Bake

Brittney

Robot Party!

January birthdays kinda suck.  No offense meant by that, but c’mon, it’s just true.  I mean, my own birthday is in early February which is almost as bad, but at least its one month closer to spring and one month further away from the Holidays.  It’s hard to muster the creative enthusiasm needed to properly celebrate a birthday so close to the Holidays but somehow we managed…and managed to do it twice, once for each side of the family.  Which is something I can very confidently say will not happen again.  Next year we’re thinking one party at a bowling alley, Chucke Cheese etc – which in the middle of January should be a festering cesspool of influenza…did I mention that January birthdays suck?

Anyway, the toddler successfully turned 3 surrounded by his family which is all he really cares about…that, and cake.  We settled on a Robot theme and this is what his day looked like:

Everything was inspired by these super cute printables and invitations found here:

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I used the cupcake toppers as mini banners that were attached to back of each invite and stamped each envelope with these adorable robot stamps, found here.

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These YumBot cupcake molds are really the only thing you need for a cute Robot birthday party.  Seriously, forget everything else and just buy these.  They are super cute and easy to bake in once you get the feel for baking time etc.  I found with my cupcake recipes, they needed to bake for 20-25 minutes but it is going to vary greatly based on how full you fill the cups and what recipe you use.  If you overfill these, it just looks like the have extra big robot brains, which only adds to the cuteness factor.  You really can’t go wrong.

imageI used this Wilton mold and candy melts to make the gears/bolts/screws…so much easier than trying to hand pipe shapes!

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To make these Brownie Bots, I used this square silicone baking tray.  I dipped each brownie in chocolate ganache and attached the eyes/gears etc while the chocolate was still wet.  Super easy, super cute.

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We had a robot making contest using different sizes of marshmallows, silver decorating spray, mini m&ms for buttons, pull n peel twizzlers for wire and tube icing to attach them all.  So many cute edible robots!

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Craft made him this unbelievably perfect Duck from Sarah and Duck along with these adorable Shallots.  If you haven’t seen Sarah and Duck, follow the link…like now.  It’s so cute it will change your life.

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A Robot photobooth and a Robot Dance Party rounded out the day which ended in tons of presents, treats and one happy three year old bot.

Queen Elsa Fondant Crowns

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A very special queen I know turned 5 and like every other 3 to 8 year old girl in the world, she chose a Frozen themed party – with good reason obviously…I mean, have you seen that movie?!!  To honor such an occasion, I decided to make a very special cupcake topper befitting of royalty.  If you know me at all, you know I don’t like to spend a lot of time on toppers or decorations that don’t actually taste good but sometimes, you have to bend your rules a little when trying to impress a 5 year old.  My suggestion is to make a few of these as centerpieces and spend the rest of your precious time on something like these sugar cookie snowflake toppers that are delicious and easy!

I chose to make small crowns to top a mini cake but using this same tutorial you could make any size topper you wish.  If you’re new to the fondant game then give yourself a few weeks on these.  Chances are, you will break a few accidentally and then you’ll probably smash a few on purpose out of anger and disgust.  Not speaking from personal experience there…

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Marshmallow Fondant Elsa Crowns

I used this Marshmallow Fondant recipe.  It keeps forever so there is no reason you can’t start early on these puppies.

I used this stencil for the crowns and sized it down for cupcake toppers – 2.5×3.75 inches is just about right for a cupcake.  I also tweaked it a bit to remove some of the more intricate parts because they kept breaking off while working with them.  If you are more patient or skilled than I am, please feel free to use the stencil as is.

Using an exacto knife, cut out the stencil on card stock paper.

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Lightly dust your rolling surface with powder sugar and roll out your fondant to 1/8 inch.  Lightly dust the top of the fondant with powder sugar as well.image

Using a flat, hard surface, press the stencil into the fondant.  I used this small cutting board and it worked perfectly.  It should leave an impression for you to easily follow.

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Using an exacto knife, cut out the crown.

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Put the crown on a small piece of parchment paper and allow to air dry for 48 hours on a curved surface, such as a small soda can, baking powder can, pill bottle, etc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a pic of this step but it is a tricky one because when items with curved surfaces are laid on their sides, they tend to roll.  Duh, I know.  I finally figured out a strategy which involved cushioning the item between the coffee maker and the counter but you are just going to have to work out that bit for yourself.

