Creepy Pumpkin M&M Cupcakes

From 6 Bittersweets
Adapted from VCTOTW and Hello, Cupcake!
Makes 12 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I had work in the afternoon, so I baked the cupcakes midday and refrigerated them until I had time to prepare the rest at night. This worked out great so don't be intimated if you can't do all this at once!

1 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup soy milk (I used regular milk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup M&M candies, roughly chopped up
Cream Cheese Frosting (Recipe below)
Chocolate and M&M Insects and Eyes (Recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir the pumpkin, oil, sugar, milk, and vanilla together until thoroughly mixed. Add in the dry ingredients and stir into the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chopped M&M candies.

Fill paper liners about 2/3 full with batter. Tap the pan firmly against the counter one time to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or just until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack and let them cool completely there.

To assemble insect cupcakes: spread an even layer of cream cheese frosting onto the cupcakes using a knife or spatula. Gently peel the chocolate candy insects from the parchment paper, place one or more on each cupcake, and press slightly to secure. That's it!

To assemble mummy cupcakes: if you have melted chocolate leftover from making the insects and eyes, squeeze 1-2 teaspoons on the top center of each cupcake then spread and and smooth it out with a spatula. Place a pair of M&M eyes on top of the chocolate (or directly on the cupcake). Next, fit a piping bag with an Ateco #48 tip (or other rectangular basketweave tip) and fill it with cream cheese frosting. Make the "bandages" by piping flat strips of frosting at different angles across each cupcake, leaving only a strip right around the eyes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces (1 cup) cream cheese (low-fat is fine), room temperature
1/4 cup (2 ounces or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups sifted powdered (confectioner's) sugar

In a large bowl beat the cream cheese and butter until soft and smooth. On low speed beat in the vanilla, salt, and sugar. Start with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and add more to achieve desired sweetness and stiffness. Finally, beat on high speed for a few moments until smooth.

Chocolate and M&M Insects and Eyes
Regular, mini, and peanut M&M candies
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

XIAOLU'S NOTE: I roughly followed the templates from Hello, Cupcake! If you'd like to try them, just leave a comment with your email and I'll send it right over.

Using a fairly thick and dark pen or marker, draw outlines of insects or whatever creepy design you want on light-colored paper. Separate your candies by color.

Place chocolate chips in the plastic bag and microwave at 10-second intervals, massaging the bag in between, until the chocolate is fully melted. Press as much air as possible out of the bag then close the top.

Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper over the outlines you made earlier. Use scissors to cut off a 1/16-inch corner of the plastic bag and pipe the chocolate onto the parchment paper along the outlines underneath, making sure to connect all the parts to each insect. Before the chocolate hardens, place the M&M candies on top.

If making mummy cupcakes, spread out pairs (one for each cupcake) of mini or regular M&M candies in matching bright colors. Use the same bag of melted chocolate to pipe dots on the candies to make pupils.

Chill all piped chocolate in the refrigerator until firm, at least 5 minutes.

XIAOLU'S NOTE: 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.