Thyme Orange Cranberry Shortbread Cookies

“But I also wondered if he wasn’t right, that we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.”
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller

I don’t know about you, but I generally feel like I’m right about things. I don’t mean that I’m always right, and I’m not a know-it-all; I’ve just spent a lot of time forming my beliefs and I’m a thoughtful person, so I usually don’t feel like my worldview is too far off base.

I think most people probably feel this way. There aren’t very many of us, I’ll wager, who walk through life feeling totally insecure in our ideas and worldview. We believe what we believe for reasons — sometimes good reasons, sometimes misguided ones — and we walk through life feeling pretty certain. Open to change, we hope, and open to learning, but pretty settled.

Every now and then, though, you hit a wall that sends your worldview reeling. Firm ideas you had about your life’s purpose, how to weather different circumstances, and how the world works suddenly seem a lot more fluid. In my own life, I feel like I’ve recently run into the Great Wall of China, not to be melodramatic or anything, and I’m scrambling to find confirmation or revision of my worldview. I won’t bore you with the gory details, but I’d like to share some of my revelations with you over the coming weeks.

The first one is that life is not about checking off boxes. Donald Miller, a writer who had to “edit” his life into a screenplay and discusses the process in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, realized that inasmuch as life is a story, there are certain elements that are necessary to make it a meaningful one. One of those elements is character transformation.

We sometimes imagine that attaining our goals in life is what makes us successful: finding a husband, having kids, finding a house, finding a job. Have you ever wondered why we never seem to arrive? If we never seem to be finished with achieving, maybe it’s because the achievement itself isn’t the goal, but how we change during the pursuit.

Everyone always says, “the journey is the destination,” but then when we’re faced with health crises, relationship problems, job frustrations, and uncertainty about our future, that ideology falters. We want solutions. We want to be on the other side. It’s hard to rest in the storm, knowing God is using every strong wind and bolt of lightning to transform us in the exact way we need to be transformed. That idea can even evoke hostility in people in the midst of their greatest trials — the idea that God would, even while holding us and loving us in the ultimate sacrificial way, allow us to endure seemingly insurmountable trials is difficult to swallow.

Moreso even than others, I can have trouble resting in a trial. I don’t fault God for letting me go through the hard times, but I do inadvertently try to make myself my own savior, scrambling to fix it fix it fix it! My anxiety gets the better of me, and I flail through all different “solutions,” some of which do more harm than good. Lately I’ve been practicing, instead, letting the trouble wash through me like waves. Maybe they’re strong waves, and maybe they’ll move me. Maybe they’ll even knock me off my feet for a bit. But ultimately they’ll flow past and disappear against the shore.

If you’re in the middle of a trial, practice thinking of each new difficulty like a wave and let it come. Then let it go. And in the meantime, maybe make some cookies. Cookies never hurt.

One year ago: Straw-Raspberry Basil Fruit Leather
Two years ago: Homemade Buttery Croissants and Pains-au-Chocolats

Thyme Orange Cranberry Shortbread Cookies

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: two logs of about 15 cookies each

These are some amazing cookies. Buttery, delicate shortbread is already delicious, but the addition of orange zest, cranberries, and thyme make these shortbreads particularly special. They’re not too sweet, but a drizzle of white chocolate sweetens them up. They’d be perfect for tea, snacking, or a dessert. It’s also easy to bake a log of them and keep the second log in the freezer for unexpected company!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried thyme
3/8 cup powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (about the zest from one orange)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
about 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and dried thyme. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter, orange zest, and powdered sugar 2-3 minutes or until pale, light, and fluffy. Mix in the orange juice. Beat in the flour mixture and then stir in the cranberries by hand to be sure everything is combined.

