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April Showers Brought May Flowers

IMG 3315 Edited April Showers Brought May Flowers

I quickly tire of swirls of icing, so I am always looking for new ways to decorate those small pieces of wonderful called cupcakes. When I saw McCormick’s Hello Flower Cupcakes, using sliced marshmallows and colored sugar, sprinkles, and coconut to create flowers on cupcakes, I knew I would give them a try. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Have you ever heard the adage that it requires the same amount of energy to go from 0 to 90 percent that it does to go from 90 to 100 percent? I am great at the 0 to 90, but the 90 to 100 gets me every time. I am definitely motivated by seeing my progress, so those final details just don’t provide the same boost as creating something overall. This is a problem because it’s the 90 to 100 that really makes things look nice!

My cupcakes simply looked more messy than awe-inspiring, but sometimes it is the experience that counts. Or at least that is what I am telling myself.

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I was slightly skeptical I could color the sugar, sprinkles and coconut as nicely as store-bought decorations, but the color took to the ingredients very easily and looked very vibrant. My tendency was to set the marshmallow on its flat end and cut, but you actually want to lay the marshmallow down like a small log and slice it into rounds. I found it helpful to coat my knife now and again with non-stick cooking spray to get a smooth marshmallow slice.

Way back when I wrote (see part 2) vegan baking would be making an appearance on the blog, I had these Vanilla and Agave Nectar cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World April Showers Brought May Flowers in mind. The recipe stated, “agave nectar makes an exceptionally fluffy and tender cupcake”, but I thought the cupcakes were fairly dense.

Tender? Most definitely. Fluffy? Not according to how I define fluffy. The agave nectar provides a unique flavor that I don’t yet love but also don’t dislike. For me, it is a flavor that requires a little getting used to, and I liked these cupcakes more bite by bite.

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While sacrificing the cleanliness of my teeny-tiny kitchen to make what I hoped would turn out to be cute cupcakes, I couldn’t help but wish I lived closer to my two-and-a-half-year0ld niece. I really could have used some help dipping those pedals, and I’m pretty sure she could have done just as good of a job as her 33-year-old aunt.

If you don’t believe my claim of a messy kitchen during this project, check out the Messy Me post at The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle. My kitchen is pictured in thumbnail 13 (told ya so). But if Sugarbelle and the other decorators pictured can create the beautiful cookies and cakes that they do in their messy kitchens, then maybe I’m on to something.

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Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup soy milk (I used vanilla)
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ⅔ cup light agave nectar
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Place the soy milk and apple cider vinegar in a bowl and allow to sit two to three minutes to curdle.
  2. Once curdled, beat in the agave nectar, canola oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract.
  3. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Mix until smooth.
  5. Pour batter into the wells of a muffin tin lined with cupcake papers, about ⅔ of the way full.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean.

 

Puppy Cookies for Today’s Top Dog

IMG 2259 Edited Puppy Cookies for Todays Top Dog

Hi Wy,

I wrote your sister a letter for her birthday,  so it’s only fair I do the same for you. The trouble is, you’re only turning one year old today, so I don’t yet know you well enough to write a decent letter. But I’ll try to tell you about yourself anyway.

You have been described by many people who love you as a happy baby. I haven’t been around too many babies, but you strike me as having an intrinsic happiness about you. Though you haven’t been here long, I admire that quality about you, and I’m interested to see how it develops as you grow.

So far, you seem to have an interest in music. You liked it when I tapped on the toy xylophone while we played at Christmas,  and your mom tells me you like the toy instruments in your toy chest the best. The great thing about liking music is your dad, aunt (not me!), and uncle are talented when it comes to playing instruments and singing.  I’m sure they will teach you all there is to know.

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Though this aunt doesn’t have much any musical talent, I think we’ll still be pals because you really like to eat. I also like your insatiable curiosity, and I think it’s good to always keep exploring. But do you really need to empty the socks from your sister’s drawer every day? And can you please not crawl into the dog kennel with June?

Speaking of June, since your birthday invitation had a puppy on it, I thought you might like to see some puppy cookies as a virtual birthday treat. I used a shortbread recipe, but in hindsight, I wonder if  a sugar cookie recipe would have been the better choice. I had a very difficult time getting the shortbread dough to come together, but so it goes sometimes.

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These puppy dog cookies were a good cookie to make for a little boy born in February because my heart-shaped cookie cutter was nearby (I just used it for Valentine’s Day). I cut out a vanilla heart and a chocolate heart, and I split the heart I wanted to use for ears down the middle. Then I took the heart I wanted to use as the puppy’s face and placed in on a baking sheet so the point faced the top.

