Kari's top five Halloween treat recipes
Va-Va-Voom vegan chocolate cupcakes
This recipe was adapted from one of my favourite cakes, which has fudge topping as a layer inside. I often make the cupcakes a day ahead, cover them with plastic wrap and frost them the next day because the top and interior are softer and chewier!
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
1 cups water
1/3 cup of a moistener: mashed banana, unsweetened apple sauce, fruit puree, or neutral-flavoured vegetable oil (no olive oil!)
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Line a 12-muffin pan with paper wrappers.
In a separate bowl (or large measuring cup), combine the wet ingredients and give them a stir.
Add wet bowl to dry bowl and mix until smooth.
Pour 1/4 cup of batter into each of the wrappers, and immediately bake the cupcakes for 15 to 18 minutes, depending on your oven, until a knife, toothpick, or skewer poked into the middle comes out clean.
Remove the pan from the oven, allow it to sit for 5 minutes, then take the cupcakes out and set them on a cooling rack until they reach room temperature.
Note: If you would like to make this a vegan recipe, use dairy-free chocolate. The cakes can also be made gluten-free by substituting an equal amount of gluten-free all-purpose baking mix for the flour.
Chunky peanut butter fudge icing
I have a long-running affection for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and their Reese's Pieces candy. One time, my parents even picked up a box of Reese's cereal puffs for me to try! If you can't use peanut butter or coconut milk, you can use a different nut butter (try almond, cashew, or hazelnut), or a different liquid (rice milk, flavoured soy milk, almond milk...). It won't be as rich, but will still be delicious!
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp granulated white sugar
Set all ingredients in a double-boiler or a metal bowl sitting on a half-full pot of lightly simmering water. Wait patiently for 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir the mixture until it is uniform. Allow to cool at room temperature for 5 minutes.
Choose your favourite way to top the cupcakes: Dip them in the fudge, spread it on with an offset spatula, or swirl it on with a piping bag.
Decorate with chocolate, sprinkles, or candy. Use Reese's Pieces or cut-up PB cups if you can bear to part with them.
Open-faced ghost S'mores
Summer is officially done, but it doesn't mean that S'more cravings have been vanquished! This is one of the easiest recipes that I could think of for the Top Five list. If you happen to own a brulée blowtorch, great, go on and burnish the marshmallows, but most people can get away with using the BROIL setting on their ovens. Now go on! Get the kids a flashlight so they can tell ghost stories, or grab some friends so you can all retell the horrors of whatever crazy stuff happened last weekend.
These are best served warm, but are still good at room temp. You can decorate the marshmallows if you like, by drawing little creepy faces on them, and it's up to you to decide whether you want taller ones that stand up (large marshmallows) or melty, blobby ones (mini marshmallows), or both. I put Jabba the Hutt's face on one of them, because it looked appropriately lumpy.
If you need these to be gluten-free, double-check that your products don't have any ingredients that you aren't sure of. Kinniinnick makes a product called S'moreables Graham Style Crackers. Their line of products comes highly recommended by my fellow VO food contributor and friend, Ashley Krause.
Makes 20 S'mores
Prep time: 5 minutes
Bake time: 2 to 3 minutes
20 graham crackers
20 jumbo marshmallows or 3 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/4 cup Nutella
Optional: melted chocolate, extra Nutella, or black icing for drawing
Preheat oven to broil setting and move one rack to the top.
Spread about 1 tbsp of Nutella on each graham cracker so a thick layer creates a base. Move them all onto one or two parchment-lined jelly-roll pans.
If using jumbo marshmallows, firmly place them on the crackers and dig them into the Nutella.
If using small marshmallows, grab a small handful and smoosh them onto the cracker so that they stick.
Place pans in the oven on the top rack and watch them like a hawk until the marshmallows start to puff up and brown on the top.
Serve immediately or draw ghost/monster faces on with melted chocolate or black icing.
Pumpkin seed shards
I make a peanut brittle, similar to this one, to top a cake that we serve at work, and it has to be guarded to make sure that people don't snap off little chunks and run away before I can chase them with a chef's knife.
This is another simple and tasty recipe, but you have to watch it carefully and work quickly once things start bubbling. Be very careful not to get any on yourself, because sugar burns are harsh. Go ahead and decorate the brittle before snapping it into pieces, if you like. Sprinkle peanut butter or butterscotch chips, a pinch of kosher salt, or toasted nuts on top when it's still warm, or drizzle it with melted chocolate once cool.
Makes 1 8x12" sheet of brittle
Prep time: 2 minutes
Bake time: 3 to 4 minutes
1/2 lb brown sugar
2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 350°F and spread pumpkin seeds onto a large, parchment lined jelly-roll or half-sheet pan. Toast seeds for 3 or 4 minutes, until aromatic but not coloured too much.
