Last-Minute Children’s Gift Idea

Phew!  I finally finished my Christmas shopping yesterday.  Thank goodness for free two-day shipping on Amazon.  Every year, I swear I am more on top of my Christmas preparations than I was the previous year, then suddenly, mid-December surprises me out of nowhere!  I mean, really, that sneaky Christmas, who knew it would come on December 25 this year?  Fortunately, all I have left to do is whip up another batch of peppermint bark, assemble my gift baskets, and get ready to head to Louisiana with my husband and pups to celebrate Christmas.

I hope you are also all finished with your shopping and ready to relax and enjoy the holidays.  But, if you need to get a last-minute gift for a child, perhaps a budding baker, I’ve got an idea for you.  I picked up an adorable apron at Williams-Sonoma last week for each of my goddaughters.

Isn’t it cute?  The apron was just over $20.  Williams-Sonoma has dozens of styles that would be perfect for both girls and boys, including aprons with baking-inspired designs and sports logos.  I bought mine in the store, but apparently, it’s still not too late to order online for Christmas delivery.  I’m sure you can find children’s aprons in a variety of toy stores as well.  And of course, for those of you more organized than I could ever hope to be who may already be thinking about birthdays and next Christmas, you could order lovely, handmade aprons ahead of time (Imagine…ordering gifts ahead of time!) from Etsy.

So that my goddaughters can put their new aprons to good use (and christen them with chocolate frosting), I also tucked some cake mix, icing, cupcake wrappers, and sprinkles into their presents.  Of course, these girls are only 3- and 5-years old, so their parents will be doing most of the baking, but kids adore helping mix and measure as well as licking the spoon.

I love how bright and happy these sprinkles are that I found in my grocery store.  You could give all sorts of baking accoutrements and tools: cupcake tins, rubber spatulas, cupcake toppers, tubes of colored icing, or cookie cutters.  This is such a delightful and budget-friendly gift idea for children (or even adult baking novices) that you can customize based on the age of the receiver.

I hope all of you are lucky enough to give and receive gifts this holiday season that are as much fun as this present was for me to put together!

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Toffee Crunch Cupcakes

I had a housewarming party to go to Saturday night, and I couldn’t decide what to bring. What does one take to a housewarming party?  Wine?  Wine is my go-to host or hostess gift, but honestly, I’m always nervous about picking out a bottle unless I’ve got a specific wine in mind that I’ve really been into lately.  Even if you know a wine is good, how do you know your host or hostess will like it?  And besides, you don’t want your wine to be one of seven bottles of lonely reds sitting on the bar that night, neglected for tangy margaritas or other liquor-filled concoctions packing much more punch.

What about flowers?  My friend had filled her beautiful new townhouse with fabulous floral arrangements, as I suspect many a housewarming party host or hostess would do to make his or her new home feel a little brighter and more welcoming.

So…what’s left to bring?

How about cupcakes?  Specifically, these toffee cupcakes.  Very chocolatey, decadent, but not too rich, with a bit of crunch.  They were a big hit Saturday night!

Check out the recipe below, and be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom for some tips for making truly pretty cupcakes!

Toffee Crunch Cupcakes
Makes 30 cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp espresso powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coffee (I used 1 tsp espresso powder dissolved in 1 cup hot water)
1 cup toffee bits

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Line cupcake tins with cupcake papers.  This is a large recipe, so you will need to fill up two and a half cupcake pans (that fit a dozen cupcakes each) and bake them in batches.

2.  Combine flour, cocoa power, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

3.  Cream the sugar and butter in a stand in mixer.  Beat on medium-high for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy.

4.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add vanilla.

5.  Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then one third of the coffee.  Repeat until you have added all of the dry mixture and coffee, beating just until combined after each addition.

6.  With a spatula, fold in toffee bits.  Then fill your cupcakes tins, using about ¼ cup of batter for each cupcake.

7.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.  You can test for doneness two ways.  If you insert a toothpick into the center, and it comes out clean, these babies are good to go!  OR, lightly touch the top of a cupcake, and if it springs right back up, you’re all set!

8.  Let cupcakes cool on a wire cooling rack while you start the ganache.

Ganache
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used 4 oz. semi-sweet and 4 oz. extra bittersweet)
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
2-2 ½ cups toffee bits

1.  Place chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl.  Heat your cream in a small saucepan until it comes to a simmer.

2.  Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for 1-2 minutes.  Be patient!  Whisk cream and milk together.

3.  Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, stirring until it melts after each addition.

4.  Place bowl of ganache in bowl of ice water and whisk rapidly until it is thick enough to spread.  GANACHE TIP: I like to keep a small saucepan of simmering water on the stove and a bowl of ice water while working with ganache.  Since you will have to glaze 30 cupcakes, your ganache may get too hard while you are working with it.  If this happens, simply whisk the ganache again over the simmering water (as if you were using a double boiler).  If the ganache gets too thin, you can re-whisk it in the bowl of ice water.  Presto!

5.  To assemble cupcakes, first place toffee bits in a bowl.  Spread ganache onto cupcakes or dip cupcakes into ganache.  Dip cupcakes into toffee bits and press lightly, so they’ll stay on.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats, adapted from Bakers Royale, originally from Alice Medrich

Tips for making pretty cupcakes:

1.  Follow the directions!  Don’t do what I did and fill twenty-four cupcake tins with enough batter to make thirty cupcakes.  Your cupcakes will have muffin tops, and only muffins should have muffin tops!

2.  Fill your cupcake tins evenly using an ice cream scoop, cookie dough scoop, or measuring cup (1/4-1/3 cup).  Your cupcakes will all be close to the same size!

3.  Use two liners: a plain one for lining the cupcake tins and a pretty one to cover the plain one after baking.  If you bake your cupcakes in your pretty liners, the liners will stick to your cupcakes, and you won’t be able to see the cute designs!  Just add the second liner after cupcakes are cooled and before icing them.

What other tips to do you have for making pretty cupcakes?