Yes, Halloween is coming up, and so I thought I’d offer up a few ideas on decorating cakes with a Halloween theme.
Now, I’m no cake decorator myself – fingers too fat, too little patience – but even I managed the above (I’m loving that the ghost one is all fuzzy!) which is both immediately recognisable and almost completely lacking the need for any degree of skill whatsoever. If you can roll out royal icing and squeeze a tube of black gel icing, then these are the Halloween cakes for you!
Hiding modestly underneath all this spookiness is actually a really delicious chocolate cake, which is so easy to whip up, you don’t even need a mixer. The cake also has the advantage of actually improving if kept for a couple of days. You can either make two regular sized cakes, or as here, it will make 24 cupcakes.
Chocolate Sponge Cake
150ml vegetable oil
150ml natural yoghurt
60ml golden syrup
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
- Line 2 12-hole bun tins with paper cases.
- Put oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.
- Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl. Mix well.
- Pour the mixture into the paper cases, filling them 2/3 full, leaving about 2cm of paper case visible.
- Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack.
Apricot glaze, or apricot jam that has been warmed and sieved
Ready made Royal/Fondant icing
1 tube of black icing – mine is sparkly!
Icing sugar for rolling out the icing
- Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the apricot glaze/jam. This will help the icing stick.
- Break off a piece of icing, roll into a cylinder 3-4cm long and place it on the middle of the cupcake, standing on its end. This will give the ghost some height.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut a 10cm square.
- Drape the square of icing over the cylinder and arrange the folds.
- Using the black icing, paint on two eyes and a spooky mouth.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut a 10cm square.
- Drape the icing smoothly over the top of the cake.
- Press gently around the edge, and the stiffness of the paper case will cut through the icing, neatening the edges.
- Press the excess icing together and save for re-use.
- Using the black icing, draw 4 or 5 circles on top of the cake.
- Draw a toothpick through the wet icing from the centre of the cake to the rim, making the spider-web pattern.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut strips 1cm wide.
- Arrange the ‘bandage’ strips in a random pattern over the top of the cake, leaving a gap for the eyes.
- When the cake is covered, use 2 M&Ms for eyes and add a black dot to each.
- Use a knife to trim and neaten the ends of the icing strips.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut a circle the size of the top of the cake. Cut round a lid or a jar.
- Carefully put the circle of icing over the top of the cake.
- Cut a thin slice of Kiwi fruit and remove the skin.
- Put the slice of Kiwi fruit flat onto the top of the cake and use the tube of black icing to fill in the ‘pupil’.
- NB The fruit is juicy, and so will begin to ‘ooze’ after about an hour. You might want to bear this in mind when timing the decorating. Alternatively, this might be just the effect you’re after!
- You will need 2 marbles for each skull-shaped cupcake.
- As soon as the cakes are out of the oven, slide two marbles (one each side) down between the paper case and the tin, so that one side of the cake is squashed into the shape of the jaw. As the cake cools, it will then ‘set’ into the correct shape.
- Once the cakes are cool, cover with a thin layer of rolled icing and use the black icing to draw on the facial features.
Cost: £1.70 (cake only, October 2011)
 If you’re making skull-shaped cupcakes, leave the cakes in the tin and slide in the marbles.
Here’s a different take on a classic recipe – Banoffi Pie Cupcakes!
Banoffi Pie itself evolved as a variation of the American dessert pie known as Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie. At The Hungry Monk Restaurant in Sussex, the original notoriously problematic caramel filling was easily created by boiling unopened tins of sweetened condensed milk, which unfailingly produces a deep, flavoursome caramel every time. Adding a layer of bananas created the classic dessert we know today.
Banoffi Pie was on the menu of the first bistro I worked in (as a waitress), and it was also the first ‘professional’ dessert I managed to recreate myself. Once you know the secret of making the filling, it’s an absolute breeze to whip up – I always have 1 or 2 tins of caramel in my cupboard in case a dessert is needed at short notice.
