October 31, 2010

Of Aves & Arachnids! Hoot Owl Cookies And Eggless Spider Cupcakes

Now you know I studied biology in college and still remember some of it. No, this post is not a lesson on classification of animals. I was looking for a “catchy” title for this post which wasn’t spooky or disgusting but reflected the mood of Halloween. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded with what I wanted title-wise, but I’m going to leave it this way for want of a better alternative!
We don’t celebrate Halloween in India, and this is another tradition that I learnt of from my story books as a child. Dressing up as spooky characters, carving pumpkins, tricking or treating, bobbing for apples all seemed a bit alien yet sort of exciting in my world then. I couldn’t understand though, why one would go out of the way to celebrate something so spooky and a bit scary.
Now I’m older, I do understand what Halloween is about and that it can be a lot of fun for everyone though still a bit too spooky for my tastes, but then I never grew up with it.

This is also the season when I enjoy seeing beautifully decorated cookies, cakes and pies that appear on many food blogs I visit. However, I’m at a loss when it comes to understanding why people also serve up food that looks like blood and gore! Well, I guess everyone has their preferences and this is what some people actually like.

Spiders are not on my list of favourite things but I have been fascinated by spider cupcakes for quite some time. Then this year I came upon these cute owl cookies, and on an impulse decided to make them some right away. With Halloween around the corner, it also seemed the perfect time to try my hand at making those spider cupcakes as well. My daughter was so happy at the thought of buttercream on her cupcakes that she decided to be a part of this project and made the cupcakes for me.

For the owl cookies I found Natalie Neal Whitfield’s recipe which claims to be the original of the one that caught my attention. I have used the same recipe but made a few changes, as usual.
These cookies are slightly crisp and buttery, delicious and absolute attention grabbers. They’re really not difficult to make and since they’re refrigerator cookies, you can make the dough, wrap it and refrigerate a few days ahead till you’re ready to bake them.

Hoot Owl Cookies
(Adapted from Natalie Neal Whitfield’s recipe)


150 gm butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 unbeaten egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate

1/4 tsp baking soda

white chocolate chips (or dark), for the eyes of the owls

whole cashewnuts (preferably unsalted and not roasted)


In a bowl, using a hand held mixer, cream the butter and sugar till soft and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the bowl and mix well to form a softish dough.

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over warm water and allow it to cool.

Take 2/3rd of the dough out of the bowl and keep it aside. Add the baking soda to the melted chocolate, stir well and add it to the 1/3rd portion dough which is in the bowl. Knead this well so that you have a brown coloured dough with no streaks visible.
Chill both doughs for about 1/2 an hour to make the dough easy to work with.

Take light coloured dough and divide into 2 equal portions. Also similarly divide the chocolate dough into 2 portions and roll each portion into a long cylinder/ rope shape about 10” long. Keep aside.
Cut out a piece of aluminum foil (approx. 12” by 6”). Place one piece of light coloured dough in the centre of the piece of foil and roll it out into 10” by 4” rectangle. Place one chocolate dough cylinder/ rope in the centre of this rectangle.
Using the foil, wrap the light coloured rectangle of dough around the chocolate one from both sides. Your dough should now look like long roll of light coloured dough with the chocolate dough in the centre. Wrap the aluminium foil aroung the roll.
Repeat this with the other half of both doughs, and chill both rolls of dough for at least 2 hours or even overnight.

When ready to bake the cookies, remove the foil and slice each roll of dough into 1/4” thick slices and place them on lined baking sheets.

For each owl, press two slices together to form a face.
Pinch, or shape the outer corners of each slice to form “ears” and push an upside down chocolate chip in to the centre of each slice to make “eyes”.
Press a whole cashewnut between the slices, with pointed side down to make a “beak”.
Repeat with all the slices.

Do leave some space on the cookie sheets between “owls” as the will swell up and become larger as they bake. Bake the owl cookies at 108C (350F) for about 10 to 15 minutes till the edges of the cookies start becoming brown.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then carefully remove them racks to cool completely
This recipe gave me about 2 dozen owl cookies.

Eggless Spider Cupcakes

As I mentioned, I have been wanting to make these for sometime. I decided to divide my cupcakes into 2 batches and frost/ decorate each batch differently. So I covered one batch with orange butter cream and the other with chocolate ganache and white glazing to make the webbed pattern.

My cupcakes are adapted from a vegan cupcake recipe. This one, like the original, uses oil but you will get a better texture with butter. They’re very easy to make, using a muffin like method, and my daughter had them done in no time at all.

These chocolate cupcakes are light and not very sweet which makes them just nice once topped with buttercream or chocolate ganache/ glaze.

Eggless Spider Cupcakes
(Adapted from Chow)


1 cup milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup oil (I used soyabean oil)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dark cocoa powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt


Whisk together the milk and vinegar in a bowl and leave it for about 5 to 10 minutes to curdle to something like buttermilk. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract and whisk everything together till foamy.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add this to the wet ingredients and fold in until well incorporated and no flour streaks remain.

