Spooky treats to celebrate Halloween

October 26, 2018

Halloween is next week, and while kids may be looking forward to collecting sweets, I know a few adults who are planning parties featuring spooky treats. Are you hosting a Halloween party? Once you’ve carved the face of your pumpkin into a menacing glare and draped fake spider webs across your front door, it’s time to plan the menu. To help you get in the spirit of Halloween (no pun intended), here are some ideas for suitable refreshments.           

But first, a brief history lesson. The celebration that has evolved into our present-day Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-en). The Celts believed this time of transition (from warm weather to cold, from the growing season to harvest time) had magical properties, and the veil was thinnest then between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

To honor the dead, help them on their journey to the otherworld and keep their spirits away from the living, many would light bonfires and parade in costumes to hide their identities from naughty spirits that might be about. Over time, some of these practices were incorporated into rituals we recognize today.

For example, at the end of the Samhain celebration, the Celts would bring home a glowing ember from the communal bonfire, carrying it in a hollowed-out turnip. This is the origin of our practice of carving a pumpkin and placing a burning candle inside. Dressing up as ghouls or skeletons originated from the Celtic tradition of donning a disguise to resemble the wandering spirits, helping them escape the notice of any “real” spirits.

The practice of going door to door trick-or-treating has many precedents, including the medieval practice of baking “soul cakes” to give to children in exchange for their prayers for dead relatives. Halloween didn’t become an American tradition until the early 1900s when towns began holding community events with bonfires, costumes and candy for children. Today, Halloween spending reaches close to $9 billion for decorations, costumes and candy.

Now, back to your party. For an appetizer, serve mozzarella stick “fingers” with almond slice nails alongside a bowl of warm “blood” (marinara sauce). Arrange these next to your punchbowl garnished with a hand made of ice. Fill a rubber glove with water and freeze it until solid, then remove the glove and add the ice cube to your punch. I’ve included a recipe for a ruddy-colored sangria-style pomegranate punch that would work well here.

Set out some appetizers on a ouija-board serving tray, including the always-popular ants-on-a-log made from cream cheese-stuffed celery sticks dotted with raisins. Chocolate spiders are a sweet and savory option. Mix crunchy chow mein noodles with a combination of melted chocolate and peanut butter, adding “red hot” candies for creepy-looking eyes. Deviled eggs can be transformed into eerie eyeballs with olive slices in the center and red food coloring drizzled on the white.

For dessert, I’d recommend “bleeding” cupcakes topped with colored sprinkles and candy eyes (see photo). The recipe here uses raspberry jam as a filling for chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting. That first bite will deliver quite a surprise. Happy Halloween!

Pomegranate Punch

1 C pomegranate arils
1 C blackberries
1 apple, halved & thinly sliced
1 T honey
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
2/3 C Calvados
1-liter bottle red wine
1 C club soda

Combine the fruit in a pitcher. Pour in Calvados and red wine; stir to combine. Store in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight. Before serving, stir in club soda. Yield: 8 servings.

Chocolate Spiders

12 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
1 T peanut butter
5-oz can chow mein noodles
red hots candy

Melt the chocolate and peanut butter together in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over boiling water, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and add the noodles, mixing thoroughly to completely coat. Drop tablespoons onto a sheet of waxed paper. Place two red candies on each spider for eyes. Allow to cool; store in an airtight container.

Bleeding Cupcakes               

3/4 C sugar
7/8 C flour
1/3 C cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 large egg
1/2 C buttermilk
4 T melted butter
1 t vanilla
1/2 C boiling water
4 T raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350F. Place paper liners in the bowls of a muffin tin; set aside. Combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk quickly to completely combine. Add boiling water and whisk for 2 minutes. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan. Spoon 1/2 t jam into center of each cupcake. Bake for 25 minutes or until done when tested with a toothpick. After cooling, ice with buttercream frosting, top with sprinkles and candy eyes.

Buttercream Frosting

1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1 t vanilla extract
2 C confectioners sugar
1 to 2 T whole milk

Add butter and vanilla to a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until combined. Add sugar and beat on low until incorporated, then increase speed to high and continue beating until smooth. Add 1 T milk and beat to desired consistency, adding additional 1 T milk if too dry. Yield: 1 C frosting.