Use a sheet of wax paper to roll the dough into a 1 1/2-inch wide log (if you’re having trouble, chill the dough for a bit in the fridge before rolling it). Wrap plastic wrap or foil around the logs and freeze them for 20 minutes until firm (you can also double-wrap them and leave them frozen for up to 3 weeks at this point. When you’re ready to bake, just use a serrated knife to cut the cookies and bake as usual. It make take a few minutes longer since they’ll be baking from frozen, but just keep an eye on them.) While they cookies are freezing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place the rack in the center. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Use a serrated knife to slice each log into 1/4-inch slices and place these about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 8-10 minutes, rotating once halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes on the pan before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely. In the meantime, melt white chocolate according to package instructions (usually half-power, in small increments, stirring often) and spoon it into a plastic zip-top bag with a tiny corner cut off. Set cookies on wax or parchment paper and squeeze the melted chocolate from the zip-top bag over them in a zig zag design. Let them dry. Store them in an airtight container separated by leaves of parchment or wax paper for up to a week.

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Sweet Orange Florentines

“Don’t worry! It’s not scary. Here, I’ll go first.”

Her curly blonde ponytail bobbed as she picked her way through the freezing mountain river towards the sluice. She waved me over and I waded, fully clothed and reluctant, over to her side. The water was rushing past us, slamming into the rocks downstream in a mess of white spray. I must have looked nervous, because she reiterated: “It’s not scary. Watch me.”

She sat down in the freezing, frothing water of the sluice and was whisked away, laughing and splashing, to a pool downstream. Our 7th grade students, who had hiked to this stream with us as part of their overnight field trip and were now watching from the shore, cheered. It seemed easy enough.

You need to know a few things about me to guess how I was feeling at that moment:

1. I have older siblings, which made for some traumatic pool experiences as a child.

2. In college, my roommate frantically demonstrated (on the floor of our dorm room) how to swim minutes before our freshman year swim test, where I was positive I was going to be the first student in Davidson College history to drown.

3. It was a year later before I really learned to swim semi-confidently. I still opted out of taking a SCUBA class when I spent my semester doing marine biology because I was afraid I’d panic underwater and drown.

4. I did panic in about 15 feet of water at one point in the Gulf of Mexico, at which point I promptly requested that my friend drag me to the nearby boat. I think the undercurrent of hysteria in my voice got her attention. “Undercurrent” might be the worst word choice ever given the subject matter. Ugh.

Basically, I love water, but I am not fond of drowning.

sweet flowers for this post provided by one of my lovely vacation bible school students!

Ashley had just run the sluice right in front of me, though, and was safe and sound. If my mom were there, she would’ve begun, “If all your friends were jumping off a bridge…,” but thankfully she wasn’t there at that particular moment. I sat down in the froth of water, which was much colder than it had seemed when it was only up to my knees.

Gasping from the cold, I felt the water begin to propel me down the stream. I picked up speed and bounced through bubbles and foam before being deposited, laughing and flailing, into the pool of calmer water. Our students cheered. Ashley and I promptly posed for a soaked photo taken by one of them.

That wasn’t the first time Ashley had supported or encouraged me. As coworkers, we talked all the time about how to model certain behaviors for our 6th and 7th graders, but she probably didn’t realize how often she modeled fun, joy, and above all, bravery for me. I left every conversation with her feeling calmer, more joyful, and inspired — whether by her fantastic hand-crafted earrings, her creative outfits, her sweet relationship with her family, her bright outlook. How many people can you say that about?

Just recently, Ashley modeled bravery for me one more time. After teaching middle school Spanish for years, she made the decision to move her entire life to Spain, where she’ll be teaching middle school English! She told me that the decision — leaving family and friends and country indefinitely! — was one of the hardest she’s ever made, but after crying for a bit and taking a nap (we both agreed that naps are great for decision making), she knew it was the right choice.

Since she’s famous for packing light, I didn’t want to get her a physical going away present, but I did want to give her something she could “take with her” to know how special she is to me. She’s a cookie baking superstar, so I cobbled together this recipe for her. These florentines are based on some cookies her mom bought once that we all loved. They happen to be the best cookies I’ve ever had, so I hope she can bake them sometime in Spain and enjoy a “taste of home.”

Love you, Ashley!

