As soon as I started brainstorming Halloween recipes for the blog this year, my mind immediately jumped to black frosting. Ironic really, considering that the most popular post on What Charlotte Baked is How to Make Super White Buttercream. Give the people what they want and all that. But I was determined to get my butterscream as black as a witch’s cat.
I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s something a bit creepy about an (almost) jet black swirl of buttercream on a cupcake. Take a look.
Halloween sprinkles and cupcake wrappers are not optional.
The cupcakes themselves aren’t just plain old run-of-the-mill either. Oh no. These are my favourite vanilla cupcakes – super soft and easy to make, only this time I’ve made them a little bit more All Hallow’s Eve with swirls of green, orange, and purple.
Because all that black frosting was just asking to hide a super colourful secret beneath it, right?
So let’s talk about that super special black frosting in a bit more detail shall we? You’re going to start by making my easy chocolate buttercream, which is made with cocoa powder to avoid all that messy chocolate melting. It’s some seriously good stuff, and is always my first choice when whipping up the very best chocolate cupcakes.
The fact that the buttercream is chocolate flavour really helps when turning it black, as the brown buttercream is much easier to colour than it’s cream counterpart. Plus, tasty as hell.
It might surprise you to learn that there is no food colouring in this black buttercream AT ALL. Nope. Nada. Instead, the colour comes from something a little bit unexpected – charcoal. But Charlotte, surely you can’t add charcoal to your mixing bowl? Have you fully succumbed to the Halloween fever and lost all sense of what’s food and what’s an artist’s medium? Well, not quite. You can’t just go and thrown any old charcoal in your buttercream. You’re going to need food grade activated charcoal.
I’m going to caveat this with a couple of points. I’m not entirely convinced that eating even food grade activated charcoal on a daily basis is necessarily good for you, but it doesn’t appear to be bad for you either. The jury’s still out. I do know that it’s used to treat drug overdose patients in hospital, as it essentially absorbs chemicals or drugs in your body before they can get into your system. So please don’t eat too much of it if you’re on prescription medication (like I am).
So yes, even though I may have spent hours diagnosing myself with various ridiculous illnesses thanks to good old google, but I am 100% not a doctor. But, I’m fairly certain that a couple of tablespoons of the stuff in a batch of buttercream on Halloween isn’t going to kill you.
The cupcake batter itself is pretty standard if you’ve been around here before. Variations of this stuff has made up my Eton Mess Cupcakes, Pimm’s Cupcakes, and even Butterbeer Cupcakes. The not-so-secret ingredient that goes into making these cupcakes so soft and fluffy is yogurt. I like to switch up the yogurt depending on the flavour of the cupcakes I’m aiming for, so for these little ghouls I used some straight forward vanilla yogurt. Not too much, just enough to keep things moist and scrumptious.
If you’re wondering why I use yogurt in cupcakes, but sour cream in layer cakes, it’s all to do with the type of crumb it gives you. It might be my imagination, but yogurt seems to give a lighter texture which is perfect for a little cupcake, whereas sour cream makes things a little more compact and strong, which is much more suited for a layer cake that needs to hold itself together.
What are you up to for Halloween? I’m not too sure of our plans just yet – hopefully we can find our way over to the Halloween scare maze near Bath, but I’m keeping things a bit casual at the moment in case I wimp out! There will definitely be some pumpkin carving on the cards though, as soon as I work out what design to try this year.
I’ve got another Halloween recipe on the way for you next week, and this one might be even better. It combines my biggest real world fear (spiders) and one of the scariest things a baker can face in the kitchen (rolling up a Swiss roll). Only time will tell if I will make it out alive. Wish me luck.
- 125g (½ cup + 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened
- 175g (7/8 cup) caster sugar (US granulated sugar)
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 50ml (3 tablespoons) whole milk
- 80ml (1/3 cup) vanilla or plain yogurt
- 150g (1¼ cups) plain or all-purpose flour
- 25g (2 tablespoons) cornflour or cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Orange, purple, green food colouring
- 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 80g (2/3 cup) cocoa powder
- 420g (3 & 1/3 cups) icing sugar or powdered sugar
- 80ml (1/3 cup) milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1-2 tablespoons activated charcoal (very fine food grade)
- Halloween sprinkles (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / 355°F (160°C fan) and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases or liners.
- Place the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a medium sized bowl if using an electric hand mixer) and beat for a minute or so until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat well for at least a minute, scraping down the sides if needed. Add the egg, vanilla, milk, and yogurt, and beat well until fully mixed together. Add the flour, cornflour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt and fold together on a low speed until only just combined.
- Spoon about a third of the batter into three small bowls, and add a few drops of food colouring to each bowl, so that you have one green, one orange, and one purple. Mix each gently until the colour is even. You are looking for very vibrant colours, as they will fade a little in the oven, so add more food colouring than you think you need.
- Spoon or pipe the batter into the cupcake cases, alternating between blobs of each of the three colours. Make sure each of the cupcake cases is filled about 2/3 full - you can swirl the colours together a little with a skewer or toothpick if you like. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until springy on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cupcakes comes out clean, without any crumbs on. Place the tray on a wire rack to cool, and then after ten minutes, remove the cupcakes from the tray and leave on the wire rack to cool completely before icing.
- Beat the butter in a stand mixer, using the balloon whisk attachment, or if using a hand-held mixer then beat the butter in a medium sized bowl. Beat on high for at least five minutes, scraping down the sides with a spatula every minute or so. The butter should be light, fluffy, and very pale when it is whipped enough. Add the sifted icing sugar and cocoa powder in three or four stages, beating for at least a minute in between additions.
- Pour the milk into a small jug, along with the vanilla extract and one tablespoon of the charcoal. Mix together, and then pour into the frosting in two additions, beating well between each. If the icing is not black enough, add some more charcoal in ½ tablespoons, beating between each to check the colour. The frosting will never quite turn jet black, but you are aiming for something close.
- Pipe the buttercream on to the tops of the cooled cupcakes using a piping bag and a 1M icing tip. Add Halloween sprinkles and cute cupcake wrappers for a little extra spook-factor!
- The frosted cupcakes will stay fresh for 2-3 days if stored in an airtight container in a cool place. The unfrosted cupcakes can also be frozen for up to 3 months - defrost overnight at room temperature. The buttercream can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge. Keep it in a bowl covered with clingfilm, and bring back up to room temperature and beat well before using. The buttercream also freezes well - put in an airtight plastic tub (with room for some expanding) and use within three months. Defrost overnight in the fridge, and then beat well to bring it back to a good consistency.