For the almond bees: Fill a piping bag with a very small round tip with the chocolate. Pipe 2 eyes side by side on the rounder end of each almond, followed by 3 crosswise stripes starting in the middle of the almond down to the narrower end. Attach 2 sliced almonds (like wings) to the top chocolate stripe (the one closest to the eyes). Repeat to make 18 almond bees total. Allow to dry.
For the sugar cookies: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the butter and both sugars in another medium bowl with a handheld electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue beating just until the dough comes together, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Divide the dough in half, pat into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
Generously flour a clean work surface. Gently roll out the chilled dough to about 3/8-inch thick. Cut 24 cookies using a 2 1/4-inch hexagon cookie cutter, working quickly so that the dough stays chilled. (If the dough has become too soft, transfer to the refrigerator on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill again for 30 minutes.) Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Lightly dust off any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Refrigerate the formed cookies for at least 30 minutes. (Excess dough can be gathered together, pressed into a disc, chilled and rerolled.)
Bake the cookies until the bottoms are golden, about 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If not using right away, cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
For the decorative cookie border: To create the honeycomb shapes on your sugar cookies, roll the yellow fondant out and cut out 24 hexagon shapes with a 2 1/4-inch hexagon cutter.
Place a 1 1/4-inch hexagon cutter in the center of your existing fondant hexagon shape and press. Remove the center piece.
Thinly frost the cookies with some buttercream. Place a cut-out hexagon fondant border on each cookie.
Mix the clear and yellow sanding sugars together, and then fill the inner space of the cookies with the mixed sugar. Flip the cookies over to shake out any excess sanding sugar. Reserve the remaining sugar mixture for the cupcakes.
To assemble the cupcakes: Frost the vanilla mini cupcakes with some buttercream using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Sprinkle with some of the sanding sugar mixture. Garnish 12 of the mini cupcakes with 1 almond bee. Reserve the additional 6 bees to garnish the honeycomb cookie cupcakes.
Frost the standard-size frangipane cupcakes with some buttercream using a mini offset spatula.
Dip the outside edges of the frosted cupcakes into the mixed sanding sugar and place the hexagon sugar cookies on top.
To build the honeycomb structure: Place 14 of the standard-size cupcakes in a hexagonal honeycomb pattern. Stack 7 more cupcakes, making a second tier in the honeycomb pattern, saving 3 cupcakes to put on the top tier.
Scatter 20 mini cupcakes (including 8 with the almond bees) around the base of the honeycomb structure. Garnish the structure with the remaining 4 mini cupcakes with almond bees. Then arrange the remaining 6 bees on the tops of the hexagon cookies.
Go-To Vanilla Cupcakes:
Yield:12 cupcakes (or about 48 mini cupcakes)
Preheat the oven to 350 F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Line one 12-cup standard muffin tin or two 24-cup mini-muffin tins with cupcake liners.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.
In another medium bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until light and foamy, about 2 minutes. While beating, gradually pour in the butter and then the vanilla.
While mixing slowly, add half the dry ingredients. Then add all the milk and follow with the rest of the dry ingredients. Take care not to overmix the batter. Divide the batter evenly in the prepared tin.
Bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, rotating the tin about halfway through, 18 to 20 minutes (10 to 12 minutes for minis). Cool the cupcakes on a rack in the tin for 10 minutes, and then remove from the tin. Cool on the rack completely. Decorate as desired.
Yield:2 1/2 cups
Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a saucepan that can hold a heatproof stand mixer's bowl above the water.
Add the sugar, lemon juice, salt and egg whites to the mixing bowl, and whisk together by hand. Set the bowl above the boiling water and whisk until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar completely dissolves. Transfer to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium-high speed until cool and the whites hold stiff peaks, 10 to 15 minutes.
Toss in a couple of chunks of butter at a time, making sure the pieces are incorporated before adding more. After all the butter is added, continue whisking on medium-high speed. The mixture will deflate and appear curdled. Continue whisking until the buttercream comes back together to form a smooth and spreadable consistency. Slowly drizzle in the optional flavoring while beating until smooth and light. (If the frosting is very soft or begins to break, refrigerate until set but still spreadable and then beat until light before using.)
Remove the buttercream from the stand mixer into a large bowl and, in three batches, fold in 6 ounces melted and cooled bittersweet chocolate.
Stir in the zest of half a lemon or orange.
Stir in 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur and 1 tablespoon vodka.
Frangipane Filled Cupcakes:
Yield:Filling for 12 cupcakes (3/4 cup)
Pulse 4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter, 1 large egg, 3 tablespoons each almond paste, sugar and cake flour, and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in a food processor until very smooth. Scrape out into a small baking dish and spread into an even layer. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour. Scoop 12 slightly heaping tablespoonfuls and roll into balls. Return to the freezer until firm again, about 30 minutes. Make batter for Go-To Vanilla Cupcakes (recipe above) and fill the bottom of each liner with a heaping tablespoonful of batter. Place 1 ball of frangipane in the center of each and divide the remaining batter among the liners to top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.