24 December 2009

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."
- by Henry Livingston

May you revel in all the glory of this magical holiday season. Peace, joy and prosperity from my family to yours. To everyone I have baked cupcakes for this year, it has been my deepest pleasure to be a part of your celebrations! For those who have enjoyed my work from afar, thank you for following along and for putting up with my horrible photography skills...Little Miss Cupcake is going on a little hiatus now through 3 January. But never fear, I will be back in 2010 with lots of new flavors, ideas and yes, bad 80's music references! Happy Holidays!

xxx Little Miss Cupcake

23 December 2009

She's a Brick House - A Daring Bakers' Challenge

Bruce, or Brother Bruce as my mom affectionately refers to him, is one of our oldest and dearest family friends. She met him when I was very young and we lived in Florida, and though they never dated, he is probably the closest thing I had to a father while growing up. A mix of Willy Wonka, the Fairy Godmother, Peter Pan and a New Age guru all tied up in a somewhat askew package (and I mean that as the highest compliment), Bruce has more creative genius in his pinkie than a truckload of people put together. Make that a boatload...like the QEII. It really is no surprise that he has become one of the most sought-after and well-known party planners on the planet today.

Provocative is a word that springs to mind when I think of Bruce -- he is a talented showman always on the lookout for a spirited reaction from his audience. Don't get me started about the time he greeted one of my mother's suitors at the door and proceeded to have a 15 minute conversation with the guy while wearing a rubber chicken on his head. Neither of them acknowledged said chicken but suffice it to say, my mom never heard from her date again. Then there was the time he left a life-size doll in my bedroom doorway while I was sleeping. He had dressed it up in a Darth Vader mask to complete the look. Thinking I would be delighted upon waking and finding such a cool new toy, poor Bruce never expected I would wake from a nightmare and start shrieking my head off the second I saw this inert being stationed in my doorway. It took both of us a looooong time to recover from that one.

The holidays in particular always make me think of Bruce. There was one Christmas Eve when we were staying at his ex-wife's house where he climbed up on the roof, shaking some bells and yelling "Ho, ho, ho!" after his step-daughter and I had gone to sleep. We awoke in a daze thrilled beyond imagination that Santa was at that very moment coming down our chimney. And there was the year when Bruce was just starting out that he made these amazing 9-feet tall Nutcrackers, soldiers, etc. covered in candy for the Christmas windows of a local bank. Needless to say once the holidays were over, he stored them in our garage and after a few weeks in the Florida heat and humidity, nearly every ant, cockroach and 4-legged bug in the state had converged on our garage to come and nibble on the sweet, melting goodies.

This month's Daring Baker challenge - Gingerbread Houses - made me think of crazy, zany Bruce. I wold have loved for him to be here to decorate with us as I am sure his creation would be nothing less than spectacular....and bizarre (another one of his favorite past-times was re-arranging the food, fruit and vegetables in the fridge to create wild and weird creatures or scenarios that would unexpectedly greet and shock you when you opened the door).

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I had never made a gingerbread house before, though for years have been saying I was going to buy one of those pre-made kits they sell at IKEA. This was definitely the funnest DB challenge I have participated in so far and both my kids got in on the act. My son helped to decorate a small guest house for out back - though he has claimed this as his very own gaming and entertainment center. Okay with me -- I told him he could spend as much time as he wants out there playing - he still hasn't figured out that we forgot to add a door to his creation. So he's just chilling out front with his imaginary puppy. My daughter? Her contribution to this project was eating every spare piece of candy left unattended as we debated where to place it. I must have uttered the phrase "Don't Touch!" a thousand times this week as I spied her eyeing my not-yet-completed house with a sparkle in her eye and a mischevious smile on her face. And, is that drool at the corner of her mouth??

My biggest fear was that as soon as I placed the roof on, the whole thing would come crashing come down. You know what? It did. On the first attempt. Luckily, my gingerbread didn't crumble. The second time, I got wise, and left the supports on the roof overnight. When I took them off, I held my breath. But no worries. That thing is solid....like a rock.

