Sorry I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus — birthday partying really takes it out of you! I am pleased to report, however, that Nora’s birthday party this weekend was fun for one and all.
We did a nature theme, since Nora loves being outside (and leaves and grass and dirt) so much, and just held the shindig at our house. I was shocked by all the “yes” RSVPs we got — people sure do love this little girl! My mom even flew out for the occasion, which was fantastic. I wasn’t sure how Nora would do with so many people around, but she had a blast. After hanging back and checking things out for a few minutes, she became the life of the party!
It was a lot of work making this party happen, but it was so worth it. You only turn one once! I cut “leaves” out of green napkins and alternated them with plain white napkins to add a little nature flair, we hung puffy clouds (made using this tutorial) all over the house to bring the outdoors in,* and I spent an inordinate amount of time making a birthday banner out of scrapbook paper and ribbon sewn across the top, of which I am quite proud.
* We weren’t sure what the weather would be like in early December, and we wanted to make sure our nature girl got a healthy dose of her favorite thing — the outdoors! It turned out to be a beautiful day, though, so we were able to do most of our partying outside anyway.
The ladybug cupcakes were also a success — much better than the trial run!
Making a full batch of the frosting made all the difference, as did using gel paste food coloring, instead of the natural stuff. Liquid food coloring does alter the consistency of frosting, and I just didn’t have the time to play around with it to get it just right, so I figured using scary bright green food coloring wasn’t the worst thing in the entire world. I made a couple dozen cupcakes just frosted with plain white buttercream, so there was an alternative for those not into the bright green thing. I will not say the ladybug cupcakes were easy, exactly, but the decorating was the hard part, and once I got the hang of it, it was a proverbial piece of cake. Har.
We did make-your-own grilled pizzas, with the hubby manning the grill, and that’s always a hit with kids and adults alike. Good times were had by all — the kids enjoyed hubby’s homemade cardboard box fort in the yard,** while the adults helped us polish off a magnum of Sokol Blosser pinot noir that we’ve been looking for an excuse to open.
** A much cheaper alternative to the bounce house, which seems to have become de rigueur at birthday parties these days, and greener, too (reduce, reuse, recycle, and all of that).
At the end of the festivities, we lit a candle in a cupcake and sang happy birthday to the guest of honor. She had a ton of fun demolishing her cupcake.
I wouldn’t change a thing. Happy birthday to my little sweet pea!
Now, on to what I know you’re all waiting for — the recipes! I used the recipe for yellow cupcakes from Baking Illustrated for half of the cupcakes (including the ladybug ones), but the chocolate cupcakes were the clear winner, based on guest chatter. So, without further ado, I present to you the recipes for the chocolate cupcakes and buttercream frosting (so easy and the best frosting ever!). If you want to try your hand at the ladybug cupcakes, the instructions are here, except that I highly suggest you invest in a Wilton #233 decorating tip (multi-opening grass tip) instead of doing each individual blade of grass by hand, because that’s just ridic (but would you expect anything less from Martha??).
From I’m Just Here for More Food by Alton Brown, with my modifications
8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup boiling water
Preheat the oven to 350°. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer.
Pulverize the chocolate in a food processor until nothing is left but chocolate dust and very small chunks.*** Add the flour and pulse several times until the flour and chocolate are completely homogenized. Mix in the baking soda and salt.
Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the creamed butter and sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Mix in the sour cream. Add the flour mixture gradually and mix until combined. With the mixer on low, pour in the boiling water and stir until a uniform consistency is achieved (no lumps).
Line cupcake pans (this recipe makes about 2 dozen), and pour batter into the cups, about three-quarters full each. Bake for 15-20 minutes, remove, and let cool completely before frosting.
*** You should actually use the food processor instead of just trying to chop it by hand like I did to avoid having the clean the food processor yet again. Despite the chocolate being chopped very fine, my cupcakes came out more like chocolate chip than real, uniform chocolate. No one complained, though!
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Based on this recipe with a couple of small tweaks
2 1/2 cups sugar
10 large egg whites
4 cups (8 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp vanilla extract
Place sugar and egg whites in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and egg whites are hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Test by rubbing the mixture between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth.
Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes. Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat just until combined.
Remove from mixer stand and fold with a spatula to remove any air pockets. If using buttercream within several hours, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature in a cool environment.