All you need is a creepy, crawly date on the calendar to bring out the scary best in a bunch of bakers.
We knew some seriously talented cupcake artists worked in and around Fort Worth, but until we issued a challenge in the way of our first Spooktacular Cupcake Showdown, we had no idea to what frighteningly creative heights these craftspeople could climb.
Given the task of inventing the most wickedly boo-tiful, devilishly ghoul-icious Halloween cupcake creation possible, eight specialists rose to the occasion.
We published photos of their efforts online and asked readers to vote for their favorite, and thousands of responses were posted.
Because the final numbers were too close to call, we're calling them all winners. Here's what they created, and how they did it.
Congratulations to each of the fang-tastic competitors.
Editors' choice: Legacy Cakes
It was the octopus tentacles that put "No. 13 Monster Manor," as Legacy Cakes owner Megan Rountree calls her bakery's creation, over the top for the Star-Telegram editors we polled. Created by Legacy's Libby Williams, the towering cupcake requires the following for those who would like to mimic such a feat.
1. Prepare a jumbo cupcake and frosting. Williams used a dark chocolate cupcake and decorated it with lime green fondant to create a spooky hill.
2. Make your own spooky face using a paintbrush and food coloring. Attach a creepy fondant mouth to the front of your cupcake wrapper using frosting.
3. To create the manor, Williams rolled out pieces of fondant and cut them using a template and craft knife, and let them dry overnight before attaching with water and adding details such as windows, tiles and a door. All other decorations (pumpkins, gravestones, tentacles, etc.) were made using different colors of fondant, dried overnight to hold their shape.
4. For a special effect, add small battery-operated lights and allow the wire to run out the back. Attach details using toothpicks, wire or frosting.
-- Legacy Cakes, 120 S. Main St., Grapevine, 817-442-9999; www.legacycakesbakery.com
Most amazing for autumn: Sugar & Frosting
"The Pumpkin Patch" was made up of numerous cupcakes in a sweet scene, thanks to the genius of Sugar & Frosting owner Melody Fitzgerald. Here's how she did it.
1. Prepare eight vanilla cupcakes and vanilla buttercream frosting. Put frosting in a pastry bag with a large round tip.
2. Have ready shredded wheat (large size, torn into pieces); candy pumpkins; Oreo cookie crumbs; orange, green and brown rolled fondant; and a platter or cake plate.
3. Frost three cupcakes with a large, rounded mound of vanilla frosting. Frost the other five cupcakes with a short mound of vanilla frosting, turn the cupcakes upside down and press into shredded wheat pieces. Set these "hay bale" cupcakes aside.
4. On a surface coated with cooking spray, roll out orange fondant to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut three circles slightly larger than the cupcake top to allow for the mounded frosting.
5. Place orange circles on the three reserved cupcakes and shape them around the frosting mounds. Take a Popsicle stick or similar tool and indent the fondant with a line pattern starting at the top middle with four lines from top to bottom evenly spaced.
6. Roll the brown fondant into a log thin enough to be the pumpkin stem. Cut three 3/4-inch stems and attach them with a dab of water to the top of each of the cupcakes.
7. Roll the green fondant into a thin log. Wrap it into a spiral shape 2-3 inches long and attach these "vines" with a small dab of water to the orange fondant.
8. Arrange four hay bale cupcakes and two pumpkin cupcakes on a tray or cake platter. Place pumpkin cupcakes on top of the other cupcakes.
9. Arrange shredded-wheat "hay" and cookie-crumb "dirt" around the base of the cupcakes. Add candy pumpkins around the base and in the hay.
10. Add additional Halloween items to the design, such as the white chocolate ghost, pumpkin patch sign and chocolate trees shown in the photo.
-- Sugar & Frosting, 126 Taylor St., Keller, 817-562-2500; www.sugarandfrosting.com
Most graveyard ghoul-riffic: Red Jett Sweets
"Rest in Cake," the creation from the cupcake truck everyone loves, came from the fertile minds of co-owners Christina Jett and Natalie Gamez. Here's how it comes together.
1. Assemble cupcakes in a rectangle. They did four cupcakes in a row and three cupcakes in a column. You can make your graveyard smaller or bigger if you wish by adding more or fewer characters and/or objects.
2. Add a little black food coloring to vanilla buttercream to turn it gray.
3. Crush Oreo cookies in a food processor to make "dirt."
4. Ice each cupcake generously, then use an offset spatula to smooth the icing across all 12 cupcakes. You do not want to make the icing perfectly flat, but you do want to be sure the cupcakes are iced out to the edges and between each cupcake. Sprinkle a small layer of "dirt" over the icing.
5. All characters and graveyard pieces were crafted from fondant. You can purchase various colors of fondant at local craft stores such as Michaels. Fondant can be molded like play dough. After molding the pieces, let them dry for 24 hours before placing them in your graveyard.
Instead of molding each piece out of fondant, here are a few suggestion for typical household foods or Halloween candies you can use:
Use pretzels to form a fence along the border of the cupcakes. Be sure to leave a space for the entrance to the graveyard.
For the ghost, use a Peeps ghost, or place two large marshmallows on a toothpick and drape a piece of rolled-out white fondant over them. Once the ghost has dried, draw two small eyes with a food-safe marker (available at Michaels).
Use a few mellowcreme pumpkins to create a small pumpkin patch in one corner of the graveyard.
Piece together different-size Tootsie Roll candies to form a tree. You can piece each Tootsie Roll together on toothpicks.
For tombstones, use any long, rounded cookie, such as a Nutter Butter or Pepperidge Farm Milano, and write "RIP" on it with a food-safe marker.