Being me, I had to toss a few cupcakes into the challenge. I used some leftover gingerbread dough to make mini tree, puppy and family member cutouts which then went on mini red velvet cupcakes. There is in fact a gingerbread man and Christmas tree inside the larger house but he's not coming out. Oh, there is a door on the big house but it's not functional. If I was Bruce, I am sure I would have arranged some macabre scene for the kiddies to find in there when they break it open. Did I tell you about the time Ben Stiller & Ed Norton were using my grandmother's building exterior for a scene in their movie, Keeping the Faith, and Bruce only wanted to stage a fake murder in her first-floor window while filming was going on? Now that would have certainly gotten a rise out of the movie's audience!

Anyway, a big thank you to Anna and Y for this amazing challenge. It was great fun and I look forward to making the gingerbread house challenge a yearly tradition. You should too! Here's how: (PS, after my fiasco with October's Macaron Challenge, I took the time to read through the comments on the DB website and decided not to use the recipes provided by Anna or Y as they received lots of criticism on being difficult to work with - the dough was dry or shrunk during baking - and many complained about the taste. Instead, I used a recipe suggested by one of the other Daring Bakers, Alison from Someone's In the Kitchen. This is an excellent gingerbread recipe and I'd recommend it even if you just want to prepare it, roll it out and make simple unadorned cookies.)

Gingerbread House Recipe

Recipe By : Sullivan County Extension Homemakers Club

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
7 Cups Sifted All Purpose Flour -- 7-8 cups
1 Teaspoon Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
3 Teaspoons Ginger
1 Cup Shortening (I used butter)
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Unsulphered Molasses (I used a thick dark honey called "Miel de Foret")
2 Each Eggs
1 Cup Additional Flour -- 1-2 cups

Sift together first 5 ingredients. Blend together molasses, shortening, sugar and eggs. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. Add enough of the additional flour to make a dough stiff enough to be shaped into a disc. Refrigerate overnight for easier handling. Can be frozen.

Will make 4-5 small gingerbread houses using this pattern. (I halved the recipe and ended up with enough dough for one large house and one smaller house. I used the free template found here to design my house).

Roll to about 1/4" thickness on a floured cookie sheet. Trace the house pattern pieces onto typing paper and cut out. Arrange pattern pieces on cookie dough and carefully cut around each pattern being certain to allow 1/2" space between pieces to allow the dough to expand as it bakes.

Cut the dough with a sharp paring knife or the edge of a metal pancake turner. Be certain the walls and roof are the same size as the patterns. Remove scraps leaving house pieces on the cookie sheet. Do not attempt to shift pieces once they have been cut out. This will stretch the dough and distort the shape. Bake at 350 12-15 mins.

Carefully loosen then remove each piece with a metal pancake turner. Cool on a wire rack.

I used Royal Icing as the only "glue" for my house though I know a lot of people also do a suagr syrup for sturdier construction. I used Martha Stewart's recipe.
1 lb powdered sugar
5 Tbs meringue powder
½ cup water

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, meringue powder, and a scant ½ cup water on low speed. Beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7 to 8 minutes.

I did the majority of my decorating and candy "glueing" before assembling the house. I found it easier to place items and just leave them without the fear of gravity pulling them off as those that I added after house assembly. Assemble house using the royal icing as "glue". Glue the walls together first. Then attach your roof, chimney and other elements being sure to support these items until glue has hardened.

14 December 2009

2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide - Extended & Remixed

So, in preparing this post, I took a gander at last year's gift guide and have to say that a) I still stand behind every item listed and b) I made a pretty good dent in said list over the past 12 months as I personally stocked up on most of the items. I still don't own that Magic Alhambra necklace but maybe this year my husband will get the hint! Ahem....

I've spent the past few weeks scouring the web looking for the best and brightest stars for this year's 2nd Annual Little Miss Cupcake Holiday Gift Guide. There's stuff here for every budget so if you have a cupcake lover in your life, there's really no excuse. Oh, and did I mention there's a give-away? That's right, free stuff. So if you want to skip all the good gift ideas I spent hours putting together for you, that's fine, go ahead, I'm not going to twist your arm into reading this. Scroll on down to the end of the post to find out how you can win some free cupcake merch.

For those of you who bake, I can think of no simpler joy than having access to fine, quality ingredients. Two products that I have discovered over this past year are Vosges chocolate bars, especially their Exotic line which are delicious fresh out of the wrapper or say, melted and mixed into your favorite buttercream, and Blue Cattle Truck Mexican Vanilla. I am dying to get my hands on a bottle of the latter (hint, hint to any of you who may be coming for a visit) but I have it from a good source that this stuff cannot be beat when it comes to vanilla. It's anything but plain old....

