Chill Out This July 4th With Red Velvet Ice-Cream Cupcakes

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Chill out on July 4th with these ice-cream cupcakes. [Photographs: Yvonne Ruperti]

'Tis the season for foods that evoke the Stars and Stripes. I've grown pretty bored of the ubiquitous flag cakes we see this time of year, so I came up with this fun cupcake recipe for a change of pace. Not only is it bedecked in our nation's colors, it's also stuffed with a surprise ice cream center. That's right, an ice cream cupcake. Plus, they can be made ahead and kept frozen until ready to serve—just take them out of the freezer and the cake portion will soften up after a few minutes in the summer heat, while the ice cream center will remain cool and creamy for several minutes longer.

The Cake

I couldn't really see myself eating a blue cupcake, and plain vanilla seemed boring, so I pulled out my favorite recipe for red velvet cupcakes. Cocoa is a key ingredient in red velvet cake, but I wanted the red to be vibrant, so I cut the cocoa down to almost nothing and added red food coloring in its place. Take care to taste regularly when adding the red coloring—some brands can have a pronounced bitterness if you add too much.

It only takes about 15 minutes to get the cupcakes in the oven: Simply whisk the batter in a bowl, then pour it into a cupcake tin, and bake until done. I used plain white paper cupcake liners, which the red cake shows through quite well, but feel free to seek out some full-on flag-themed liners if you want.

The Surprise Center

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Once cool, take a paring knife and cut out a cone indentation into the top of each cupcake; make sure that you remove the cone-shaped plug in one piece since you'll use it later. The larger the indentation, the more ice cream you'll be able to fit, but you don't want to compromise the structure of the cake.

A really white ice cream is a great contrast to the red cake—bright white coconut ice cream is perfect, though vanilla works too as long as it's not too custardy and yellow. This is all about the visuals, so if you find a red, white, and blue swirl ice cream, by all means use it!

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Using a small retractable scoop or a tablespoon measure, set the ice cream in the indentation of each cupcake. It helps if the ice cream is soft (but not melting) so that it more easily fills the space. Smooth the top, then set the cone-shaped cake cutouts on top in an inverted position. Freeze the cupcakes to harden the ice cream before you continue.

The Frosting

Cream cheese frosting is the traditional topping for red velvet, so that's what I made here. Whip it up with a mixer until light and fluffy, then take half of the frosting and dye it with blue food coloring. Once again, taste the frosting as you add the food coloring to make sure you don't tip the flavor into unpleasant territory. Spoon the blue frosting and the white frosting into separate bags fitted with medium-sized star tips (the jagged ones). Now we're ready to frost.

Pull the cupcakes out of the freezer and begin by piping a circle of blue on top of half the cupcakes, working your way around the cone. Pipe a circle of white onto the remaining cupcakes. Continue to pipe in alternating colors, finishing with a dainty rosette (or star) on top. Return the cupcakes to the freezer until frozen solid. Then place in an airtight container, wrap well, and return them to the freezer.

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The best thing about these cupcakes, other than the surprise ice cream inside, is that you can make them ahead and then serve them right out of the freezer. The cake insulates the ice cream enough to keep it solid in time to eat it. And the cream cheese frosting not only holds up really well in the freezer, but because of the bit of cake on top of the cupcake there isn't a giant blob of sugary frosting to eat.

If you're thinking, there's no such thing as too much frosting, then go ahead and omit the little cake-y cones in favor of a 100% frosting top. It's a free country, after all.