July 3, 2015

reading in the kitchen - patriotic cupcake, take two

One of my favorite parts of my debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, is when Lexi Burke spends the Fourth of July hanging out with her longtime crush Jason Beaumont. Not only was this a big turning point for their relationship, but it involved one of my favorite holidays--the Fourth of July. Both of those factors made it fun to write.

Growing up, my family always did the Fourth of July pretty well. We'd have brunch with some of our close friends (someday I'll have to work my mom's egg and potato casseroles into a future story so I can share the recipes for a future Reading in the Kitchen), watch 1776, and spend some time outdoors either taking our rubber rafts out to the lake or grilling at home. Some years, my dad (who is a percussionist) would play patriotic tunes with a band. No matter how we spent our days, the night always ended with fireworks. I love a good fireworks show, so any night that ends with fireworks always seems kind of magical to me.

At some point on the Fourth of July, we would also typically eat some sort of red, white, and blue cake. This was usually done by adding blueberries and strawberries on top of white frosting. So when I set out to write this part of the book, I made sure to have Lexi arrive at Jason's house with a patriotic cupcake. It's the sort of thing you'd expect a good Midwestern girl to do.

The last time I tried to make the recipe, it didn't go exactly as planned. You can read more about those cupcakes here, but basically I took the easy route (boxed cake mix, pre-made frosting, frozen fruits), and the results weren't what I wanted. They tasted fine, but... they were missing that special Fourth of July-ness.

So with the Fourth of July upon us here in the United States, and this scene from Hard Hats and Doormats on my mind, I decided to give this culinary adventure another try.

Here's what you'll need to make this dish...

Cake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Zest from one lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Frosting Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Juice from one fresh lemon
Pinch of salt

Fresh strawberries
Fresh blueberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line one muffin pan (makes one dozen regular-sized cupcakes). In a bowl, mix together flour, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine together butter and sugar with a mixer for several minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, and part of milk. Add in flour mixture and remaining milk. Once the mixture is smooth (and it will be, though thicker than some other batters), distribute evenly in pan. Cook in oven for at least 15 minutes. Allow to cool properly before adding toppings.

While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the toppings by rinsing the strawberries and blueberries. Slice the strawberries into eighths including a mixture of small and large berries. To make the frosting, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until smooth. The result will be a whipped, lemon-flavored topping.

Top the cooled cupcakes with frosting. In the left corner, add four blueberries to represent the stars on the American flag. Add four strawberry slices in three rows (leaving white space in between) to represent the stripes on the flag. (I'll admit I was a little sloppy with some of the stripes, but it was late on a school night. I just wanted them done!)

The result was 12 delicious cupcakes. I'll admit, I would have liked the cupcakes to taste a little more lemony, but the frosting was perfectly tart and sweet. The cupcake itself had a consistency and taste similar to pound cake, which was yummy. And because these turned out so well (and because my dad asked) I'll be making another batch of these tomorrow to share with my family as we celebrate the holidays.

In case you're interested, I also made a short little how-to video to accompany this recipe. You can watch it here or on YouTube.

About the Book
Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion–-because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Who says nice girls have to finish last?

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