I like Halloween, but I don’t love it. What I do love is Christmas, and Halloween mostly serves as a soft launch into Christmas (as in, I can’t launch into the Christmas spirit until the day after Halloween).
(For those wondering, the hard launch occurs after Remembrance Day.)
Most Halloween celebrations in my adult life have been forgettable. Except the Halloween where I had swine flu, which was entirely unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons.
However, this year, I was presented with the opportunity to attend a low key house party with some of my favourite people. These are the best kind of Halloweens plans.
After deliberating on what would make the best hostess gift, I settled upon baking some festive cupcakes. Careful deliberation resulted in these two ideas:
- Pumpkin cupcakes decorated like Jack-o-lanterns
- Chocolate cupcakes with white icing and spoooooky chocolate decorations.
The first cupcakes were relatively straightforward. I relied on my most trusted baking source for the recipes: Martha Stewart (or, as I affectionately call her, My Girl Martha). I have found Martha to be somewhat hit or miss when it comes to savoury recipes, but she never steers me wrong when it comes to baking. Here’s the pumpkin cupcake recipe I used.
I also used Martha’s cream cheese frosting recipe. Here is one of my baking secrets: I pretty much only make cream cheese frosting. I used to make all kinds – meringue, buttercream, whipped cream-based – but cream cheese icing tastes the best with almost all cake bases. Somehow, it never feels too rich, or too airy, or anything but too delicious (hey-o).
The pumpkin cupcakes went quite well. The only snafu was that the cupcake papers I’d purchased came in 12 pack, whereas my recipe made 18 cupcakes. I did have extra cupcake papers, but they had Santa on the bottom. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so there were a few Santa/Jack-o-lantern cupcakes. This is only a minor cupcake crisis.
I found this recipe for the chocolate cupcakes, and I was intrigued because it comes together a little differently than most recipes (it doesn’t cream the butter and sugar together first – how unorthodox!)
The challenge here was that I had used up all the regular cupcake liners, plus the Santa ones. All I had left now were mini liners for my mini cupcake tin. I decided that this was not a bad thing, since it would give people the option to have a little cupcake or a big one. Another minor cupcake crisis, averted.
The larger crisis presented itself with the chocolate decorations. I’m not an expert baker by any means, but I can’t bring myself to buy those waxy “chocolate” pellets that you melt in the microwave, pipe out into designs, and pop in the freezer to harden up. I don’t know why I care so much because I’m pretty sure nobody else does, and they’re just a decoration, so who cares how they taste?
Instead, I rolled my shirt sleeves up and got to tempering my chocolate. I don’t really know the chemical aspects of tempering chocolate, but I’m sure Alton Brown has a good episode about. All I know is that you do it to get nice, shiny chocolate that hardens on its own at room temperature. There are a few ways to do it, but the way I learned involves melting chocolate on a double boiler, then removing it from the heat and adding bits of unmelted chocolate until it is “tempered”. How do you tell if it is tempered? It comes with practice and experience. My chocolate tempering spidey senses are a little rusty, but they usually work more or less.
The good news is that I tempered the chocolate perfectly. The bad news is that I used a handy little squeeze bottle to pipe out my designs, and although I thought I’d removed all the unmelted chocolate bits, they kept finding their way into the tip of the squeeze bottle, clogging the chocolate mid-spider web piping.
All in all, the piping was a bit of a disaster and the decorations turned out way more amateur than I hoped. But I think I salvaged them.
I have already written nearly 700 words on these cupcakes, so I’ll wrap it up by saying the cupcakes turned out cute and were delicious (I like the pumpkin ones best). Despite the Santa wrappers and the mangled cobwebs that look more like snowflakes, I deem my Halloween cupcakes – and indeed, my entire Halloween 2016 – a great success.