One year ago: Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies
Two years ago: Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches with Creamy Coleslaw and Summer Bean Salad

Sweet Orange Florentines

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: about 15 sandwich cookies

These are the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, seriously! Don’t be afraid of the anise extract — I hate licorice flavor, but the anise extract here is just enough to give an amazing depth to the orange flavor, not enough to make the cookies licoricey. These cookies are so different than drop cookies — make sure you only use a teaspoon of mixture for each cookie even if it looks tiny, because they spread out into the beautiful lace you see above. They’re easy and a lot of fun to bake!

1/2 cup sliced almonds
3/8 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
About 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (from about 1/2 orange)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon anise extract
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds and macadamia nuts together until finely chopped without letting them form a paste. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, orange zest, salt, and finely chopped nuts.

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, cream, honey, and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is dissolved, continue cooking the mixture for about a minute before removing it from the heat and adding the vanilla extract and anise extract. Stir this mixture into the flour mixture until it’s combined and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, use a teaspoon measure to scoop up 1 teaspoon of batter at a time and roll them into balls. Place these balls on your prepared baking sheets at least 4 inches apart — don’t skimp on this distance, because the cookies will spread a lot as they form their “lace.” Flatten the balls into discs. Bake one pan of cookies at a time, rotating once halfway through the baking time, until they are thin, lacy, and golden brown, about 6-7 minutes (this is one of those cookies where you inevitably burn the first pan and then get the hang of it, so don’t fret. Just keep a close eye on them). Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing them with a thin spatula to a cooling rack. Repeat until all cookies are baked.

In the meantime, melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave according to package instructions (usually half-power, in small increments, stirring often.) Carefully spread a very thin layer of white chocolate (just a whisp or they’ll be too sweet) on the bottom of one cooled cookie and top it with another to form a thin sandwich. Place these on wax or parchment paper to dry (you can stick them in the refrigerator to speed up the drying process). Serve immediately or store for up to 3 days in an air-tight container with layers separated by wax paper.

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Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Orange Rosemary Butter & Goat Cheese

In light of Willow Bird Baking’s Cooking Hard Stuff Challenge, I’ll be sharing some tips for tackling new or challenging recipes throughout the month of March. If you haven’t signed on for the challenge yet, make sure you read about it and join in the fun.

My first bit of advice about how to Cook Hard Stuff (or really, how to cook anything at all) is going to seem half obvious and half new agey, but it’s important enough to harp on a bit.

Cooking Hard Stuff Tip #1: Read and visualize the recipe.

Once upon a time, I treated a recipe like a labyrinth. I started at the beginning without any knowledge of what was ahead, putting one foot in front of the other and hoping I eventually reached the other side.

It was exciting, for sure. Suddenly, I’d need a cup of sugar. I’d dig around in the cabinet for a bit, do some measuring, and accomplish that task. Then, bam! I’d need a stick of butter. I’d scrounge around in the fridge to see if I had one. The pitfalls of this technique are pretty obvious: sometimes you’re out of sugar, or your butter needed to be set out to soften hours ago, or the pan you need is soaking in the sink with last night’s baked ziti caked all over it.

It only took a few such missteps to start reading recipes, but even then, I just “read” them. Skimming did the trick most of the time. Finally, a few mid-recipe trips to the grocery store made me realize that a cursory scan of a recipe wasn’t going to cut it either.

When I say you should read through your recipe, I mean you should grab a pencil, sit down with the recipe, and really read it. Make grocery lists based on the ingredients. Make a schedule for your prep work so things like softening butter don’t sneak up on you. Sketch a plan for how to set up your workspace for finicky or time sensitive recipes so you won’t have to stop and rummage through the pantry.

These things take a little time. You might sit with your recipe for 15 or 20 minutes planning. I can say from experience, though, that the time and angst you’ll save as you breeze through your recipe is worth the few minutes of preparation.

