Tutorial: Spooky Graveyard Cupcakes

I'm beyond thrilled to officially announce that my talented friend, Xiaolu of 6 Bittersweets will be a regular contributor on the blog. She's an avid photographer, foodie, blogger, and the perfect addition to the PJE team. Who can forget the spool of thread cake pops that she created for the Vintage Sewing Party? Since then, we've collaborated on several projects, including the breast cancer awareness photo shoot featuring printables from Heather of Chickabug. I can hardly wait to share more of what we've been working on. For now, please welcome Xiaolu and enjoy reading her first post as contributing writer.

I love tutorials, don’t you? They have that great ability to take you from the initial reaction of being in awe of the final product to thinking, “You know what…I can do that!” As I was remarking to Christine just yesterday, it’s unbelievable how much photo and video tutorials have helped me with my website, my photography, and my baking business. From this wealth of information on the internet, I’ve learned methods of baking and decorating that people used to have to take classes to learn! So when Christine asked me to become a regular contributor on Pure Joy Events -- when she offered me a chance to teach and empower other food and craft-lovers as I’d been taught and empowered -- I immediately sent back an emphatic “Yes!”

Especially exciting to me at that moment was the fact that Halloween (my favorite holiday) was coming up! And what is Halloween if not a DIY-lover’s dream? I mean, sure, you could easily find pre-made mass-produced costumes, decorations, and treats in stores. But what is the FUN in that? This is a day made for remembering just how amazing and fruitful our own 2 hands are, for rediscovering creativity. For looking at a trash bag and imagining spiderwebs, looking at cheesecloth and envisioning a ghost, and so much more! But now I’ve gotten carried away. The real reason I’m here today is to share a tutorial for a creepy, fun, and ultra-nommable Halloween project for you to make for and with family and friends. After going through my step-by-step photos and downloading the FREE printable toppers that Heather of Chickabug is generously sharing, I certainly hope you’ll be saying to yourself, “I can do this!” Have a safe and spooky Halloween, my friends!

Spooky Graveyard Vanilla Cookies N' Cream Cupcakes
Cake adapted from Beantown Baker; fondant toppers adapted from The Red Deer
Makes 12 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: As I've mentioned before, I prefer marshmallow fondant because the taste is much much better than storebought. That being said, storebought fondant will work just fine here as well. You should make the fondant toppers at least 1 day before you plan to use them so that they have a chance to dry. I chose ganache mostly to provide a level surface for the toppers. If you'd prefer a different frosting, you can crumble the 12 leftover cookie halves (the ones without frosting) and sprinkle the crumbs on top of OR mix them into whatever frosting you decide to use.

Make the skull and bones fondant toppers:
About 5 oz. Marshmallow Fondant (Recipe here)
Yellow and brown gel or paste food coloring
Wooden skewer
Narrow food-safe paintbrush

Cover a clean flat surface with powdered sugar. Color the fondant a light yellowish brown by squeezing 1 drop of yellow coloring onto the surface and kneading it in until the color is evenly distributed (no streaks). Keep some trans fat-free shortening on hand as you work; if the fondant gets too dry, you can knead some shortening in to make it more pliable.

Then squeeze a small drop of brown food coloring onto the fondant and knead it in as well. (I actually made my marshmallow fondant a little too dry as you can see in the photo above. It would be too dry and crack if we tried to cover a cake with it, but fortunately these toppers are fairly small so a little dryness is okay.)

To make a bone topper, first roll a small ball of fondant about 1/2-inch wide between your palms. Make sure to keep the remaining fondant in an airtight container while you work on small pieces; otherwise, it'll quickly dry up and become useless! Roll fondant ball into a log (about 1 1/2 inches long) that's thicker at the ends by putting pressure on the middle as you roll using your index finger.

Use the end of a wooden skewer or toothpick to push into each end of the "bone" to divide them into 2 sections (like real bones have). Then use your fingertips to further separate the sections and smooth them out. Continue using your thumb and index fingertips to lengthen the middle part of the bone and make it more uniform in width.

Use the pointed end of your wooden skewer or toothpick to draw some cracks, and you're now done shaping your first bone! Repeat the same process to make 11 more (one for each cupcake).

Once you've finished shaping all 12 bones, go back to paint the first one (which should have hardened a little by now and be easier to handle). I painted them with a narrow, food-safe brush using brown gel food coloring diluted with a little vodka (don't use water!). As you can see from the dirty paper towel in the photo, I blotted frequently (after every dip into the food coloring!). Don't forget to do this or your bones will get way too dark! Just a few strokes here and there (mostly on the sides) to make them look more aged and dirty. Paint all the bones, then leave to dry for at least 8 hours and up to 1 week (do NOT cover; just leave them open to the air in a safe and dry place).

To make a skull topper, first roll a small ball of fondant about 3/4-inch wide between your palms.

Use your index finger to widen the ball and roll one end so that it's a little less thick than the other (the shape should be vaguely similar to a lightbulb). Use the wider end of a wooden skewer or something else with a round end to make "eye sockets." After first inserting the tip, you'll probably have to move it around slightly in a circle motion to widen the depression until it looks to be about the right size.

Now switch back to the pointy end of the wooden skewer or toothpick to draw holes for "nostrils" as well as a "mouth" (I stuck with the sewn/shrunken-looking mouth by drawing a horizontal line plus 3 to 4 short vertical lines crossing it). Use your thumb and index fingers to slightly press in the lower sides of the "skull" thus making the cheekbones more prominent.