I placed the edges of the broken heart down along the edges of the full heart to resemble ears. Making puppy dog cookies is the only time you are allow to break hearts, okay? Then I pinched the sides together so they didn’t fall apart. This last step was very important. When the puppy cookies baked and cooled, I decorated them with royal icing, sprinkles, and red hots. You could use other candies or chocolate chips too. Pretty simple dimples. Happy Birthday Wyatt!

Love,

Aunt LeAndra

Wyatt Puppy Cookies for Todays Top Dog

Shortbread Cookies
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Cream the butter and sugar until just combined.
  2. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  3. Whisk together the flour and salt in a separate bowl, then add them to the butter and sugar.
  4. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together, then dump onto a surface dusted with flour.
  5. Shape the dough into a flat disk, then wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
  6. Roll out the dough to ½-inch thickness and cut with a cookie cutter and place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.
  8. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.
Notes
To make the cookies seen in this post, I made two batches of shortbread. to make the vanilla shortbread cookies, I followed the recipe as written above. To make the chocolate shortbread cookies, I substituted ¼ cup of cocoa powder for ¼ cup of flour.

 

Happy Birthday to a Little Valentine

IMG 1916 Edited Happy Birthday to a Little Valentine

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day that is either loved or loathed with varying degrees of emotion from year to year. I have always liked Valentine’s Day because it signals the thick of candy season. Though Halloween has a lot to offer when it comes to candy, the variety I can purchase from the beginning of February to Easter is unparalleled. Not to mention heart-shaped donuts appear – as if a donut could get any better!

 But then something happened to move me from the like to the love camp.

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This is my favorite baby picture of Shaylin. I think she’s saying, “I’m just chillin’.”

Five years ago today, Shaylin was born. Shaylin and I are cousins, and together we bookend our Grandparent’s grandchild collection. At 33, I am the oldest, and at five, she is the youngest.
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For Shaylin’s virtual birthday treat, I made red velvet shortbread cookies and decorated them to look like pigs. The Red Velvet/Valentine’s Day connection is likely pretty clear. The Pig/Valentine’s Day connection is likely less so, unless you are in an “I loathe Valentine’s Day” mood, then the “men are pigs” connection is fairly obvious (kidding!). But since it’s not all about Valentine’s Day today, allow me to share with you a Pig/Cute Shaylin Story via way of my sister.

My sister has a bulldog, June. When she was about two and a half, Shaylin came to believe poor June was a “piggy”. Given June’s a bulldog, her smooshed nose and snorty breaths gave little Shaylin no reason to believe she wasn’t a pig. It probably didn’t help that her dad called June a piggy right along with her. But Shaylin’s a pretty smart cookie, so when she saw the leash come out when it was time for June’s walk, she exclaimed, “that’s not a piggy, that’s a doggy!” Shaylin knew you didn’t walk pigs, you walked dogs! Though I wasn’t there to witness this, the story always has stuck in my mind and made me smile.

IMG 1929 Edited Happy Birthday to a Little Valentine

To decorate the pig cookies, I placed a layer of icing over the red velvet shortbread cookies, and then topped the icing with homemade fondant (post to follow).  If you do not want to go to the trouble of working with fondant, pink icing will work just as well. The ears are pink sugar wafers, the eyes are mini chocolate chips, the nose is a slice of marshmallow, and the mouth is piped on with icing. All are attached with a bit of icing.

If pigs aren’t your thing, the red velvet shortbread cookies can be easily transformed into a grown up dessert too. As suggested in the original recipe, dip an edge of the cookie into melted chocolate, then decorate with nuts or pretty sprinkles. Lovely and delicious – enjoy!

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Another set of cousins. Jolene and Shaylin playing in the toybox. This is my favorite picture of Shaylin to date – so happy!

Happy Valentine’s Day  & Happy Birthday Shaylin!

Red Velvet Shortbreads
 
Author:
Recipe type: cookies
Serves: 24
Ingredients
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon red food coloring
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
  2. Add the butter and red food coloring, and use a pastry cutter or food processor to cut in the butter until the mixture is a fine crumb and forms a ball.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, gently knead the dough then use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to about ½ inch thickness.
  4. Use cookie cutters to cut the dough into desired shapes.
  5. Repeat rolling and cutting until all dough is used.
  6. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.
  7. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes or until centers are set.
  8. Allow to cool on a wire rack