Birthday Red Velvet “Owl” Cupcakes, Johnnycake, & The One Room Schoolhouse

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My daughter is so grown up for a second grader. She chose going to a Broadway show instead of a birthday party to celebrate her 8th birthday. She is a Broadway show tune junkie! 🙂 Another grown up choice was choosing red velvet cupcakes for her special birthday dessert. I thought that I wasn’t a red velvet fan- but these were super moist and wonderful. When we saw the owl cupcakes on Nancy Creative around Halloween, we both knew that we had to make them! I would say that the owl cupcake choice was the 8-year-old part of this birthday celebration, but I want them for my birthday too!! 🙂 The cupcake recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living.

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To make the owl’s eyes, I microwaved the oreos 3 cookies at a time for 7 seconds, but I still had trouble getting a clean split. I need more practice… I suppose it’s been too long since I’ve eaten oreos the right way! The eyeballs and beak were made out of m&m’s. The eyebrows are made from the remaining filling-less sides of the oreo cookies, scored slightly less than in half. Adorable!

Yield: 12 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:

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  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature (can put in a bowl of warm water to quickly change the temperature)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red gel-paste food color
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
  • Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (convection). Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners. (I used foil-lined paper liners.)
  2. Whisk together cake flour, and cocoa; add salt.
  3. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add the egg, beating until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla.
  4. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each.
  5. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter; mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
  6. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 18 minutes (on convection). Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
  7. To finish, top with Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below).

Note: These are also wonderful as mini-cupcakes. Bake for 10 minutes on convection.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

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Yield: 2 cups, enough to frost 12 cupcakes

  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 pound (2 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low.
  2. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then vanilla; mix until smooth.
  3. Using a pastry bag with a large fluted tip, pipe onto cupcakes in a circular motion, starting on the outer rim.

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Number Cookies: Our Family Tradition! 🙂

Another highlight of her birthday was that her class went on a field trip to a historic One Room Schoolhouse. She has been desperate to go on this trip because part of the fun is that everyone is supposed to dress in old-fashioned attire. She absolutely loves dressing up for everything- but this was particularly special because she wore one of my old dresses! (Thanks to her Nana who saves everything! :)) With a felt bonnet too. Super cute.

The kids also bring their lunch in baskets- with each item wrapped in bandanas or cloth. She brought an apple, a buttered roll, dried fruit, and a buttered johnnycake. We had problems coming up with a vessel for her drink…. Makes one appreciate modern conveniences!

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For the New England Johnnycake:

Yield: 12 standard muffins or 1 8-inch square cake (12 squares)

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees (convection).
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients.
  3. Add the milk, syrup, oil, and eggs. Stir until just incorporated.
  4. Bake in a lined or greased muffin tin for 14 minutes, or in an 8-inch square pan for 20 to 25 minutes.

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One Year Ago:

Mini “M&M” Cookies

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Both of my kids performed in their school talent show last weekend. They were backstage for FIVE hours!! I wanted to pack a special treat for them to have for the show (and to bring to share with their friends). My son requested M&M cookies. I made them using a simple recipe (from the bag!!) and packed them up. I didn’t plan to post them… but we loved them! Such a surprise. 🙂 They were also colorful and cute. Similar recipes called for much more sugar and salt but these were perfect. The kids really enjoyed them. Great!

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12 ounce package “M&M’s” Chocolate Mini Baking Bits
  • 3/4 cup chopped nuts, optional (I didn’t use nuts)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. In large bowl cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla.
  3. In medium bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt; blend into creamed mixture.
  4. Stir in “M&M’s” Chocolate Mini Baking Bits and nuts, if using.
  5. Drop by tablespoonfuls about 2 inches (50mm) apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. (I used a small cookie scoop.) Bake 10 to 11 minutes (on convection) or until edges are lightly browned and centers are still soft. Do not overbake. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; cool completely on wire racks. Store in tightly covered container.

One Year Ago:

Back to School Blondies

We started making these blondies for Halloween using red, brown, orange and yellow m&m’s.  Because my kids love making them (& eating them) we have changed the color theme to transform them into Christmas and Easter blondies as well.  This year, when I asked the kids what they wanted for a special dessert after their first day of school it was a unanimous BLONDIES! Festive and delicious.

This recipe for Halloween Blondies is from Everyday Food.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for pan
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup each red, orange, yellow, and brown candy-coated chocolates (from a 12.6-ounce bag)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees on convection. Brush an 9-inch square baking pan with butter; line pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter paper. (I used cooking oil spray.)
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together butter and sugars until smooth.
  3. Whisk in eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add flour and salt; stir just until moistened.
  5. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top. Arrange candies in 12 rows (about 12 per row, 2 rows per color, repeating once) on top of dough. 
  6. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes on convection, or up to 50 minutes in a standard oven. Set pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Using parchment overhang, lift cake from pan and transfer to a cutting board; cut into 16 squares.

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