Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Baking date: August 14, 2016

In the local sports association football program my boys have played in, they have weight limits for age groups. If you are over the designated top weight for your age group prior to the first game, you must either sit out games (and be re-weighed a few weeks later), or play up in the next age division.

Our oldest son was always close to the top of the weight each year. And his second-to-the-last year of playing, he was over and had to work real hard to make weight to play with his friends, rather than sit out or play up with older kids. Helping growing boys make weight – it’s awful. I even blogged about the experience.

When one of the young kids was faced with a similar battle this year, his mom asked for ways to help Jonny drop the weight in advance of the official weigh in. Many people chimed in with advice; parents and his teammates offered to run extra laps and work out with him more.

I offered inspiration as well – sharing some of the things we had Alex do that week before weigh-ins. I also offered this:

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I know it seems counter-intuitive to offer someone baked goods for losing weight. But so what – motivation comes in many forms!

After a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and self-discipline, Jonny made weight. His mom let me know he liked red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.

I used a box cake for red velvet – I haven’t found a scratch recipe I like yet. For the icing, I used a classic cream cheese frosting recipe.  The recipe made plenty of frosting and I used the leftovers to frost some banana bread later.

To make the cake extra special, I added the letters WEIGH TO GO JONNY using royal blue candy melts. I included chocolate candy melt footballs, with some of the extra cream cheese frosting piped on for the laces. I also included royal and yellow Lion paw candy melts. Here is a view of the cake from the top:

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And from the side, because I piped bursts along the lower edge, and added in alternating blue and gold sugar pearls:img_1737

Let’s just say that Jonny thought all the work was worth the weight:

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Retirement Shortbread Cookies

Baking date: July 31, 2016

One of my co-workers who happened to have the office next to mine retired last week after 27 years with the organization. We had a lovely party for him at work. He’s always been a terrific taste-tester for my creations that I bring into work, so I wanted to create something special for him.

I had red, white, black, and golden yellow royal icing left over from another baking project. After googling “retirement cookies”, I saw one in the shape of a yield sign that said ‘No Work Zone’. Using that as inspiration, I went about creating the treats.

I like the recipe I’ve used for shortbread, but they never had tasted as “shortbready” as I thought they should. I googled shortbread cookie and Ina Garten’s version came up. It’s hard to go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe! While this recipe is a bit more labor intensive than the recipe I’ve used for shortbread, I found that it tastes more like shortbread.

I cut out an octagon shape and a square shape. The square shape was flooded in golden yellow royal icing. Using the black royal icing, I outlined the shape and wrote ‘NO WORK ZONE’ in black royal icing on top of the semi-dry golden yellow:

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Because the royal icing was a little too runny, I had to go back and cover up some of the black that ran and made the letters hard to read.

For the octagon, I flooded it in red, and added STOP WORKING in white royal icing, along with a white border. Just as I finished piping the letters on, I dropped the bag/tip, leaving a few imperfections in the red and letter in WORKING:

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I placed each cookie in a treat box, removing the inserts to fit the oversize cookies.

Thanks Al, for all your wisdom in the three years we worked together. May each day of your retirement be more fulfilling than the last!

Cousins ‘n Crabs Shortbread Cookies

Baking date: August 29, 2016

Each year, the cousins on my mom’s side of the family get together in the Summer for something we call Cousins ‘n Crabs. There are 13 of us cousins, and we are far-flung. A few of us live in Maryland, and the largest contingent (4) are in California – divided between San Diego and San Francisco. Florida (Port Orange), Illinois (Chicago), Arlington (Virginia), Richmond Hill (Toronto), and Italy are also represented.

While we all aren’t able to be at the event each year, we try to get as many as possible together. The event is hosted at my sister’s house, where we steam crabs and cook hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. Folks bring side dishes and desserts to round out the meal.

