Candy Brownies

Mike and I had several premium candy choices left over from this Halloween, among them fun-sized Snickers (let’s be honest, they should just be called bite-size) and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. What better to do with leftover chocolate than to stuff it into brownies, then chop up some more and sprinkle it over the top of said brownies?

This recipe is adapted from one I found at Averie Cooks; I actually made a double batch, but the measurements below would yield one single 8 x 8 pan. You can use regular cocoa powder if you like, but I went with Hershey’s Special Dark, which is actually just Dutch processed cocoa. You’ll also notice that the recipe contains both coffee and espresso powder, which really enhances the flavor of chocolate without making it taste like coffee itself. One of the great mysteries of flavors, no?

Ingredients

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled for about 1 minute
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee (it’s fine to use leftover coffee from the morning)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 12 fun-sized Snickers bars
  • 8 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, cut into quarters

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking tin with foil and spray with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter, eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and coffee and mix well to combine. Whisk in cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt until well blended, then add flour and mix until just combined; you don’t want to over-mix your batter.

Pour about 2/3 of the mixture into your prepared tin. Take 8 of the Snickers bars and 8 Peanut Butter Cup quarters, placing them in four evenly spaced rows of four candies each; I alternated my rows so there was one of Snickers, then one of Peanut Butter Cups, then another of Snickers, and a final one of Peanut Butter Cups. Pour the remaining batter over the candy and smooth as much as possible with an offset spatula. Chop up remaining candies and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for about 30-32 minutes, being very careful not to over-bake. Brownies are done when a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs stuck to it. Remove from oven and cool in pan completely before cutting.

Remove from pan and cut into 25 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Bloody Murder Cupcakes

Due to inclement weather, trick-or-treating has been postponed in many neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. Cue outrage! I do have to admit that in my childhood we went trick-or-treating exclusively on Halloween, regardless of the weather. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor freezing temperatures kept children of the 1980s inside on Halloween night. Out we went with coats over our costumes or sweatshirts underneath, prowling the neighborhood in eldest-child-lead packs (I truly have no recollection of ever trick-or-treating with my parents), returning soaked and half frozen with pillow cases full of candy bars we had to break in half before eating, lest they be laced with razor blades. Ahh, the 80s.

But times are different now, and in all fairness it really is horrible out tonight. In any case, to celebrate this Halloween, I’ve whipped up some bloody murder cupcakes, a new take on the crime scene cupcakes I’ve made previously, thanks to some candy decoration weapons. Mike is very excited to take these to work in the morning.

 

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting, blood spatter, and weapons

  • 1 recipe vanilla buttercream
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Wilton Halloween weapon candy decorations*

*I had the variety pack, which featured knives, axes, and meat cleavers and I bought at my local Target. Fun!

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe can yield 12-16 cupcakes depending on how full you fill the wells. Now that I’ve baked this, I recommend filling the wells about half full, rather than three-quarters full as I did tonight.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Use a 1/4 cup measure to fill the cupcake wells about half full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Prepare the frosting and fit a 14-inch piping bag with a large plain tip. Pipe generous portions of frosting onto each cupcake, then flatten out each blob with a small offset spatula.

Stir together raspberry jam and red gel food coloring to your desired bloody shade.

Using a teaspoon from your flatware, drop, drizzle, or splatter jam onto each cupcake. If you like, lightly drag a toothpick through the jam splatters to extend the splattered effect. Place a candy weapon on top.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

Skeleton and Mummy Cookies

Halloween is just a few days away, and I’ve spent this weekend baking, fulfilling my role of Great Pumpkin. My favorite girls in Maryland – Mo and Margo – will receive these skeleton and mummy cut-outs just in time for the holiday. Will the royal icing stand up to shipping? It’s a fairly dry confection, so I’d hope so. And I suppose if any of the eyes or bandages flake off in shipping, it’ll just add to the Halloween creep factor. Hopefully I’m not going to traumatize the children.

I’m not that experienced with royal icing, and I’ve used the meringue powder version for these treats, rather than the version with a fresh egg white. Royal icing consistency can vary from much more liquid, appropriate for “flooding” sugar cookies, to a sturdier variety more commonly found on gingerbread houses. It’s not exactly tasty, but these cookies have a delicious chocolate flavor that will more than make up for it.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the royal icing & decoration

  • 1 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • About 2-3 tablespoons water
  • Small-sized candy eyeballs

Preparation 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating until well-combined.

Slowly add flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl often and beating until a very well-combined, soft dough forms.

Gently knead the dough a few times to make sure it comes together; roll dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with a gingerbread man-shaped cookie cutter and place on prepared sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the royal icing, combine the meringue powder, powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a mixer and beat on medium speed using the whisk attachment; your mixture will probably clump together at first, so just dribble in enough additional water to make a smooth consistency. Continue to beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes, until peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and fill with royal icing. For skeletons, pipe eyes, mouths, ribs, and arm and leg bones. For mummies, place a small dot of icing on the back of each eyeball and press it onto the cookie; swap out your piping tip for a flat-style tip (I used a Wilton 47 basket weave tip, because that was as close as I could get; a rose petal tip like a Wilton 104 would also likely work) and pipe bandages across the cookies. Allow icing to harden completely before storing; store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your cutters; my batch yielded about 18 cookies.

Creature Cookies

Here’s another great cake mix-based recipe for busy bakers. I found this recipe on several other blogs, so it’s difficult to give credit to whoever came up with it – I imagine it was an inventive test kitchen baker at a cake mix company.

