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A shopping trip around town with nice surprises

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A few articles ago I mentioned some very pretty heart-shaped baking tins that will turn out some lovely Valentine's Day desserts, like cupcakes and individual lava cakes with chocolate surprises inside. I was slightly disappointed on Saturday when I found that Safeway seems to be sold out of them, but today I saw one at Cost Plus World Market in Tucson. It was ten dollars, which was also the price of some Cake Pops baking pans that Cost Plus is also carrying at the moment (It's quite likely that Safeway will re-stock them as well).

It seems that whenever I go shopping in some kind of variety store I will end up in the kitchen section. There is a Clearance rack at Cost Plus as well--the one I visited is on Broadway across from Best Buy--and it had some lovely items as well, like rustic salad servers made from wood and horn. Their wines are as tempting as ever, along with a unique feature that makes it possible for you to create your own gift baskets: a large selection of small packets of many different things, from candies to syrups to jellies to crackers to cheese, and so on. If you want to get a basket and custom-make an amazing gift variety for a friend, check out what is at Cost Plus World Market. I happen to know, by the way, that the sample feature is on the shelves at their other store within the Tucson Mall.

Both Cake Pops and cupcakes come from the same batter: whether you want to make a chocolate delight or something pastel and pretty, just get out a cake recipe, mix it up and bake it in these varietal pans for special desserts. Children in particular seem to get a lot of fun from Cake Pops, and don't forget that you will need stick handles to insert in the baked cakes. Look for them at Michael's in Tucson, where they are undoubtedly stocked within their huge array of cake decorations. You might also find them at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

And if you are stuck for a cake recipe and you want to make one that will taste sensational--another whole league above cake mix--try this basic.

OLD FASHIONED CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

2 cups organic blonde sugar such as Florida Crystals
1-1/2 stick organic butter at room temperature
3-1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large organic eggs at room temperature
2 cups milk or 2 Tablespoons powdered milk and 2 cups warm water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the muffin tins or the cake pops pan with nonstick baking spray.

Beat together the sugar and butter until they get fluffy and pale in color. Set the mixing bowl aside.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and powdered milk if you are using it in another mixing bowl.

Begin adding the dry ingredients into the eggs and sugar, alternating with the milk or warm water. Use the lowest setting on your electric mixer. When the mixture is completely free of streaks, you could add some pink food color, for example, to accentuate the Valentine's Day theme if you like. Otherwise, transfer the batter to the baking dishes and bake, following the manufacturer's instructions.

When the cakes or cake pops are done, in the case of the cake pops remove the top half of the baking pan (the half that has a hole on top of each pop). Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before you remove them to a wire rack.

Be careful of the effect of the wire rack on the cake pops--it can cause lines to appear which will give you trouble when you frost them. Cool the heart-shaped cupcakes with the top down so that you will not disturb the embossed side that may have heart motifs or other patterns.

To frost cake pops, it will be easy if you treat them something like petits fours, that is, drizzle them with thin frosting once they can be propped up on their handles. While the frosting is still wet you can apply things like confetti decorations, heart shapes or colored sugar.

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