I had planned on doing an easter post today. But my idea flopped. Many tireless hours went into, and it flopped. Yes, I do want some cheese with this wine. I wasn’t going to tell you what I was making incase I decided to give it another try. But, I’m not. I’m no good at these things. And by “things” I mean cake balls. I’ve tried a couple times, and they’re just not my forte. I have these conflicting thoughts of “Don’t give up!” and “Just stick with what you’re good at.” Well, I’ve decided to stick with what I’m good at, leaving the cake balls to Bakerella. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for a good challenge. And, I don’t mind if I fail from time to time. But I’ve learned I’m much better at baking than I am at decorating (case in point—cake ball fail). I’m much better at perfecting the classics (scones, cakes, cookies, macarons) than coming up with something new. I’m much better at sticking to my purist ways, than bending the rules and using the not so pure stuff. My take-away from all of this is—stick with what you’re good at, and get really good at it.

Shawoof (wiping sweat off brow). That was cathartic.

Now on to the good stuff. Red Velvet Cake! Remember the Sailboat Cupcakes from the last post? I told you I’d be back with the recipe. As promised, here it is. But first, I have to do another plug for my favorite baker—Warren Brown from Cake Love. His recipes make the best cakes ever (no lie). He is a purist as well. He believes in baking cakes from scratch. None of that artificial stuff. However, he does make a Red Velvet Cake because of it’overwhelming request at his bakery. It’s the only thing he uses food coloring in. You can leave the food coloring out and call it Brown Velvet. Or you can use the India Tree products (this is what I use), which are made from vegetables pigments.

Red Velvet Cake
recipe from Warren Brown, United Cakes of America
makes 24 cupcakes

DRY INGREDIENTS
2 1/4 c. Cake Flour (I used unbleached AP Flour)
2 tbsp. Cocoa Powder
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking soda

WET INGREDIENTS
1 c. Buttermilk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar

CREAMING INGREDIENTS
2 sticks of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
1 1/2 c. Superfine Sugar (You can pop regular sugar in a food processor to achieve this)
2 large eggs
1 oz. Red Food Dye (Opt out and make it Brown Velvet)

1. Preheat oven to 335° and place the rack in the middle position. Line 2 cupcake pans. (Read the last post for a cupcake liner tip.)
2. Measure the dry ingredients and wet ingredients into 2 separate bowls. Whisk each to combine.
3. Measure the the butter and sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together on low speed for about 5 minutes.
4. Add eggs one at a time into the well creamed butter. Beat in the dye.
5. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients about a quarter at a time. (This should only take a minute.) Scrape sides. Beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute.
6.  Pour the batter into the liners and bake the cupcakes for 20 to 24 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
7. Cool the cupcakes for 5 minutes before inverting them on to a flat surface. Allow them to come to room temperature before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
recipe by yours truly 

2 sticks of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
16 oz. Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Dash of Sea Salt
3-4 c. Powdered Sugar

1. Cream together butter and cream cheese.
2. Add vanilla extract and salt. Mix.
3. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Mix well between each addition. After 3 cups, taste to see if additional powdered sugar is necessary.
4. Ice your cupcakes. Looking for tips? Check out the last post.

If you missed it, click here for the sailboat decorations. For matching invitations, click here.

P.S.—These lovely little sailboats made their debut on the very talented Shauna Younge’s blog! Thanks Shauna!

Remember the Ahoy! It’s a boy! invites I shared with you a couple weeks ago? I told you I may or may not be making cupcakes with a cute DIY topper. Well, I wasn’t lying. It’s time for more sharing and free downloads!

This post includes DIY instructions for the sailboat cupcake toppers. Another post on the recipe for red velvet cupcakes and cream cheese frosting is to come. So sit down, get out a pen an paper (or just bookmark this page), and let’s get decorating!

Here’s what you’ll need:
• Plaid Cupcake Liners (I ordered mine from Bake it Pretty. Sweet LuLu is another great resource for cute baking supplies.)
• White Cupcake Liners (Always double up your liners so you can actually see the pretty liner. If you use one liner, when the cupcake bakes, the color of the cupcake will bleed into the liner thus losing its pretty pattern. Sad.)
• Wooden Skewers (Think kabobs.)
• Wire Cutters
FauxMartha Cupcake Sail Pattern
• Printer
• Textured, cardstock weight paper
• Scissors
• Exacto Knife
• Cutting Board
• Colored Duck Tape (or colored masking tape)

