Got brains? These Brain Cupcakes are an easy and fun Halloween dessert recipe. You can use this same decorating method with any cake and frosting combination, so whip up a batch for your next Halloween party!
🧠 Zombie Brain Cupcakes for Halloween
When spooky season arrives, cute is OUT and creepy is IN. No more adorable Flamingo or Hamburger Cupcakes — come Halloween time, we go full-on scary with our sweets. It’s all about the Spiderwebs, Skulls, and Monster cupcakes now!
These brain cupcakes are another addition to our library of Halloween desserts. I’m sharing a full cupcake and frosting recipe down below, in case you want to recreate these from top to bottom. I made them with a moist spice cupcake and an easy almond buttercream on top, and this combo is a family favorite we return to year after year.
But the genius of these brain cupcakes is that the easy brain decorating technique can be used with any cupcake and frosting combination, so don’t feel constrained if you already have favorite recipes you want to use. And if you’re ready for more spooky sweets, don’t miss our popular Witch’s Brew Halloween Punch, Red Velvet Marshmallow Spiderweb Cake, or Zombie Brain Brownie Bites!
🧾 What You’ll Need
These festive Brain Cupcakes are sure to tempt your pickiest zombies! Here are a few notes about the ingredients and equipment you’ll need to get started. (Links are affiliate links and I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.)
- Spices: For the spice cupcakes, I use a mix of ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. You can replace them with 1 TBSP of pumpkin pie spice if you prefer.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk gives the cupcakes a tender texture, and the acid in the buttermilk is necessary for reacting with the leaveners in the batter. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use sour cream whisked with a bit of milk to make it more fluid as a substitute.
- Cinnamon Baking Chips: I love the burst of flavor cinnamon chips add to spice cupcakes, but if you can’t find them they can be omitted.
- Almond Extract: If you don’t like almond-flavored desserts, you can omit the almond extract and increase the vanilla extract to taste.
- Food Coloring: I used a combination of Americolor soft pink and ivory gel food coloring to get this particular color of brains.
- Cupcake pan:I recommend using a standard-sized cupcake pan for this recipe.
- Cupcake scoop:a cupcake scoop is a super clean and easy way to portion out the batter.
- Piping bags and piping tip:you’ll want a piping bag and a small round piping tip to make the brain decorations.
These Brain Cupcakes are easy to decorate, so they’re a good project for beginners or younger helpers. Here’s a quick photo tutorial to walk you through the process, and you can get full printable instructions in the recipe card below.
- Pipe a thick line of buttercream down the middle of a cupcake.
- Then fill up the space to the right with one long buttercream squiggle, beginning at the top, widening through the middle, and narrowing at the bottom.
- Repeat on the left side, until you have formed both halves of the “brain.”
- Repeat until all of the cupcakes are decorated with brains.
To increase the creepiness factor, chill the cupcakes until the buttercream is hard, then brush a thin layer of strawberry jelly over the top, for more of a “bloody brains” effect.
And if spice cupcakes and/or almond buttercream aren’t your cup of tea (or brains), try one of these recipes instead!
🎃 More Halloween Recipes
Zombie Brain Brownie Bites
Don’t miss the step-by-step tutorial showing how to make Brain Cupcakes – check out the web story here!
For the Spice Cupcakes:
- 6.33 oz all-purpose flour (1.5 cups)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 TBSP ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 6 oz unsalted butter (3/4 cup), at room temperature
- 3.5 oz granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
- 3.75 oz brown sugar (1/2 cup), lightly packed
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 fl oz buttermilk (1/2 cup), at room temperature
- 4 oz cinnamon chips (2/3 cup), optional
To Make the Spice Cupcakes:
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a small bowl, and whisk them together. Set aside for a moment.
- Place the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla extract.
- Turn the mixer speed to low and add about a third of the dry ingredients. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, add half of the buttermilk and mix it in.
- Add half the remaining drys, then the rest of the buttermilk, and finish with the remaining dry ingredients. Stop the mixer when just a few streaks of flour remain. Finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl well. Stir in the cinnamon chips, if using.
- Scoop the batter into 18 cupcake liners. Bake for 20-22 minutes at 350 F, until the tops spring back lightly when touched. Cool completely before decorating.
To Make the Almond Buttercream:
- Put the butter, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp almond extract, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
- Beat the mixture on low speed until the powdered sugar is moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Taste the buttercream, and add additional almond extract if you would like a stronger almond flavor.
- If the frosting is very stiff, add small amounts of milk until it is the consistency you want. Add 2 drops of pink food coloring and 1 drop of ivory, and mix them in. Add more food coloring as necessary to get a color you like.
- Almond Buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you have made it in advance, let it come to room temperature and re-beat until light and fluffy before using.
To Decorate the Cupcakes with Brains:
- Place the buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a round tip about 1/4-inch wide: a Wilton #10 tip or Ateco #12 tip will work well.
- Pipe a thin layer of buttercream on top of the cupcakes, and smooth it out with a knife or offset spatula. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it’s just going to be the base of the brains.
- Pipe a line down the middle of a cupcake, then fill up the space to the right with one long buttercream squiggle, beginning at the top, widening through the middle, and narrowing at the bottom. Repeat on the left side, until you have formed both halves of the “brain.” Repeat until all of the cupcakes are decorated with brains.
- Brain Cupcakes can be stored, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Our recipes are developed using weight measurements, and we highly recommend using a kitchen scale for baking whenever possible. However, if you prefer to use cups, volume measurements are provided as well. PLEASE NOTE: the adage “8 oz = 1 cup” is NOT true when speaking about weight, so don’t be concerned if the measurements don’t fit this formula.
Want to learn more about baking measurements and conversion?