Sweet Screams: Creepy cupcakes delight holiday senses
You know that saying, less is more? It doesn't apply at Halloween, when more is more. More color, more sugar, more outrageousness. Another thing about Halloween: When it comes to cooking, it's an uncomplicated holiday. You're not expected to cook a giant bird or prepare Grandma's elaborate Christmas cake.
You're not even really expected to cook -- just provide bags of candy. But if you do head for the kitchen, something like these creepy cupcakes offer plenty of holiday cheer.
No special skills are required, just a steady hand and an active imagination. Kids can help. They should help. Surely the results will be more inspired.
Begin with cupcakes, any flavor, made with any boxed mix. This is not the time to show off your from-scratch cake recipe. With all the sugar you're going to load on top of these, no one's going to appreciate the difference.
When it comes to frosting you've got some options, mostly determined by your willingness to spend. You can buy a tub of plain white vanilla, coloring small batches in different colors. A second tub of chocolate flavor also is an option.
Use a pastry bag, or fashion your own out of plastic sandwich bags: Snip a bit of one corner off and squeeze the frosting through the hole.
Or you can spring for pricier tubes of frosting that come in various colors and with decorating tips. Spray cans are also available -- kind of like Cheez Whiz -- with multiple tips attached.
Look for food coloring in fall colors, which will include black and orange. And you'll need toothpicks.
As for the accessories: Marshmallows are essential, and M&M's, or a similar colorful circular candy, for eyeballs. Licorice whips are good for hair, whiskers and scars. Fruit Roll-Ups make good tongues. Nutter Butter cookies are well-shaped for feet, ears or the silhouette of a ghost.
Other than that, stroll the candy aisle and open your mind to the possibilities.
I'd like to say I made up all these ideas myself -- because wouldn't that be clever? -- but I stole most of them. Google "halloween cupcake" or browse through October women's magazines and you'll find lots more suggestions. Cupcakes are trendy, it seems, and frosting is running amok among us.
Most of these cupcakes were adapted from www.familyfun.com and this month's edition of the magazine all*you (recipes and other Halloween ideas available at www.allyou.com.)
I honed in on the cupcakes that didn't involve fancy frosting tips or candy-making skills. There were some cute ghosts made of squares of fondant, but who wants to go looking for fondant?
If you are skilled at cake decorating, or have such things as fondant -- or the willingness to hunt them down -- more power to you.
For the rest of us, here are my anybody-can-do-it suggestions.
Oh, but first, for those who are alarmed by the looming sugar rush your kids will get from eating these cupcakes, there are some lower-sugar alternatives for decorations:
» Shredded Wheat cereal can be broken up to make hair or straw.
» Cheerios can be used for eyes in place of candy, or Fruity Cheerios for color.
» Raisins or smaller dried fruits such as cranberries can also stand in for jelly beans or M&M's.
» Fruit leather can be cut into strips to replace licorice. It also makes fine tongues.
» Pretzel sticks are good for hair or whiskers.
The head is a marshmallow, coated in green frosting. The easiest approach is to use your finger to spread the frosting. Use a toothpick to secure the head to the cupcake. Candy sprinkles make the hair, and the eyes and neck "plugs" are jelly beans, cut in half. The pupils and stitched mouth were drawn on with black food coloring, using a toothpick.
Another marshmallow, this time turned sideways. Use frosting to secure an M&M for the eyeball, and a dot of food coloring or frosting makes the pupil. The eyelashes are red licorice whips, poked in place with the help of a toothpick, and the veins are drawn in red food coloring.
Ghost in the Graveyard
A Nutter Butter cookie coated in white frosting makes the ghost, stuck firmly into the cake. The eyes are jelly bean halves; the mouth is drawn on with food coloring. Autumn-leaf candy sprinkles cover the "ground."
This little dude was made with Airheads Extremes Sweetly-Sour Belts. Other belt-type candies are sold, but tend to come in solid colors; these have stripes. One piece was cut into strips for the hair and into a slab for the tongue. The eyes are M&M's.
Blue Baby Monster
Remove cupcake from paper wrapping. Break two Nutter Butter cookies in half. Place two pieces under the cupcake to make feet; hide a third under the back of the cake to stabilize it. Eat the leftover piece. Squeeze blue (or any other color) frosting in strings from the top of the cupcake to the bottom, all around. It's OK if some cake peeks through. Again, jelly beans make the eyes. It's a good idea to assemble this on a small paper plate.