Have Yourself a Merry Little Cupcake
When there's no time for decorating dozens of cookies and fussing with other ho-ho-homemade treats for Christmas, what's faster to bake than even bar cookies?
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Cupcakes are tender, little, handheld desserts and have great appeal for all ages. Stack them on a round plate to make a pyramid of little sweetmeat cakes. Use a box mix for your favorite-flavor cake batter, brownies or gingerbread. They all bake up just fine in either holly paper liners or gold foil cupcake liners, which enhance the already festive nature of cupcakes or mini-cupcakes.
In the interests of more seriously flavorful chocolate cupcakes, try this Hershey recipe designed just for cupcakes. It's a one-bowl batter that produces heavier texture, moister and richer-tasting than any cake mix.
Instead of frosting, spread some cupcakes with Nutella, the chocolatey hazelnut spread that originated in Italy (you'll find a jar of it wherever peanut butter is sold). Then pave the tops with finely chopped nuts to add more nutty flavor and crunch.
If you go to the trouble of making Santa faces with mini-marshmallows and red sparkly sugar, then display the cakes on a larger tray to avoid stacking. You wouldn't want to spoil your handiwork, though perfection may be elusive if you choose these cupcakes as a cold-day project for young children home from school. There's no need for fussing with a pastry bag for piped-on frosting, but count on crunchy red sugar crystals underfoot by the time your brood is finished.
The Merry Santa Cupcakes may be presented as a gift when lined up in a shallow, sturdy box lid. Over-wrap with Christmas-printed plastic wrap or wrap each cake individually in a gathered puff of red- or green-tinted plastic wrap secured with curling ribbon.
Expanding on the theme of small-size, pick-up treats for the holidays, I came across a clever idea for an even faster dessert than cupcakes: brownies.
Use a mix or bake your own, being especially careful not to overbake because you want a fudgy blast in the mouth for each bite. After cooling, cut them bite-size, dust with a snowy mantle of powdered sugar and spear the center of each brownie bite with a tiny, unwrapped candy cane. Peppermint and chocolate are wonderful together, and these skewered brownie bites look great on a cookie tray.
Merry Santa Cupcakes
24 holly-print paper liners
one 18-ounce package white cake mix
one 16-ounce container vanilla frosting
red sugar crystals
mini-candy-coated plain chocolate candies
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper liners in two muffin pans; set aside. Prepare cake-mix batter, following package directions for 24 cupcakes. Spoon batter into bake cups. Bake as directed. Cool.
Frost cupcakes. Decorate each to look like Santa: Sprinkle top third and halfway down one side of cupcake surface with red sugar crystals for the hat.
Place tiny chocolate candies (or currants and a red cinnamon candy) on frosting for eyes and nose. Cut two mini-marshmallows in half lengthwise and place at edge of red sugar for furry hat brim.
Place a marshmallow at end of red sugar on side for the hat tassel. For Santa's beard, place about 10 marshmallows over bottom third of frosting.
Variation: Use a homemade batter for chocolate cupcakes, but frost with vanilla or cream-cheese icing to make Santa faces.
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Extra-Moist Chocolate Cupcakes
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pans (the cups 2-1/2 inches diameter) with paper baking cups. In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer two minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.
Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
Frost with vanilla icing to make Merry Santa Cupcakes or frost with chocolate icing or Nutella spread for Rudolph cupcakes; add two green candy-coated chocolate candies for eyes, a red gumdrop for nose and a pretzel twist, broken in half, for antlers. Stick in upright above eyes on either side. Add a tiny curved pretzel piece for the mouth.
Yield: 33 cupcakes (divide recipe in half for 16 or 17 cupcakes)
-- Batter recipe from Hershey; Rudolph faces created in Reynolds Kitchens.
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