Most families spend the weeks before Halloween up to their shoulders in pumpkin guts. I prefer frosting and candy. Pumpkin carving is awesome, but my family’s go-to Halloween tradition is decorating cupcakes. Don’t be fooled–-it’s just as messy as carving pumpkins, but it’s a lot more fun licking frosting from your fingers than pumpkin innards. This tradition began several years ago when my mother mailed us a package of Halloween-themed goodies–napkins, cups, candy and cupcake liners. I just had to use those cupcake liners…and the rest is history. This is where our creativity flourishes. After all, we have 24 chances to decorate the perfect treat with designs running the gamut from cutesy (mine), to imaginative (both Jay and Jake) to downright gross (like Jay’s bleeding witch, crushed by her own hat). Disgusting or adorable, they all taste delicious!
Cupcakes are one of my favorite desserts (and meals…), but I don’t make them nearly often enough (because I will single-handedly eat them all!) As a result, when Halloween cupcake time rolls around, I tend to go all out–searching online for inspiration and techniques, shopping for decorating materials, scouring Long Island for the always necessary “bones” candies. Last year I found these great bloody bones candies, but could not find them anywhere this year, and the thought of ordering them online didn’t occur to me until now–too late! A last-minute trip to Michael’s resulted in plain old white bones and black and white skulls. Jay and Jake were disappointed with the non-gruesome bones, but I fell in love with my adorable skeleton cupcake (is he doing the macarena?).
I found there are two types of people in this world: those of us who love box mix cakes, and those who scoff at those of us who love box mix cakes. (Can’t we all just get along? We’re talking CAKE here, people.) I grew up with box mix cake, and love the batter almost as much as the finished product. However this year I made it my mission to make cupcakes from scratch. But with so many yellow cake recipes out there, how could I be sure the recipe I picked wouldn’t disappoint? Easy. I googled “yellow cake recipe that tastes like box mix”. Unfortunately that just resulted in heated debates arguing the merits of “box vs. scratch” cakes and commenters lamenting the fact that scratch recipes didn’t produce the same taste/texture/warm fuzzy feeling the box mix does. Through numerous cyber twists and turns, I came across this yellow cake recipe From Karen’s Kitchen, and, despite the fact that I didn’t have cake flour or buttermilk (and I loathe buying ingredients that aren’t standard in my pantry), I decided to give it a try. I was impressed. The recipe was simple and yummy! Did it taste like a box mix? No. Did I care? Not at all! The cupcakes were fluffy and flavorful. I even ate an unfrosted cupcake for breakfast (sweets before eats, baby!). Maybe they were more dense than a box mix, but that worked to our advantage since we loaded them up with frosting and candy.
Now that I had homemade cupcakes, it seemed a sin to use store-bought frosting. Confession #2–I love store-bought frosting. I have a couple good frosting recipes, but I associate them with cut-out sugar cookies and very detailed decorated cakes. They aren’t the type of frosting you slather onto cupcakes. Once again, Google to the rescue! Or not. I happened upon chocolate and vanilla frosting recipes that looked like they would do the trick. Spoiler alert–they didn’t. I followed the recipes to a T, but the results were less than ideal. I wasn’t about to ruin everything I love about cupcakes just to follow some self-imposed rule that a homemade cupcake deserves homemade frosting, so I did what I had to do–bought Duncan Hines classic vanilla frosting and dark chocolate fudge frosting. They were creamy and smooth, thick enough to decorate with but not crunchy. The look and taste were exactly what I was going for!
One more note before we get to the yellow cupcake recipe. I use Wilton Icing Colors to color my frosting. I don’t notice any taste from it, and it doesn’t thin out the frosting. Also it produces bold vibrant colors that refuse to be ignored!