Black Velvet Spider Cupcakes

In the middle of my childhood playroom sat a box of unspeakable horrors. Disguised as a brightly colored toy box, it frequently brought one of my adolescent fears to reality—my fear of spiders. The innocent toy box had a slight gap between the lid and the box. The occasional spider would crawl in under the cover of darkness leaving my sister and I to discover it in the morning. The toy box quickly became an object my sister and I dreaded to open. Though it held all of our favorite toys and games, we'd often weigh the possibility of finding spiders with childhood fun, deciding whether we wanted a toy badly enough to gamble the chance of arachnids.

The fear of spiders usually won.

When we were up for facing our fears, we'd slowly crack open the toy box together, our eyes immediately darting back and forth for signs of life (more often than not the spiders we encountered were already dead, but the sight of a spider, whether dead or alive, still elicited the same screams). Once the box stood open before us, we'd check whether the toy we desired sat on top or if it was buried deep in the pile. If it rested near the bottom of the box, the two of us would debate once more whether it was really really worth the chance.

If it was and we were feeling brave, I would roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath, and begin digging. As the older sibling, it was my responsibility to keep my little sister safe from the horrors of the world (and our toy box). Looking back, I can still feel the drop of my stomach and recall the real fear I felt as I carefully lifted each toy out of the way, inspecting it for creepy-crawlies.

Even today, the fears from childhood rush back whenever I must face the same toy box in my parent's basement to find a toy for a little cousin.

As I've grown older, my fear of spiders has, for most intents and purposes, disappeared. When I'm resting beneath the trees or walking on a nature trail, spiders and I can get along quite well together. I might even greet one hello if he treads close enough. Even so, I still don't like a visit from my spider friends when I'm not expecting it, as they dash across the bathroom floor when I step out of the shower or crawl up the white walls of the apartment as I'm watching television.

Afterwards, I can often be spotted chasing after them with a tissue, trying to convince the poor creatures that I'm not trying to kill them. After catching the frightened spider, I like to bring it outside and set him free. As I send him along his merry way, I politely ask him to visit the neighbors next time instead.

Black Velvet Spider Cupcakes are a wonderful addition to a Halloween menu. The flavor of the cupcakes match the classic red velvet cupcake, but are dyed black instead of the traditional red. These black velvet cupcakes can form the base of many Halloween inspired recipes, but today they are represented as frightful little spiders. A few decorative ingredients turn the black velvet cupcakes into creepy-crawly creatures which will (deliciously) frighten your guests.

One Year Ago: Red Wine Chocolate Cake
Two Years Ago: Butternut Squash Custard

Black Velvet Spider Cupcakes
Adapted from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook & Martha Stewart

Yields 12 cupcakes

Black Velvet Cupcakes
3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (118 ml) vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon black gel-paste food color
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 1/4 cups (125 grams) cake flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (118 ml) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a cupcake tin with baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, vegetable oil, and egg until well combined. Beat in the black food coloring, vanilla extract, and vinegar. Gradually add in the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the buttermilk, stirring until batter is uniform and smooth.

Divide batter evenly between baking cups, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool to room temperature before decorating.

To Turn the Cupcakes into Spiders You'll Need:
Red candy melts (or any other eye color of your choosing)White dragees or pearls (for pupils)
Frosting, dyed black
Purple crystal (or sanding) sugar
Black string licorice (for legs)

Melt the candy melts and, using a small spoon, drop melted candy onto a piece of wax paper to form the eyes. Place white dragees onto eyes before they cool. Allow candy to completely cool and harden before removing from the wax paper.

Using an off-set spatula, spread black frosting onto cupcakes to form a dome shape. Sprinkle cupcakes with purple sugar until fully covered. Press eyes onto the front of the cupcakes. Push black licorice strings into the base of the frosting to form the legs (I used spider cupcake holders so I did not do this step in the photos above, but the black licorice will give you a similar result).