Once dry, lightly spray the crown with Wilton gold spray.  Do NOT soak the crown.  Too much moisture weakens the fondant and it will break.  I found the best luck with lightly spraying the surface and then using a fan brush to evenly distribute the color.

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Allow the gold spray to dry completely.  I found they stayed sticky for quite a while so allowing to dry 12 hours is probably your best bet.  Once dry, apply a layer of gold pearl dust with a fan brush.  This helps to even out the appearance and is there such a thing as too much sparkle for a five year old?  The answer is no.

The Crown Jewel

Blue Raspberry Jolly Ranchers

Diamond or oblong mini cookie or fondant cutter.

Aluminum foil and vegetable oil

Candy cupcake topper method found here.

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Apply the jewel to the crown while it is still warm and you will be able to gently shape it into the right curve for the crown.  Also, if applied while the candy is still slightly warm it will adhere to the crown without any need for royal icing or piping gel to affix it.  I’m all about eliminating steps.

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Sister Craft completely dominated the Frozen birthday party which featured a 15 minute play, homemade costumes, a snow cone machine, beautiful handmade decorations and one seriously happy 5 year old birthday girl!  I’m seriously considering hiring her for my next birthday…Little Mermaid theme?!!  Yes, please!

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Mind Grapes

imageAs I pick up the same basket of toys for the five brazillianth time today, I think: ‘Am I going crazy?  This is literally something a crazy person would do, keep picking up the same basket of toys knowing full well that it will be dumped again in five seconds.  But I Just. Can’t. Stop.  Because if I stop then what?  I’ll die?  No, that’s not right.  If I stop, I’ll turn into one of those Hoarding: Buried Alive people and I’ll have to adopt 35 stray cats.  But the fireplace repairman will judge me if he sees toys on the floor?  What would he think – that a toddler lives here?!!  Wait, that is accurate.  Do I care what this stranger thinks of me?  Yes?  No?  I really need to go to Target.  I hope he doesn’t take forever.  Is it rude to take a picture of someone without them knowing it and post it online?  Probably.’imageSorry this picture is blurry and poorly framed.  I was really afraid he was going to turn around and bust me.  Awkward.

That was just a 30 second glimpse of my mind grapes.  It’s a scary place in there…

In other news, we transitioned the little honey pile (that’s a term of endearment right?) to a big boy bed last weekend.  It looked like this for one glorious minute:imageSince then he’s been falling off the bed at least once a night, which means waking up to a screaming toddler.  I come back to bed after getting him settled and say to my husband:

‘How are we ever going to get back to sleep after that?’
‘Snore.  Snore.  Snort’.

The last one definitely sounded more like a snort.  Reminiscent of the newborn days, eh?

We attempted two different kinds of bed rails (do you care about this? Probably not.) that both had to be sent back because they aren’t compatible with our bed.  Bed rails only work if a) you have a box spring or b) your mattress is perfectly flush with the frame.  If not, it looks like this:

imageSee the gap?  No good.

But there is a solution – these puppies!  They’re inflatable guard rails that go under the fitted sheet.  The come with a really useful hand pump (took about 20 seconds to inflate) and they have grip strips on the bottom that keep them in place.imageimageThey actually work really damn well aaaaand it doesn’t take away from the cute pottery barn kids bedding you love, and your toddler doesn’t give a shit about!

Anyway, I should probably go.  I’ve been typing this on my phone and not engaging my child the whole time the fireplace repairman has been here…I wonder if he thinks I’m a bad mom?  I better go pick up those toys.

Apple Cider Syrup

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Thanks to this heavenly little concoction, I’m one step closer to a fall treat that is so near and dear to my heart that it actually has me thinking fondly of Wisconsin, where I discovered it at a local apple orchard (the Apple Cider Doughnut – coming soon!) but I can’t seem to find it here in Indiana.  I know it’s not fancy or exotic but in my opinion, it just isn’t fall until I’ve had six one of these puppies.

The only thing that this recipe really requires is time and trust me, it’s worth it.  It’s one of those minimal effort, super easy recipes that you can totally use it to make your “friends” jealous.  Here’s what you do: invite a friend over…your house will smell unbelievable as she walks in to find you in an adorable hand-crafted apron, you nonchalantly mention you are making apple cider syrup for homemade apple cider doughnuts for your dear family, your perfect child playing quietly at your feet.  Trust me, she will hate you for it.  You’re welcome.image

Apple Cider Syrup (Boiled Apple Cider)

makes about 1/2 cup syrup

½ gallon fresh, local apple cider

Large, Heavy bottom sauce pan

Bring cider to boil over high heat.  Monitor closely at this point so it doesn’t boil over, like this:

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Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to boil, uncovered for 3+ hours.  Stir occasionally.  Mixture should thinly coat the back of a spoon when finished.

