Hugh Mercer Apothecary & Red Wine Cupcakes


We spent some of our visit to Belle Grove Plantation in nearby Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is a hub of history, given its importance as a port town during Colonial times and location halfway between both Civil War capitals.

On Caroline Street sits an eighteenth-century building, restored by Preservation Virginia, which houses a reconstruction of the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop.


In the middle of the 18th century, Dr. Mercer fled Scotland and traveled to Pennsylvania. He moved to Fredericksburg on the advice of George Washington whom he met during the French and Indian War. Washington encouraged him to practice medicine and operate a pharmacy in the Virgina town.


For the next 15 years, Dr. Mercer did just that. The medicines and treatments of the time are now on display in this first-person, interactive museum.


Tours are led by Dr. Mercer’s assistants who are dressed in period clothing and stay in period character. They explain the combinations of herbs, extracts, and barks used to cure patients.


In the surgery room, guests learn how toothaches were treated, broken limbs were mended, and patients were bled. Live leeches are the stars of the tour and ensured my gratitude for 20th century medicine!

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I loved learning that many Colonial era medicines are in present-day kitchens


and, while some were fashioned into pills, others were mixed and taken with wine.

But the Hugh Mercery Apothecary wasn’t the only Colonial site that left an impression on me during our time in Fredericksburg. Just down Caroline Street is Colonial Cupcakes,

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an ingenious shop where you get to choose your cake, icing, and extras; they customize your cupcake while you wait in their cozy living room.

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Seemed to me that cupcakes would be just as good a medicine-delivery method as wine. Or, better yet? Red wine cupcakes!


Click Here To Print This Recipe.


For the Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups red wine
  • Cinnamon

For the Frosting

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons red wine


For the Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with 24 liners; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In the stand of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla and beat.
  • Alternate addition of dry ingredients and wine, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing until just incorporated.


  • Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Dust the cake with cinnamon.


For the Frosting

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and creamy.
  • Slowly add sugar; beat until incorporated.
  • Add vanilla and wine.
  • Mix on medium high for 3-5 minutes or until desired consistency is reached.


Yields 24 cupcakes. This recipe was adapted from


A Visit to Belle Grove Plantation


Last weekend we drove south to Belle Grove Plantation in King George, Virginia. Established in 1670, the plantation was the birthplace of James Madison in 1751.

Today, it is the site of a fantastic bed and breakfast run by Michelle and Brett Darnell. Driving up the long, tree-lined driveway towards the plantation, you’re taken back in time to the splendor of the 1790s mansion. Michelle and Brett come out to greet each of their guests


and welcome them inside to their magnificent entryway, which is historically accurate with Colonial colors and furniture.


After signing the guest book, containing signatures from visitors from all over the world, Michelle and Brett take guests on a tour of the 8,000 square foot mansion. They recall the more than 200-year history as if they lived it, sharing details about each of the families that occupied the plantation (and some of the friendly ghosts that remain on-site!).

The entire mansion has been restored to its original splendor. Each of the four master suites is named for a family who once lived there and is decorated with furniture from that period, like the Conway Room (named for Madison’s mother and her family), decorated with furniture from the 1700s.


The sitting room in the Conway Suite even has a settee used on the Oscar Winning set of the movie Lincoln!


Yet despite its Colonial appearance, the home doesn’t lack any modern amenities. The room in which we stayed had a shower to rival any spa hotel.

The beauty of the interior of the mansion is rivaled only by the grounds, which span more than 600 acres.


Belle Grove sits on the banks of the Rappahannock River, and there are views of the historic waterway from every window and balcony.


Equally stunning are the architectural details of the house. From fireplaces


to the slate roof and outbuildings


to the weathered and worn doors and details that have yet to be restored,



there is beauty and intrigue at every turn.

My favorite was this curved door (one of two). Rarely in my travels have I seen something so unique,


and hearing that Union soldiers came through those very doors made it all the more exciting.

Somehow, Michelle and Brett make this 8,000 square foot mansion feel warm and cozy. They invite each guest to come together daily at 5pm for a social hour with delightful hors d’oeuvres and tea in one of the common areas of the house.


Guests at Belle Grove certainly don’t go hungry! Each morning, at a time of their choosing, guests congregate in the dining room for a two-course, gourmet breakfast.



At one time Michelle was a bistro chef and her cooking is inventive and impressive.  Each dish comes out on beautiful china and goes back to the kitchen licked clean.



At bedtime we found ourselves wondering about and salivating over what breakfast would be the next morning. That is, after we had our Modern Molasses Cookies at turn-down service.


Sound familiar? These cookies are made from my recipe that won a contest to be the official cookie of Belle Grove Plantation. Michelle and Brett leave a beautiful silver tray of them (with some yummy chocolate) on the beds each night as a special treat for guests.

Having spent the weekend at Belle Grove, I’ve even more honored to have my recipe be associated with the bed and breakfast. Our stay was truly a magical experience. I can’t wait to go back, both to experience more of the dozens of historical sights nearby (more on that soon) and the exquisite Southern hospitality offered by the Darnells. And, yes, to eat more Modern Molasses Cookies because — if I’m being 100% honest? — Michelle bakes them better than I do!

Click here for more about Modern Molasses Cookies and to print the recipe.


Rocky Mount & Pink Lemonade Mini Cupcakes

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In May, I took a teeny tiny plane

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to visit a teeny tiny lady. My friend EE’s baby had arrived and I couldn’t wait to meet her!

This visit was quite different than my last. Instead of walking around downtown Roanoke, boutique shopping, and indulging in truffles, we spent the weekend outside of the city in picturesque Rocky Mount.

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We enjoyed the landscape from behind the stroller, played and cuddled with the baby, and spent lots of time at her “gym”.

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Somehow, I escaped diaper changes,

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but I did fall in love with baby A and I can’t wait to make her a travel buddy when she gets a little bigger. And judging by some recent pictures, I may not have to wait all that long! I can’t believe how much she’s changed in the two short months since I visited and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bake another sweet treat that reminded me of this sweet baby girl…Pink Lemonade Mini Cupcakes. (Photographed on my version of a play mat — a pastry mat!)


Click Here to Print This Recipe.


For the Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 1/2 cup grape seed oil
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 drops yellow food coloring

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 drops red food coloring


    For the Cake

    • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners.
    • In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
    • In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix sugar, lemonade concentrate, oil, egg whites, vanilla, and lemon zest. Mix in half the dry ingredients. Add buttermilk. Mix in remaining dry ingredients.


    • Stir in yellow food coloring.
    • Fill each cupcake liner 3/4 full. Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 9-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.


    For the Frosting

    • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Once combined, add lemonade concentrate and lemon juice. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add red food coloring and beat another 5 minutes.


    • Pipe frosting on cupcakes. Garnish as desired.



    [This recipe was adapted from Mission Food.]

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