This is a candy bar lover’s favorite time of year.
For someone like me who can eat a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by herself, dressing up for Halloween is just an excuse to load up on Snickers, Butterfingers, Kit Kats, Baby Ruths and even the lesser candy bars, which I shall not name for fear of hurting their feelings or yours.
This month’s Year of Baking project is inspired by my own love of candy bars but also my desire to learn how to bake some seriously impressive cupcakes.
As with brownies, I’ve used boxed mixes for making cakes and cupcakes for the vast majority of my baking life. Making them from scratch just seemed like an unnecessary hassle. That changed when I came across Caroline Wright’s “Cake Magic!: Mix & Match Your Way to 100 Amazing Combinations” (Workman, $17.95), which is based on the idea of making your own cake mix with only a handful of ingredients and then using that to make more complex and interesting cakes.
Wright made from-scratch cakes seem much more accessible, and when I finally tried her recipe, I was blown away by how moist the cake turned out. Boxed mixes seemed so ordinary when the extraordinary was suddenly available at my fingertips.
Once I had the cake part of these cupcakes down, I started thinking about how I might incorporate my favorite candy bar flavors.
I lean toward the peanut butter, caramel and otherwise slightly salty candy bars, so why not make a salted caramel peanut butter filling to insert inside the cupcake or to drizzle on top? I used a pastry bag to fill the cupcakes with caramel peanut butter sauce, but you could also use a squeeze bottle (insert the tip into the baked cupcake) or scoop out a little of the middle of the cake with an apple corer or melon baller.
Malt is one of the most divisive elements in a candy bar, but if you are one of those people who can’t get enough Whoppers this time of year, you’ll love the malted buttercream frosting that also comes from Wright’s book. I’m not one of those people, so I’d make one of the alternatives with Nutella, peanut butter or chocolate the next time I make cupcakes.
What if you don’t really like frosting? Chocolate ganache, it turns out, is even easier to use. Melt a bar of chocolate in 1/2 cup heavy cream, and suddenly you have a glossy and not-so-overpowering topping for your cupcakes that can also act as a glue of sorts if you want to decorate with chopped M&Ms or the Butterfinger crumbles that you now can buy next to the chocolate chips in most grocery stores.
Almost all these frosting and filling ideas work interchangeably — you could fill the cupcake with the malt buttercream and dip the top in ganache, or vice versa. Pastry cream, mousse or even jam or marmalade also make great fillings. Pudding will work, but you’ll have to make it thick or else it will spill out everywhere.
You can store cupcakes on the counter in an airtight container for a few days, but beyond that, store them in the fridge for up to a week.
Even if you skip the homemade fillings and frosting (or homemade cake, for that matter), you can turn any cupcake into a candy bar-inspired treat by chopping up your favorite candy bar and sprinkling it on top.
Not like you need any help eating that Halloween loot in the first place.
Super Dark and Moist Chocolate Cake
You could make a full-size candy bar cake, but cupcakes are even better because you can use several different kinds of candy bars to make a variety of party-pleasing treats. When melting the chocolate in the microwave or on the stove, stir the pieces frequently so you heat the chocolate just to the melting point.
To make vanilla cake instead of chocolate, use this same recipe, but omit the cocoa and melted chocolate, reduce the quantity of water to 3/4 cup and add 2 tsp. vanilla extract.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
3/4 cup full-fat plain yogurt
1 cup vegetable oil (or 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled)
1 cup water
4 eggs, whisked together and at room temperature
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in two muffin tins.
Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chocolate, yogurt, oil or butter, water and eggs. Stir until combined and there are no more lumps, but do not overmix. Pour the batter into the liners, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cupcakes comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the skewer. This should take about 20 minutes for cupcakes or 25 to 30 minutes for a 9-inch-by-13-inch cake. Makes 24 cupcakes.
— Adapted from “Cake Magic!: Mix & Match Your Way to 100 Amazing Combinations” by Caroline Wright (Workman, $17.95)
Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. peanut butter (crunchy or creamy)
Pour the sugar and water into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a simmer, but do not stir it. You can swirl the pan occasionally and gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and let the syrup boil until it turns a light golden color. Again, do not stir the mixture.
While the sugar is boiling, pour the cream into a separate saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the salt and turn on the heat until steam starts to rise, but do not let the cream simmer or boil. Turn off the heat and stir the cream occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on top.
Once the sugar has turned golden in color, remove it from the heat and immediately add a small portion of the hot cream. Stir with a wooden spoon and then continue to add a little cream at a time until the two liquids are combined. The cream might bubble rapidly when you add it, so be careful because the melted sugar is very hot.
To make peanut butter salted caramel, add peanut butter to 4 Tbsp. salted caramel. You’ll have a little salted caramel left over that you can save for another use, or you can add more peanut butter to make more peanut butter caramel.
Use this sauce as a filling for cupcakes or drizzled on top instead of (or in addition to) frosting.
— Adapted from “Primrose Bakery Everyday” by Martha Swift (Random House UK, $45)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
In a medium saucepan, heat the heavy cream over medium heat. Add the chocolate pieces and turn off heat. Stir until melted. Let cool slightly before using as a glaze or filling for the cupcakes.
— Addie Broyles
Malted Vanilla Frosting
Instead of malted milk powder, you can use a similar quantity of peanut butter, Nutella, cookie butter, maple syrup, melted chocolate or salted caramel to make frostings to complement your candy bar-inspired cupcake creation. For a vegan frosting, omit the malted milk powder and use vegetable shortening instead of butter. You can buy malted milk powder in the baking section of most grocery stores, usually near the evaporated and sweetened condensed milk.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup malted milk powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Using a handheld mixer, combine ingredients in a large bowl. Beat on medium until the frosting is pale and no longer grainy, about two minutes, and then beat on high for another minute or two until the frosting is light and fluffy. You can store this in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Beat the frosting again before using for best results. Makes about two cups frosting.
— Adapted from a recipe in “Cake Magic!: Mix & Match Your Way to 100 Amazing Combinations” by Caroline Wright (Workman, $17.95)
Dulce De Leche Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
7 Tbsp. cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
14 Tbsp. (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
To make the dulce de leche, peel the label off the can of sweetened condensed milk and throw away. Place the unopened can in a medium saucepan and fill the pan with enough water to cover the can’s lid by two inches. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for two hours, adding more water as necessary. You’ll need to keep at least an inch of water above the can. If the top of the can becomes exposed, it could explode. After two hours in the water bath, use tongs to remove the can and place on a kitchen towel to cool before opening.
Once the dulce de leche has cooled, add it to a large mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese, powdered sugar and butter. Using a handheld mixer, combine the ingredients until light and fluffy.
— Adapted from “The Happy Cook: 125 Recipes for Eating Every Day Like It’s the Weekend” by Daphne Oz (Harper Collins, $32.50)
Year of Baking
This is the latest in our ongoing baking series that we launched in January. Here is what we have baked so far, and you can find all the recipes and videos at austin360.com/yearofbaking.
January: Cherry muffins
March: Cream puffs
April: Strawberry scones
May: Fruit crisps
June: Ice cream sandwiches
July: Upside-down peach cake
August: Margarita pie
September: Cinnamon rolls
October: Candy bar cupcakes
Next month: Pies