I love Halloween – it’s all about pure fun and fantasy (and candy!). We usually have a big Halloween party after the trick-or-treating, with simple games that prolong the night (murder-by-wink is a favorite, as is the always-anticipated doughnut-eating contest, with favorite flavors tied to strings and no hands allowed). The hardest part is getting the kids through the time from the end of school through the dinner hour. It’s just too exciting! My plan is to keep them occupied. And one of the best ways to do so is with a “spirited” decorating project.
I know, I know, they’ve already had a party at school, and they are sugared-up beyond belief. But it’s only one night, and the occasional crazy over-indulgence is part of the fun of childhood. Luckily, Halloween is on a Friday night this year, so they can sleep off the sugar without worrying about getting up for school. After a couple of days, the candy “disappears,” and I’m lucky that my daughter never seems to notice or care. It’s more about the costumes, neighborhood haunting, and party atmosphere than the actual eating of the candy. So why add cupcakes to the mix? It’s not just a diversion to pass the time until it’s dark enough to head out the door; it’s also about creating memories in the kitchen.
Cupcakes are a good decorating choice because each kid gets one and there’s no fighting over portion size (“his slice is bigger than mine!”). Plus, they can take them home as favors and eat them the next day. Of course the cupcake has to be chocolate. And not just any chocolate cake – but DEVIL’s food cake. It’s more than the name of the cake. This recipe has plenty of kid appeal, while not being too sweet for the adults. It’s tender and dark and a perfect match for the simple dark ganache frosting that acts as soil for the graveyard decorations. Bake and frost the cupcakes in advance (or, if the kids are slightly older, you can let them frost the little cakes).
Set out the decorating supplies and give them some ideas, then watch as their imaginations go crazy. I like to use crushed chocolate cookies as “dirt,” but you could also use black non-pariels, black crystallized sugar, or chocolate jimmies. Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies are perfect gravestones, cut in half and stuck into the icing. Food coloring decorating pens are great for writing names or sayings on the gravestones before adding them to the cupcake. Look at your favorite candy store for spooky additions like candy skulls and pair them with gummy worms, or gummy body parts sticking out of the “grave.” Try gumball eyeballs staring up from the dirt, or candy insects crawling over the surface. Ghost Peeps are simple and easy – use lollipop sticks to attach them to the cupcake (I avoid toothpicks because some kids will poke themselves while trying to eat the Peeps).
For something simpler, dust the icing with cocoa powder or powdered sugar through a Halloween stencil. If you want to get into the craftier side of food, dip marshmallows in green candy melts, let harden, then pipe a Frankenstein face with dark chocolate. Cut pieces of Tootsie rolls and insert in the “neck” for electrodes. Following the same idea, dip marshmallows in orange candy melts and pipe jack-o-lantern faces in chocolate. For a witch hat, brush an ice cream cone (sugar cone variety) with dark chocolate candy melts and let it dry. Then use additional chocolate to glue it to a round chocolate cookie (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers). If you like, pipe a buckle or stripes in orange or bright purple. You can put a couple of gumball eyeballs peeking out from underneath when you place it on the cupcake. You get the idea…wander the candy store for more inspiration. And Happy Halloween!!
More Devilishly Fun Halloween Cupcakes ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Devil's Food Cupcakes with Ganache Frosting
Makes 20 Cupcakes
The deep chocolate flavor of this cake comes from the technique of pouring boiling water over cocoa powder, which intensifies and releases all the chocolate notes within. Be sure to use unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder; natural cocoa powder will react unfavorably with the baking powder. If you’re not sure which kind you have, check the ingredient label: Dutch-process cocoa powder contains alkali, whereas natural does not.
Equipment: Two standard-size cupcake tins with paper cupcake liners for 20 cupcakes, Parchment Paper, Two Small Bowls, Small Saucepan, Whisk, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Paddle Attachment or a Hand Mixer and a Medium Bowl, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Fine-Mesh Strainer, Medium Bowl, Cooling Rack, Thin and Flexible Knife or Spatula
- ½ cup (2½ ounces) unsifted unsweetened
- Dutch-process cocoa powder
- ½ cup (4 ounces) plus 1 cup (8 ounces) water
- 1½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted
- butter, softened (65° to 68°F)
- 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup (6 ounces) firmly packed
- light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour
- ¼ cup (1¼ ounces) unbleached
- all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and position oven racks in the lower and upper thirds.
- Mix the cocoa powder: Place the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Heat ½ cup of the water in the small saucepan just until it begins to simmer. Pour it over the cocoa and whisk or stir until blended and smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature. If it is warm, it will melt the butter and ruin the texture of your cake.
- Cream the butter with the sugars: Place the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until very light in color, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
- Add the eggs: Beat the eggs and vanilla in the other small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then resume adding the eggs. Scrape down the bowl again.
- Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately: With the fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt into the medium bowl and blend with the cleaned whisk. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and the cocoa water alternately, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half the cocoa water. Repeat, then finish with flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand, if necessary.
- Bake the cupcakes: Divide the batter evenly among 20 of the paper liners. Fill each liner half full with batter. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Storing: The unfrosted cakes can be wrapped in plastic and held at room temperature for 1 day. They can also be frozen, double-wrapped in plastic, each one inside a resealable plastic freezer bag, for up to 4 weeks. Leave the parchment paper intact. To thaw, unwrap the cakes and defrost at room temperature for about 1 hour. Once frosted, refrigerate for up to 3 days under a cake dome. If it has been cut, simply press a piece of plastic wrap firmly against the cut surfaces to keep it fresh.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
Makes 3 cups (1½ pounds)
Voluptuously smooth and rich, ganache is nothing more than the combination of chocolate and cream. This recipe will give you plenty of frosting for 20 cupcakes. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator and warm for sauce over ice cream, or scoop for decadent truffles. Take care to chop your chocolate finely—into about ¼-inch pieces—because big chunks won’t melt completely when the hot cream is poured over the top, and your ganache will be dotted with chunks of hard chocolate. If this happens, strain out the chunks, melt them gently in a microwave oven (10 seconds at a time, stirring between each heating) until melted, then stir back into the ganache.
Equipment: Large Bowl, Small Saucepan, Whisk
- 20 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (up to 60 percent cacao), finely chopped
- 2½ cups (20 ounces) heavy whipping cream
- Place the chocolate in the medium bowl. Heat the cream in the small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to boil. Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 1 minute, then gently whisk until the ganache is completely smooth and blended. If you are using a high-percentage chocolate and the mixture looks broken or curdled at this point, stir in an extra tablespoon or two of cream, just until the mixture smooths out again.
- Let the ganache cool for 1 hour, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to finish cooling at room temperature until it has the consistency of frosting, 8 to 10 hours. If you make it the night before, it will be the perfect texture for frosting cakes and cupcakes in the morning.
Storing: The ganache may be prepared up to 2 days ahead and kept at room temperature, covered. For longer storage, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.