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Cupcakes All Around

Submitted by on December 3, 2009 – 10:28 PMNo Comment
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cupcakes081206As much as you like the people you work with, celebrating the holidays in an office can be an expensive proposition if the corporate culture encourages universal gift giving.  Seriously, even if you just buy everyone a coffee mug with a quote on it (and who doesn’t need another mug?), it can run into money.  You don’t want to look like a Scrooge by opting out of the gift-giving but you also don’t want to bust your budget.  Here’s a sneaky way you can let everyone know you love them without actually having to prove it with a special gift.  Bake cupcakes!

Everyone likes cupcakes.  And around the holidays, everyone’s in a celebratory, cupcake kind of mood.  The trick is timing.  The optimum date for bringing in your cornucopia of cupcake goodness is December 16.  That’s well ahead of almost any planned “secret Santa” exchange or other holiday event.  (If your company does have a “secret Santa” policy, you’re going to be on the hook for that, but at least it’s just one gift, and the rules of the game usually dictate that the gift be cheap.)

Buy a cheap tray.  Festive foil and plastic trays are available all during the holidays and you don’t have to worry about getting it back.  If it gets thrown away, no problem.  You can also buy one of those heavy-duty foil roasting pans to corral the cupcakes in an orderly fashion, which makes transporting them easier.

You will need three kinds of cupcake—chocolate, gingerbread and spice are the best flavors for the season.  What you do is buy cake mixes in all these flavors and bake according to the directions for cupcakes.  (Even really cheap chocolate cake mixes make great cake, with none of the fake-y flavor you sometimes get in vanilla and gold cake mixes and gingerbread and spice cakes are good boxed cake choices as well.)

Then you make homemade frosting for all the cupcakes and add neat little flourishes to make them special.  Even if one of your co-workers suspects you’re doing the “semi-homemade” thing, they’ll be so busy cramming cupcake in their mouth to bust you.

Use the same basic (easy) cream cheese frosting for all three kinds of cupcakes but add different flavorings to customize.

Basic Cream Cheese Frosting

This recipe makes enough frosting to two batches of cake mix.

-1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
-1 stick of unsalted butter
-2 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract


1. Leave cream cheese and butter out until they come to room temperature and are soft.  You don’t want lumps of cream cheese in your frosting.

2. Mix all the ingredients together.  You can do this by hand with a heavy wooden spoon but it’s a lot easier if you have a mixer.

That’s it.

For chocolate cupcakes: Melt three squares of baker’s unsweetened chocolate and stir into the cream cheese frosting.  Frost the cupcakes.  Top with your choice of dark chocolate sprinkles, rainbow sprinkles, crushed candy canes, M&Ms, miniature marshmallows or just leave plain.  Sometimes chocolate is just perfect by itself.

For gingerbread cupcakes: Chop a little (and a little goes a long way) crystallized ginger and mix into the cream cheese frosting.  Or add a little fresh lemon juice to give the frosting some tang, like the lemon sauce that you drizzle over homemade gingerbread.

For spice cupcakes: Chop up some pecans or walnuts and add to the cream cheese frosting.  Top the cupcakes with golden raisins or whole nutmeats.  (I like the dark flavor of walnuts but many people find them too strong.)

Take the cupcakes into the office kitchen or conference room.  Add a note that says:  Merry Christmas Everyone!  Best, me…and consider your gift-giving obligation discharged.  By five o’clock all that will be left are crumbs.

Toast your Christmas generosity with one of the lovely spicy brews of the season, like Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale (which would go nicely with one of those spice cupcakes) or the clove and orange-infused Schlafly Christmas Ale, which is the perfect accompaniment to gingerbread.