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Waldorf Red, White and Blue Cupcakes are perfect for Fourth of July celebrations. Photo by Sue Doeden

Craving cupcakes? Try these red, white and blue treats for the Fourth

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I love little surprises.

A couple of weeks ago my son, Andy, came walking into my house with a lovely turquoise box in hand. He had just returned from a business trip to Houston and brought back a surprise. A small label on the outside of the deep square box was printed with the words "Crave Cupcakes."

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Four cupcakes, each a different variety, were tucked into the box. Although a bit smooshed after their long plane trip to Fargo and then a ride in the car to Bemidji, they sat in the box, teasing me the same way the dark chocolate-dipped apricots do from the glass case in the chocolate shop. I had to have one - immediately.

The folks at Crave Cupcakes in Houston would not guarantee the little homemade gourmet cakes baked Wednesday would still taste fresh on Friday. They are baked without preservatives or hydrogenated oils.

We peeled away the paper holder from each cupcake -- dark chocolate with dark chocolate frosting, vanilla with vanilla bean frosting, carrot with sweet cream cheese frosting and red velvet. Each held its own attraction, but it was the red velvet cupcake that kept drawing me back for another bite. The cake was dark red and it was topped with thick, sweet cream cheese frosting.

I remembered the cake I used to make when I was a young girl. My 4-H leader had given me the recipe for a mysterious cake that had a lot of red food coloring mixed into it. I decided to pull her recipe from my file. She called it Waldorf Red Cake. According to her story, this unique cake was served at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel in the 1920s. I'm quite certain that at the time I was in 4-H, this tidbit of information did not fascinate me. But the cake did. My parents and my brother raved when I served them big chunks of soft, moist red cake topped with a frosting made of cooked flour and milk that I whipped to fluffiness with butter and sugar and vanilla.

As I read through my old recipe, I questioned the use of 2 ounces of red food coloring. That's two bottles. But after doing some research, I found similar recipes, many using a full 2 ounces. I also discovered my recipe uses more butter than most. I'm not willing to change a good thing, though. A little unsweetened cocoa in the batter does not produce chocolate cupcakes. In fact, it's hard to describe the flavor of the cupcakes. I can only say they are soft and light and delicious.

I've used my old 4-H recipe for Waldorf Red Cake and turned it into Waldorf Red, White and Blue Cupcakes, perfect for Fourth of July celebrations. I copied the Crave cupcakes and made fluffy, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting for a puff of white on each individual-sized red cake. A blueberry centered on the top of each cupcake completes the patriotic theme. Children would love red, white and blue sprinkles on top.

On hot summer days, cupcakes topped with this whipped cream cheese frosting hold best under refrigeration. If you're serving them at a Fourth of July picnic, store them in the cooler until it's time to eat. You can even freeze the frosted cupcakes for a couple of days and transport them frozen. They'll be soft and ready to eat by dessert time.

Everyone will love the bright red surprise hidden beneath a cloud of white frosting and a spot of juicy blue.

Waldorf Red, White and Blue Cupcakes

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

2 ounces red food coloring

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon salt

Frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy whipping cream

24 fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cups of muffin tins with paper baking cups.

In a bowl or 2-cup glass measure, mix buttermilk and baking soda. Set aside. In large bowl of heavy-duty mixer, beat butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to frequently scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mix cocoa powder with red food coloring, vinegar and vanilla extract. Add to butter-sugar mixture and blend well.

Sift flour and salt together. Add dry ingredients in small amounts (about ½ cup) to mixture in bowl, alternating with buttermilk-baking soda mixture. Begin and end with dry ingredients.

Spoon batter into lined tins, making each about 3/4 full. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. A wooden pick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean. The top will spring back when lightly touched with the tip of a finger.

Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Make frosting by placing cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and heavy whipping cream. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Frosting should be firm enough to spread on cupcakes. Garnish each with a blueberry. Makes about 24 cupcakes.

Tips from the cook

--If you prefer, use your own favorite cream cheese frosting. But remember, the more powdered sugar you use, the less you will be able to taste the tangy cream cheese.

--Cake flour is milled from soft wheat that gives cakes high volume, fine texture and delicate tenderness. At the grocery store, you'll find it in the baking aisle.

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