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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Are cupcakes still a thing? I hope so, because I happen to love cake and cupcakes provide the perfect serving size. They are also so much easier to take to a party - no slicing, no messy cake plate. I had two holiday functions last week and both times took my go to cupcake recipe, Martha Stewart's Red Velvet Cupcakes. I have made this recipe many times always with great success. 
I think Red Velvet cake is a Southern tradition but I don't know who can resist a light chocolate cake with rich cream cheese frosting. Because of the added red food coloring and white frosting all it takes is a few sprinkles of red sanding sugar to make these look like the perfect Christmas dessert.

 What is your favorite cupcake recipe?

Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon red gel-paste food color
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with 20 paper liners. Whisk together cake flour, cocoa, and salt.
  2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and butter until combined. Mix in food color and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed for 10 seconds.
  4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
  5. To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Chill before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Place cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, soften cream cheese. Gradually add butter, and continue beating until smooth and well blended. Sift in confectioners' sugar, and continue beating until smooth. Add vanilla, and stir to combine.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Fontanini Nativity

Many people collect Nativity sets and that may be the primary focus of their Christmas decorations. I realized many years ago that I had a couple of small nativities but not a really nice set. While vacationing in Virginia one February I wandered into a gift shop that had what remained of their Christmas items marked at 50% off. I spied this lovely nativity set and inquired about it. "Hmm," the sales clerk said, "that's one of our Fontanini's. We don't usually mark those down. Let me ask the manager." The manager obliged and I got a 16 piece Fontanini set for $100. (This was 20 years ago.)  They now sell for over $350.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Fontanini is one of the premier makers of Nativity sets. The company was founded by Emanuele Fontanini who began by making paper mache figurines in the late 1800's.

The pieces are all still made in Italy, they are all hand painted and there are dozens of figures sold separately so you can add to your collection.

 Here is the Holy Family,

and the Wise Men.

I also had a few shepherds.

 I bought this sweet shepherdess on a trip to Rome.

Gradually I added a few more pieces.

Imagine how thrilled I was to find a huge Fontanini set at an estate sale last summer!

There were over 30 figures plus a stable. 

The detail is amazing. 

Here is the camel driver tending to the Wise Men's camels.

And there is a Roman soldier checking the census.

The pieces are signed and stamped on the bottom. You can buy Fontanini at finer gift shops and online. Each figure comes boxed with a name and a story card.

Since I had duplicates of the main pieces I'll pass those on to my children.

 My husband says now I have the entire
 village of Bethlehem!

Do you have a special Nativity?

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