The original recipe called for unopened tins of condensed milk to be simmered for 4 hours – which was this dessert’s only drawback. A beady eye had to be kept on the saucepan, to ensure that it didn’t boil dry, because that way lay exploding tins and rains of boiling caramel. There are many alternative methods for making the caramel out there on the internet, and you can even buy tins of caramel ready made (in the UK its made by Carnation) – but they are twice the price of condensed milk and are a poor relation in terms of both flavour and consistency to the caramel you can make yourself. By far the safest, easiest and most foolproof method of making your own caramel filling is in the slow cooker (see below).
I’ve been messing about with the idea of making this classic dessert into a cupcake for quite some time, and there have been several versions along the way. This version is the one I’m most happy with: it’s faithful to the original, yet serves up all the flavours in cupcake size. A light and fluffy banana cake mixture is baked in a shortcrust pastry case, filled with caramel and topped with an unsweetened coffee-flavoured cream – the pastry and the coffee cream help offset the sweetness of the cake and the caramel. Delish!
Banoffi Pie Cupcakes – Makes 12-ish
Foolproof Caramel Filling
- Take as many tins of sweetened, condensed milk as you wish to turn into caramel and place them in your slow cooker.
- Fill the slow cooker with water until it covers the tins by about 3cm
- Put on the lid and switch on the cooker to Low. Leave overnight (8-12 hours, depending on how dark you like your caramel).
- In the morning, switch off the cooker. Using tongs, remove the tins and set aside to cool.
- DO NOT OPEN until the tins have cooled completely. The contents will be boiling hot and under pressure, and burns WILL result. Be sure to label these tins as caramel, as they will be virtually indistinguishable from uncooked tins.
- You will need 1 tin for 12 Banoffi Pie cupcakes.
125g butter – very cold
250g plain flour
50g icing sugar
- Put the butter, flour and sugar into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Put the ice water in a jug/bowl on the work surface. With the food processor running, add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time until the mix comes together. NB Do not pour ice water straight into the mix, as it is easy to add too much. The time it takes to add the next spoonful of water after the first means that the machine can mix the water in properly. Continue to add water one spoonful at a time. When sufficient liquid has been added, the mixture will come together in a ball. Tip out the pastry and knead lightly until smooth – about 1 minute. Wrap in plastic film and chill for 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, roll pastry out thinly and cut out rounds using a pastry cutter. Use the circles of pastry to line a well-greased 12 cup muffin tin. NB Because I wanted the pastry to be smooth all the way round, I actually made a template based on the size of my muffin cups. To make your own template, take a piece of kitchen foil and press it firmly into one of the holes in your muffin tray until it fits snugly against the sides and bottom. Remove the foil and use a pair of scissors to cut down the side of the foil and around the base to make a curved ‘wall’ template and a circular ‘base’ template.
- Put the lined muffin tray in the fridge to chill whilst you mix the banana cake.
125g cake margarine (Stork)
200g caster sugar
3 ripe bananas – mashed
60ml plain yoghurt
2 large eggs
1.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
300g plain flour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Cream the margarine and the sugar until fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing the first in well before adding the second.
- Add the mashed bananas and the yoghurt and mix thoroughly.
- Mix the flour, bicarbonate and baking powder and add to the wet ingredients a spoonful at a time. Stop mixing when fully combined.
- Spoon into the prepared muffin tin, filling each pastry case 3/4 full. NB A quarter-cup measure can be useful if, like me, you have a rather deep muffin tin. Depending on the size and juiciness of your bananas, this might make more batter than is required. Have some paper cases set out in a second pan ready to take any leftover cake batter – they can all bake at the same time.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then tun the pan 180 degrees, to ensure even browning. Cook for a further 7-10 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
- Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
600ml double cream
1-2 tbs espresso coffee powder
- Add coffee powder to cream and whip until stiff.
Caramel (there will be some left over from the filling)
Biscuit crumbs – 1 crunchy biscuit (crushed) will be plenty
To assemble the cupcakes
- Using a sharp knife, cut out a cone of cake from each cupcake and discard.
- Fill the hole with caramel – 1 teaspoon should be sufficient.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip with the coffee cream and pipe swirls on top of each cupcake. Make sure to cover the caramel filling completely.
- Using the leftover caramel, mix with a little milk until of a pouring consistency.
- Drizzle caramel over the piped cream.
