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 

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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  
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  1. Ooh, pretty! I don't know why I love blue food, but I can remember dyeing applesauce blue when I was about eight. This looks like fun!

    1. My mother made a red-white-and-blue sheet cake every July Fourth for our cookout party, usually decorated like a flag. It stuck. Now every July Fourth, I have to color icing or cake batter. It's tradition! :)

      Thanks for dropping in today, Sheila, have a colorful week!

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. Thanks for reminding me about blue velvet! I love my grandmother's red velvet cake. She always made it with an old fashioned buttercream frosting instead of cream cheese, so I appreciate that your recipe includes buttercream! How lovely red and blue velvet cupcakes with white frosting and red & blue sprinkles would be for the Fourth!

    1. Aw, thank *you*, Amanda for sharing that lovely memory of your grandmother and her red velvet cake with *buttercream* frosting! Cheers and may your Fourth of July weekend be delicious!

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. What fun!
    You could also have the blue cupcakes with red, white, or blue icing.

    1. Yes, absolutely! The blue is a nice canvas for many ideas, including varying the frosting. If I had the time, I would have baked up red velvet cupcakes, white cupcakes, and these blue babies and lined them up on a tray to look like an American Flag.

      And, of course, on Bastille Day, July 14th, the very same colors will do nicely for the French Flag. And there you have it...a recipe versatile enough for nationalists and globalists. :)

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Elaine. They're delicious, too, with a lively, light cocoa flavor. Thanks for dropping in and have a wonderful Fourth of July weekend!

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. My mom worked full time so didn't like to cook. It feel to her daughters to pitch in and help, which means all of us can cook. Two of us ended up bakers as well. Great idea to make red, white and blue cupcakes for an American flag effect! Thanks so much for sharing-they look yummy. Have a great 4th of July!!