Our family has a tradition of celebrating the most minor holidays with great enthusiasm.  My mother, who has a highly evolved sense of whimsy and — I mean this as a compliment — is very easily amused, used to dye our milk green on St. Patrick’s Day, cook borscht on Gorbachev’s birthday (one year she even made a dome-shaped cake decorated as his head, big red birthmark and all — truly the stuff of legend), and make a glorious Groundhog Day cake with a Twinkie groundhog sticking straight up out of the middle.

I strive constantly to be as fun and lovable a mother to my children as she’s always been for my brothers and me, so yesterday we made some cupcakes in honor of the big day.

Happy early spring, Massachusetts!  And thanks, Mom.

Easy Chocolate Frosting

Yield: Enough for 12 cupcakes (or 6 groundhogs)

3 oz. unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate (depending on how sweet you like your frosting), chopped

1 tbsp. butter

1/4 c. warm water

1 tsp. vanilla

Up to 2 c. confectioner’s sugar

Melt chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl in the microwave (Be careful not to scorch it!  A good microwave method is to heat the chocolate 20 seconds at a time, stirring well in between with a rubber spatula.  When only very small pieces of unmelted chocolate remain, let the heat of the bowl and the already-melted chocolate melt the rest.) or in a metal bowl set over a pot with an inch of barely simmering water (don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water).

When chocolate and butter are melted, whisk in water and vanilla, then sift in one cup of the sugar.  Whisk well (you can use an electric mixer for this, but I don’t bother), then whisk in more of the sugar 1/4 cup at a time until you reach a nice spreading consistency.

This frosting sets up firm, like ganache (which makes it ideal for decorating, or if you need to make cupcakes a day or two in advance or transport them) — if it gets too stiff to spread, warm it for a few seconds in the microwave.   If you like your frosting soft, serve immediately.

Make it vegan: Substitute a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening for the butter.

To make groundhogs: Bake a dozen of your favorite cupcakes.  Slice the rounded tops off of 6 of them and flip them over so they stand flat and steady.  Spread a small amount of frosting on the now top of each flipped over cupcake, stick in two toothpicks vertically, about 3/4″ apart, near the center, and place a second cupcake, right side up, on top of the upside down one (the toothpicks will keep the top cupcake from sliding off when you frost).  Frost top and sides of groundhog (a small offset spatula is the best tool for this, but a butter knife will work) and let frosting set.

Mix 1/3 c. confectioner’s sugar with a tiny bit of milk (any kind), just enough to make a fairly stiff, glossy icing.  Spoon icing into a zip-top sandwich bag and snip a tiny piece off one bottom corner of the bag to make a tiny hole.  Push frosting toward the tiny hole end of the bag, and pipe eyes, nose, and mouth (add ears, bow tie, whatever else you like) onto groundhogs.