Christmas in February

Hello! Remember all those wonderful things I promised for December? Well… Life got in the way, as it tends to do. Happy Almost March! Here’s a belated Christmas post:

Every year for Christmas, I get together with a group of friends from college for dinner or some similar event. We usually have some debate over whether we’re going to have a white elephant gift exchange, which is one of my personal pet peeves (ever since I received a half-empty box of tissues during an exchange in my sorority). We nixed the idea this year, thank goodness, so I decided to do something fun and crafty which I’d never tried before: homemade hot cocoa mix. In jars! Oh, it’s just so Martha.

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There’s something so wonderfully rustic about glass jars, and I couldn’t wait to decorate these. I had purchased some fantastic Christmas-themed stamps from The Greeting Farm that I was dying to use on something, and I found that a healthy dose of Martha Stewart fine glitter and some snowy white flocking gave them that extra holiday magic. The stamps were cut out using my indispensable Fiskars Fingertip Swivel Craft Knife, and put on the front side of tags that had the instructions for making the hot cocoa on the back.

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I use Copic markers to color my stamped images, and on these sweet stamps I also added some white flocking on her dress and shawl, and some tiny red rhinestones in the holly in her hair, as well as one as a clasp on her shawl. These are close friends, so I don’t mind putting in the time and extra embellishments to make sure they have something special to take home. The stamps would have been cute simply colored, I just love the “ooh” factor when things sparkle.

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I went absolutely insane with the glitter on the Santa stamps! Her entire hat and dress are solid glitter (colored red underneath just in case I missed a spot), and she has white flocking on every bit of white you see. That’s a tricky process: not getting glitter in the flocking, or flocking in the glitter, especially when you’re not patient enough to wait for either to dry. I seemed to have more success flocking first, then glittering… in the opposite order, the flocking seemed to stick to the rougher texture of the glitter, and it’s hard to remove without brushing off large quantities of glitter.

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Dark Chocolate Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix


4 cups powdered milk

1 1/3 cups nestle cocoa powder

2/3 cup hershey special dark cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

1 tsp salt

11 candy canes

1/2 bag Hershey special dark chocolate chips


Use food processor to grind candy canes into powder

Add in rest of ingredients, blend

Mix in chips by hand

Split into jars

Crush one candy cane for each jar (put in ziplock bag, smash with side of mallet), add 5 chocolate chips for decor on top


Mix 3 tbsps mix with 1 cup hot water

The cocoa mix recipe started, like most things, with a basic recipe which I blatantly ignored, added to, re-mixed, tested, and changed again. By the time we settled on a peppermint hot cocoa (which tastes deliciously like creamy peppermint bark), the kitchen was covered in a fine layer of cocoa powder, and we had to go back to the grocery store for more candy canes. In purchasing a few too many ingredients, we ended up with extras, so my team at work also benefited from cute, smaller versions of the cocoa jars:

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All in all, a little bit messy, but an absolutely adorable handmade gift when you’re “not exchanging gifts” – because food definitely doesn’t count!


Quick and Easy Cupcake Decorations


Have you ever seen that episode of How I Met Your Mother about making yourself indispensable in the workplace by becoming “Food Guy” or “Sports Guy”? Well, I’m probably known as “Dessert Girl”. There are certain days when it’s pretty much expected that I will walk through the door carrying brownies, cookies or cupcakes.

This time I decided to step it up a little and decorate the cupcakes as well. This sounds like an ambitious project, but I found a super easy, super fast way to make adorable cupcake toppers that fit right in with the day’s theme. All you need is a craft punch, cardstock, some medium Glue Dots, and as many toothpicks as you have cupcakes. I used my Fiskars XL cloud punch and silver paper, but I know most of the punches in my stash would make fantastic toppers for any theme: seashells and crabs in the summer, multicolored flowers in the spring? Yes, please!


I’m all about efficiency when I have to make large quantities of anything, so I did some “craft math” to figure out that I could get 6 clouds out of a strip of 1.5″x12″ paper, and 8 strips out of one sheet of 12″x12″ paper. Since my clouds are double-sided, I needed two full sheets of 12″x12″ to make enough toppers for my 48 cupcakes. Armed with a pile of silver paper strips and my cloud punch, I churned out all the necessary clouds while watching House Hunters: International on my iPad, and my cat helped dispose of the scraps by shredding them into tiny pieces that disappeared into the carpet. Tedious projects are much more enjoyable when they allow you to multitask, and having help just makes it more fun. When preparing these decorations for big parties, I recommend a movie and friendly help of the not-so-furry kind. One thing to keep in mind, because the cupcake toppers are double-sided and not all punches are symmetrical: be sure to flip the paper over for half the punches, in order to get shapes that match on both sides.

Assembly was much more fun. Making sure to have a pair of opposite shapes (like my clouds in the first picture), put a medium glue dot right in the center of the back of one shape. This will hold the toothpick down. On the back of the other shape, put a medium glue dot on either edge, to help hold the shape together around the toothpick. Once the toothpick is stuck to the first glue dot, carefully line up the opposite shape and press the two sides together. Voilá! A perfect cupcake topper!

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My fully decorated cupcakes were a huge success; they had all been eaten by noon, and I know a few people even kept their cloud decorations. I’ve agreed to double my recipe and bring them again at Thanksgiving… now I’ll just have to figure out how to decorate those! For those looking for a delicious moist chocolate cupcake recipe, here’s mine:

Launch Day Cupcakes

Makes 57 Cupcakes

1/2 cup chopped chocolate chips (Ghirardelli 60% cocoa)

1 ½ cups 1% milk + 1 tbsp dark Dutched dark cocoa (Hershey’s Special Dark)

3 cups sugar

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process; I use Ghirardelli)

2 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 ¼ tsp salt

3 large eggs + 1 yolk

¾ cup canola oil

1 ½ cups well-shaken buttermilk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. If you’re making cupcakes, line the wells of your pans with fluted paper liners, or grease and dust them with flour or cocoa. If you’re making larger cakes, grease pans and line bottoms with rounds of wax paper. Grease paper.

Prepare dry ingredients. Into a LARGE bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Make “hot chocolate”. Mix milk and cocoa powder, microwave for a 1 1/2 minutes, stirring occasionally, to make hot. Put finely chopped chocolate chips in a bowl, pour in hot milk. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Prepare wet ingredients. Mix oil, buttermilk, and vanilla in a bowl or large measuring cup. In another (very) large bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until thickened slightly and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer).

Mix all ingredients in electric mixer. Slowly add oil mixture and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on low or medium speed, bracing yourself against puffs of cocoa-and-flour dust, until just combined well.

Bake. Divide batter between pans. For cupcakes, fill each cup just over halfway full. Make sure there is only one paper liner, otherwise cupcake will fall in the center. Bake in middle of oven 20 to 25 minutes for cupcakes, or 50 to 70 minutes for larger cakes, until a tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool cakes completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and remove cupcakes, or invert larger cakes onto racks. If making larger cakes, carefully remove wax paper. Cakes may be made one day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.