Once you’ve given a recipe a thorough reading and made any helpful notes, you need to sit down and visualize the steps of the recipe. Literally, sit there and picture yourself doing each step. Maybe this is starting to sound a little like a yoga class, but mentally walking through a recipe is one of the most important things I do to ensure my success. It’s during this exercise that I realize what order the prep work is best completed in, what techniques I’m unfamiliar with and might need to read more about, and what kitchen tools I should use in order to maximize my efficiency and minimize my workload.

Thinking through the recipe a few times also makes me feel like I’ve practiced the steps I’m about to tackle, which boosts my confidence and leads to better results in the kitchen.

These Hasselback Sweet Potatoes aren’t Hard Stuff; they’re actually pretty simple to prepare and boast a gorgeous flavor profile. But having never made Hasselback potatoes before, you better believe I was reading around online, comparing various recipes, and making a prep list for myself. After this bit of preparation, the dish practically flew together.

As I hoped, the orange rosemary butter, goat cheese, and smidge of warm orange marmalade glaze worked perfectly with the sweet potato to create a bold savory side dish. Do a little reading and a little visualization (and maybe even some yoga?) and then make yourself some sweet taters.

What tips for Cooking Hard Stuff would you offer other readers?

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Orange Rosemary Butter & Goat Cheese

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by A Cozy Kitchen’s Hasselback Potatoes
Yield: 2 sweet potatoes, 2-4 servings

These sweet potatoes are stuffed with delicate orange rosemary butter and goat cheese and drizzled with a touch of warm orange marmalade when they’re fresh from the oven. The result is a savory side dish with a hint of sweetness and a ton of bright flavor. Don’t fret if the butter and cheese needs to be smooshed into each slit in the potato and ends up a little messy — the finished product will be gorgeous.

2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
3/4 teaspoon honey
4 ounces goat cheese
1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more for salting butter to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon orange marmalade

Make the Rosemary Orange Butter: Mix softened butter, orange extract, orange zest, finely chopped rosemary, and honey until well combined. Add salt to taste. Spoon butter onto a square of wax paper and gently form into a log. Wrap the log and place it in the freezer to firm up completely.

Prepare potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and cover a baking sheet with foil. Place a wooden spoon handle on either side of your potato and slice thin slices into it, allowing the spoon handles to stop your knife before you cut all the way through. Slice your cold butter into thin slices and stuff a sliver into every other slit in your potato. Stuff goat cheese into the other slits (some goat cheese will smear out onto the top of your potato and form a topping of sorts). Place the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle each potato with 1/2 tablespoon of oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or until fork tender. Check halfway through and tent with foil if the goat cheese is beginning to brown too much. Remove the potatoes from the oven after baking and heat the orange marmalade in a small, microwave safe prep bowl for about 15 seconds. Drizzle half over each potato and serve immediately.

P.S. This dish will be entered in the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission‘s No More ‘Mallows Recipe Contest. I love me some sweet tater and marshmallow casserole, but I also love that sweet potatoes pack a lot of savory potential.

See all the Cooking Hard Stuff Tips:
The Cooking Hard Stuff Challenge
Tip #1: Read and visualize the recipe.
Tip #2: Mise en place.
Tip #3: Make a schedule.
Tip #4: Try, try, try again — or share your success

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Cranberry Orange Pecan Cake (vegan)

I’m sitting in my living room like a lump, listening to a Brazilian rock band and watching Mike exercise (I’m pretty sure I’m getting healthier by proxy). Byrd is snuggled beside me, a tiny fellow lump. I’m about to grade papers (I promise), but the sum total of my work today has been coining a new nickname for Byrd: Sweet Potato. It’s a cross between sweetheart and couch potato. Get it?

So it’s been a lazy day. I ate oatmeal on toast and then some sausages, caramelized onions, and sauerkraut for dinner. Mike and I discussed Jean Luc Picard. We finished watching Miracle on 34th Street. Byrd chewed on her toy for awhile. That’s about the sum total of our productivity.

It’s about time for some relaxation, though. I like to say that teachers don’t really get a “weekend” for 10 months out of the year; we’re hard at work or on call 24/7. Work and home start to blend together — you lesson plan at school and grade papers at home or vice versa, answering student and parent queries all the while. You squeeze in the other bits and pieces of your life wherever they fit (and sometimes leave them by the wayside altogether — I won’t mention how long my carpet sometimes goes unvacuumed).

