cupcakes | decorations | frosting | glaze | halloween | icing | Indy | recipe | seasonal | vanilla

Cupcakes, squashed ghosts, deflated frosting, & a dog in a witch hat.

October 27, 2009

What a title, huh? I outdid myself with that one. If you don’t read that title and then stick around to read the rest of this entry, even just out of just pure curiosity, well, you’re… probably very busy at work. Or you’re a very boring person.

I think Martha Stewart recipes are sort of like urban legends. How so? Well, they sound really cool and interesting, yet in reality just don’t happen. I’ve heard this before from other people, so I can’t be imagining this.  Like, you see a recipe of her’s in one of her 6,000 various publications; a book, a magazine, whatever. The recipe looks so awesome, and creative, and unique, and it emphatically says somewhere how easy it is (and most of the time it really is, so you get over-confident), and you’re like “Holy shit, I can so do that!” and then you try, and not so much. Maybe you’ve gotta be Martha herself to fully create her recipes to perfection. For example, the  brown sugar buttercream frosting for the apple cupcakes. And one time I made a no-bake cheesecake from one of her magazines and it was a mess and a half. Another example? These ghost cupcakes.

Boo… boo hoo… why can’t we eat ourselves!?

But before I get into all that, let me repeat for the 800th time how much I adore Halloween. And Martha Stewart. And her yearly Halloween magazine. I beat this fact into everyone’s head every year, and it remains true: Halloween is not only just my favorite holiday, it’s the best holiday. If you don’t like Halloween, I’m sorry, you’re just a loser. I can’t say it any plainer.*shrugs* Last year I made really cute little green monster cakes thanks to Lyns and her white chocolate eyeballs. I also made some pretty sweet Devil’s food cupcakes with Red Hot’s buttercream and Devil toppers (well I made them a bit after Halloween but they’d be perfect Halloween cupcakes, and I even have the toppers available for download in the post), and they were all kinds of awesome. The year before, I made spider web cupcakes  with vintage Halloween postcard toppers (the post has somehow disappeared from the website, but here are two pictures). This year, something different again. I decided to use a Martha recipe/idea. Because Martha is the Queen of Holiday Baked Goods. But every single time you try to re-create one of her beautiful confections, it fails in some way. Sometimes a small way, and sometimes a huge way. Luckily, I managed to salvage these cakes aesthetically and they look pretty cute anyway.

So these cupcakes can be found in the 2009 Halloween issue of Martha’s Halloween magazine. They’re really “ghost petit fours” made by cutting a sheet cake into rounds and then frosting it, etc, etc. But I just made cupcakes instead (Billy’s Bakery vanilla) and used those instead. However… the main issue is that the frosting does not hold up when the glaze is spooned over it. Yeah, maybe I should’ve just given up and left it at the frosting and threw out the whole glaze idea, but I’m not a quitter. To get it to work, I had to thin the glaze out some more, and it still really wasn’t enough. I finally figured it out enough to get “ghostly” cupcakes for the last few. Otherwise, the rest all deflated. Still tasted amazingly delicious, but not ghostly at all. As it is, even these aren’t as high as they were before the glazing. You can tell they’re a little, well, squashed?

I’m putting the original recipes from the magazine here, but as I’ve already said, the way they are now just doesn’t work. So here’s what I suggest to you: make the thickest buttercream you can. So thick it’s hard to pipe out.  You can use the confectioner’s sugar frosting recipe I’m going to give you here, just make it thicker. Add more sugar until it’s so thick and stiff it just stands up on its own and is hard to push out of the pastry bag. Then, frost the cakes and let  ’em set in the fridge for a half-hour. Make the butter glaze adding about two-three more tablespoons more milk than called for, then gently spoon it over the cooled cakes. That should help. If not, then the recipe just doesn’t work, and Martha makes fake cupcakes for her magazine using styrofoam frosting and fake glaze. Of course this way the glaze won’t fully set, but that’s the price you pay.

Now, I’m pretty experienced when it comes to making cupcakes and frosting. I’ve made gazillions of other much more difficult things in the past. So not to sound cocky, but I really doubt this was an issue because of something I did. I am perfectly willing to accept that it could be all my fault however, so if you happen to make these Martha’s way, and they come out perfect, please tell me. I’ll then proceed to find where you live, hide out in your closet, and add arsenic to your next batch of cupcake batter.



  • 1 ¾ cups cake flour, not self-rising
  • 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
  2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.
  3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining batter. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake, or use a pastry bag fitted with a fancy tip. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Serve at room temperature.



  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 pounds confectioner’s sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup milk


  1. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar. Add salt,vanilla and milk; beat until icing is smooth and creamy. The icing should be thick enough to pipe and hold it’s shape.
  2. If it seems too thick, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until proper consistency is reached.* Frost cupcakes in rounds, high as you can to make ghostly shapes. Then cover in butter glaze (hold cupcake on a large spoon over the bowl of glaze; gently spoon glaze over the top and allow excess to drip off). Let glaze set and then draw eyes and mouth using melted chocolate.

*Use immediately, or refrigerate up to 2 days in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature and lightly beat until creamy before using.



  • 2 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons milk


  1. Place sugar in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Immediately pour the butter into the bowl with the sugar. Add the milk, and whisk until smooth.
  3. Cover bowl, and store at room temperature until ready to use, up to 1 hour.
The ghost on the far left has facial issues, clearly.

To make the faces, melt 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) chocolate chips and pipe onto cupcakes after the glaze sets. And remember this: the only recipes I’ve ever gotten from Martha that I never had a problem with were her risotto recipes. And her flourless chocolate cake. Oh! And the above recipe for Billy’s Vanilla cupcakes too- but that’s not even her recipe, it’s Billy’s.

So in the end, the cakes weren’t really exactly the way they should’ve been, but tasted beyond amazing. The butter glaze is so sweet it makes your teeth ache, which is sorta like a Halloween prerequisite. Anything bad for your teeth and that can potentially cause either a sugar high or a sugar coma is more than just allowed, it’s just mandatory. And these cakes were delicious. Delicious, most definitely. Adorable, yes. Perfect, no. But again, who needs perfection!?

Actually… speaking of perfection… here’s a picture of Indy in his “Halloween costume” his aunt Jennifer got him:

Yeah, it’s a witch hat, and yeah, he’s a boy. Don’t ask. I’m going with “Warlock” but I think that sounds very 1998-wannabe Wiccan, so maybe we’ll just get him a little police costume and be done with it. Or maybe this is the last costume you’ll ever see him in. He’s gotta be over 90 pounds now, complete with massive canines and incisors. If he doesn’t wanna wear a costume, who am I to argue? 😉

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  1. Indy is too cute in his hat. And I feel your frustration with the Martha recipe. It’s especially disappointing when her recipes fail b/c she has such gorgeous, perfect pictures of successful stuff in her magazine and on tv.

    But I think you’re right that her recipes are part urban legend. I love watching her show b/c even she can’t recreate the stuff she’s peddling. 🙂

  2. Isn’t Indy adorable? He knows it too.

    I’m glad it’s not just me. I was starting to get a complex. I think all her baked goods/dessert recipes are made to torture us. It’s like that episode of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ when Ray’s mother gives his wife Debra the recipe for her sauce and Debra can’t make it, it comes out awful… and finally Ray finds out that his mother purposefully changed the recipe ingredients by a 1/2 tsp here and there and added in different things just to make Debra incapable of making it, and make his mother feel special that she could make it and no one else can. I feel like that’s what Martha does to the world.

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