I chose to add princess cake and cookie flavor to the dough, an amazing product available at King Arthur Flour that promises – and delivers – that classic “from the bakery” flavor. It’s kind of similar to the flavor of an animal cookie and makes a subtle yet wonderful addition to this dough. If you don’t have it, you can substitute vanilla extract if you like, or just leave the dough as-is.

Just a few notes about handling the dough: it’s incredibly sticky, so when you stir in your food coloring, you’ll want to use a mixer. I started out with three separate colors, then realized after some orange dough got into the green dough from my cookie scoop that mixing the colors would also be fun. Lastly, I used two different methods for placing the eyeballs; on the first two batches, I baked the cookies first, then pressed in the eyes when they came out of the oven (resulting in the look of the orange and purple cookies above). On the last batch, I pressed them into the dough before baking, and you can see the difference in the green/orange cookie above. Either method would be fine – you’ll just end up with a slightly different look based on what you choose.

Ingredients

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon princess cake & cookie flavor
  • Purple, orange, green, and yellow food coloring
  • Candy eyeballs

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, vegetable oil, eggs, and flavoring; stir very well to completely combine. Divide dough into three portions. Tint one purple, one orange, and one green (I found that using both green and yellow yields a Frankenstein-like color, which is what I wanted); I used my stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, to really work the food coloring into the dough. Chill dough for 30-60 minutes, until easier to handle; it will remain quite sticky, but the chilling process does help.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough, then divide each portion in half – you want your portions to be about the size of a gumball. Roll into balls, combining colors if you like.

Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheets and press in candy eyeballs if you like, or wait until after baking and press eyeballs in then, whatever you prefer.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 40.

 

Crime Scene Cupcakes

crime-scene-cupcakesWant a fun Halloween cupcake? Make these. Seriously – they might be the most fun, creative cupcake I’ve ever made…and they’re incredibly easy to prepare.

When my colleague Rose asked if I’d bake for her Halloween party and come up with some creepy options, a “blood-spattered” cupcake instantly came to mind. While you can make edible blood with all manner of things, I chose to go with raspberry jam, tinted with red gel food coloring to make it more red than raspberry. You could certainly make any flavor of cupcake for these, and I look forward to making some vanilla ones in the future.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting and blood spatter

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe yields 16 cupcakes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Use a 1/4 cup measure to fill the cupcake wells about half full.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Prepare the frosting and fit a 14-inch piping bag with a large plain tip. Pipe generous portions of frosting onto each cupcake, then flatten out each blob with a small offset spatula.

Stir together raspberry jam and red gel food coloring to your desired shade.

Using a teaspoon from your flatware, drop, drizzle, or splatter jam onto each cupcake. If you like, lightly drag a toothpick through the jam splatters to extend the splattered effect.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

crime-scene-cupcakes-2Here’s the dozen that went to the party – I hope they’re a hit!

 

 

Witch’s Brew Cupcakes

witch-brew-cupcakesAs a person who recently had to give up chocolate because of migraines, I’ve come to sincerely appreciate vanilla. These witch’s brew cupcakes feature a vanilla cupcakes frosted with vanilla buttercream – perfect for those of us who can’t eat chocolate (or simply don’t like it, which I find astonishing).

The bat sprinkles are a Wilton product, which I bought at Target; you can probably find them at your local craft store as well. For a full batch of these cupcakes – which yields 17 – you’ll need two bottles of sprinkles. I mixed up my sprinkles a bit after dipping every few cupcakes to make sure that all of the cupcakes got a few bats.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup sour milk*
  • 1 recipe vanilla buttercream
  • Leaf green gel food coloring**
  • Golden yellow gel food coloring**
  • Wilton Bat Sprinkles

*To make sour milk, place 1/2 tablespoon in a glass measuring cup and add enough milk to equal one-half cup total. Stir; let stand for 5 minutes before using. 

**Leaf green and golden yellow gel food coloring are both made by Wilton and should be available to your local craft store. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; this recipe yields 17 cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds.

Add vanilla and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be very thin.

Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared cupcake liners, filling half full.

Bake for 12-13 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Prepare your frosting and use both leaf green and golden yellow gel food coloring to tint to a bright yellow-green.

Fit a 14-inch piping bag with a the Wilton M1 tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto each cupcake.

Place bat sprinkles in a bowl and carefully dip frosted cupcakes into the sprinkles.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

Vampire Delights

vampire-delightsThis weekend I baked for a colleague’s Halloween party, creating what I hope is a spooky yet fun menu. If you’re having a party for grown-ups or older kids (or if your little ones don’t scare easily), these vampire delights – Italian sugar cookies dipped in blood-red icing – would make a great addition to your menu.

To achieve a blood-red color for the icing, I used red gel, red liquid, and black gel food coloring. I mixed a few small test batches first to get the right color and highly recommend doing so. Too much black yields a purple outcome, but if you add the black a few dots at a time, you can keep mixing to the darker shade without bleeding (yes, pun intended) into a different color family altogether. Make sure you give these cookies a few hours to set before you serve them; the icing takes a while to dry.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Italian sugar cookies; I used both a 1-inch and 2-inch cookie scoop to create cookies of different sizes
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Red liquid food coloring
  • Black gel food coloring

Preparation

Bake cookies and allow to cool completely before dipping.

Prepare glaze and add red gel food coloring, red liquid food coloring, and black gel food coloring a few dots or drops at a time to reach your desired color.

Dip tops of cookies in icing; allow icing to harden before you store or serve the cookies.

Makes about 30 cookies, depending on how many of each size you make.