This past Father’s Day my daughter decided that she wanted to make something fun for dessert for her dad– and since she’s recently been obsessed with “food impostors,” we thought it would great to make cupcakes that looked like cheeseburgers– mini cheeseburger sliders, of course, since full-sized ones would be a bit too much for even my husband’s sweet tooth to handle!
We decided to keep things simple and use box mixes as our base ingredients– a box of french vanilla cake mix, and a box of fudge brownie mix (though to avoid having a gigantic plateful of cupcakes we only used half of the cake mix).
These adorable teacakes are one of the results of my foray into lilac/sugar recipes. They’re tiny vanilla/lemon cupcakes frosted with a glaze made from powdered sugar and lilac syrup, topped with candied lilac blossoms! So springy!
I will note, though, that my first attempt (involving pulverizing lilac blossoms into the sugar before using it in the batter) didn’t turn out all that well– honestly, I think the lilac flavor needs something to play off of to avoid tasting like soap. So I tweaked things a bit, and here’s an improved version:
It’s spring, and that means lilacs are in bloom! We’re lucky enough to have a bush in our backyard, and when the sweet scent started wafting through the air I knew I had to make something to take advantage of it!
It started so innocently– I had a branch of lilac blossoms and thought it would be nice to sugar them. It took a while to individually pluck and dip them in syrup, then in sugar, but they looked so pretty and tasted lovely!
Then I thought that it might be nice to use the leftover sugar syrup for something, but I thought of it too late– which made me think of lilac-flavored syrup, so I made a batch of that as well.
I love miniature versions of things, especially desserts. So when I decided one morning to whip up some sweet treats for a playdate, and saw that I had a whole bunch of mini chocolate chips (as opposed to regular-sized chocolate chips), I knew exactly what I wanted to make: bite-sized chocolate chip cookies!
Since I was a bit short on time I knew that I wouldn’t be able to soften butter to room temperature, so I found a recipe using melted butter instead. To keep things simple I mixed up the dough by hand rather than using any kind of mixer. The resulting dough was a bit too soft, so I popped the bowl into the freezer for 10 minutes to firm it up a bit (smearing the dough up the sides of the metal bowl to give it maximum surface area to chill).
This cake (I call it my Un-Party Cake because I didn’t have a specific occasion to make it for) is the result of a bunch of different situations– first (of course), we’re stuck inside due to coronavirus, so grocery shopping isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Second, the other day I was making egg salad and realized that we were out of mayonnaise, so I made some from scratch (fun!). However, that left me with a bunch of extra mayo on hand that I had no immediate use for, and to keep it from going bad I decided to use it to make a cake. It had to be chocolate, because I’d used a touch of mustard in making the mayonnaise to help it emulsify, and I was worried that the flavor might come through in a vanilla cake.
Third, I had plenty of random stuff available to garnish this cake– half a can of chocolate frosting left in the refrigerator that I could use as the base for a larger batch, some seedless raspberry jam I wanted to use up (because I prefer the flavor of the seeded kind), and the dregs of various packages of cookies and candy that had been pushed to the back of our pantry over time. So we got to work.
Yet another treat I served at my daughter’s woodland creature party was a selection of woodland creature cookies– foxes, hedgehogs, and squirrels. I used my classic chocolate cutout recipe for the cookies, and frosted them with a 3/4-sized batch of a hybrid glaze/royal icing that I picked up online from Baking Sweet Hope. It’s a nice combination of the best of both icing worlds, and I had just about the right amount of icing to cover my cookies in several different colors without worrying about running short.
The original icing tutorial and recipe are both so good that I’m not going to try to summarize them here– just go check out her page!
I did make a few mistakes in the icing process– first, I think I thinned the icing too much, which prevented me from getting quite the amount of detail I’d wanted. I also tried to do too many cookies at once (at least on the foxes), assembly-line style, which messed with my details a bit as well. But in general I think the animals turned out well, and they tasted great! I admit that the hedgehogs were my favorite of the lot– which ones are your favorites?
In keeping with the woodland theme, I wanted to decorate my dessert table with various items that you might find on the forest floor– but I wanted to make them edible. Candy rocks immediately came to mind, like the ones I’d used for the Kitty House Cake for a previous birthday party, but the available options were all rather small and I wanted to think bigger. Then I came across a recipe for homemade rocks made of white chocolate fudge– I was sold!
These rocks are really easy to make– you just melt together some white chocolate and sweetened condensed milk, then add cookie crumbs for some realistic speckles and mold the slightly chilled mixture before rolling in powdered sugar. Plus, they look amazingly realistic! I made a half-sheet pan full of rocks with this recipe, including some pretty large ones that I made by wrapping storebought brownie bites (or pieces thereof) in the fudge mixture to bulk them up– I figure that the fudge is sweet enough that no one would want to eat a solid piece of it as big as their fist.
For my daughter’s woodland party I couldn’t *just* do sweets, so I made a few savory themed treats as well– case in point, this hedgehog-shaped cheese ball. Because who doesn’t like cheese?
I went with the standard sliced-almond technique for the spines, and for flavoring I took inspiration from recipe online and used half a package of dried onion soup mix as my main mix-in. With a few other additions for extra kick, it turned out creamy and flavorful, and went well with crackers. As an added bonus, any leftovers can be spread on toast and broiled for a delicious snack, or melted over pasta for a more substantial meal!
Since I’m always paranoid while prepping for parties that there will not be enough cake (spoiler: there is ALWAYS more than enough cake), I decided to make some extra cupcakes to supplement the tree stump cake. I used a dairy-free box mix (many Duncan Hines mixes are dairy-free), which had the added benefit of providing cake for the party guest who I knew was allergic to dairy and who otherwise would have had to make do with some of the other random sweets on the table.
I decided to make moss a component of my edible dessert table, so in addition to adding some green food coloring to a double batch of my no-mixer sugar cookies, I topped my cupcakes in “moss” made of crushed graham crackers.
Note– it’s not as simple as just squirting food coloring into a bag of graham cracker crumbs and mushing them around to combine; the dye immediately gets absorbed into just a few surrounding crumbs and doesn’t do much good. Instead, the trick is to dilute your food coloring in a few tablespoons of water, pour that into your crumbs, and mix until it distributes evenly. Don’t worry if your crumbs seem wet and mushy– the next step is to spread them onto a baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees F, until they dry out. Crush one more time to ensure that there are no clumps, and they’re ready to use!
I frosted my cupcakes with a relatively small amount of frosting, then dipped them into the container of mossy crumbs to get a nice, even coat. For a few, I added meringue mushrooms as decoration– for others, some flowers piped with my new Russian floral tips!
For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.
For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.
I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.
I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!