I am in complete awe of those of you who can turn out creative party treats for every conceivable holiday or occasion.
I have no such talent, and if I were to try and make ghoulish meatballs on spaghetti intestines, it would look a little too real, I’m afraid.
What I can do, howeveGhosts of Halloweens pastr, is contribute three old nuggets from the past that have always served to brighten up a party, and that’s what I hope they do for you, especially if you are celebrating this Halloween at home.
Witches’ Fingers (or Ogres’ Toes)
When almonds are the only decoration needed, even I can manage. The trick here is to make the cookie as good as it can be, and that means using real butter. I am sure you have eaten these somewhere before, and if you thought they tasted more like sand than cookies, then the cook didn’t use my recipe.
1 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2-3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom (optional but delicious)
48 whole blanched almonds (approx.)
1 tbsp. currants (optional)
2 tbsp. red or green food colouring
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla and almond extract. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom, and stir into creamed mixture until thoroughly combined — be careful not to overwork the dough or the cookies will be tough. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate about 1 hour. While you are waiting, place the almonds in a bowl and cover with food colouring — red for witches’ fingers; green for ogres’ toes. Take the dough out of the fridge and divide into three hunks. Working with one hunk at a time keeps the dough cold and stiff. Each piece should make about 16 cookies, but don’t worry too much about the count. For witches’ fingers, shape each of the 16 pieces into rounded strips about 3 inches long. Press an almond into the top of each one to look like a fingernail and make three shallow slashes crosswise in the middle to look like knuckles. For ogres’ toes, shape the pieces into stubbier, thicker strips and use green almonds, placed sideways. The currants become warts or toe jam, as you prefer. Bake at 325 F for 15 to 20 minutes, until just barely beginning to colour — don’t overbake or they will be too dry. Some cooks would paint the stumps with red food paste, but that’s just too disgusting.
Best-Ever Chocolate Cupcakes
(For Ghouls and Everyone Else)
Decorating with icing remains a mystery to me, but a trip to the local bulk food store solves that. I buy a bunch of jelly pumpkins and candy ghosts, or any of the other dozen items available around Halloween, and stick a couple on top of these unbelievably delicious cupcakes. These are so dark and rich because they use both chocolate and cocoa. No one will complain that you didn’t actually craft a spider yourself out of homemade fondant.
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
Whipped Buttercream Icing:
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. whipping cream (divided)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Melt butter with chocolate in a microwave or over hot water. Whisk in cocoa until smooth and set aside to cool. Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla and add cooled chocolate mixture. Stir in half the dry ingredients, mixing until well combined. Whisk in sour cream, then stir in remaining dry ingredients. Divide among 12 paper-lined muffin cups and bake at 350 F for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. For the icing, heat 1/4 cup of the whipping cream in the microwave until steaming hot but not boiling. Add chocolate chips and stir until melted and smooth; set aside to cool. Beat butter until creamy and light in colour. Beat in icing sugar, vanilla and remaining 1 tbsp. whipping cream until smooth. Stir in cooled whipping cream-chocolate chip mixture until no streaks remain. Ice cupcakes and decorate with candy as you like — or at least as well as you can.
Berry Bug Juice
If you’re having a costume party this weekend, nothing will warm people up to the occasion better than a big nasty bowl of Halloween punch. Double or triple this to serve as many as you need, but this amount makes about 8 glasses. A few ounces of white Bacardi turn it into a delicious grown-up cocktail.
1 container frozen lemonade concentrate
3 cups frozen strawberries, thawed
1 litre lemon-lime soda or ginger ale
2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed or nearly thawed
Place lemonade in a blender or food processor and whizz until smooth. Add strawberries and pulse until roughly mashed but not puréed. Transfer to a serving bowl or pitcher and add soda, stirring just to combine. Add the berries and serve.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in
St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o
The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.