Next up is an item I have been coveting for a while: A KitchenAid Stand Mixer. There is a brand new 90th anniversary version out with a glass bowl - which brings cupcake making design to a whole new level! But I just love, love, love this turquoise blue one. If Santa left me one of these under the tree, I would be very happy and I'd be sure to bake up something pretty on Christmas Day!

Speaking of baking something pretty, do you know the site: Bake It Pretty? I can guarantee that any cupcake fan would love just about anything they offer. (And if they don't, well heck, feel free to box it up and regift it to me!) I'm especially in love with their baking cups. Aren't they just gorgeous!

Pretty cupcakes need something pretty to be served on. The tiered cupcake platters may be bulky but they certainly do provide a nice presentation for your cupcake bakers' goods. This one is from Waterford and would be perfect for the holidays:

Or if you'd prefer something a little less formal, how about these adorable plates from Bright & Bold?

For the ultimate statement in cupcake presentation, why not plunk down your serving platter (and/or your fanny) on this awesome cupcake furniture from Jellio. Here's their cupcake end table. Click the link above to see the cute coordinating cupcake seat.

There are a number of varied adorable hand-made goods on Etsy that feature cupcakes. Here are some of my favorite finds:

Cute cotton kitchen towels from shamsandcoverups who is offering free shipping now through December 19th.

A quilted cupcake coloring wallet would be a great place to doodle new cupcake designs. This one from RetroRugrats can even be monogrammed!

If I could figure out a way to get this shipped to me without it going missing in the post, this cupcake addiction wall art would be tops on my list from the Etsy Marketpklace. It comes from seller Beepart.

Since I have a little girl, I easily fall in love with anything cupcake-related for her. Two things that caught my eye recently are this sweet cupcake pillow from Norajane,

and this "really loud but I can't but help but love it anyway" cupcake birthday outfit from Glitzglambowtique.

If wearing cupcakes is more your thing, can I recommend a tee-shirt promoting some of the hottest cupcake bakers out there? My faves (and i have ordered two of these already for myself) come from Jess at Australia's Sugadeaux Cupcakes whose cupcakes bring all the boys to the yard; Las Vegas' Retro Bakery founded by husband & wife team Brian and Kari where it's all about the buttercream; and Chicago's own tattooed mama and baker extraordinaire, Natalie of Bake & Destroy. Rock these with pride!

If tee-shirts just don't do it for you, you can accessorize in style with all these cupcake accoutrements:

I am loving Betsey Johnson's cupcake earrings.

If you want something less flashy, how about these studs from Johnny Cupcakes? I bet they could double as cufflinks in a pinch.

Tiffany has a nice little cupcake bling on offer this year....

And if you really want to dress to impress there's this cupcake bag from Judith Leiber:

But really nothing would make more of a statement about your love of cupcakes than when you pull up in your very own cupcake car from Neiman Marcus!

Last but not least, so that I can get the hubby over here to check out this list and find out what I really want, here's something for him. It doesn't have any cupcakes on it, but designer Patricia Fields calls it a "cupcake ruffle" tank top. Hope your happy, honey! Do I really want one? Only if it comes with a KitchenAid stand mixer to prop it up on....

Alright, I hope you have enjoyed this list and now for the free stuff. To wish you all a very Happy Holiday, I am giving away two (2) copies of the Karen Tack & Alan Richardson Hello, Cupcake 2010 Wall Calendar.

This contest is open to residents of the Continental US (sorry Alaska & Hawaii), the United Kingdom and France. The contest will end at 12 noon Paris time on 24 December, 2009. To enter, leave me a comment below telling me what you are hoping to find under your tree or menorah this year (cupcake-related or not). Make sure you leave your email or blog name so I know how to reach you if you've won. And for 2 extra chances to win, 1) become a follower of my blog, and 2) become a fan of my Facebook page. Okay now go get your cupcake on!

10 December 2009

You Were Mint for Me

A few weeks back, I ran a "Name this Cupcake" contest on Facebook. It was for a white chocolate chunk cupcake with peppermint buttercream, and if you missed the contest, well, you missed out on winning 1 dozen of theses suckers. You might want to go sign up as a fan on my Facebook page to be sure you don't miss out on any future give-aways. Go ahead, I'll wait for you....

