Spiders from Mars Cupcakes
Will these creepy-crawly-topped cupcakes make you an arachnophobe or an arachnophile – trick or treat? Dark gingerbread sponge topped with a Halloween orange frosting is to die for! We call them Spiders from Mars because they are sitting on a ‘red’ planet of orange frosting. The cupcakes and topping are dead easy to make. You can buy chocolate truffles or other round or oval chocolate shapes to make the spider’s bodies, and use thin strands of liquorice for their legs (for me, definitely a ‘trick’ taste). Or go for the ‘treat’ version – shaping the bodies out of home-made truffles as described below.
- For the cupcakes:
- 250g plain flour
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 175g light soft brown sugar
- 200ml milk
- 175g salted butter, softened
- 175g black treacle
- 2 medium eggs, beaten
- For the spiders:
- 200g dark chocolate (60 per cent cocoa solids), chopped
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- For the orange frosting:
- 200g full-fat cream cheese
- 400g icing sugar
- 50g unsalted butter
- 60ml single cream
- grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange
Heat the oven to 165°C/Gas Mark 3. Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cupcake cases.
For the cupcakes, sift the flour with the spices and bicarbonate of soda and set aside. Slowly heat the brown sugar and milk in a pan. By the time you are ready to use the mixture, it should be just starting to simmer. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and and treacle together until they become paler. Gradually beat in the eggs, then, using the mixer on slow speed, add the sifted flour and mix until it is all combined. Slowly and carefully add the hot milk mix and blend to a runny consistency.
Divide the sponge mixture between the cupcake cases and bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
For the frosting, put the cream cheese, icing sugar and orange zest into a bowl and beat slowly with a handheld electric mixer until smooth. Put the butter in a small pan and soften over a very low heat so that it just disintegrates rather than becoming piping hot. With the hand mixer still on a slow speed, gradually pour the melted butter into the cream cheese mixture until it is completely combined, then whisk it briefly at a higher speed. Colour the frosting with a little orange food colouring. If you're happy with the consistency use it straight away. If the butter was too warm, the frosting may be a bit soft and will need chilling slightly at first.
Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a medium-sized star nozzle and cover the surface of each cupcake with a swirl of frosting, leaving a small border all round so that the sponge is still visible.
Drag a toothpick or skewer from the centre to the edge of the frosting (like a five-pointed starfish) to create a spider’s nest look. Set the cupcakes aside.
For the spiders’ bodies, you will need to make some cocoa-dusted truffles. Put the cream in a small saucepan and start to heat gently. Add 120g of the chocolate and heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted and formed a smooth ganache. Remove from the heat, pour into a small, flat dish and leave to cool. Transfer to the fridge and leave for about 2 hours, until set.
Dust a piece of baking parchment with half the cocoa powder. Use a teaspoon to divide the ganache into at least 12 truffle-sized portions. Roll them between your hands into rounds or ovals, or any spider body shape you fancy – if you don’t like the chocolate melting on your hands you can wear latex gloves while doing this. Set the bodies on the cocoa-dusted paper, dust with the remaining cocoa powder and roll them around to give a ‘hairy’, velvety appearance. Set aside in the fridge.
To make the legs, gently melt the rest of the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of hot water or in the microwave.
Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Make a few small piping bags out of baking parchment. Fill one with a little melted chocolate (it will set quickly, so it’s easiest to work with a little at a time; just move on to a new piping bag when necessary). Pipe 3mm-thick and 2cm-high V-hook shapes on to the parchment-lined tray.The bottom of the V-hook turned by 180 degrees will form the ‘knee’ of the spider’s leg. You can influence the look by giving the sets of legs different angles. A wide-angled knee will make the spider straddle the cupcake like a daddy-long-legs. Remember that spiders have 8 legs, so you will need 96 for 12 cupcakes! Pipe plenty of spares, as they are fragile. Place the tray in the fridge to set the chocolate fully.
To assemble the spiders, place a spider’s body in the centre of each cupcake. Using a knife, release the legs from the parchment, then carefully pick them up with your fingers and stick them into the frosting, 4 on each side of the spider’s body, slightly tucking them under and fanning them out as spiders’ legs do. At your first attempt, this may take some time. If the chocolate legs start to go soft, put them back in the fridge and continue once they have hardened.
Now that the bodies and legs are in place, give the spiders a little more character by making eyes. Use the blunt end of a skewer or similar instrument to make 2 small indents in each spider.They look cuter if they are quite close together and if you make them look in different directions.
Trick or treat? You will either be in love with spiders or hate them forever after completing these cupcakes! Ha ha ha…