It's hard to believe that 2012 is just a few days away.  I'd like to say I'm ready to dive in head first, but I'm more the type of person to test the water with one toe. For me, easing into the new year means no high pressure resolutions. It's more fun to make up a few that are easy to keep.  For example, this year I resolve to...
  • Eat birthday cake without feeling guilty.
  • Put sprinkles on everything.
  • Sleep late whenever possible.
  • Watch movies on rainy days.
  • Tell more corny jokes.

For this year's NYE gathering, I whipped up a batch of champagne mousse. In spite of its light texture, it is completely decadent and full of champagne flavor.  I decided to mold mine in a fancy pan, but you can use a regular loaf pan or just pipe it into champagne flutes.  It's very versatile.  The chocolate ganache was a last minute addition, and I'm including the recipe, but it can be enjoyed with or without.

And of course, it had to be decorated with sugar pearls, shiny dragees... all types of edible baubles.

Gingerbread houses: I would move into one if humanly possible.  Cookie walls, chocolate fondant roof, and a nonpareil walkway...  yep.  Those are all the amenities I'm looking for in life.

Tiny mistletoe  hangs above the entry.  
If you don't have a gingerbread recipe for building purposes - no worries. I've got you covered!  This dough slices easily with a knife, so it is ideal for cutting around templates.  It bakes up sturdy but not too hard, so you can also use the dough for cut-out cookies if that is your preference.

I hope you'll pardon my digression from the merry-making of Christmas goodies in order to celebrate a beloved literary figure.  Happy Birthday Jane Austen!  Jane captured my heart long ago with her sharp satire and humor. And with the handsome Mr. Darcy, of course.

True, this is Jane's birthday cake, but I made it especially for I Heart Classics, my publisher's Tumblr site that celebrates all things pertaining to classic literature.  If you are a Janeite, or any-sort-of-classic-literature-ite, then you'll enjoy browsing IHC.

To celebrate this birthday properly, I chose a Regency era cake called Twelfth Night Cake.  The cake's meaning has changed over the years, but essentially Twelfth Night was a celebration that marked the end of the Christmas season in Jane's time.  This cake was always present at the occasion.  It is an English fruitcake with dried cranberries, orange zest and pecans. That sounds delicious, and not at all scary like American fruitcakes studded with neon red and green cherries. It also gets a dose of Cointreau simple syrup. No dry fruitcake on my watch!

Perhaps the neatest thing about this cake - the bean.  A dried bean gets baked into the cake.  If you find the bean in your slice of cake then you are the Queen (or King) of the celebration.  Doesn't that sound like fun?  I may have to bring this (and a paper crown) to our Christmas Eve party this year.

I think we can all use a little extra get-up-and-go when the holidays arrive. There are gifts to buy, crowds to wade through,  long check-out lines to endure, gifts to wrap, and parties to attend. I don't know about you, but having a little caffeine in my system gives me an extra ounce of energy and patience to get through it all with a pleasant demeanor.

I can remember when chocolate covered coffee beans were a specialty item that could only be found in coffee houses. These days, you can find them at most grocery stores - I've even seen them at Target.  If you can't find them at your regular grocers, try local coffee houses or places like Earth Fare, World Market, or Whole Foods.

A few weeks ago I was invited to be part of the "12 Waverly Bloggers of Christmas". This month-long event features unique ideas from 12 of Waverly's favorite bloggers.  Our mission?  To share easy and useful holiday projects using Waverly materials.

Waverly is also giving you the chance to win two $100 gift cards, one for JoAnn's Fabrics and another for Michael's Arts & Crafts store.  Just hop over to their Facebook page to enter.

As far as holiday gifts go, I can't think of anything better to get than a loaf of freshly baked Maple-Walnut Bread. Or maybe Homemade Caramel Corn. Okay, Sea Salted Caramels are pretty high on my wishlist too. Sounds good, you say?  You love all those treats too?!  Then you'll be happy to know that I have recipes for all of the above and easy ways to package them up for gift giving!

Christmas cones are so easy to make and they are reminiscent of Victorian paper cone ornaments, only larger.  You can fill them with cookies and candies - and they are reusable, too!  For complete instructions check out the how-to video below.  (Email subscribers, please visit the site to view).

I think we've all met a few people who deserve a lump of coal from Santa, and I'm not talking about the cute candy version I'm sharing with you today!

Coal candy is perfect for those on your naughty and nice list.  It looks much like a lump of coal, but is sweet and sugary with an unexpected crumbly texture. I found it on one of my favorite sites - Fragrante Delicia - which you should certainly check out!

Today I'm sharing my favorite chocolate sugar cookie recipe that is ideal for decorating.  It contains no chemical leavening so it bakes up evenly for a perfectly smooth decorating surface. I use this recipe for decorating Christmas cookies, but they're also good sandwiched with a little buttercream.

