Eric Akis: Scary-good chocolate Halloween cupcakes

Eric Akis

Halloween is still a week away, but parties will start this weekend and carry on until the spooky day is here. If you’re going to one and want to bring something sweet to share, consider making my dark chocolate cupcakes with meringue ghosts.

These moist and rich cupcakes are very chocolatey, because cocoa powder and melted chocolate are used in the batter. The mini meringues set on the cupcakes are crisp on the outside and marshmallow-like in the middle.

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A few steps are required to make these cupcakes. But the good news is you can spread the preparation over a few days.

For example, you can make the meringue ghosts a few days before you decorate them with chocolate eyes and mouths and set them on the cupcakes. You can also bake the cupcakes a day before you ice and top them with the meringue ghosts. Lastly, you can ice and top the cupcakes with the meringue ghosts several hours before serving them.

You will need a piping bag and some plain piping tips for this recipe. To properly fill and use a piping bag after putting in the piping tip, make a two-inch cuff at the top of the bag, kind of like you would on the end of a shirtsleeve. Slide one hand into the cuff and hold the bag; use your other hand to scoop in what you’re piping. Only fill the bag about half full, as that will give you better control when piping.

Now unfold the cuff and tightly twist the top portion of the bag until what you are piping just pokes out the end. Squeeze from the top with one hand and direct the tip with your other hand. After squeezing out one portion, gently twist the bag to push out the next portion.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Meringue Ghosts

These dark, rich and very chocolatey cupcakes are topped with mini meringues, shaped and decorated like ghosts.

Preparation time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: 23 to 25 minutes

Makes: 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes

1/2 cup butter, cubed

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 oz. (about 57 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (see Note)

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the icing and to finish

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup milk

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups icing sugar

12 meringue ghosts (see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with large paper baking cups (not the giant-sized ones).

To make the cupcakes, place the 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup cocoa powder and chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat, stirring occasionally, in spurts in the microwave, or over simmering water, until the butter and chocolate are melted and well combined with the cocoa powder. Cool this mixture five minutes, then whisk in the sour cream.

Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Place the eggs, granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract in a mixing bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer, and beat well to combine. Beat in the chocolate/sour-cream mixture. Now add the flour mixture and mix until a smooth batter forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix a few seconds more.

Spoon and divide the batter among the baking cups (each one will be about 3/4 or so full).

Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a cupcake springs back when gently touched in the centre. Set the muffin pan on a cooling rack 10 minutes. Now remove cupcakes from the pan and cool to room temperature (see Eric’s options).

To make icing, beat the 1/4 cup butter in a bowl until light. Beat in the 1/4 cup cocoa powder, milk and 1/4 tsp vanilla. Now gradually beat in the icing sugar. Pipe or spread some icing on each cupcake. Set a meringue ghost in the centre of each cupcake. Refrigerate cupcakes to firm up the icing. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. You can prepare the cupcakes many hours before serving.

Note: I used Baker’s brand chocolate for this recipe and the meringue ghosts.

Eric’s options: You can bake the cupcakes a day before needed. Once they’re baked and cooled, wrap them tightly and keep them at room temperature until they’re ready to ice and top with the meringue ghosts.

Meringue Ghosts

This recipe yields more than the 12 meringue ghosts you’ll need for the cupcakes. But it’s good to have extras just in case you mess up when piping them, or putting on their chocolate eyes and mouths. You can also serve the extra meringue ghosts you made on their own.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 60 minutes, plus oven drying time

Makes: 24 or more meringue ghosts

2 large egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tartar (see Note 1)

1/2 cup berry (extra fine) sugar (see Note 2)

2 oz. (about 57 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (see Note 3 and Eric’s options)

Preheat the oven to 225 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until very soft peaks form that barely hold their shape.

Now, while beating constantly, slowly sprinkle in the sugar. Keep beating until the mixture is thick and glossy and stiff peaks form that stand straight when you lift up the beaters.

Spoon the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip about 1/3 inch in diametre.

For each meringue ghost, holding the piping bag straight up, pipe the meringue on the baking sheet: pipe a 1 1/2-inch-wide amount on the bottom, and a 2 1/2-inch-tall amount that is tapered at the top.

Space each ghost about two to three inches apart.

Bake the meringues for 60 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the meringues dry and cool completely in the oven for two hours (see Eric’s options).

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat, stirring occasionally, in spurts in the microwave, or over simmering water, until the chocolate is melted and completely smooth.

Let the chocolate cool five minutes or so, until still fluid, but starting to thicken up again. (If the chocolate is too warm when you pipe it, it might run down the meringue.)

Put the melted chocolate in a piping bag fitted with a very small plain tip. Carefully pipe eyes and a mouth on each meringue ghost. Let the chocolate set, and the meringue ghosts are ready.

Note 1: Cream of tartar is sold in small boxes in the baking-supply aisle of supermarkets.

Note 2: Extra-fine sugar dissolves quickly, making it great for meringues. It’s sold alongside regular granulated sugar in supermarkets.

Note 3: You need to melt 2 oz. of chocolate to ensure you have an adequate amount to fill your piping bag. You will have leftover chocolate because of that.

When done decorating the meringue ghosts, pipe that extra chocolate on a piece of parchment paper and let it cool and set.

Now wrap up that chocolate and save it for the next time you need some chocolate to melt.

Eric’s options: The meringue ghosts could be made a few days before you decorate them and set them on the cupcakes.

Store in a single layer in an airtight container at room temperature until needed.

Instead of using a piping bag, simply dab on eyes and a mouth for each ghost with a cotton swab. To do so, dip the end of the swab in the melted chocolate, then very carefully dab some of it on the meringue ghosts.

Instead of using chocolate, you could use decorating gel to make eyes and a mouth on each ghost. It’s sold in small, ready-to-pipe tubes in the baking-supply aisle of supermarkets.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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