Combine sugar and water together in a heavy-bottomed pot and stir while warming up over medium-high heat, until it bubbles rapidly for a minute. If you use a gas stove, don't let the flames climb up the sides of the pot or the syrup will start to burn.
Add the butter and pumpkin seeds, stirring to melt the butter and fully coat the seeds. Let the sugar bubble for another minute or so, then quickly spread it out thinly onto the parchment-lined pan that was used earlier.
Decorate the brittle if you like, and if you have a giant freezer, put the pan inside to solidify the brittle faster. If not, let it cool in a safe place where nobody will unsuspectingly burn themselves.
Autumn-spiced shortbread cookies
This Fall-ariffic version of shortbread cookies is my alternative of choice. Rich, buttery, lightly spiced, and not too sweet, these can be adapted to work with savoury flavours, decorated as much or as little as you want, and are favourites with kids and adults alike. Best of all, the dough keeps well in the fridge for a while, so you can roll it into a log, sheet, or cut out shapes beforehand, and have them ready anytime!
My suggestions for decorations include toasted nuts, melted chocolate, coloured sugar, sprinkles, shredded coconut, dried fruit, and crushed or chopped candy bars.
Makes 3 dozen small cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 12 to 30 minutes
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup golden or brown sugar, packed
2 tsp ground pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1 pinch salt
Optional: 1 bean's worth of vanilla seeds
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Cream the butter in a high-sided bowl, with an electric mixer for a few minutes until it's light-coloured and easily forms peaks. Add the sugars, spice, and vanilla seeds, if using, and whip again until fully blended.
Sift the flour, cornstarch, and salt together, then add to the butter mixture in 3 batches, carefully and on low speed, until the ingredients are fully blended and form coarse crumbs that stick together if you press them.
Roll dough into balls and flatten them on a cookie sheet, or roll them out and cut out shapes, or press it with fingers into a parchment-lined pan.
If you choose to make or cut-outs, cut enough parchment paper to cover the pan twice, pile on a heap of the crumbly dough on one of the sheets, layer another sheet on top, and roll it out to just under 1 cm thickness. If the dough is giving you trouble and won't stick together to form a sheet, throw it back in the bowl and carefully knead it until it's pretty workable, then shove it back between the paper and flatten it. Some shortbread aficionados must be shaking their heads, but I have made many batches of bloody good cookies like this. Do what you have to!
It's easier to cut shapes and lift away excess if the sheet of dough has been chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes. Scraps can be added back into the rest and rolled out later for the next batch, or pressed into another pan.
Bake about 12 minutes for small cookies, depending on your oven, until edges start to brown slightly. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.
Mini caramel apples and pears
This recipe is a bite-sized version of the real deal, to satisfy the initial craving, and allow you to have as many or as few pieces as you want. Use any variety of apple that you like, sweet or sour, or to make things even more fun use a few chunks of pear, too. It's a good idea to dip the fruit in lemon juice beforehand, as the caramel might only stick to the peels and you don't want the flesh to look brown.
Decorate as you like, with melted chocolate, crushed nuts or candy, sprinkles, or cookie bits.
Makes 15 to 20 pieces
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes
1 1/2 apples or pears, cut into inch-sized chunks (about 15 to 20)
Enough popsicle sticks, toothpicks, or wooden skewers for the fruit
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/8 cup honey
4 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Toppings for fruit such as marshmallows, if using
Push 1 stick/pick/skewer into each piece of fruit, all the way through, dip fruit in lemon juice, pat dry, and set aside. Butter a piece of parchment paper.
Combine the butter, sugar, honey, and condensed milk in a heavy saucepan, and stir over medium heat. The colour should be a slightly cloudy and milky peanut butter tone. Bring it to a gentle boil, continuing to stir, until it bubbles all over and the colour changes to a glossy, bright caramel colour. Stir the caramel thoroughly and scrape the bottom of the pan, making sure to control the heat to make sure not to burn it.
When you notice that scrapings from the bottom are colouring slightly auburn but easily incorporate back into the bubbling caramel, after about 4 minutes of boiling, tilt the pan to one side, scrape the caramel towards it, and dip a test chunk of fruit. Make sure to coat the top and sides, and set it on the parchment.
Turn off the heat for a moment and wait for the caramel to firm up. It should be pliable and slightly chewy. If you're happy with it, return the pan to the heat, quickly stir in the vanilla, allow it to bubble for another 20 seconds or so, and dip the rest of the fruit. If you want a hard caramel, heat it for a bit longer until the colour turns darker, almost like chocolate, and test again.
Immediately coat the fruit in whatever toppings you like, or drizzle the fruit with melted chocolate, and let the toppings stick to that instead. Let set at room temperature or in the fridge.