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hooray for the red, white, and blue!

Happy 4th of July!

The recipe for Red, White and Blue Red Velvet Cupcakes follows,
but first…

What is your happiest or earliest memory of celebrating July 4th? Mine is standing in my maternal grandparents’ backyard, holding sparklers with our big extended family all around. That would include my grandparents, mom, dad, brothers, sister, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

There could be up to 43 of us at any one time, given that my mom is the oldest of eight. We would either barbeque hot dogs and hamburgers or there would be big buckets of KFC scattered around, and always huge watermelons … and … soda! We were allowed to drink soda – at my grandparents’ house!

Grandma and Grandfather Lorts lived just off 36th Street and Camelback – and they had a pool – we did not. So it was always a treat to go to their house on weekends, as we often did during the summer. We would literally be stripping off our clothes, as we were running up the driveway, to reveal our bathing suits underneath.

We’d race as fast as possible through the house and out the backdoor and make a beeline straight to the ever-growing line of cousins at the diving board. When I was really young, my mom’s 2 brothers and 2 youngest sisters were still teens and lived at home, so they were the designated lifeguards. A task I’m sure they dreaded! But we adored, admired, and loved them so much; we wouldn’t have gotten that feeling from them, even if they had told us directly to our little sunburned freckled faces what huge pains to their social life we were.

So we would swim until we were waterlogged and our fingers and toes were shriveled and wrinkled. The parents would force us out of the pool; using screams and threats and then they’d insist that we eat! Even though we were probably starving from all that diving, not only off the board but also diving for pennies at the bottom of the deep end (an always popular game since you got to keep all the pennies you retrieved), we did not want to get out to eat!

Because getting out and eating meant one thing and one thing only – you could not get back in the pool for at least 1 hour (60 full minutes!) AFTER you took your last bite of food. And I am telling you, our parents (and all those aunts and uncles and grandparents) would actually set a timer for 60 minutes!

Never mind that 60 minutes to a kid is about as long as 5 hours are to the average adult – that was The Rule. A rule more important and more enforceable than “No using the pool as a toilet.” Why? Because if you dared to stick even your baby toe in the pool before the imposed time restriction was lifted, you would certainly and absolutely be overcome with piercing stabbing cramps, and …. You Would Drown!

Yup, you would die, no two ways about it. You would immediately develop unbearable stomach pain, sink to the bottom of the pool, like a stone, and be dead as roadkill! Nothing could save you from this fate! Not your big strong 19-year-old uncle. Heck… not all the uncles in the world could save a child who had been foolish enough to enter the pool after… let’s say… 56 minutes!

To this day, I honestly don’t know if parents back in the 60’s really believed this whole “cramps” thing or if it was just the way to get themselves some much-needed rest from the constant and unending barrage of ….  “Uncle Mike, throw me up higher!” and “Uncle Harry, it’s my turn for a whale ride!” and “Aunt Bev, pleeeease throw another penny in for me!” or “Mom, watch this! Mom? Hey Mom! MOM! WATCH ME!” …. OK, I guess I honestly do know the answer.

So, after the swimming, the eating, the full HOUR of waiting, and the swimming again, it would be dark. And Grandfather would bring out the sparklers (even sometimes when it wasn’t the 4th!) and, oh I just loved that!  Sparklers were my “Grandfather’s thing” and I loved my grandfather so very much! So that meant that I loved (and still love) sparklers!

Then we’d all go inside. Some of the families would pack up and go home because they had a long drive. But we always stayed, because we lived around Camelback and 86th Street, not all that far and because my parents loved to play cards.

They’d stick us kids in the living room to “rest” and they would play in the den or around the kitchen table, depending on how many there were.  I would try to be as quiet as possible so I could listen to them laugh and fight and scream at each other and gossip and giggle and holler and laugh some more. If it was an especially intense and long game, they would put us all down to sleep in bed together in my grandparents’ and aunts’ rooms. Oh, how I loved that… because that meant that we were staying longer and even if I was actually sleeping, it was a warm, wonderful, and happy place to be.

Now on to the cupcakes; during a teen cooking class last week, the kids whipped through the recipes so fast that I had them whip up this cupcake batter so I could post this recipe before I left town. Thank you guys for doing that for me and I hope I didn’t break any child-labor laws since I didn’t allow them to have any of the actual cupcakes.

Hey, don’t judge, it’s because the cupcakes weren’t done baking before the kids were picked up by their parents! I took two pictures of the class. The first is of all 10 of them smiling sweetly and the second is them looking longingly at the cupcakes that they will not get to eat…



Red, White, and Blue-Red Velvet Cupcakes

1  3/4 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, divided
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

1  to 1  1/2 cups small fresh blueberries
3 or 4 rolls of red-colored fruit roll-ups or fruit snack strips

Cupcakes: Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and cocoa and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then add the red food coloring and vanilla.

Mix in one-third of the flour-cocoa mixture, then 1/3 cup of the buttermilk. Add another one-third of the flour-cocoa mixture and another 1/3 cup of buttermilk, and finally, the remaining one-third of the flour-cocoa mixture.

Remove the bowl from the standing mixer and use a rubber spatula to make a well in the center of the batter; pour in the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk, vinegar, and baking soda.   When bubbles form, stir batter with a spatula until well combined.

Divide batter equally among the paper-lined muffin cups. Bake cupcakes, switching positions of the pans halfway through baking, until the tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.   Cool 10 minutes; then remove from pans and transfer to a rack and cool completely before icing.

Frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Add in powdered sugar and beat until completely smooth and creamy.

Spread frosting on tops of cooled cupcakes.

Arrange blueberries in 3 tight rows of 3 (for stars) in the upper left quarter of each cupcake.

Cut the roll of fruit roll-ups into strips that are about 1/8-inch wide. Place 6 red fruit strips across the remainder of the cupcake surface in rows (for stripes) atop the frosting. Refrigerate to allow frosting to the firm.

Makes 16 to 18

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