Also, I work at a project based school, which means students learn through authentic application projects. I’m wholeheartedly invested in this model, but it does mean that I’m always knee-deep in projects to grade.

I would never complain — I have the best job in the world (did I tell you about the lamb that was at school last week? Did I mention the Winter Wonderland where students caroled and drank hot chocolate? Did I tell you about how my students are actually excited to receive new projects?) But I definitely appreciate a break now and then.

This break has been appreciated to the fullest. Honestly, this is my first day of lounging around in an otherwise caffeinated week. I’ve been getting housework done and prepping for the holidays. And Monday, I attended a baked goods swap (my first ever, if you can believe it) with the Charlotte Food Bloggers.

The Charlotte Food Bloggers are an incredibly varied group of people. We have mommy bloggers, vegan bloggers, healthy living bloggers, restaurant reviewers, and straight up food bloggers. I decided I wanted to make a dessert everyone could enjoy and that meant (gulp) baking vegan.

Vegan baking may conjure up ideas of dry or oily frankendesserts, but it really shouldn’t. This cake, for instance, was as delicious as any non-vegan cake I’ve ever tasted. It was, if I do say so myself (and I did already, on Willow Bird Baking’s Facebook page), pretty slammin’! It even passed the Mike test, and he’s quite the carnivore.

The festive combination of orange zest and cranberries brightened up the moist cake, which was generously slathered with some dairy-free “cream cheese” frosting. Whether you’re vegan or not, give this one a try.

fun with the charlotte food bloggers (instagram courtesy of taylor mathis)

Vegan Cranberry Orange Pecan Cake

Recipe by: Adapted from the veganized version by The Tolerant Vegan, originally from Midwest Living
Yield: 9 servings

This cake is fantastic! It’s a moist, delicious “butter” cake full of festive cranberries, orange zest, and toasted pecans. The whole thing is slathered with dairy-free cream cheese frosting that, unlike some other vegan frostings I’ve tried, is a great consistency for spreading. Whether you’re a vegan or not, you’ll love every bite of this cake.

Cake Ingredients:
3/8 cup Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
5/8 cup vanilla almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen, chopped
1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped (plus more for sprinkling)
1 tablespoon orange zest

Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dairy-free cream cheese, softened (I used Trader Joe’s This is Not a Tub of Cream Cheese)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by greasing it with Earth Balance and flouring it. Place a parchment paper square in the bottom, and grease and flour the paper as well. (Note: You can double this recipe and make it in a 9 x 13-inch pan).

In a large bowl, cream together the Earth Balance and sugar for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Mix in the applesauce, almond milk, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking powder, baking soda, sea salt and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until fully combined.

Mix in the vinegar. Fold in the cranberries, pecans, and orange zest. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Allow the cake to cool completely before you frost it.

To make the frosting, place confectioners’ sugar, dairy-free cream cheese, Earth Balance, and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix until combined and fluffy. Spread the frosting on the cake, sprinkle with toasted pecans, and serve.

P.S. I just learned about orange pomanders this year and have enjoyed making them. Just poke some whole cloves into a few oranges. You can make any design you like. They smell lovely and are a fun little Christmas craft.

P.S. 2 – See Taylor’s visual recap of the CFB baked goods swap here. Lots of pretty food!

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Creamsicle Cupcakes

It’s Cupcake Week on Willow Bird Baking! Cupcake Capers was a 5-day summer camp I conducted last week wherein 5 middle school girls learned to bake, fill, and frost cupcakes. We eschewed pedestrian cupcake flavors in favor of creative combinations that I now get to share with you! Every day this week I’ll be posting fun memories and recipes from Cupcake Camp.

Day 3 of Cupcake Camp was a day several of the campers had been waiting for. It was Creamsicle Cupcake day.