Pour the batter into paper lined cupcake/ muffin moulds or tins, till 3/4 full, and bake at 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes till done and a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool them completely on a rack and frost/ decorate as desired.
This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.

Cover the cupcakes with orange buttercream or chocolate ganache/ glaze and decorate with chocolate spiders.
To make my webbed cupcakes I used leftover chocolate glazing/ ganache from the DB doughnut challenge. I added a little more icing sugar and some melted chocolate to the glaze and topped half of my cupcakes with this.

Then I used plain sugar glaze (icing sugar +lemon juice + milk) to draw concentric circles on the chocolate glaze and used a knife tip to draw lines out from the centre of the cupcakes to the outside while the icing was still wet.

Orange Buttercream Frosting
(Adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor)


100gm butter, at room temperature

2 to 3 cups icing sugar, sifted

2 to 3 tbsp unsweetened orange juice

1 tsp orange extract

few drops of orange colouring


In a large mixing bowl, using a hand held mixer, beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds until it is fluffy. Add about 2 to 2 1/2 cups icing sugar, 2 tbsp orange juice, food colouring and extract.

Beat at low speed for about 1 minute, till well mixed. If the buttercream seem too soft, add as much icing sugar as required and beat well. Increase the speed and beat for another minute till the buttercream is light and fluffy. If the buttercream seems too thick, add a little orange juice and beat again.

This recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups of buttercream, enough to cover 24 cupcakes (2 1/2" size)

Chocolate spiders:

I saw a lot of ideas for making spiders to use on my cupcakes, but I couldn’t make most of them because we don’t get licorice and similar candy here. So I came up with the idea for these spiders.

Melt some semi-sweet chocolate with a little butter over warm water. Put this into a piping bag/ ziplock bag. Cut off the tip so you get a very small hole.

Pipe sets of 8 spider legs on a sheet of aluminium foil or thick plastic sheets. Press down round chocolate cereal balls (I used the “planets” from Kelloggs Planets & Stars cereal) in the middle to form the spiders’ body. Pipe two white or coloured glaze icing dots on the “body” for the eyes.

Place the “spiders” in the fridge till the chocolate sets. Peel off the spiders from the foil and store in a box till ready to use.


Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets said...

Very cute owl cookies. Happy Halloween!

Priya said...

Wow cute looking cookies and cupcakes, cant take my eyes from the cookies..

pigpigscorner said...

The little spiders are so cute!

Junglefrog said...

Both your owl cookies (love the cashew beak!!) and your spider cupcakes look great! And absolutely perfect for Halloween. if it was up to me I would rather eat an owl then a severed finger or such.. :)

Shobana said...

soooooo cute..really feel like having a few..

suma said...

Lovely.. oops!! spooky cupcakes Aparna!! Something like this right up my son's alley:-))

sra said...

My uncle used to serve up blood and gore pudding regularly - custard with wobbly red jelly - esp when his cousins came to dinner. They were the kind who couldn't stand the mention of all that, and they hated seeing jelly wobble - they didn't even like to look at pix of worms and insects and he'd go the distance to make the food/other stuff look that way!

sra said...

My uncle used to serve up blood and gore pudding regularly - custard with wobbly red jelly - esp when his cousins came to dinner. They were the kind who couldn't stand the mention of all that, and they hated seeing jelly wobble - they didn't even like to look at pix of worms and insects and he'd go the distance to make the food/other stuff look that way!

Tracy said...

Everything is so cute, but my favorite are those little spiders! Adorable!!

Kris Ngoei said...

I can see how much you enjoyed baking all these..... the owls and little spiders are so cuteeee!

And congrats for winning DMBLGIT Oct!

Sawadee from Bangkok,

Miri said...

Those are some of the cutest owls I have seen :) you have got the eyes, beak et al perfectly!

Wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali!

Rev said...

The owls are extremely cute looking. I especially like the nose part. The spiders surely look scary though yummy I am sure.
Happy Halloween!

Priya Sreeram said...

owls and spiders are such cuties! wonderful!! have a sparkling diwali!!

Soma said...

Congrats for the DMBLGIT dear Aparna!!

now to the cute cookies! I am in love with the owls :-)

jodye @ 'scend food said...

Those owl cookies are amazing! My boyfriend's favorite animal is an owl, so I know who I'll be making these for soon! The cupcakes sound delicious, too... can't go wrong with dark chocolate

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Adorable cookies!

Cynthia said...

haha i love those little cereal spiders!!! what a great idea :)

jackieruinsthecake said...

Those spider cupcakes are SO COOL.

farawayme said...

The spider cupcakes are fab! Also egg free is good as my son has a very severe allergy to them so finding recipes tht are egg free is great!