When I was four years old, I went on my first Halloween escapade without my parents. My oldest brother took me around our cul de sac to visit our neighbors. He was dressed as a vampire with fake teeth and couldn’t speak well with them in so I was going to do all the talking for both of us. He made me practice saying “Trick or Treat” over and over until I had it memorized. I repeated it all the way to the end of the street, making a little song out of it.
We walked up to the first house and rang the bell with excitement. A man answered the door and I froze in fear. I couldn’t remember the words and stood in silence with huge eyes looking up at the man. My brother kept nudging me, but I didn’t say anything. The man was laughing at me and wouldn’t give us any candy until we said “Trick or Treat.” Finally completely exasperated with me, my brother pulled out his fake teeth and said it for us and we got our candy. By the next house I was braver and I was able to say it from then on.
Like most kids, Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. I loved getting dressed up and wandering up and down the streets of our town knocking on doors and collecting tons of candy. Then we would all go home and trade for our favorites. When I was young many of the mothers in our town would make homemade candies, wrap the in festive packages and hand them out on Halloween. I loved them all, especially the orange popcorn balls, and it is such a shame that no one does that anymore. These days The Artist and I go to our local mall and watch all the little ones safely run from store to store while their parents follow along or do shopping of their own.
My sister-in-law called to tell us she is going to a Halloween party in our area and she wanted to use our kitchen to make her cupcakes. Great! She had them designed in her mind and knew exactly what she wanted to do. She is extremely creative and we had a blast. So, just in time for your own Halloween celebration, I thought I would share our fun with you. Come along and bake with us!!
Her idea was to create individual graveyards complete with tombstones, flowers, grass, and freshly dug dirt. Plus a surprise in the center of the cupcake. A tad complicated but worth every step – they were a big hit at her party last night. We found really cute Halloween-themed cupcake liners and baked chocolate cupcakes in them. When they were cool, we sliced the tops off leaving a flat surface just above the top of the liners. The tops are great to nibble on while you’re decorating!
Here comes the hidden surprise part. We took the center out of the cupcake, dropped in a few slivered almonds (bones), topped them with some raspberry jam (blood), and then we replaced the center, pressing it down. When you bite into the cupcake you get the delightful blending of chocolate and raspberry with the crunch of almonds. We discovered that the easiest way to get the center out of the cupcakes was to use a small round cookie cutter, press it down in the center and use a spoon to scoop out the centers. Set them aside because you are going to put them back in.
Christine found wonderful butter almond cookies at Whole Foods for the tombstones – Almond Thins from Jules Destrooper. Slender, thin rectangles, broken in half made the perfect shape. When covered with white frosting they looked like marble headstones. We used red frosting to draw crosses and write RIP on the tombstones. We frosted the cupcakes with green frosting, mounding them slightly in the center to replicate grass. We left them smooth but you certainly use the prongs of a fork to make it spiky, more grass texture. Press the tombstones in the top, sprinkle chocolate cookies crumbs in front of it for the dirt of freshly dug “graves” and place candy sprinkles at the base for flowers left by loving family members. Then voila! Individual graveyards for everyone.
I found the most amazing recipe for buttercream frosting on chow.com. It is a great community of food loving people who share all kinds of information, such as where to eat when you’re visiting a new city, which restaurant serves the best burritos and their favorite recipes. This recipe came from a woman’s grandmother who got it from a cake decorating class, probably in the 1950s or 60s. It is truly remarkable – you go from coarse and grainy to silky smooth in just a couple of minutes of beating.
This is unlike any frosting I have ever made in the past. It starts with a slurry made from milk and flour, just like you would make for gravy. It tastes like pure butter but behaves like it was made with vegetable shortening. It is smooth and creamy and not nearly as sweet as most frostings. The flavor of the butter and vanilla really stand out. It is very stable and incredibly easy to work with … a true winner! I hope this becomes your go-to Vanilla Frosting like it has for me.
I hope you and your families have a wonderful and safe Halloween. BOO!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
To remove most of the seeds from any jam, heat it over low heat until melted and smooth. Press it through a wire sieve over a bowl and discard the seeds. If you want to get rid of all the seeds, you will need to press it through a few times.
Kitchen Skill: Smoothly Frosting a Cake/Cupcake
The key to successful and easy cake frosting is using a frosting spatula. Sometimes called an icing spatula or icing knife, its long narrow shape and flexible blade is designed just for this purpose. You can get them as small as 6-inches long, and they go up to 15-inches and longer. Use a small one for cupcakes, a longer one for cakes. An offset spatula gives you a lot of flexibility, keeping your knuckles above the counter level. I have both types in multiple sizes. They are great spreaders for mustard and mayonnaise too!
Spread a fairly large amount of frosting on the top, taking off the excess you don’t need. With your spatula slightly angled, drag it around the outside of the cupcakes, smoothing the top. Having a flexible blade to work with (as opposed to a stiff kitchen knife) makes it possible to move it around evenly and smoothly.
Ingredients for Halloween Graveyard Cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes (recipe follows)
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Food Coloring, preferably gel colors such as made by AmeriColor
Small, thin rectangular cookies
Raspberry Jam, preferably seedless
Slivered almonds (not sliced)
Multi-colored sugar “Snowflakes” decorations
Crushed chocolate cookies (use a food processor or place in a plastic bag and hit with a rolling pin)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 3 tbsp safflower or canola oil (do not use olive oil)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside.
- Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.
- Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. An ice cream scoop works well for distributing the batter. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through.
- Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
- Yield: 18 to 24 cupcakes
- 5 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk plus 1 to 2 tbsp or as needed
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 to 2 tsp vanilla extract, or other flavoring of your choice
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk flour and milk together. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken. Pull off the heat and make sure there are no lumps. Return to heat and cook for another minute or two until thick and creamy. You need to cook it long enough to get rid of any raw flour flavor but not so long that it starts to turn tan.
- Remove from heat and stir in 1 to 2 tbsp milk to thin slightly and whisk until creamy. Pour into a flat dish like a pie plate or cake pan (I used an 8×11-inch Pyrex baking dish) and let cool, stirring occasionally. If you still have a few lumps, you can press it through a fine sieve before continuing.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the butter and sugar. Beat on medium until it has lightened in color and is fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the cooled roux, about 2 tbsp at a time, while beating the sugar/butter mixture. The frosting will get creamier as you beat it. Test it occasionally and beat until there is no more grittiness from the sugar, about 2 to 3 more minutes, depending on the strength of your mixer.
- Add desired flavoring and beat until light and creamy. If making more than one color, divide the white frosting into smaller bowls and add coloring to each, stirring until smooth.
- This is a very stable frosting that holds up well to most conditions but will melt under extreme heat. Refrigerate as needed.
- Yield: enough to generously frost 24 cupcakes