Berry Chocolate Rat Cupcakes

From 6 Bittersweets
Adapted from VCTOTW via CHOW and Redbook
Makes 12 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I recommend having extra sliced and slivered almonds for the rats so that you can pick the best-shaped ones.

1 cup soy milk [or regular milk]
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, or more vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, regular or Dutch-processed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup strawberry or raspberry jam/preserves
Strawberry Chocolate Rats (Recipe below)
12 4-inch pieces of black licorice lace

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin pan with baking liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are OK).

Fill liners 3/4 full with batter. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Stir berry jam well, and heat in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds. Transfer jam to a piping bag fitted with a long pointed tip OR a squeeze bottle. Insert tip into each cupcake and squeeze out a small amount of jam into the cupcake. Then pull the tip out of the frosting and squeeze a little more on top of the cupcake in several (bloody XD) blobs. Place a strawberry chocolate rat on top of each cupcake. Insert one end of a 4-inch piece of black licorice into the cupcake directly behind the rat, then insert the other end into the cupcake on one side of the rat. Lastly and most importantly, enjoy sharing your creepy creations!

Strawberry Chocolate Rats
12 large strawberries, stems removed
1 cup (6 oz.) chocolate chips
2 tsp shortening (use a brand without trans fat like Spectrum)
15 chocolate wafer cookies (1 package of Nabisco brand is 40 cookies)
24 sliced almonds
24 slivered almonds
24 red/yellow and 12 brown candy-coated chocolate-covered sunflower seeds

Place chocolate wafer cookies in a food processor fitted with steel blade, and process until cookies are finely ground. Transfer crumbs to a small bowl and set aside.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Trim a small piece from one side of each strawberry so they can rest horizontally on the paper. Insert 2 sliced almonds -- about 1 inch from pointed end of strawberry and about 1 inch apart -- to make the ears of the rat.

Place chocolate chips into a heatproof bowl, and microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring well after each interval, until the chocolate is completely smooth. Be careful not to burn the chocolate! Stir in the shortening and mix until smooth.

Insert a fork into the large end of a strawberry (Angle the fork upwards into the strawberry so it won't slip off when you're tapping the fork later.). Holding strawberry on the fork over the bowl of melted chocolate, spoon chocolate over strawberry to coat. Allow excess chocolate to drip off, tapping fork lightly. Sprinkle with chocolate wafer cookies crumbs to coat. Tap fork lightly again to remove excess crumbs. While still holding the strawberry up on the fork, add red/yellow candies for the eyes, slivered almonds for the teeth, and brown candies for the nose. Use another fork or spoon to transfer strawberry to prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining 11 strawberries. If the chocolate starts to solidify as you're working with it, you can microwave it again at 10-second intervals until it softens again. Refrigerate (or freeze at least 5 minutes if you're in a hurry to use them) rats until ready to serve.