Of course, I’m on dessert duty. This year, I made outrageous brownies (sorry, no picture was taken before they were all gobbled up!). I also made shortbread cookies because my mom’s brother is allergic to eggs. Whenever we gather, I always make an eggless dessert to he can have something sweet.

Here’s the recipe I used for the cookies:

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Because this is a mini-reunion of sorts, I went with a Maryland-inspired color theme for the decorations. I made royal icing in white, red, black, and golden yellow.

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The cookies were in star shapes along with COUSINS N CRABS spelled out using alphabet cookie cutters.

I tried to make Maryland flag-inspired designs on the letters:

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 But I made the royal icing a bit too runny. This is how COUSINS N CRABS turned out:

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The cookie in the middle is the family name Fenwick. Again, you see that the icing was a bit runny and didn’t hold its shape too well:

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All the cookies tasted great in spite of the icing not turning out exactly as I had hoped!

I used the remaining icing to decorate the stars. There was so much left over that I got to use it for special retirement goodies I made the following day for a co-worker.

Here are the stars:

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And close up:

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Every year, I look forward to Cousins ‘n Crabs. It brings those of us who can attend back to our roots. And we get to spend time with family, which is the best reason of all to get together.

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Meaty crab backfin – delish!

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My Uncle Bill feeding his grandson Max freshly picked crab while my sister Diane holds him

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My Uncle Bill feeding his oldest grandson Jack freshly picked crab

Shortbread Star Cookies

Baking date: July 2, 2016

My mom and dad decided to have a dinner over the July 4th weekend. My mom isn’t as big on cooking out as she is on cooking, so this was a buffet style dinner, but not a hot dog or hamburger was in sight.

I offered to make dessert, but mom said no, she had that covered. Yeah, like I’m going to show up empty-handed. I decided to make shortbread cookies because my uncle has an egg allergy.

To make them a bit more celebratory, I used star-shaped cookie cutters along with red, white, and blue decorations. I made some large stars, some small stars and some large stars with a small star cut-out. The large stars with the cut-out were delicate — even more so since the cookie was shortbread.

There were cookies that I topped with a mix of blue and red sugar sprinkles:

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Large, small and cut out stars, as well as an up-close look at the cookies.

And there were large star cookies that I topped with classic white frosting and then placed a cut-out large star on top. In the cut out, I added red, white, and blue sprinkles.

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I topped some of smaller stars with classic white frosting and added the red, white and blue sprinkles. For the rest, I iced the sides and added the sprinkles:

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Here are all the cookies that had frosting:

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My cookies — in addition to the homemade strawberry shortcake my mom prepared — ensured a sweet ending to a nice 4th of July spent with family.

Cherry/Blueberry Patriotic Pie

Baking date: July 1, 2016

I had seen a really clever photo on Pinterest of a cherry/blueberry flag pie, and wanted to try it for a pool party we were attending. The kids got firecracker cupcakes, but this was a dessert more for the adults. Truth be told, the adults ate the firecracker cupcakes also!

Here’s the inspiration photo:

Inspiration photo

 

Since this was only a photo from Instagram, I googled cherry and blueberry flag pie to see if there were any recipes. There were plenty, but it wasn’t the recipe I needed because I used canned cherry and blueberry pie filling and refrigerated pie crust. I wanted to know how to get that quadrant look to the pie.

I found one recipe that said to fold foil into a 90 degree angle and place that in the pie pan after inserting the crust. Press it down a bit into the crust. Then you gently spoon the blueberry filling in (1/2 a can). Then gently spoon the cherry pie filling in (2 cans). Do your best to make sure the blueberry and cherry filling are level with one another. Gently pull out the foil. Baker’s note: there is also a tool called a pie dam which can help with sectioning the pie.

For the second pie crust in the package, I laid it out on the cutting board and used a pizza cutter to make the stripes out of 1/3 of the crust. For the other 2/3 of the rolled out crust, I used a small star cookie cutter. I needed more of the crust for the stars, because I was using them on top of the blueberry section and also to line the edge of the pie. I sprinkled some cinnamon sugar mix over the top (not very evenly, I’m afraid!) once the stars and stripes were added.