Here’s how to achieve the look (pictures below):
1. Make and bake your cupcakes, using a recipe of your choice. Remember to use 2 liners. Place the white liner inside the plaid liner. Allow cupcakes to fully cool before icing and decorating.
2. Meanwhile, cut wooden skewers about 5″ long using wire cutters or some other cutting utensil. Keep the side with the pointed end. Don’t worry if the wood begins to fray where you made the cut. We will cover that up shortly.
3. Print out the FauxMartha Cupcake Sail Pattern on textured cardstock. Cut out each sail. Using the longest side of the triangle (not the angle), cut an “x” at the top and bottom on a cutting board. Insert pointed end of wooden skewer into the top “x” on the printed side. Continue to insert the skewer through the second “x”.
4. Cut thin 1/2″ strips of duck tape. Place tape on the top of skewer where you made your original cut. Evenly fold over. Make 2 diagonal cuts to achieve a flag. Push sail up to give it that curved wind blown look.
5. Ice your cupcakes with the frosting of your choice. I use the Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro to ice my cupcakes. In order to get the thick swirls, I don’t use a tip. Place pointed end of the sail into cupcake and you’ve got yourself a cute sailboat cupcake!

If your visual, like me, these should help:

If you missed them, click here for the matching baby shower invites. Now that you have everything you need to get started, happy baby shower planning!

I’m headed out of town to help throw a baby shower for a good friend from home. But before I leave, I want to share these “Ahoy! It’s a boy!” invites with you. And by share, I mean free download. Keep reading…

Chevron, plaid, craft paper. Oh my!

Tiny, cute flags. Yes please!

Whoever said a slight shade of pink is not welcome at a baby boy’s shower?

Free fonts are a budget’s dream.

Since you kept reading, it’s time for the good stuff! Here’s how to create this same look yourself:
1. Order A-7 Craft Paper envelopes from Envelope.com.
2. Download the 5×7 invite! (The PDF is designed with 2-invites up on a page; front/back.)
3. Download the free font, Museo Slab, to help complete the look. You’ll also need a nice italic font to accompany it that can be found on your computer. (I used Century Schoolbook Italic).
4. Use an editing program to fill in your specific information.
5. Print the invites on a thick, textured white paper. (I used a Neenah paper—Sundance Felt.)
6. Finally, mail those cute suckers out, and plan the party!

Stay tuned for a post on the food portion of the shower. I may or may not be making cupcakes with a cute DIY topper.

Oh nuts! I’ve been keeping a secret from you. A good kind of secret. Not the bad kind. Who am I kidding? I’m no good at keeping secrets. I’ve already spilled the beans. Can you guess what it is?

Drum roll please…Oh! Nuts. That’s my secret! Or should I say, my secret weapon. I’ve been dying to try a couple new recipes that call for almond flour, and they were nice enough to send me some. I’ve made my own almond flour before, but let me tell you, it’s tedious. Blanch almonds. Peel off skins (this takes forever!). Blend up finely. Who knew you could buy almond flour? This stuff is a time life saver! And it makes some darn good tarts.

Mini Almond Tarts with a Strawberry on Top
yields 12 3-inch brioche molds

Almond Tart Dough
recipe from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 large egg, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond flour

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until well combined. Add egg and mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
2. In a medium bowl, combine both flours. With the mixer on low speed, add flours all at once; mix until well combined.
3. Turn dough out onto work surface and form into two disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
4. Once dough is ready, preheat oven to 350°.
5. Place dough on a floured work surface, sprinkle dough with flour, and roll out to 1/4-inch thick. (You may have to wait until dough comes closer to room temp in order to roll out.) Cut out 12 circles using a 3 1/4-inch round cutter, re-rolling dough if necessary. Place each circle in a mini 3″ brioche mold, gently pressing down on the bottom and sides. Place filled molds on a baking sheet; transfer to a freezer for 20 minutes.
6. Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake tart shells until just golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer tart shells, in their molds, to a wire rack to cool completely.

Almond Pastry Cream
recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
2 c. half and half
1/2 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
1 tsp. almond extract

1.Bring half and half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar until smooth. Once half and half begins to simmer, slowly whisk one cup of the simmering half and half into the egg yolk mixture to temper, stirring constantly. Once combined, slowly whisk mixture back into the simmering sauce pan. Turn heat down to medium, and whisk constantly for about 30 seconds. Lava like bubbles will begin to burst on surface.
3. Remove pan from heat, and stir in chilled butter and almond extract. Transfer to bowl, and place plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
4. After pastry cream is chilled, pipe or scoop into prepared almond tarts.
5. Prepare strawberries by chopping off end with stem. Set strawberry up on flat side, and make thin slices almost cutting to bottom. Squeeze strawberry in center to fan out and set in pastry cream.
6. Cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled.

