(Black velvet spiders, recipe in post)
The air is chill, the nights are long, and all is quiet save the rustling of leaves... Hallows eve is upon us! Turning children's stomachs with fear, and too much candy - buahahaha!
It's been quite a while since I've done anything much for Halloween - sure, as a kid, I would dress up and do the whole door-to-door thing, but that all ended when I was about fourteen. Later, I'd do food drives, collecting canned goods rather than candy and donating to charity, but with a busier adult schedule dressing up and making a night of it seemed less and less practical. Unfortunately, this year is hardly different. Despite being invited to several events, and of course the fun that could be found in pairing costumes with The Boyfriend, I simply haven't had enough time in the day. It doesn't help that the days are getting shorter, either.
I did, however, find the time to make some spooky halloween treats - how could I not? I came up with dozens of ideas before realizing I had to narrow down my options if I wanted to get any of them made before the actual day, so I settled on cupcakes - a genre with so much potential, but that I've hardly ever played with.
I was still toying with a few different ideas when I found the spider web cupcake stand - that's when I knew I had to do the spiders.
First, I tried making their little legs out of modeling chocolate. This was very silly of me, and after spending several hours fiddling with things I finally realized this. Modeling chocolate was simply not sturdy enough for my needs.
Then I switched to gum paste. This was the first time I'd worked with gum paste, and was a much more complicated job than I'd have liked to start out with. I managed to make things work in the end, but I won't be giving a very detailed how-to because honestly, the time and effort were hardly worthwhile. The cupcakes, on the other hand, were very, very worthwhile! I made two batches of mini's, which are both almost entirely gone - some to friends and neighbors, but most to The Boyfriend's and my bellies. I'd never made red velvet before (which these are, only with black food coloring instead of red), but these turned out amazing. And if you're wondering where the frosting is, then I've got a little surprise for you... it's on the inside! More on that later.
First, the basics about the gum paste legs. I started out by kneaded some black gel food coloring into the gum paste (you could make your own, but store bought is so much less hassle, and seriously worth the price). Then I rolled out long cylinders of it, just like a kid making clay snakes. I made them thinner than a pencil, but not too thin because otherwise they wouldn't be able to support themselves. I cut the snake into maybe 2.5-3.5 inch lengths to form the legs, then rolled another few inches a little thicker to form the center.
(I also made a couple with a flat disc for the center, but found that these were more fragile and the legs fell off)
I then took the legs and adhered them to the circle with a dab of water, and much pinching/squishing/kneading to get them to stick. I then set them up on empty cupcake wrappers, bending the legs as was fitting.
(I made sure the inner circle was just wide enough to hold the bottom of a mini cupcake - if the circle was too small, I gentle stretched it to fit)
Then I let them dry overnight. It would behoove of me, had I thought of it, to brush them the next morning with more black gel coloring, to give a darker, shinier finish - but I'm not that smart. Once the spiders were made, I was already moving on to the cupcakes!
A quick note - if you're going to be working directly with food coloring, you might want to wear gloves.
(I'm like Violet, turning into a blueberry! Also, a quick shout-out to The Boyfriend for his handy dandy camera work.)
If you do use gloves, be sure to get non-powdered medical cloves. I like to avoid using latex, in case of allergies, so I recommend Nitrile if you can find them.
Black Velvet Cupcakes, with chocolate cream filling
(Adapted from 6 Bittersweets 'Best Red Velvet Cupcakes')
This recipe will make approx. 12-14 full sized cupcakes, or 28-30 mini's
1 cup cake flour, plus 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 TBSP cocoa powder (can I emphasize again that I like Valrhona?)
1/2 tsp., rounded, of baking soda
1/4 tsp., rounded, salt
3/4 cup sugar, or vanilla sugar
1/4 cup, or half a stick, unsalted butter, melted
1 TBSP, rounded, of black (or red, for classic) gel food coloring (I recommend Wilton icing color, but other gels would work, too - just be sure not to use regular liquid food coloring, as it won't be a deep enough color and will water down the batter)
1/2 cup plus 1 TBSP buttermilk (can be substituted with a combination of 1/2 cup plus 1/2 TBSP whole milk, and 1 1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice, and set aside to sour for five minutes before using)
3 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP full fat mayonnaise
1 large egg, preferably at room temp.
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Frosting or filling of choice - chocolate cream recipe follows
Step 1 - spray cupcake pan, and or fill with liners. Preheat the oven to 350f.
In a large bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients, including the sugar. Make sure everything is well combined.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, mayonnaise, egg, vinegar, and vanilla. Set aside.
In another bowl, melt the butter and whisk in the food coloring. It's important to add the food coloring at this point, to the wet ingredients, so that when you combine the wet and dry the color is evenly distributed, and not clumpy, without having to over-mix things.
Add the buttermilk mixture to the butter and food coloring, and stir until well combined.
Pour the wet into the dry, and stir with a spatula until all the flour is wet. A few lumps are fine, so don't go over-mixing things!
For filling the cupcakes, since it's a fairly wet batter, I found it most convenient to use a piping bag (or zip-top bag with a corner cut out) to fill the pan evenly and without mess.
Fill each cup about 3/4 of the way full - I went a little heavy on the batter, specifically trying to get a little bit more of a full-topped look. (I also made red batter, and piped this with a small piping tip onto the top to make little x's and hourglasses on the backs of my spiders. The smaller designs came out best, as the batter expanded significantly in the oven.)
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpic inserted in the center comes out clean. It may take a little longer if you're doing full sized cupcakes, but I found 15-16 minutes was just perfect for the little ones.
Remove from the oven, and let sit for a minute or two before transferfing the cupcakes to a rack to finish cooling. It's important that you take them out of the pan while they're still warm, otherwise they'll sit in their own oil and steam and become soggy on the bottom.
Once cooled, and set carefully into their spider legs, these babies were ready for their close up!
But wait, what about the frosting! Well, let's do a little dissection, shall we?
Ooooh, chocolaty spider insides!
After the cupcakes were cooled, I filled them with a simple chocolate cream frosting.
Using a small paring knife (or in my case, a birds-beak fruit carving knife), cut around the center of the cupcake at about a 45 degree angle.
(Forgive the awful lighting...)
Once the center is removed, cut off the cone end of the center, leaving just the top of the muffin. You can hollow out the inside a little more if you like, depending on what cake to filling ratio you want.
(Nom! You can guess where those cupcake innards went!)
Then, pipe full of whatever frosting you like, and replace the lid.
The seam is certainly visible, but it detracts very little from the overall presentation. Plus, they're more fun to eat and less messy to transport this way.
Normally, the incision in the top would be hidden beneath more frosting, like so - you can do this if you like, but I find this to be too much frosting, especially in the case of the mini's
The Chocolate Cream:
One part cocoa powder (1/4 cup) to
Two parts powdered sugar (1/2 cup) plus
a Pinch of cream of tarter (>1/8th tsp.), add
Just enough milk to make it all moist (~1/4 cup), then
Whipping cream as you like it (1/2-1 cup),
Beaten on high until billowy, and chilled.
Optional additions: vanilla extract, espresso powder, pinch of cinnamon... you get the idea.
Holy red velvet cupcakes, Batman!
Did I mention how quickly these went? The mini's make the perfect one to two bite treat, and with the frosting on the inside they're easy to transport if you want to take them on the go. And although the spiders are a bit much effort, the decorating possibilities are pretty endless. They could even be easily tailored for other holidays - green and red for Christmas, anyone?
Whether you spookify them or not... these are some scary good cupcakes!