Hats are flying, diplomas are being dispersed, and graduates are partying. It’s commencement time and last week the folks at the nationally syndicated Better Show asked me to share some ideas for making a sweet graduation celebration. The segment airs today, Tuesday, May 29. For your local listing, please go to Better TV or watch the segment here.
Since grads can be five or fifty (let’s not forget preschool moving-up ceremonies), I decided to bake up some student-inspired sweets from my new cookbook with universal appeal: Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes and Super-Easy Sugar Cookies.
The recipes may sound boring, vanilla and vanilla, but they’re anything but. The beauty is in the simplicity.
The cupcakes take all of ten minutes to whip up, ten more minutes to frost, and they look like they’re straight from a bakery (at less than half the cost).
To give them a graduation spin, I baked them in colorful baking cups (one of may favorite sources is fancyflours) and added diploma and mortar board cupcake toppers.
Of course these cupcakes may also be decorated with paper printables for Father’s Day (click here for free download from paperglitter), flags for the Fourth, or theme-appropriate toppers for any occasion—make them yours!
The secret to these cupcakes is coconut milk. While there is no distinct coconut flavor (as I know many dislike coconut), the milk gives the cupcakes a particularly moist and pleasing crumb.
Following is the cupcake recipe with a frosting primer. Look for the Super-Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe in Part 2 of the Sweet Graduation Celebration tomorrow.
Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes from the Sweet Home Cookbook (Kyle Books, 2012)
Makes 24 standard cupcakes
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.
3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream for 3 minutes on high until light and fluffy, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the coconut milk and flour mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition, for about 20 seconds, making sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined, again stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cupcake liner with about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of batter. Bake for 15 or 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. The edges of the cupcakes will begin to turn a pale golden but the tops of the cupcakes will be pale. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.
6. Frost with Secret Ingredient Frosting.
Secret Ingredient Frosting from the Sweet Home Cookbook (Kyle Books, 2012)
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Place the softened butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 2 minutes. Add the confectioner’s sugar and continue to mix until thoroughly combined. Next pour in the coconut milk and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy.
Frosting Primer: Using a tip and decorator bag to frost cupcakes
Decorating bags can be intimidating if you’ve never used them. I promise though, once you try, you’ll never go back to the knife again. The gorgeous finish is worth the extra step or two, and really, once the bag is filled, it’s much easier to use than a knife or spatula.
Purchase 16-inch diposable decoratoring bags (about $5.50 for 12) available from craft stores or online at Amazon and a large tip (Wilton 2A round tip, shown above top; Ateco 845 closed star, shown above bottom). If you’d like, purchase a coupler (a two-part threaded device that allows you to change tips without changing the bag) too, but it is not necessary if you’ll only be using one tip. However, they’re very inexpensive so worth their price.
Push the tip down into the bag.
Once you have the tip pushed in as far as it’ll go, trim the excess plastic bag overhanging the tip with scissors to about a 1/4- to 1/2-inch space above the tip’s opening.
To fill the bag, stand it in a large glass or pitcher, pulling the sides of the bag down around the outside of the glass or pitcher.
Using a spatula, scoop the frosting into the bag.
Once the bag is filled, use your hand to squeeze from the top, pushing the frosting down into the tip.
Next, twist the top of the bag and secure with a rubber band.
Now begin frosting. keeping the bag at a slight angle and working from the outside of the cupcake toward the center.
For more tips, refer to this very helpful video from Glorious Treats.
Top frosted cupcakes with miniature diplomas made from store-bought cookies tied with silk cord.
Purchase rolled wafer cookies from your local market or specialty grocer. There are many French and Belgian brands. Pepperidge Farm’s Pirouette cookies work well too.
Using a serrated knife, trim the cookies to the desired length and tie with colored cord or, for a completely edible topper, use thin shoelace licorice.
Molded mortar board decorations
Another option is to top cupcakes with homemade molded chocolate graduation caps or diplomas, chocolate lollipops make adorable decorations too.
To make the chocolates you will need:
One 8-oz block good quality chocolate (white, milk, or dark)
Graduation lollipop or chocolate molds, such as CK graduation caps and diplomas mold from Amazon
1. If making lollipops, place the lollipop sticks into the molds.
2. Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Melt half of it in a double boiler over very gently simmering, not boiling, water. Stir constantly while the chocolate melts. Be careful to not let one drop of water touch the chocolate. Using a candy thermometer, check the temperature, which should be between 110 and 115°F. Do not let the chocolate exceed 115°F.
3. Remove the chocolate from the heat, again being careful to not let any moisture into the chocolate. Add the remaining half of chocolate, a little at a time, into the melted chocolate,stirring vigorously. This will help make the chocolate shine. The goal is to cool the chocolate to 90°F. It may take up to 15 minutes.
4. When the chocolate has cooled to 90°F, test it by spreading a small amount on a piece of wax paper and putting it in the refrigerator. If, after a few minutes, the chocolate is shiny, you’re good to go. If it’s streaky or dull, you may want to start over with new chocolate. (Perhaps the chocolate was overheated or came in contact with water.) While this chocolate can’t be re-tempered, you can use it for baking.
5. There are many ways to fill the molds: 1) Simply use a spoon to fill the molds, 2) Place the tempered chocolate in a sealable plastic baggie, cut off a corner, and squeeze it out into the mold, or 3) Place the chocolate in a plastic squeeze bottle and use it to fill the molds (a great option for young children).
6. Tap the mold gently on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Place the molds in the refrigerator to harden. Chill until firm, about 10 minutes.
7. Remove the molds from the refrigerator and gently unmold (if the chocolate sticks, place the mold in the freezer for 1 hour and try to unmold again).