Each day at our cupcake picnic, I’d been asking the girls what they thought of the day’s cupcake and mousse. And each day, like clockwork, a few of them had been ready with the same response: “This one’s good, but I think my favorite is going to be the Creamsicle!”

Meticulous Mary Rood and I discussed this phenomenon in the kitchen before the others arrived one morning. We agreed that it was impressive how certain they were of their favorite before they’d ever tasted it. Some of them had had the cupcakes ranked from favorite to least favorite as soon as Day 2! She wondered aloud if the Creamsicle cupcakes would live up to their expectations.

First thing’s first, though — before we could eat or even decorate our Creamsicle Cupcakes, we had an activity to complete. When all the campers had arrived, I sat them down with a list of cake flavors, filling flavors, frosting flavors, and toppings and gave them 10 minutes to come up with creative cupcake combinations of their own. Anyone can be given a book of fun recipes and whip them up, but I wanted these kids to experience what it’s like to create a new flavor.

Turns out they’re creative geniuses. Pistachio Peyton was dreaming of chocolate when she came up with her Chocolate Dream Cupcake, comprised of chocolate cake, chocolate filling, and chocolate frosting. Elaborate Elizabeth wanted to make a Fruit Punch Cupcake, while Elbow Grease Ella was excited about one covered in cashews. And these are just three examples of the almost 20 ideas they came up with!

With our brainstorming complete, we set about filling our moist orange cupcakes with the easy vanilla mousse I discussed yesterday. Each camper then frosted their masterpiece with a big swirl of orange cream cheese frosting.

They were thrilled with how their piping skills had improved since Day 1 of camp, and especially with the consistency of the cream cheese frosting, which is soft and easy to pipe. They topped their cupcakes with a dusting of orange sanding sugar before refrigerating them to let the frosting stiffen up.

At our cupcake picnic that day, the moment of truth had finally arrived. Everyone peeled off their cupcake papers, eager to see if the Creamsicle Cupcake was as awesome as they’d imagined it to be. Five hungry mouths opened and took five gigantic first bites, and . . . silence.

Lots of silence, and lots of this:

In other words, 10 middle schooler thumbs up! I have to hand it to the girls, they know how to pick ’em. I hope you enjoy these as much as they did!

What creative cupcake flavors can you imagine? Have you made any fantastic cupcake combinations lately?

Creamsicle Cupcakes

Recipe by: adapted from My Baking Addiction
Yields: about 14-16 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon of pure orange extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Vanilla Mousse Filling Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (4 serving) package vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (not Cook & Serve)

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
orange sprinkles or sanding sugar, if desired

*Note: This recipe makes twice as much mousse as you need for filling the cupcakes. If you want to use half the pudding pack and save the rest for later, just measure it out and do so. Or use the extra mousse for another project (you know, like eating it with a spoon).

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate, medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating after each, and then beat in the vanilla and orange extract. Add the dry ingredients in, alternating with the milk, in three additions. Begin and end by adding the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically.

Fill the paper liners about 2/3 full of batter and bake cupcakes for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove cupcakes from the oven and let cool completely.

Make mousse: To make the vanilla mousse, combine milk, cream, and pudding mix in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer until you reach soft peaks, or a thick whipped cream consistency (this takes a few minutes). Refrigerate mousse until you’re ready to use it.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, cream butter and cream cheese together until fluffy in a large bowl. Add extracts and mix. Add sugar gradually, mixing as you go, and then beat the frosting until smooth and creamy. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth until ready to use.

Assemble cupcakes: To fill the cupcakes, use the Cone Method: cut an upside-down cone out of the top of each one. Cut off the tip of the cone (and eat it, if you wish) leaving just the “lid.” Fill the cavity with mousse using a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off, and then replace the “lid” to give you a relatively smooth surface to frost. Use a piping bag or zip-top bag to pipe on the frosting. Sprinkle on orange sanding sugar, if desired.

All Cupcake Week Recipes:
Day One: Chocolate Pistachio Cream Cupcakes
Day Two: Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Three: Creamsicle Cupcakes
Day Four: Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Five: Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes

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