Special equipment: Paper mini cupcake liners Gold and red curling ribbon 1 small 11-inch styrofoam cone (you can get this at a craft shop or in the craft department of a large discount store) 30 to 40 toothpicks
Cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the cups of 2 to 4 mini muffin tins with paper liners (you can bake the cupcakes in batches if necessary). Mix the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the eggs and milk and mix until well combined. Drizzle in the oil and the vanilla and almond extracts and mix. With the mixer running at low speed, add the boiling water and mix just until smooth. Fill the lined muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake until risen and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the pans. Frosting: In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk and mix until smooth. Add more milk a little at a time until the frosting is thick and spreadable. Using a flexible spatula, frost the tops of the cooled cupcakes. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before assembling the tree.
To assemble the tree, spread a thick layer of sprinkles out on a plate. Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the sprinkles and set aside. Tie curling ribbon around the candy canes and curl with a scissor blade. One inch up from the bottom of the styrofoam cone, stick toothpicks into the cone 1 1/2 inches apart, making a circle around the cone and leaving them sticking out at least 1 inch. Place the cone on a serving platter. Make the bottom ring of cupcakes by spearing the bottom of a cupcake onto one of the toothpicks in the cone, with the frosting facing out and with the side of the cupcake resting on the plate. One inch above the tops of the first row of cupcakes, place another row of toothpicks 1 1/2 inches apart, all around the cone, positioning them so that the second row will rest between the tops of the first row. You will fit fewer cupcakes on the second row; feel free to cut a cupcake in half if necessary to fit into the space available. Spear the cupcakes onto the toothpicks as before. Continue up the cone to form a tree of cupcakes, ending with a single cupcake on top. Serve within one hour, or refrigerate up to 24 hours. Stick the candy canes in the styrofoam and stick gilded cranberries on with a little extra icing. Pour sugar on the serving platter around the tree. To gild the cranberries, roll them on the sheets of gold leaf to roughly coat.
Recipe courtesy of Gale Gand