Show your colors: Star-spangled sweets and party ideas for a fun Fourth


Star cookies can add to any Fourth of July table. Read on for some recipes and party ideas

Star cookies can add to any Fourth of July table. Read on for some recipes and party ideas Photo by:


Launch Photo Gallery


This citrus berry tart boasts a crisp shortbead crust and orange pastry cream.

This citrus berry tart boasts a crisp shortbead crust and orange pastry cream.
Photo by:


No-bake mixed berry icebox cake doesn't take long to prepare. Find the video at

No-bake mixed berry icebox cake doesn't take long to prepare. Find the video at
Photo by:



Jan Swoope



In two short weeks, we'll be showing our red, white and blue. In my family tribe, I get to celebrate Independence Day twice -- once on July 4, with sister, nieces and nephews, and again a few days later when my husband's large family holds an annual 'Round the Fourth Shrimp Boil.  


The bottom line is -- I have two occasions to take food to, especially dessert, so I'm always trolling for themed ideas this time of year. I've looked at dozens, but am including recipes today for three "likelys." They all involve berries because, let's face it, they're our best natural source for the desired patriotic palette. 


Star cookies, a recipe from, are easy on ingredients and have lots of "pretty." A citrus berry tart, a recipe that began with Burrowing Owl Bakery in Iowa City, is more involved, but shows you care. A no-bake icebox cake? Now, that sounds up my alley. The recipe is from  






Food aside, I'm just as interested in ideas for activities and decor. Any time I happen to be hosting, I get more joy from adding special touches than any guest does who notices them.  


One I've personally used before is a history trivia challenge. On that occasion, it was geared more or less for youngsters, but you can tailor the questions for any age, i.e.: "What famous character with a stars-and-stripes top hat became a symbol of America? Cat in the Hat? Uncle Sam? Captain America?" to "What was the first state added to the original 13? Kentucky? Vermont? Ohio?" (Answer: Vermont.)  


I jotted out questions on slips of paper and we passed around the basket, drawing at random. Last patriot standing got a prize.  


Here's a really easy one: Fill a jar or fishbowl with red, white and blue candies and have guests write their name and guess of how many are in it. Winner gets the goodies, and whatever other prize you'd like to add. 


Readers Digest suggests a scavenger hunt, with guests given clues to search for mini versions (or even illustrations) of a liberty bell, Declaration of Independence, flags and other symbols of Americana.  


Another idea is a patriotic balloon pop. Put "You Win" notes inside deflated red, white and blue balloons before blowing them up and decorate your party site with them. Have guests pop them to find out if they win a prize. 


You get the idea. Adding a little something extra -- at the dessert table or just for fun -- can help make for a fabulous Fourth. 






Prep time: 40 minutes 


Cook time: 10 minutes 


Makes 24 




1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour 


1/4 cup sugar 


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened 


4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 


1/4 cup powdered sugar 


24 strawberries, thinly sliced 


1 cup blueberries 




  • Preheat oven to 325 F. In a medium bowl, combine flour and sugar. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Form mixture into 3 small balls and knead each one until smooth. 


  • On a lightly floured surface, roll a ball of dough to 1/2-inch thick. Use a star cookie cutter to cut into stars. Place them 1-inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 8-10 minutes until cookies are set. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 


  • In a small bowl, blend the cream cheese and powdered sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Carefully spread icing evenly over each cooled cookie. Slice each strawberry slice in half and arrange on the cookies pointing outward. Place three blueberries in the center of each cookie. 


    (Source: Maegan at 








    Shortbread pastry crust: 


    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 


    3/4 cup powdered sugar 


    1/2 cup butter, cut in 8 pieces, at room temperature 




    Pastry cream: 


    2 cups whole milk 


    1/4 teaspoon salt 


    1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 


    3 tablespoons cornstarch 


    2 eggs 


    4 tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces 


    1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest 


    Fresh blueberries and/or chopped strawberries 


    Citrus curls (optional) 




  • For pastry: In a large bowl, whisk together flour and powdered sugar. Using a pastry blender or fingers, cut or rub in 1/2 cup butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs and clings together. (Or, in a food processor, pulse flour and powdered sugar. Add butter. Pulse several times, until mixture clings together.) 


  • Press pastry into sides and bottom of a greased 10-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Prick bottom of the crust with a fork. Chill 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. 


  • Bake pastry shell 15 minutes or until very light brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove shell; place on a serving plate. 


  • For filling: In a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring milk and salt to just under a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together granulated sugar and cornstarch. Add eggs to bowl; whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk 1/2 cup of the warm milk into the egg mixture, then pour egg mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.  


  • Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Let cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the 4 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, followed by the zest. Place bowl in ice water; let stand 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press plastic wrap onto surface. Chill 4 hours or until cold. 


  • To assemble: Spread filling in tart shell. Sprinkle with berries and citrus curls (or arrange berries in stripes). Serve immediately or chill, covered, up to 24 hours. 










    3 1/2 cups freshly whipped cream, divided (or can use 3 1/2 cups of your favorite whipped topping like Cool Whip) 


    1 each 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened to room temperature 


    12 graham crackers 


    2 1/2 cups mixture of fresh blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and hulled and sliced strawberries, divided leaving the prettiest slices for the top 




    Optional toppings: 


    Crushed graham cracker crumbs 


    Chopped nuts 


    Drizzle of chocolate 


    Powdered sugar for dusting 




  • To make freshly whipped cream: With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip 2 cups of heavy cream until it just holds soft peaks. Add 1/3 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and whip to combine until stiff peaks hold. Do not overmix. Set aside 1/2 cup whipped cream for topping. 


  • In separate large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Fold in the 3 cups of whipped cream or Cool Whip. 


  • Assemble the cake: Spread a thin layer of cream mixture in a 8-by-8-inch pan to coat the bottom. 


  • Place 3 graham crackers across center of pan and then break up 1 or 2 more crackers as needed to fill in the gaps. Spread half of the cream mixture on top. Place a single layer of mixed berries. 


  • Top with another layer of graham crackers, breaking them as needed to make them fit. Spread remaining cream mixture over top. Add another layer of berries. 


  • Top with final layer of graham crackers. Spread reserved 1/2 cup freshly whipped cream (or Cool Whip) over evenly. 


  • Place last layer of the prettiest mix of berries reserved for the top. Sprinkle on graham cracker crumbs on top. 


  • Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight until graham crackers have softened completely. Serve chilled and dust with powdered sugar if desired. 




  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


    printer friendly version | back to top





    Top Things to Do in the Golden Triangle This Weekend



    Follow Us:

    Follow Us on Facebook

    Follow Us on Twitter

    Follow Us via Email