Tip: If you’re boiled apple cider sets up thick, transfer mixture to microwavable dish, thin with some water or apple juice and microwave on 30 second intervals until liquid.

That’s it.  Now you have unlocked the magic to a treasure trove of apple-y fall time treats.  Muffins, cakes, doughnuts, pancakes, bread, even pulled pork – all that much better with this little bit of liquid love.

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Chocolate Pretzel Tartlets with Peanut Butter Whipped Cream

I read a quote in a book (yes, I read books) that says “if you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, your only job is to sit down and not move until you figure out what you should be doing”. Something about that really appealed to my lazy nature so that is what I’ve been doing these last few weeks.  Sitting, thinking and reading.  And some of this:image

Ok, I know that was just gratuitous cute toddler filler but I couldn’t resist.

Through my soul-searching I realized that while baking/blogging may not be my great contribution to humanity, that’s no reason to drop it entirely and who knows what it could blossom into.  It’s fun and sometimes I’m good at it so why not?  Anyway, I’m not the kind of person that can do nothing for very long so it’s either this or get knocked up again out of sheer boredom.  Also, we’re coming up on baking season and I’m powerless against the pull of warm, delicious fall desserts like apple danishes and pumpkin muffins….bear claws…doughnuts…hot cider…you get the idea.

For now, enjoy this little contribution to the cause.  The peanut butter whipped cream alone is dessert heaven.

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Crust

Makes about 4-5 3.5 inch tarts or 6-8 2.5 inch tarts

½ stick unsalted butter, softened

½ cup plus 2 tbsp crushed pretzels

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp powdered sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ large egg*

1-2 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, melted

Coarsely crush pretzels.  You can use a food processor if you have one or you can just throw them in a Ziploc bag and crush them with a rolling pin like this:

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In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and powdered sugar on medium (either hand-held or mixer) until creamy.  Reduce speed to low and add in ¼ cup of crushed pretzels.  Add in the flour and egg and continue to mix on low to incorporate.  *To halve an egg: beat egg in small dish until bubbles appear.  Weigh egg on kitchen scale and measure out half for recipe.  You can also eyeball it if you don’t have a kitchen scale.

Add in remaining pretzels and mix until fully combined.

Flatten dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

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Remove dough from refrigerator.  Press small amounts of dough into the mini fluted tart pans (about 1 tablespoon amount for 2.5 inch pan and 2 tablespoons for 3.5 inch pan).  Prick dough with a fork. Bake 2.5 inch tarts for 10-12 minutes and 3.5 inch tarts for 12-14 minutes.

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Remove tarts from oven and allow to cool completely.  Remove from tart pans and brush the insides of tarts with melted dark chocolate.  Place in refrigerator to set.

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4 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate, finely chopped

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

½ cup heavy cream

1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon espresso powder

1/8 teaspoon fine salt

Put chocolate and butter in small medium bowl and set aside.

Heat cream, sugar and salt in small saucepan on medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to simmer.  Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder.  Pour mixture over chocolate and butter, cover with foil and let sit for 5 minutes.  Whisk until smooth.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.  Pour mixture into prepared tart shells and chill in refrigerator until set 2-4 hours.

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Peanut Butter Whipped Cream Topping

Chill mixing bowl and beaters in freezer 15 minutes prior to preparing

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2-3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Beat heavy whipping cream on medium until soft peaks form.  Add sugar, peanut butter and vanilla extract and continue to beat until stiff.

Assembly

Pipe whipped cream onto chilled chocolate tarts and top with chocolate dipped pretzels and coarse sea salt.

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This really is one of those desserts that looks impressive but is deceptively easy and it’s the perfect make-ahead for a dinner party, since it has to chill for 2-4 hours anyway.  Hope you enjoy!

Girl Scout Lemonades

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I know it’s been a long time, but let’s not dwell on the past.  What’s a few months between friends like us?  All you need to know is that I’m back now, baby.  Don’t worry your pretty little head about where I’ve been and just bring that sweet….yikes, that turned creepy fast.

