About three weeks before my birthday, I would reach for my mom’s copy of “The Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book” and start thinking. Was it going to be a Koala cake? Maybe an above ground swimming pool cake? What about this pink castle, with ice cream cones as the turrets? My mom did not go to culinary school, none of us know how to work with fondant, and my hand-eye coordination is spotty at best, but what I loved, and still love, about these cakes is their accessibility. You simply need the will to make them, not any specific skill. Everyone should get to make beautiful things in their kitchen, and this time around it’s not the Birthday Cake Book providing the inspiration, but the fabulously talented Leslie Discher, the baker behind The Flour Market.
Leslie strikes the balance of playful and beautiful in her delicious creations. For a friend’s Dia de Los Muerto bridal shower, she made these gorgeous Calavera Cupcakes. She creates anything from wedding cakes to cake pops to savory snacks to even gluten free and vegan treats. Inspired by her creations, I collaborated with her for this fun Halloween DIY.
You can use any cupcake and frosting combination you like, but I LOVE these Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes. The drippy ganache looks a bit sinister, and is so delicious. For the skulls, if you decide you’re not in a decorating mood, Leslie suggested dipping them in honey and then sugar sparkles, for a simple but spooky shortcut.
HOW TO MAKE MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES:
INGREDIENTS (MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne (optional)
1 1/2 cups warm coffee
1 cup milk, room temperature
3 large eggs
3 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
Preheat the oven to 325 F and line your muffin tins with cupcake liners.
Whisk together your dry ingredients (cocoa and spices too) and set aside. Combine the coffee and milk and set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs a few seconds to combine, add the sugar and whip until light and very thick and ribboning (about 3-4 minutes). Add the vanilla and beat until the mixture forms a wide ribbon when the beater is lifted out.
Add the oil and sour cream into the eggs and sugar, and mix to combine. On low speed, add a third of the dry ingredients, followed by a third of the coffee mixture. Continue to alternate between dry and wet ingredients until everything is used up, and the mixture has a consistent texture. Ladle the batter into each cupcake tin, about 3/4 of the way up. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool about 30 minutes on a rack, and turn out of the pan. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache glaze. Let the ganache set for about 5 minutes, then top with skulls.
INGREDIENTS (GANACHE GLAZE)
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
6 ounces dark chocolate (about 1/2 cup), chopped
1 tablespoon corn syrup
In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, combine the chopped chocolate with the corn syrup. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chocolate and let stand until melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Let the glaze cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 minutes. Set aside to use.
HOW TO MAKE DIA DE LOS MUERTOS SKULLS:
INGREDIENTS (SUGAR SKULLS)
To make 1 dozen
1 small skull candy mold (Leslie used one from Wilton)
1 pound white candy melts (these are much easier to use than white chocolate, which can seize)
a one-ounce disher
royal icing in your favorite colors
pastry bags with very small tips
Place the candy melts in a glass or plastic bowl, and microwave in 30 second increments, until melted (it took me 90 seconds). Using your disher, scoop the melted candy into the skull mold. Lightly tap the mold on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Place the mold in the fridge or freezer until the candy has set (about 10 minutes in the freezer, 30 minutes in the fridge). Turn over the mold about an inch above the counter (line with wax paper if you like) and gently flex or tap the mold. The skulls should pop right out!
To decorate the skulls, start by drawing a line across the mouth, then adding a few hash marks across. Add two dots for the eyes, and for the nose, draw an upside down heart. This is done by squeezing a dollop at the bottom, and ticking it upward. Don’t try to “draw a heart,” it’s too small to have that kind of precision. Once your face is done, get decorating! Add dots and swirls, and sprinkles. Let the finished skulls sit for about 5 minutes to set.