Scared of kitchen failure? Try these easy Halloween treats

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.comOctober 22, 2013 

  • Fun food for Halloween

    Gaping Apple Mouths: Cut an apple into 4 or 5 wedges, trimming away the core. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a wedge out of the skin side to create an opening. Trim it to widen it a little. Dip the apple into lemon juice and water to slow browning. Spread a little peanut butter inside (add a drizzle of strawberry jam for a grosser look). Use the knife point to make slots around the edges and insert almond slices for teeth.

    Spider Cheese Ball: From “Great Balls of Cheese,” by Michelle Buffardi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Combine 16 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar, 1/2 cup chopped green olives and 1 minced garlic clove. Shape into a ball and chill. Roll in about 1/3 cup poppy seeds. Decorate with olive slices and strips of green or red pepper for legs. Serve with tortilla or pita chips or crackers.

    Mummy Dogs: Remove hot dogs from package and blot dry with a paper towel. Use either crescent roll dough or breadstick dough cut into thin strips to wrap around the hot dogs. Leave a little space for the face and finish with a little more dough for the head wrap. Brush with 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, place on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, or until browned. Just before serving, dot with mustard to make eyes. Makes 8 servings.

I handle sharp knives and hot pans without flinching. But nothing scares me like a pastry bag.

Make food taste good? I can do that. Make it pretty? Not so much.

That makes Halloween food perfect for me. Give me gory, creepy and bumpy over delicate, artful and lovely any day.

Before this weekend’s Halloween parties, I holed up in the kitchen for a day and played around with the coolest ideas I found for food that would provoke a grin from the eaters instead of screams from the cook.

Nothing here that takes skill any tougher than rolling dough between your palms or stretching strands of melted marshmallow around a cake.

If you have young kids who are too excited to eat before they ring doorbells, hand them Gaping Apple Mouths made from apple wedges, peanut butter (use almond or sunflower butter if peanut butter is an issue) and sliced almonds.

Halloween ought to be child’s play – even for the adults in the kitchen.

Spiderweb Cake Although we given directions for a simple chocolate cake with chocolate icing under the web, you can vary flavors of cake and colors of frosting. Orange would look great, or you can add red and green food coloring to create gray frosting. Cooking spray 2 boxes devil’s food cake mix (or your favorite flavor) 6 eggs 1 cup vegetable oil 2 cups water 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (but not melted) 5 to 6 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract 5 to 6 tablespoons heavy cream Red and green food coloring or paste-style black coloring (see note) 3 to 4 ounces marshmallows (about half of a bag) Plastic spiders

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.

COMBINE the cake mix, eggs, vegetable oil and water in a mixing bowl. With mixer on slow, combine until just blended, then increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Divide batter between the cake pans and bake 30 to 33 minutes, until cake layers are pulling away from the sides of the pan and the tops spring back when lightly pressed.

REMOVE from oven and cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans and place on wire racks to cool completely.

BEAT the butter until fluffy. Sift together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and vanilla extract. Beat into the butter to make a smooth paste, then beat in the cream until the frosting is fluffy but still thick. To darken the color, beat in red and green food coloring. (See note).

FILL and stack the layers, then frost the outside of the cake, smoothing the frosting. Set aside.

PLACE the marshmallows in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on 100% power for 30 seconds. The marshmallows will be lumpy; stir until smooth. Let sit briefly until cool enough to handle.

GRAB a pinch of melted marshmallow and pull with your fingers to create long, stretchy strands. Wrap them randomly around the cake, trying not to touch the frosting with your fingers. Wrap as much or as little as you like. Let stand to set, although the marshmallow will stay a little sticky. Press plastic spiders into the cake to finish the effect.

NOTE: Black is a tough color to make in frosting. Adding red and green liquid will darken chocolate frosting, although it will still be brown. Using black coloring, usually available as a gel or paste, will get a darker color but don’t use too much – it can impart a bitter taste.

Witch’s Finger Cookies 1/2 to 1 cup raw almonds Red and green food coloring 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 cup confectioners’ sugar 1 egg 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt Red cake-decorating gel (optional)

PLACE the almonds in a small bowl and add a few drops of red food coloring, or a few drops each of red and green coloring. (The two together will create black “fingernails.”) Toss the almonds to coat. Spread on a paper towel and let them air-dry.

BEAT the butter with an electric mixer, then beat in the confectioners’ sugar, egg and vanilla and almond extracts. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat into the butter mixture to make a stiff dough.

WRAP the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. (It shapes better if it’s firm.)

PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees. To create each “finger,” start with a ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll it between your palms or on a work surface to create a thin, 2 1/2- to 3-inch rope. To get “joints,” press it lightly against your fingers. Place on a baking sheet. Press an almond into the end with the pointed end sticking out a little. Use a toothpick to draw several lines under the “nail” and in the middle for the knuckle.

BAKE 20 to 25 minutes, just until barely brown. Cool on racks. If you want, just before serving, remove each almond, squirt a little red gel into the hole and then replace the almond. That will help them stay set and will also look a little creepier.

YIELD: About 2 dozen.

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