Anyway, the winner of the contest, Aimee, owns a local tea salon here in Paris. For any of you who follow my blog, you know I have been looking for a partner to distribute my cupcakes for a while and well, a tea salon would certainly fit the bill. So I rigged the contest to get on Aimee's good side.


Seriously, though, Aimee's name was the first one submitted and I fell in love with it right away: You Were Mint for Me. I've been singing it in my head (not the Jewel version, silly!) for over a month now. Singing in the Rain happens to be one of my favorite classic films and I loved the reference. In fact I played it incessantly the year my son was 2 because we spent a lot of time at home, I figured it was innocent enough for him to watch, and he just loved the music. IMHO, Gene Kelly is a one-of-a-kind; they just don't make actors like that anymore, and I can watch him over and over again serenading Debbie Reynolds in this scene. And don't even get me started on the title song-- what a performance!

I hope Aimee enjoys her cupcakes, which her husband should be picking up any minute now. As for the rest of you, You Were Mint for Me cupcakes are available on my menu now, along with two other new flavors I've whipped up for the holidays, The Movie Star (The Professor & Marianne....) and Some Like It Hot.

You'll notice the Peppermint Bark topping Aimee's cupcakes. Have you ever made it? It's so super simple and makes a great gift on its own for your neighbor, the other gals in your bookclub, Tommy's teacher, etc. I happen to like how it looks on a cupcake. Get your baking sheets ready....here goes:

Peppermint Bark
(from Elizabeth LaBau, About.com Guide)

Cook Time: 25 minutes

* 8 ounces (about 1-1/3 cup) dark chocolate, chopped
* 8 ounces (about 1-1/3 cup) white chocolate, chopped
* 6 peppermint candy canes


1. Unwrap the candy canes and place them in a food processor. Pulse on/off several times, until the canes have been chopped into small pieces. Alternately, place the candy canes in a large Ziploc bag and seal tightly. Use a rolling pin to roll/smash the candy canes until they are the size you desire.

2. Prepare a cookie sheet by covering it with smooth aluminum foil.

3. Melt and temper the dark chocolate. Pour the chocolate onto the prepared cookie sheet use an offset spatula to spread it to a unform 1/8” thickness. The chocolate does not have to reach all sides of the sheet, as it will be broken up later anyhow. Place the tray in the refrigerator to firm up for 15 minutes.

4. While the dark chocolate hardens, temper the white chocolate.

5. Remove the tray from the refrigerator and spread the white chocolate in an even layer over the dark chocolate.

6. While the white chocolate is still wet, sprinkle the chopped candy cane pieces over the entire surface evenly. Press down very slightly to ensure they stick. Place the tray back in the refrigerator to firm up for 30 minutes.

7. Once bark is completely set, break into small, uneven pieces by hand.

06 December 2009

I Think I'll Go On a Walkabout

This post is non-cupcake related. Well at least the edible kind. About a month ago I won a gorgeous hand-made tote bag in a contest on the blog: Apparently Jessy.

Jessy and I have been corresponding for about a year now via our blogs and twitter. She is a very kind soul living Down Under and an amazingly talented girl. In addition to the beautiful cupcakes she often bakes up and features on her blog, she showcases various home-made items she has created with her own hands, like the tote. Needless to say I was more than thrilled when I learned I had won her 1 year blogiversary contest. Thank you, Jessy!

I know Paris is on Jessy's wishlist of places to visit one day. As Jessy wrote "it's so exciting that my bag is going to be paraded around the streets of Paris!" I'm only sorry that she couldn't have come to deliver the bag in person so she'd have a chance to visit my adopted city.

Yesterday, my son and I were out and about to visit the Christmas Market on the Champs Elysees and check out a potential venue for his upcoming birthday. I was of course carrying my new tote and with the help of my son took some pics to show Jessy all the fabulous places her bag has been! Like La Madeleine...


...Place de la Concorde...

Hey, that's the Eiffel Tower in the background!

On to the Pyramid at the Louvre.

And, the Grand Palais (yes, *that* place Prince just sold out in 4 days after he was hit by inspiration and a burning desire to rock the joint)

There are so many other places my new bag has seen but at the fear of exhausting you all, I'll stop here. And so you won't call me cruel to publish a blog post without some tasty treats, this is what we spied in the window of Laduree yesterday - gold leaf macarons. Yum! Who wouldn't want a box of these from Santa?