TIPS
• Tart dough and pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance.
• Tart shells can be cooked one day in advance. Cover and leave at room temperature.
• Assemble tarts day of serving, no earlier.

Can you tell I’m a little obsessed with almonds right now? Last post—almond sugar cookies. Next post—it’s a secret (I guess I’m full of secrets these days, good ones though). But I can tell you, almond flour will be present.

Don’t wait. Check out Oh!Nuts, get your almond flour, and make tarts!

This week—I was a graphic designer by day and a baker by night.

I dream of being a full-time baker. Especially after this week, where I made 120+ cookies for a friend’s wedding shower. It wore me out, no lie. But I loved every last second of it. If only I didn’t have to work 8-5.

In regards to most recipes on this blog you’ve probably heard me say—This is easy, I promise. Not the case with these little guys. They are hard work. Back breaking work. And they take tons of practice. So, now that I’ve scared you away, let me also say, You can do it. It will be so rewarding. I promise.

Before you get started, I recommend watching this clip from The Martha Stewart Show (the video is on the lefthand side of the page). The trickiest part about these cookies is working with the royal icing. This segment will teach you how to make the royal icing, as well as all the important lingo like damming and flooding. Best of all, it will teach you how to achieve the chevron-like pattern I did on several of the cookies.

You’re also going to need a couple of tools before you get started, such as a condiment bottles. I found mine in the baking section at Michael’s.

Food coloring is a must. I recommend investing in the all-natural kind although it is a couple dollars more. I went with India Tree (sold at Whole Foods). They make their food coloring out of vegetable pigments. You can still achieve beautiful colors with it, and it doesn’t pepper your icing with a bad aftertaste like so many do.

Now on to the good stuff—the recipes! I made these cookies as all-natural as possible. Usually these types of cookies scream fake and over processed to me. But it doesn’t have to be the case, especially if you make them yourself.

Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies
recipe from Bake at 350, with slight changes
amount of cookies will vary based on size

3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 c. cane sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
1 egg
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. pure almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts, and mix.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture, and beat just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
5. Knead dough together with hands as it will be crumbly.
6. Place dough on floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/4″ thickness or thicker. Cut into desired shapes.
7. Place cookies on parchment lined baking sheets or Silpat and freeze for 10 minutes before baking.
8. Bake for 9 minutes. (I pull the cookies out before they begin to golden for a softer texture.) Let sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. (Make sure cookies are completely cool before icing. I usually wait overnight.)

Royal Icing
recipe from Dani Fiore via Martha Stewart, with slight changes
makes about 2 1/2 cups

1/4 c. meringue powder
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 3 1/2 to 4 c.)
1/2 c. water

1. Using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix together meringue powder with 1/2 cup water until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Using the beater attachments, add sugar one cup at a time; continue mixing until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Icing will become thick and glossy in appearance.
2. Ice cookies.* (Do not cover or stack until completely dry. I usually wait overnight.)

*Throughout the decorating process, you will need different consistencies of royal icing. Writing icing will need to be thick while “flooding” icing will need to be a bit thinner. To do this, add more water. If frosting becomes to thin, add more powdered sugar.

Below are pictures of the process with a couple decorating how-to’s.

Royal icing: When beating, it will go from soft peaks, to stiff glossy peaks as you add in the sugar.

Applying Icing: In a seperate bowl, add a tiny bit of water to icing. Add food coloring if necessary. Dam, flood, watch it flood, fill in any blank areas, let dry.

Decorating: HEARTS—use original icing (not thinned icing). Pipe 2 circles. Pull the icing down with tip to form a heart. DOTS—while icing is wet, place nonpareils on cookie using tweezers. CHEVRON PATTERN—while the base icing is still wet, draw horizontal lines with original icing (not thinned). Using a toothpick, lightly pull icing down in a vertical manner. Make sure to wipe off toothpick each time. Pull up to create zig-zag effect. FLOWER—much like the heart, use original icing and pipe 5 circles. Using the tip, pull in to center. Place nonpareil in center with tweezers.

They are hard work. Back breaking work. And they take tons of practice. But, you can do it. It will be so rewarding. I promise.

We don’t really do the corned beef and cabbage thing. It’s not our cup of tea. But you better believe we do the Irish Soda Bread thing though. With green decorations. Made out of ribbon, yarn, coat hangers, and craft glue. Yep, that’s how we celebrate.