What’s new with me?  We’re settled back in Indiana now and I couldn’t be happier about it.  In fact, I am spending this Mother’s Day weekend away from my child at a little soiree for my husband’s job and the little monster is spending the weekend with Grammy.  This (among many other reasons) is why I am so happy to be home again.

I also decided to make these knock off Girl Scout Lemonade cookies for myself for Mother’s Day and I’m just now realizing that I must sound like a selfish B.  Oh well, doing some things for myself will make me a better mother in the long run.  Here’s hoping anyway.

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Girl Scout Lemonades

Makes 18-24 2 inch round cookies

3/4 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream together butter, sugar, extracts and zest.  Slowly incorporate flour and salt until a dough forms.  Form dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350.
Once chilled, roll dough on a well floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness.  Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut shapes out of dough. Raid your kid’s toy boy for something that will work as a cookie press.  I found this little flower that gave the impression of a segmented lemon – you get the idea anyway.

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Here’s a little tip – place the cookies in the freezer for 5 minutes or so before baking to help them retain their shape and design.
Bake cookies for 11-14 minutes, turning halfway through.  Allow to cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring to wire cookie rack

The Frosting (which is actually on the bottom)
1 cup yellow candy melts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening melted
1+/- teaspoon lemon extract
Melt candy melts according to package instructions.  In separate bowl combine oil with lemon extract.  Add oil to melted candy melts and transfer to shallow dish for dipping.
Dip cookies halfway in mixture.  Allow to cool, bottom side up for 20 minutes or so and then devour with beverage of your choice.  They are equally delicious with hot tea or a vodka tonic. It’s your day so, dealers choice.

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Take some time for yourselves and enjoy this Mother’s Day weekend, you hot mamas!!

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Don’t Call it a Comeback

So I know I’ve been a really bad blogger these last few weeks, but I have a really good excuse, I promise.  I have some super exciting, melt your face off kind of news.

For the two of you who don’t already know: we’re moving back home!!  I’ll give you a moment to gather yourself.

YES, WE’RE MOVING BACK HOME!!!  We’re pretty excited about it anyway.image

If you’re keeping track, we just relocated to Minneapolis in December and this will make our 4th move in a single year and that shit is crazy.  I’m seriously thinking about shifting the blog from baking to a moving advice forum because I’m pretty much a professional now.  It was all very unexpected for us too, and we’re kind of still in shock, but my husband was offered a dream job back in our home town that was just too good for us to pass on!

The home search back in Indianapolis is proving a bit tricky and I will admit that leaving this beautiful kitchen has me a teensy bit heavy hearted.

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But all this moving craziness has taught me at least one valuable lesson: Detach from the things that don’t matter (like beautiful houses with drool-worthy kitchens and spectacular views *sigh) and to cherish the things that can’t be so easily replaced like relationships with friends and family.  Oh and also, that every city sucks in its own way so you might as well be close to loved ones that can babysit for you.

I actually did complete a Valentine’s Day baking project but with all the hullabaloo, I totally forgot to post it.  Hopefully I can get it up in a few days and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a St. Patrick’s Day post up by Easter*.  Better late than never, right?

 

*don’t count on it

I’ll Be Your Barista, Baby

So I pretty much had the best birthday ever.  I received lots of lovely cards and gifts, a tribute blog post (I mean who gets that?!) and my husband totally rocked the house and got me this espresso maker:

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It has all these awesome features like an automatic tamping system and a mug warmer on top!

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In case you were wondering, that’s luscious dark chocolate sauce warming in the mug!

I’m really happy with the results of my first attempt though I was pretty scared by all the loud noises this beast makes.  Apparently that’s normal?

Anyway, I will need some practice with speed so I can serve delicious espresso drinks that are also hot.  For whatever reason, a luke-warm mocha isn’t quite as appealing.   Jerry Seinfeld talks with Larry David about the effect heat has on food on this webisode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/larry-david-larry-eats-a-pancake

Interesting thought, great show.  Check it out.

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No joke, this mocha was as good as any I’ve ever had out.  Maybe even better because you can continue to replenish the whipped cream on this one without having to endure the waitress’ stink eye.

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My latte art does need a little work though.  This was supposed to be a heart but something’s not quite right about it :/.  Though it might still work for Valentine’s Day.  Just saying.  Use your imagination.image

Number Two

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Well my son is two and what can I say about it that hasn’t already been said?  Some call it terrible, some call it terrific and actually I think both are true.  My son is more adorable and more horrible than ever.  He is now capable of showing so much love and affection and at the same time serious massive destruction to life, health and property.  I am so not qualified to give advice, but since that has never stopped anyone before I’ll go ahead and offer up my wisdom.