Use the pointed end of your wooden skewer or toothpick to draw some cracks, and you're now done shaping your first skull! Repeat the same process to make 11 more (one for each cupcake). Once you've finished shaping all 12 skulls, go back to paint the first one (which should have hardened a little by now and be easier to handle). I painted with the same brown gel food coloring as before (diluted with just a little vodka (don't use water!)). Again I blotted frequently (after every dip into the food coloring!). Don't forget to do this or your bones will get way too dark! I used this more concentrated color to paint the eye sockets, nostrils, and mouth. I also added a few strokes here and there to make the skulls look more aged.

Finally I dipped the brush in pure vodka and painted it as a "wash" over the previous color. The effect should be to make the skull look old and dirty overall, with the darker brown falling into the depressions in the eye sockets, nostrils, mouth, and crackers! Paint all the skulls, then leave to dry for at least 8 hours and up to 1 week (do NOT cover; just leave them open to the air in a safe and dry place) together with the bone toppers.

Assemble paper tombstone toppers:
Tombstone Toppers Printed on Card Stock (FREE printable available from Chickabug)
12 4-inch lollipop sticks

Cut tombstone toppers out of card stock. Use a small piece of scotch tape (about 1 inch long) to tape a lollipop stick to the back of each tombstone. Cut the end of each lollipop stick so that there's only about 1 1/2 inches of the stick extending beyond the paper tombstones.

Make cupcakes:
18 (about 1/2 package) Oreo, Newman-O, or other chocolate cream-filled cookies
1 Tbsp all purpose flour (for Oreo chunks)
1 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Slightly rounded 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cream OR half and half
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the top of a standard 12-cup muffin pan (in case you get some “muffin top” action). Line pan with 12 baking liners. Twist apart 12 Oreos. Place a half with filling on it (filling side up) in the bottom of each paper liner. Reserve the remaining 12 halves without filling AND 19 whole Oreos for topping the cupcakes later.

Cut 6 whole Oreo cookies into large chunks with a sharp knife. Toss with 1 tablespoon of flour and set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup PLUS 2 tablespoons of flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

Using a stand or handheld electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup cream and continue beating just until incorporated. Add 1/2 the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until combined. Add the milk and vanilla, then mix just until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until combined. Add egg whites to the batter, and mix on medium speed for about 1 1/2 minutes. Finally, stir in the quartered Oreo cookies.

Distribute batter evenly among baking cups, filling each about 3/4 full. When finished, slam the pan evenly and firmly downward from 2 inches above the counter to force out any large bubbles. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cupcakes comes out mostly clean. Remove from oven right away, let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Make ganache and decorate cupcakes:
15 whole Oreo, Newman-O, or other chocolate cream-filled cookies
12 Oreo halves without frosting [leftover from making cupcake batter]
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (chips or finely chopped bar)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp unsalted butter

Crush up the Oreos (whole and halves) using either a food processor or rolling pin. Be sure to stop breaking the Oreos down when there are still some small chunks left. Since we'll be using these crumbs to great a "dirt" effect, chunks are actually preferable! Be especially careful if you're using a food processor, since processing too finely could turn the mixture into a paste instead of crumbs (due to the moisture of the cream filling!). Transfer crumbs to a wide, shallow bowl, plate, or pan; set aside.

Place chocolate in a small to medium bowl. Bring heavy cream and butter just to a boil. Pour hot cream mixture over chocolate and let sit for about 5 minutes. Begin stirring mixture and continue stirring until the mixture is uniform and smooth (may take about 2 minutes of stirring).

Immediately dip each (COOLED) cupcake upside-down into the ganache up to the liner, lift cake out of chocolate, and let excess ganache drip off. Next, turn cupcake right-side up and move so that you're holding it over the bowl of Oreo crumbs. Scoop up some crumbs with your free hand and press crumbs to the top of the cupcake until all of the ganache is covered. Place cupcake on wire rack to allow topping to set. Repeat dipping and coating process with remaining cupcakes. If ganache begins to harden before all of the cupcakes are dipped you may heat for 5-second intervals in a microwave until chocolate can be stirred smooth again.

Now stick a tombstone paper topper into each cupcake, near the edge and with the text facing the center of the cupcake. Finally, set a fondant skull and bone on top of each cupcake near the center. Enjoy your spooky yummy treat!

Xiaolu - Contributing Writer from 6 Bittersweets

Xiaolu loves baking, cooking, and pretty much any food-related DIY project. Since starting her blog, 6 Bittersweets, in late 2009, she has discovered a strong passion for food and still life photography.


  1. Thanks for having me on your blog again, Christine! It's always great fun and an honor =D.

  2. I find that when it comes to fondant, tutorials are key! This one is awesome!

  3. Xiaolu you're such an inspiration, you somehow always seem to give me that "I can do that!" feeling.

  4. Awesome to see Xialou here. She is such a great talent and these cupcakes are adorable!

  5. Yes, Xiaolu is the best! I'm so excited to see more great posts from her.

  6. thank you for this great idea, I'm gonna try to make it myself!

  7. Wow...what a great tutorial ! I love it.

  8. Thanks for breaking it all down in the tutorial! So effective yet actually quite simple.

    Happy Halloween,

  9. Thanks, everyone! I'm so excited to be a part of Christine's gorgeous blog. Please do let Christine and I know if you try this out =D.

  10. Project spooky and just great, I miss Halloween already ,D

  11. This looks amazing. I really want to make these for next Halloween


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