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Halloween: Tombstone Cupcakes

October 31, 2008

Marta Stewart’s Tombstone Cupcakes

Tombstone Cupcakes

These spooky Halloween cupcakes are almost as fun to make as they are to eat, and kids will love to join in.

Use any one of the following decorating ideas on its own, or put several together to create a tray of different treats. Easy to bake, all of these cupcakes are based on the same devil’s food cake recipe.

Tombstone Cupcakes How-To
1. To make a cupcake cemetery, spread devil’s food cupcakes with chocolate ganache icing (all recipe links follow). Dip the top of each frosted cupcake in crushed chocolate wafers to create the look of dirt, then insert shortbread-cookie tombstones, piping them with scary messages like “Boo!” or “R.I.P.” in royal icing.

2. Top more devil’s food cupcakes with chocolate ganache and chocolate-wafer “dirt,” make a hole in the center of each cupcake with your finger, and position half a Gummi worm to look like it’s slithering out of the hole.

3. Enlist your kids to draw scary Halloween figures, or copy Halloween images out of books. Cut the pictures out, tape them to cocktail straws (you can cut the straws shorter, if necessary), and insert them into cupcakes you’ve decorated with orange-tinted cream-cheese frosting.

4. Decorate more devil’s food cupcakes with orange cream-cheese frosting, then spell out words or phrases like “Happy Halloween” by forming one to three letters out of thin black licorice on top of each cupcake.

5. Serve your cupcakes ona tray covered with candy corn.

Devils Food Cupcakes


Makes 24 cupcakes

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Chocolate Ganache Frosting


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Melt chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water. In a bowl, stir baking soda into the boiling water; stir this mixture into chocolate. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until the mixture is light and pale yellow in color. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix until thoroughly incorporated. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between small amounts of each, and blend well.
  4. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla to the batter, and stir well. Pour the batter into the paper cups, and bake until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of a cupcake, about 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from the oven, and allow them to cool briefly in the muffin tin before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Ice, and serve.

Chocolate Ganache Icing


Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 9 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream


  1. Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan until bubbles begin to appear around edges (scalding); pour over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth. Set aside at room temperature until cool but pourable, stirring occasionally.

Shortbread Tombstones


Makes 25

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated


  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla. Sift together flour and cornstarch, and stir this mixture thoroughly into the creamed mixture. Stir in grated chocolate. Place dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, and form the dough into a flat disk. Wrap the dough, and chill it for at least 2 hours.
  2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Trim to a large rectangle. Using a pizza cutter, cut into smaller rectangles approximately 1 by 2 1/2 inches in size. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes. Bake until firm and just golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer tombstones to a wire rack, and cool. Decorate, as desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting


Makes about 12 cups

  • 1 1/2 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  1. Place butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high until fluffy. Reduce speed; add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, beat until well combined.

Pipe these shortbread treats with scary messages like “Boo” or “R.I.P.” in Royal Icing.

Royal Icing


Makes about 2 1/2 cups

  • 2 large egg whites, or more to thin icing
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, or more to thicken icing
  • 1 lemon, juiced

You can substitute 5 tablespoons meringue powder and 1/3 cup water for raw eggs.


  1. Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and lemon juice; beat for 1 minute more. If icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it is too thin, add more sugar. The icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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