Credit: Photo credit: Stacy Zarin-Goldberg

There are food crazes that pass swiftly and those that linger. Cupcakes are in the latter category; so far, they’ve had a long run. Because they appeal to both kids and adults, they make for spectacular, individualized treats for fall holidays and parties. The versatility of these little cakes can keep you and your family entertained and satisfied throughout the season.



½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup vanilla sugar* (or plain sugar)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk, either slightly warmed or at room temperature**


1. Cream butter and sugar at slow speed until well mixed. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix until just combined.

2. Sift together cake flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to the mixer bowl, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

4. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. Fill cupcake pans one-half to two-thirds full.


5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 22 minutes.

6. Unmold immediately from pan and let cool completely before frosting and decorating.


*To make vanilla sugar, split a vanilla bean in two and submerge in sugar. Leave the vanilla bean in the sugar for at least 24 hours before using. Vanilla sugar can be made weeks ahead of time and stored at room temperature, like regular sugar.


**Very cold milk will cause the batter to curdle and the cupcake to be grainy.

Chocolate Ganache


10 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Vanilla extract to taste


1. Place chocolate in a large bowl.


2. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over low heat.

3. Pour the cream onto the chocolate and let it sit for 2 minutes before whisking or stirring gently to mix. Add vanilla to taste.

4. When the ganache is cool but still liquid, cupcakes can be dipped in it for a smooth glaze. For a thicker ganache (to pipe or spread on the cupcakes), set the ganache aside at room temperature until firm.



Makes about 2 cups (will generously frost 12 cupcakes)

Ganache should be stored at room temperature if at all possible. In the refrigerator, it will get too firm to pipe or spread.

Vanilla Buttercream


½ cup butter or vegetable shortening, room temperature
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
3 to 4 tablespoons milk Vanilla extract to taste


1. Cream butter or shortening. Add half of the powdered sugar slowly and mix at slow speed until incorporated.

2. Increase speed and add milk and remainder of sugar a little at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Mix in vanilla extract.


Makes about 2 cups


This buttercream may be colored. Store extra buttercream in the refrigerator for one week. Bring to room temperature and re-whip before using.

Icing and Decorating Cupcakes: Halloween


Ice the cupcake with the plain vanilla buttercream. Put black buttercream or milk chocolate ganache in a bag with a small, round decorating tip. Pipe four lines that intersect in the middle of the cupcake (to make eight “legs”) and pipe a round body on top of the “legs.”


Ice the cupcake with green buttercream. Use small candies to make the witch’s eyes and licorice strips to make the mouth and hair. Place a sugar cone on top, but a little off to the side (for the witch’s hat).



Ice cupcakes with ganache and then roll in crushed chocolate cookie crumbs (it will look like dirt). Insert a shortbread or wafer cookie into the top of the cupcake. You can pipe epitaphs on the cookies with the ganache or buttercream.


Cut out a template (e.g., a heart, a letter of the alphabet) on a piece of waxed paper larger than the cupcake. Place the template on top of the cupcake. Sprinkle colored sugar over the pattern. Remove the template to reveal the pattern in sugar.

Easy, but Looks Fancy

Using a star tip and a piping bag, pipe small rosettes over the entire surface of the cupcake.


Simple, but Fun

Smooth icing on the cupcake using a spatula. Roll the edge of the cupcake in sprinkles to match the holiday or occasion.