Want to celebrate like us? Here’s how—
1. Make Irish Soda Bread.
2. While it’s baking, make decorations for the soda bread, duh!
3. Get out some yarn, ribbon, craft glue, scissors, and a coat hanger.
4. Cut the coat hanger into 2 pieces. Wash thoroughly. Dry.
5. Cut 8 2″ (or so) pieces of green ribbon. Add glue to half of the 2″ piece of ribbon and fold over, making sure the yarn is in the center of the fold. Repeat 7 times. Allow glue to dry for about 30 minutes.
6. Cut triangles into each ribbon. Attached the yarn to coat hangers.
7. Once bread is done cooking, decorate.
8. Take pictures and eat!

Irish-American Soda Bread
Serves: one 8" loaf
 
Ingredients
  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1 c. currants
  • 1 tbsp. milk, for glaze
  • 1 tbsp. coarse sugar, for topping
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, and beat on high speed until the mixture is thick and light-colored, about 2 minutes. Stir in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then 1 cup of the wheat flour. Gently beat in half the buttermilk, then another cup of the wheat flour. Add the remainder of the buttermilk, and the final cup of all-purpose flour, mixing until smooth. Stir in the currants.
  2. Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased 8" round pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Drizzle the milk atop the batter, and sprinkle with the sugar.
  3. Bake the bread in a preheated 325° oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Tent a sheet of aluminum foil over the top for the final 15 minutes, if it appears to be browning too quickly. Remove the bread from the oven, wait about 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a rack to cool. Allow the bread to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking.

I’m not sure quite what to call this dish. It was born in our tiny little kitchen a couple years ago. We were looking for a healthy dish. Full of flavor. And veggies. With a couple whole grains and some protein. So I looked in the pantry, pulled out a handful of ingredients, and Thai Stir Fry was born. My husband likes to call him Chinese Chili.

This dish is quick, healthy, colorful, and super flavorful. You’ll have dinner on the table in 45 minutes made completely from scratch. That’s right. I timed it. I even spilled a glass of water, cleaned it up, and washed some dishes during the 45 minutes. Call in some help, and you can cut the time down to 30 minutes. This meal will make you look like a super hero.

You’ll need 3 pots for this—one for the rice, one for the veggies, and one for the chicken. You may keel over at the amount of ingredients in this recipe, but most, if not all, will be in your pantry. If you’re not into all the veggies, leave the ones you don’t like out.

Thai Stir Fry
serves 5–6

Rice
2 packets of Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf (Buy at Whole Foods)
Veggies
1 bunch of broccoli, chopped
2 red or yellow peppers, chopped
1 onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 c. frozen edamame, shelled
1/3 c. water
salt
olive oil
Chicken + sauce
2 chicken breasts, de-thawed
sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
10 oz. light coconut milk
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. natural peanut butter
1 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. ginger
squirt of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
1/4 c. water
2 tsp. cornstarch
Garnish
Cilantro
chopped peanuts

1. Rice: Begin cooking rice according to instructions. This will take about 30 minutes.
2. Veggies: Chop veggies and place in large saute pan. Drizzle with olive oil and salt to taste. Add water. Cover and steam on medium heat for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3. Chicken: Using kitchen shears, cut chicken into cubes and place directly into pan. (I use a non-stick pan with depth so that it can house the sauce.) Drizzle with sesame oil and cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large liquid measuring cup or a bowl, whisk together minced garlic, coconut milk, soy sauce, peanut butter, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, sesame seeds, ginger, and Sriracha sauce. Add into chicken. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes. Combine cornstarch and water. Add to sauce in order to thicken. Stir continuously for 1-2 minutes.
4. Garnish: In a bowl, combine rice, veggies, and chicken. Pour sauce over dish and garnish with cilantro and chopped peanuts. (If you’re like me, add a swirl of Sriracha sauce for added heat.)

TIPS:
• If you’re looking to save even more time, buy frozen stir fry veggies instead. This will eliminate some prep work. However, the veggies may not be as crisp.
• While we love all the different whole grains we get with the Kashi pilaf, feel free to substitute a different rice. I would recommend using a slow cooking rice. Put it on as soon as you start cooking, and it will be done by the time you have prepared everything else. It’s all about timing.
• If you don’t have everything in the pantry, here are some ingredients you can omit without seeing a huge difference: edamame, sesame oil, lime juice, sesame seeds, ginger, and cilantro.

How could you say no to this rice?