- Sprinkle with biscuit crumbs and top with a banana chip.
Cost: £4.78 (August 2011)
This recipe was inspired by a song written and first recorded by Harry Nilsson on his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson.
I first heard it as the background music in a small bistro I used to waitress in, in my home town. NOT in 1971 I hasten to add – it was a good decade later – which…is still thirty years ago, so *ahem* moving quickly on….
It has a rather catchy/irritating chorus refrain…
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both together,
Put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better,
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both up,
Put the lime in the coconut, and call me in the moooooorning…..
…which has a habit of creeping into your brain and before you know it, you’re singing along. When I moved away to college, I ended up buying the album, as the song reminded me of fun times.
So it seemed an ideal combination for something else that’s fun – cupcakes! The opportunity arose a couple of months ago to come up with a couple of cupcake recipes and I remembered this song when pondering flavour combinations. The rest, as they say, is history: Soft and fluffy coconut sponge filled with a zingy lime curd. Confession: the swirl of Italian meringue on the top is merely an excuse for me to break out my Christmas present blowtorch and play with fire. “Say helloooo to mah leetle friend!” </scarface>
OK, so my blowtorch only stands 10cm high, but you get the idea.
This recipe has three components: the cake, the curd and the meringue. Of these three, only the meringue might be a little on the tricky side, but I’m going to share some helpful hints and tips I’ve picked up, to ease things along the path of success.
Coconut Cupcakes – makes 12
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
50g unsweetened dessicated coconut
80g soft margarine
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml plain yoghurt.
12 hole muffin/cupcake tin
12 cupcake paper cases
- Heat oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan
- Sieve flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and set aside.
- Put coconut into a dry frying pan and stir over medium heat until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
- Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly in-between. Add vanilla.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir well. Add half the yoghurt. Stir well.
- Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour and the remainder of the yoghurt.
- Add the last portion of flour and, when thoroughly combined, stir in the toasted coconut.
- Line a 12 cup cupcake tin with paper cases and spoon in the filling.
- Bake for 15 minutes then turn the pan and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until evenly browned and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Remove cakes from the pan and cool on a rack.
- Melt butter in a saucepan.
- Add remaining ingredients and stir over low heat until thickened.
- Set aside to cool.
plain tip nozzle
- In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites until foamy.
- Add cream of tartar and lemon juice and continue whisking on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
- With the whisk running, slowly add the 40g of caster sugar in a steady stream.
- When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, stop the whisk until the syrup is ready.
- In a heavy saucepan, gently heat the 200g of caster sugar and water, swirling the pan until the sugar is dissolved. NB Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallise and you will have to start again.
- Turn the heat to high and cook the syrup until the soft ball stage on a sugar thermometer (115°C).
- Remove the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup has stopped bubbling. If you’re not confident about pouring boiling syrup from a hot pan one-handed, pour the syrup into a plastic jug.
- Switch the whisk to medium speed and slowly pour the cooked sugar into the stiffly beaten whites. NB This is the tricky part. If you are pouring the syrup straight from the pan, be sure your oven gloves are thick enough so that your hand is fully protected. Pour the sugar syrup in a steady stream so that it hits the side of the bowl just above the point where the beaters meet the side of the bowl. This will achieve 2 things: the syrup will cool and this will help avoid cooking and/or curdling the egg-whites and the beaters won’t get covered in sticky syrup.
- Once all the syrup has been added, continue beating the egg-whites until the outside of the bowl feels cool. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
To assemble the cupcakes:
- With a sharp knife, cut a cone out of the top of the cupcakes and fill the hole with lime curd.
Call dibs and scoff the leftover pieces of cake, claiming (om-nom-nom) cook’s priviledgesDiscard the cones of cake.
- Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with a plain nozzle (or just snip the end of the bag if you are using disposable piping bag).
- Pipe a swirl of meringue over the top of the cupcake, making sure to completely cover the lime curd. Finish with a nice pointy tip.
- Using a blowtorch, lightly toast the outside of the meringue until the sugar caramelises.
Cost: Cupcakes = £1.45, Curd = £2.28, Meringue = £1.00, £0.40 per completed cupcake (July 2011)