Here’s the pie ready to go into the oven:

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And here’s the pie out of the oven. I didn’t use egg wash to help brown the crust, in case there were any allergies at the party:

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My oldest son had a piece and liked it so much, he asked me to make another for our own family 4th of July cookout. So I did:

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Going into the oven

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Bubbly hot out of the oven

The pie was delicious…both times. This is an easy way to make a special dessert for your 4th of July celebration.

Firecracker Cupcakes

Baking date: June 30, 2016

I had seen a firecracker cupcake on Pinterest, and immediately saved it.

Inspiration Firecracker cupcakes

Inspiration cupcakes

I knew I’d have an event to make them for and sure enough, the end-of-season baseball gathering was just the event, since we were having it on the Friday kicking off the long July 4th weekend.

I used a yellow box cake mix for the cupcake. I made buttercream frosting for the cupcakes.

Creating the firecrackers was the fun part. I used marshmallows and red candy melts. At first I pushed the toothpick pretty far into the marshmallow, but that made it difficult to pull out after dipping it in the candy melts. The pre-cut strands of licorice went in just fine. Baker’s note: definitely pre-cut these before you begin dipping. Once the candy melt starts to harden, you won’t be able to insert it. Also, try and keep your bag of marshmallows from getting smooshed – the more cylindrical they are, the easier it is to have them stand and dry.

You also have to be patient to let the excess drip off or scrape the bottom with a spoon (which is what I did).

I wasn’t able to find black licorice string anywhere, so I had purchased red/white/blue pull and peel Twizzlers. But then on a final trip to AC Moore, I found a bag of black licorice laces and ended up using those.

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Here are my “firecrackers”, freshly dipped and waiting to dry on wax paper. As you can see, there is excess candy melt. I used one of my kitchen knives to carve off the extra once they had set.

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I used a special 4th of July-themed cupcake liner. I used a bit of the buttercream frosting to cover the cupcake and then placed the dried “firecracker” in the middle. I used a 1M tip, piping on more buttercream around the “firecracker”. Finally, I topped the buttercream with red/white/blue sprinkles.

Here are the trays of cupcakes:

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And here are some close-ups of individual cupcakes:

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For those that don’t care for the flavor of black licorice, you can remove the “wick” and munch away, or use the patriotic Twizzlers instead.

I didn’t have a single cupcake left and was able to give the bag of leftover black licorice to one of the moms who I know loves that stuff (me? not a fan!).

Hope you had a sweet 4th of July weekend!

Bullseye Cake

Baking date: June 24, 2016

During the year-end league tournament for my son Alex’s team, one of the players was hit by pitches three times. Someone joked that he should be wearing a target on his uniform. And someone else looked at me and said, he needs a target cake.

I made the cake from my go-to box recipe – triple chocolate fudge mix. Baker’s note: I always add a tablespoon of vanilla to any box mix for a more “homemade” taste.

I used the Wilton Easy Layers 6 inch cake pan set.  Baker’s note: be sure to level off each layer or you may end up with the leaning tower of cake!

Using buttercream icing in royal blue, I outlined a coffee cup for the outer layer of the bulls-eye and a shot glass for the center. I then filled in the blue areas, and using classic white canned frosting, filled in the alternate ring of the target, as well as the sides. I had also used the classic white in between the layers. Finally, I added bursts along the bottom edge in the royal blue buttercream.

I wanted to add a special message on the cake, so using white and royal blue candy melts, I spelled out HIT ME HERE and placed the letters on the top of the cake.

Here’s the cake from the top:IMG_1454

And from the side:

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I started to make the ME in royal blue candy melts, but had to scrap that because it wouldn’t have stood out against the royal blue icing. The H’s were a pain – I went through a number of attempts before I got two of them out of the mold without breaking:

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Ultimately, the cake was a big hit. No pun intended, Brett!

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