Cutest trick-or-treat: Leah's Sweet Treats
Leah Cichocki, owner and baker at the newish Camp Bowie cupcake shop, calls her sweet little witch-topped cupcake "Does it get any sweeter than this trick-or-treater?" Here's what she did to put this together and her tips for working with fondant.
For a topper like the little "trick-or-treater," you will need various colors of fondant, a small rolling pin and various shaped cutters. Using cutters is a much quicker, easier, cleaner way than freehand cutting to put characters together. You can make a quick sketch and find which aspects can be easily cut out (a head is a circle, a dress is a triangle, etc.).
Have powdered sugar or cornstarch on hand, and roll the fondant on a clean flat surface. When it comes to character design, a great place to get inspiration is modeling-clay books. Working with fondant is very similar to modeling clay, and these books usually show you step by step how to make all kinds of characters and objects.
When shopping for fondant and supplies, don't just look in the cake-decorating aisle. The clay aisle also has tons of great tools and cutters that will work. The most important thing to remember when working with fondant is to keep your space clean, roll the fondant out as evenly as possible, and don't let it sit out for too long -- it will begin to dry out and crack and becomes difficult to work with.
After you have the general cake-topper design put together (before it has dried completely), insert toothpicks or a skewer gently into the fondant so that you can stick it into a cupcake. For a topper standing atop a cupcake, it is best to refrigerate the cupcake first so that your topper has a better stability.
Remember: Have fun, use your imagination, and don't be afraid of the fondant. The possibilities are endless when you utilize fondant, and as soon as you get the hang of it, you will be making cupcake toppers for every event imaginable.
-- Leah's Sweet Treats, 4910 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-731-5223; www.leahssweettreats.com
Artist Jennifer Hart, who owns Blue Bonnet with her baker husband, Mike Hart, came up with her "Too Cute to Spook" cupcake by utilizing some of the bakery's famous gingerbread men. Here's what she did.
1. Hart used a metal bucket for the cupcake liner, but there are tons of adorable Halloween-themed liners in craft stores now.
2. For the "dirt," ice the cupcake with chocolate icing and roll it in sprinkles or crushed Oreo cookies. Hart used red velvet cake crumbs.
3. The skeleton and mummy are gingerbread men in disguise. You could bake your own cookies, or buy ones from the store to decorate.
4. Finish the graveyard scene with a tombstone (this one's made of fondant). Make your own using graham crackers, or purchase cute pics in the Halloween section of your local party store.
5. Embellish the cupcake with gummy worms and fake spiders.
-- Blue Bonnet Bakery, 4705 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-731-4233; www.bluebonnetbakery.com
Most creative candy confection: Kristen's Cupcakery
"Bubbling Witches' Cauldron" is the cupcake creation from owner Kristen Shaw. She instructs on how to make something like this on your own.
1. Have ready your favorite chocolate cupcakes, black buttercream icing (dyed with food coloring) and green icing, plus 1 black licorice twist, 8-10 pieces of candy corn, white cotton candy, edible glitter or "disco dust," a large round icing tip, a small round icing tip and pastry bags.
2. Fit a pastry bag with the large tip and fill the bag with black buttercream. Fit another with the smaller tip and fill it with green buttercream.
4. With black icing, pipe a large sphere on the cupcake. Place candy corn around the bottom of the circle, pointy ends sticking out. Using green icing, pipe green bubbles on top of the cauldron.
5. Bend the licorice twist to form a handle and stick it into the cauldron. Place white cotton candy on the bubbles for smoke and dust the whole thing with a little edible glitter or disco dust.
-- Kristen's Cupcakery, 6204 S. Cooper St., Arlington, 817-466-2253; www.kristenscupcakery.com
Wickedly charming: La Bella CupCakes
Owner-baker Elisha Lance calls her charming cupcake "BellaWitched." She makes it sound simple to do, too.
1. Bake your favorite cupcake; Lance used chai iced pumpkin.
2. To make the white chocolate spider web, print out a web stencil. Melt white chocolate and put it into a parchment bag with a No. 1 tip. Place parchment paper over your stencil and trace it with chocolate. Let it dry before trying to move it.
3. For the witch hat, use black fondant: Mold it into a cone and press the edges out for the brim. Use a strip of orange fondant for the belt, then yellow fondant to make the buckle. Cover the buckle with yellow sanding sugar. Let it dry for at least 24 hours before placing it on your cupcake.
4. Finally, frost the cupcake, use sanding sugar to make it sparkle, and add your favorite toppers.
-- La Bella CupCakes, 2405 N. Main St., Fort Worth, 817-624-6222; www.labella-cupcakes.com
Boo-tifully simple: Stir Crazy
Robbie Werner's bakery on the Near Southside has created ample buzz for its all-natural baked goods made with organic ingredients and locally produced butter and eggs. But she was ready for the Halloween challenge, coming up with a fabulous, rather than forbidding, treat. Here's what she says to do.
1. Bake up some delicious double chocolate cupcakes, and mix up a batch of classic vanilla buttercream.
2. Pipe a good amount of the buttercream on top of the cupcake, and dollop with chocolate ganache. Sprinkle a little cocoa on the top for garnish.
3. Mix up your best batch of sugar cookie dough, roll it out and cut the cookies with a ghost cookie cutter. Gently press a lollipop stick into the dough, and bake the cookies to golden perfection.
4. When the cookies are cool, pipe a little extra buttercream onto the ghost, sprinkle it with sugar crystals, and pipe on little chocolate eyes. Place the cookie stick into the center of the cupcake, and voila! Halloween can officially begin.
-- Stir Crazy Baked Goods, 106 E. Daggett Ave., Fort Worth, 682-710-2253; www.stircrazybakedgoods.com