Today I'm sharing a colorful cookie recipe on one of my favorite blogs! Many of you may already know Meaghan Mountford as an inspired cookie decorator and promoter of creative edibles.  If you've never visited her blog, you are missing out!  Her work always makes me smile, and I cannot wait for her soon-to-be-released book, Sugarlicious!  I'm so honored to be her guest today.

Click over to read about my Chocolate Sprinkle Sandwich Cookies at The Decorated Cookie.

I am in total denial that it is mid November, and that Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away.  Where has the time gone?  And how exactly am I supposed to share all my favorite Thanksgiving day desserts with so little time remaining?  The only solution I could come up with was to cram this blog post full of my favorites.  So that's what I did.

Today I'm sharing four recipes. Pumpkin pie and buttermilk pie are classic desserts that are expected on our dessert buffet every year; pumpkin tiramisu and apple-buttermilk pie offer a fresh perspective on these classic flavors.

I love being outside when there's a slight chill in the air, so this weekend I decided to take my food photography outdoors.  I don't know if it was the fresh air or the pretty foliage, but I was feeling especially creative and decided to throw together an impromptu video.  I count on these simple, spur-of-the-moment creative impulses.  I've learned something about myself through this blog.  I often get these big ideas, and every time I try to execute some elaborate plan, something will go haywire and I'm left feeling creatively frustrated.  I'm slowly learning the beauty of simple, so here's a simple little video that is my celebration of fall, apple-buttermilk pie, and my best bud.

(email subscribers may need to click over to view)

Maybe this blog should be renamed "Sprinkle Bakes Chocolate Cakes".  I've had a serious romance with the confection all year.  First there was a very special chocolate cupcake recipe for pyromaniacs, soon after came Chocolate Whiskey Cake, then Chocolate Gâteau on the Half Shell, Nigella's Chocolate-Honey Cake, the proportionally epic PBC4 (as I've come to call it), and last week's post was dedicated to the marriage of chocolate cake and red wine. 

I may need an intervention, but like most addicts I don't want one.

I've tasted many, but this chocolate cake may be my favorite, ever!  It is indulgently rich with a generous amount of chocolate icing, and in contrast the cake has a light, moist crumb.  It is pretty in an unconventional way, which is my favorite kind of pretty. The ingredients are easy enough to put together, but you will need a standing mixer of some sort.  Otherwise your hand mixer may bog-down or your arm tire midway through whipping the icing.  Oh, the icing!

Squirrel perfectly conveys my feelings for chocolate cake.

I've always had the opinion that red wine and chocolate were made for each other, so when I happened upon a recipe for chocolate red-wine cupcakes, all my other baking plans flew out the window. Now, I'm no wine connoisseur, but I do have a favorite red.  I keep a bottle of Chianti squirreled away in my wine cabinet for special occasions.  I couldn't wait to see how it tasted in cake form.

The red wine flavor in the chocolate cake is subtle, so I felt punching up the Chianti taste with frosting was an absolute necessity.  I made a simple confectioners' icing with a wine reduction and finished it with a few tablespoons of Chianti strait from the bottle.  I've made these twice; once as full size cupcakes and once (shown here) as minis.  I loved the minis, and could imagine them lined up on a fancy platter for the perfect sweet bite at a cocktail party.

I love a good pumpkin cheesecake, and this one is especially good.  The recipe comes from Food & Wine's Best of the Best Cookbook Volume 10.  The first thing about this dessert that piqued my interest was the sugared pumpkin seeds. I've sugared pecans plenty of times at Christmas (a tradition) but never pumpkin seeds!  Why didn't I think of that?!
Sunflower seeds, you're next.

I appreciate the nuances of flavor in the crust; slightly nutty with the addition of pecans and just a hint of ginger. Every component of this cheesecake is well composed.  It does take a little time to make, but it's the real deal.

Embrace the beauty of the water-bath method.  It's so worth the effort.

This is a fun cake to make.  I made my first Battenburg cake this past spring, and I've been itching to make another ever since. If you love the bright flavor of almond (like me!), then you'll love this cake. It has plenty of eye appeal, and will give any holiday dessert table an infusion of brilliant color.  I couldn't resist baking up a "Batty" version in Halloween hues.

The ghoulish green libation is a very basic party punch recipe.  I'm willing to bet that every hostess with the mostess has a version of this dog-eared. On party night, you may want to have ingredients for two batches on hand.  It is always guzzled down to the last drop, and refilling the entire punch bowl may be necessary.

I'm aware that the food world has no shortage of pumpkin cupcake recipes, but I'm sharing this one anyway. It's my favorite because it doesn't err on the "muffiny" side.  It is truly a pumpkin cupcake, and I cannot recommend them enough.  Make them!  Need some convincing?

