dark chocolate cupcakes w/ peppermint swiss meringue buttercream*

A bunch of firsts for my hubby this week. I made him watch The Grinch with Jim Carrey, and The Santa Clause with Tim Allen. He hadn't seen either one and I gotta admit, I was nervous. He likes to pretend like he is too macho to enjoy a "family friendly" movie, and guess what. He thoroughly enjoyed both! SCORE! (Keep it hush hush. Wouldn't want to crush his ego.)

Christmas is 3 days away and I have the PERFECT cupcake for you! We served these babies this past week at a sports banquet for the students and they were a huge hit! If nothing else, you need to make the dark chocolate cake. It was chocolatey - but not too chocolatey, moist and delicious. Oh and the buttercream. Man oh man, I have never had swiss meringue buttercream, and it is officially one of my new favorite things - and I am not a huge buttercream fan! And I am always down for peppermint anything. Simply an AH-MA-ZING dessert I tell you.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Peppermint Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

baked maple bars*

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Yes, I am still alive! I cannot believe I have not posted since JULY. That is crazy, but most of all not OK. I promise you, I have still been creating and cooking and baking away. It's gotten so bad that I don't even take pictures of my creations anymore. However, 2013 is approaching and I am going to turn a new leaf. Or lack thereof these days in my neck of the woods. I miss the pretty leaves. And the sun. And flip flops. Mostly flip flops. I wore them today for fun because I have missed them so much. Thought my toes got frost bite, but did it anyway.

Christmas is a little over a week away and I am so stinkin excited!! This year for my birthday I asked for a Christmas tree and new decorations that match the house. I know, I'm weird. I have been told this over and over again these past few months. My tree was up on November 4th. Don't judge me. One month is not enough time to have the twinkling lights and happiness that come from looking at your cute tree. I also made my own ruffled tree skirt (tutorial here - found it on Pinterest of course). Wanna see a picture??

You can't see my cute skirt in this pic, so here is another with my cute little nephew. He decided that he would play with the ornaments. Good thing he's cute :). If you look closely you can see the skirt in the background.

Sorry, I did take a normal pic of it, but then I got a new phone and was too lazy to take all my pictures off of my iPhone. I am happy to announce that I am now an android owner/user again!!! Beats the iPhone any day.

Anyway, let's get down to business. These maple bars are seriously amazing. My favorite part is that they are baked! They are healthier, but most of all I don't have to deal with the mess of using oil. I am a clean freak (in case you didn't know) and whenever I cook with oil I scrub and degrease and scrub some more and the dang stuff just gets on everything. These are no fuss with these bars, and honestly if I can make them successfully so can you! Especially since I really stink at making bread. Don't know if I could repeat this amazing feat again, but I will try because these are one of my new favorite things!! I even bought some shortening for the event, which is a big deal for me. The stuff freaks me out. Like a lot. I kind of have the heeby jeebies just knowing it is in the pantry right now. Ick.

*By the way, I realize that the format is all messed up and there aren't spaces where spaces should be, but blogger is being dumb right now and won't save normally. Technology these days.....*

Baked Maple Bars
from Make Lemonade and More

Maple Bars
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup shortening
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2  (1/4 ounce) envelopes yeast - which equals 4 1/2 tsp. if you have it in the jar like me
2 large eggs, beaten
5 cups flour (might need a bit more, but I used about 4 3/4 cups)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (a little extra never hurt anybody!)

Maple Icing
1/3 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
\1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons mapleine (found by the flavor extracts and seasonings)
1/8 teaspoon salt*
For the dough:
In a medium saucepan scald milk; add shortening, 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, and salt. Stir to combine and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large mixer bowl, add the lukewarm water and the yeast (remember the water should be just lukewarm, too hot and it will kill the yeast) Add the remaining 1 Tablespoon of sugar to the yeast and water and whisk to combine. Let sit for about 5 minutes until it starts to bubble and become foamy. After the yeast is foamy and the milk mixture is luke warm. Add the eggs to the yeast and stir to combine, then add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk the cinnamon into the flour and gradually add to the yeast mixture. You may need to add more, you want the dough slightly sticky but not too sticky.  Knead for 3 to 5 minutes. Spray another large bowl with non-stick spray, place dough in the bowl and let raise for an hour or until double in size.

Punch down and roll out into a large rectangle about 1 inch thick. Cut into rectangles, I cut the rectangle in half, and then each half into 6 pieces to make 12 bars, then place on a greased baking sheet. Let raise for about 30 minutes. While bars are raising,  preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the bars for 7 to 8 minutes or until light golden brown, Watch carefully. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before icing.
Make the icing while the bars are raising:
In a small saucepan mix butter, brown sugar and milk. Bring to boil for medium heat and simmer 3 minutes.l Remove from heat and cool for 15 minutes. Add the mapleine and powdered sugar and blend well with a hand mixer. Add a little more powdered sugar if needed (I added about 1/4 cup more). Spread on your cooled bars and eat your little heart out! Extra delicious with an ice cold glass of milk!
*I just realized that the recipe calls for 1/8 tsp. of salt, which I am assuming goes in the frosting, and I didn't put it in because it wasn't in the instructions. So if you leave it out, I promise it will still taste amazing! You won't even miss it!

So yeah. Make these. They are yummy. I promise I will be back before another 5 months pass by. Maybe even this week if I get crazy!!