Pick Your Battles
-I’m sure this has been said a million times before in regards to child rearing, but it never rings more true than when dealing with a two year old.  Yes, the mini hand cymbals from Grandma are extremely loud and annoying, but they make him happy and that’s what Advil is for.  Messes can be cleaned, noises can be ignored but if he’s entertained and happy let him be – within reason of course.

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I completely respect the Grandparents’ right to send whatever annoying toy they want!

Give Yourself a Break
-It’s time for me to face the music that my son may be giving up his afternoon nap.  This was my time to go to the bathroom alone, shower, pay bills, clean…anything besides crash trucks, play ball and fetch snacks.  Well that precious 90 minutes of freedom has now perished but I still needs to get shiz done.  Cue: PBS.  Just let the guilt wash off of you as you enjoy your long hot shower.  Remember, mothers are people too and we shouldn’t always have to ignore our basic human needs.  Seriously though, I think my husband would consider it cruel and unusual punishment if he weren’t always able to go to the bathroom exactly when he wanted for as long as he wanted – just saying.

Roll With The Punches
-The naughty phases, the sweet phases, the screaming, the cuddling, the playing, the singing, the kisses, the punches – whether you embrace or resist them, will all be over in a flash so try to enjoy it.  I really hate it when people say this to me while in the grips of a naughty phase and my son is throwing food across the kitchen, but that’s just because I know it’s true.

Anyway, we had such a blast celebrating the big day.  We went to the SeaLife Aquarium at the Mall of America (totally worth the cost) and celebrated with family via Skype the next day.  It was such a wonderful, emotional weekend that I actually started to imagine what life would be like with another one…let’s table that for now.

This is what the big number two looked like (who doesn’t love toilet humor):image

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The Cake: My favorite vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting and a fresh strawberry topping/filling.  Probably the best thing I’ve ever created…with the exception of my son.

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The Decorations: Racecar printables from Paper + Pip, Etsy Shop

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The Presents:  Our family went to the extra effort to ship presents so his day would be extra special!  You’re the best!

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We finished the day hiking and sledding around the lake.  It truly was the perfect way to end a day that we will remember forever, even though he may not.

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Hot Cocoa Cupcakes with Sugar Cookie Toppers

So we got the house!

I’m ecstatic, but cautiously optimistic because my life is beginning to play out like the opening scene of a scary movie.  Young family moves into beautiful but secluded home in a snowy lakeside Minnesota town.  The name of the town is Lake Elmo which sounds innocent enough but you know it’s hiding a dark, sinister past.  Female lead character steps into home and says something like “this is better than I ever hoped for!”  All the while, you’re waiting for the other shoe (or severed head) to drop.

Ok, so I know it’s just my own personal psychosis that makes me feel like if something good is happening then I’ll be paying dearly for it soon.  Why is it so hard for me to accept that life can just be good?  It could just as easily play out like this:

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Willy Wonka: But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie Bucket: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

Anyway, enough of the heavy crap.  Let’s talk baked goods.

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So I managed to get through the entire month of November without baking anything.  With traveling, packing and moving it just wasn’t in the schedule.  To make up for my absence I decided to do a two for one – my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe with a few tweaks and the ultimate edible cupcake topper, a mint buttercream sugar cookie!

The cupcakes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water with 1/4 cup hot cocoa mix, prepared

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt together thoroughly.

Add the butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute.

Add half of the prepared hot cocoa and beat for 20 seconds.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the remaining water.  Beat for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth.  The batter will be thin enough to pour.

Divide it evenly among the lined cups.  Bake 18-22 minutes (rotating the pan from front to back half-way through the baking time), just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean.  Set the pan on a rack to cool.  Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cool.  Store and serve at room temperature.

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Sugar Cookie Toppers

Recipe found here.

Use any combo of Holiday shapes and colors to make these your own!

Whipped Cream Frosting

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Pre-chill bowl and beaters.  Beat all ingredients on medium speed until stiff peaks form.

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Assembly

Pipe on whipped cream frosting and place cookie toppers as desired.  I also added some super cute jumbo snowflake sprinkles – thanks Craft!

Merry Christmas and if I don’t make it back this month (due to holiday travel and/or laziness) then Happy New Year also!