  • Sour cream.  It does magical things to cake batter.  Any cupcake with sour cream as an ingredient is my favorite cupcake, and this one has it. 
  • Brown butter is pretty amazing in anything, but mix it up with pumpkin and spices... swoon 
  • You won't even have to break out the electric mixer for the cake batter.  If you have a whisk, a large bowl and a spoon - you're good to go.
  • Cooked cinnamon frosting. From the Red Hook guys, no less.

I love Fall, but it can be bittersweet if you are a gardener. I am not a gardener, but my mother is one of the extraordinary sort.  Her lawn is always impeccable and her flower beds are award-winning (no kidding!).  Lately she's been hard at work pulling up annuals and cleaning out the remnants of her vegetable garden. While I was assembling this dessert, it occurred to me that this might be something she would want to make in the colder months, when she's lonely for gardening. Small pears remind me of  flower bulbs, and here they are poached and "planted" on ready-made puff pastry. Once baked and cooled, they are sprinkled with"soil" (chocolate shavings), and a sprig of mint on top gives the effect of emerging leaves.

One year ago I was baking up a scratch-made confetti cake for this blog's first birthday.  Not only was it fun to make - in a fling-sprinkles-everywhere kind of way - it was incredibly well received.  Many of you made your own version and sent me pictures of the happiest faces behind lit candles, which makes me more than a little teary as I type this. Words can't express how special those emails are.  They are a gift to me.

Here we are at year two!  I wanted this year's cake to be just as special and sprinkle-filled as the last, but I wasn't exactly sure how to go about doing that - until I discovered Sixlets.

Have you heard of Sixlets?  They're like sprinkles, only bigger, and instead of solid candy they are a mixture of chocolate and carob wrapped in a candy shell.  A little like M&M candies but different, round.  They are sold by the pound in solid colors, metallics and color assortments.  I'm tellin' you,  it's a sprinkle lover's dream come true!  I stacked them high to the tippy-top of this cake for ultimate sprinkle-coverage!

The inside of the cake holds a birthday-blue sprinkle swirl, just like my favorite birthday cake ice cream.

I've been absent from the blogosphere for the past couple of weeks; maybe you've noticed.  I wish I could tell you that I was on a relaxing vacation, but instead I was recuperating from the worst cold I've had in a long time. There's something lurking out there folks.  Beware.  Stay well.

During this time of recuperation I pored over every page of the new Martha Stewart Halloween issue (have you seen it? Good stuff!).  I also curled up with a book of prose by Mr. Edgar A. Poe and became properly creeped out.  It took my mind off being sick for a little while, but soon I was desperate to bake up something spooky!

I realize skeletons and spiders are spookier than the morose looking Mr. Poe, but after spending time with his super creepy work last week I felt a special homage was in order.

The opportunity to review the book  Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home comes at an opportune time.  I'm currently looking to expand the ol' candy repertoire before the holidays arrive.  Is there anything better than getting homemade candy as a gift?  I can't think of anything better at the moment, but that could be because I'm staring down a bowl of buttery pecan pie taffy.  This taffy recipe is just a small taste of what this book has to offer.

When I was a little girl I spent most summers at my Gran's house.  It was during this time that I first heard her say "I'm not sure what to buy me for my birthday this year."  I didn't get it then, but I do now.

I have a wonderful family and each year when my birthday rolls around they shower me with gifts and confetti cupcakes. They always want to know what is on my birthday wishlist a couple of weeks beforehand.  Now, I know they would buy me anything I ask for, but there are some things I just can't ask my dear family to buy - like a cotton candy machine.  Impractical?  Yes.  Frivolous, guilty pleasure?  Yes.  A lot of fun?  Heck yes! 

The machine I'd had my eye on was a table-top variety for thirty-some-odd dollars; well within the gift-to-self budget. It was in an online shopping cart for two weeks before I pulled the trigger, cabinet space be darned.  I've been practicing my candy floss spinning once a week for the past month, and I knew it wouldn't be long before the fluffy stuff made an appearance in my baking.

That's how this cake came about, but you don't need your own cotton candy machine to make it.

I'm never sure what to bake at this time of year.  It's too early to jump into fall recipes and I'm not particularly inspired to make anything summery.  I'm in some kind of self-imposed baker's limbo.  A huge dry-erase calendar hanging in my office has October, November and December all chicken-scribbled with recipe ideas, but these last few days of August and all of September- empty.

After much thought, a recipe was created to suit these in-between days.  Cold and creamy panna cotta reminds me of summer, and a tart crust made with toasted pecans and a hint of cinnamon appeases my longing for fall.  You can use whatever berries you'd like for a garnish, but I favor the noble grape for this particular tart. Tiny red seedless grapes are a perfect fresh bite, especially when marinated in melted grape jelly and Framboise.

(Bunchkins Black Corinth Table Grapes are good, if you can find them.)

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