipe (I like cake, but not enough to eat a whole one!), or one pan’s worth. If you want a more typical two-layer cake, just double it (use only five eggs total).

Swans Down Chocolate Cake

1-1/4 cups Swans Down cake flour

1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted (originally this called for 1-1/2 squares of Baker’s Chocolate, when 1 square = 1 oz. There are a lot more options these days, and the measurements have changed.)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your baking pans well.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

Cream the butter, then add sugar gradually with the mixer running, and continue until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the eggs and beat well. Then add the chocolate, and mix to blend.

Add the flour alternating with the buttermilk, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla last.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until done (when a toothpick comes out clean). Remove from the oven and let cool before frosting. When you are ready to frost the cake, remove it from the pan and cut it in half crosswise.

Chocolate Mocha Frosting

2 Tblsp butter

5 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup strong coffee
2 tsp vanilla

Cream the butter and add 1 cup of the sugar, blending thoroughly. Add the salt and the melted chocolate, and mix well.

Add the remaining 4 cups of sugar, alternating with the coffee, beating after each addition. (You may not need all the coffee—you want a smooth spreading consistency, not soup). Add the vanilla and blend.

And frost your cake! I have to say, the cake was lovely—light in texture, with a nice chocolate flavor. There’s something to be said for the old ways!

Swans Down wanted you to know that their flour is 27 times finer than ordinary flour! in the 1920s—and the same line is still on their box today.

Oh, right--there's a book coming out in October. In Picked to Die, Meg Corey is too busy harvesting apples and solving a murder to even think about baking a cake. But vintage cooking equipment will play a part in the next book!