SHARON ONA (this article was first published in October 2012)
What I loved most about Halloween growing up was dressing up, decorating canvas Halloween bags with jack-o-lantern stencils and glittery ghosts, painting store-front windows during my hometown’s annual Halloween Window Painting Contest, running around the neighborhood collecting as much candy as I could, marveling at the homes with the scariest decorations, some complete with eerie soundtracks. At the end of the night my sister and I would make our way home where we would dump our candy in our respective places on the living room floor – me on the right, her on the left in front of the fireplace – and bartered, exchanged, and crammed as much candy as we were allowed into our mouths before bed. We had our favorite candies, but the ones I remember most were the homemade gifts given to us by family, friends and close neighbors. My enthusiasm for Halloween has not waned over the years, but has evolved to include more homemade treats that cater to my foodie tendencies and desire to create my own holiday traditions.
I always try to channel my inner Martha Stewart around Halloween time. She really knows how to throw a ghoulish bash resplendent with gourmet goodies and decorations to die for. This year I have put together some spectacularly frightful appetizers and desserts for your dining pleasure: Monster Fingers and Pimento Cheese Paws, Deviled Eyes, a spin on my family’s deviled egg recipe, and my Mom’s famous lighter-than-air chocolate cupcakes decorated to suit the holiday. These are sure to be a hit at your Halloween party.
Monster Fingers and Pimento Cheese Paws
Adapted from Martha Stewart
For the Monster Fingers:
- Red food coloring, (optional, for fingers)
- 24 blanched almonds, halved lengthwise
- 2 cups warm water (110 degrees), plus 3 quarts, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
- Vegetable oil
- 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 large egg
- Sea salt
- Fried rosemary (optional, for toes)
Place a small amount of food coloring, if using, in a shallow bowl, and, using a paintbrush, color the rounded side of each split almond. Set aside to dry.
Pour 2 cups water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. Add sugar; stir to dissolve. Sprinkle with yeast, and let stand until yeast begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. Beat in 1 cup flour into yeast on low speed until combined. Beat in coarse salt; add 3 ½ cups flour, and beat until combined. Continue beating until dough pulls away from bowl, 1 to 2 minutes. Add ½ cup flour. Beat 1 minute more. If dough is sticky, add up to 1 cup more flour. Transfer to a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth, 1 minute.
Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 6-quart straight-sided saucepan over high heat; reduce to a simmer. Add baking soda. Lightly coat two baking sheets with cooking spray. Divide dough into quarters. Work with one quarter at a time, and cover remaining dough with plastic wrap. Divide first quarter into 12 pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece back and forth with your palm forming a long finger shape, about 3 to 4 inches. Pinch dough in two places to form knuckles. Or, to make toes, roll each piece so that it is slightly shorter and fatter, about 2 inches. Pinch in 1 place to form the knuckle. When 12 fingers or toes are formed, transfer to simmering water. Poach for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fingers to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, blanching each set of 12 fingers or toes before making more.
Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzel fingers and toes with the egg wash. Using a sharp knife, lightly score each knuckle about three times. Sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary, if using. Position almond nails, pushing them into dough to attach. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.
Fingers and toes are best eaten the same day; or store, covered, up to 2 days at room temperature.
For the Pimento Cheese:
- 12 ounces whipped cream cheese
- 4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (1 ½ cups)
- 2 jars (2 ounces each) pimentos, drained
- 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Process the cream cheese, cheddar, pimentos, and Tabasco in a food processor until coarsely pureed. Transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Place four ¾ cup mounds of pimento cheese on a cutting board or serving platter. Stick five fingers (or toes) into each mound to create a paw. Top each paw with ½ cup alfalfa sprouts if using. Serve with remaining fingers and toes.
- 6 large hard-boiled eggs
- 1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 3 drops of Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon onion salt, or to taste
- Red and green food coloring
- Pitted black olives, cut into rounds
Place eggs in a saucepan and fill with cold water. Water should cover eggs by one to two inches. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and remove pot from the heat. Let stand untouched for 15 minutes. Remove the boiled eggs and transfer to a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Carefully peel the shells, then cut in half lengthwise. Gently remove the yolks and place in a bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, onion salt, Worcestershire sauce, and a few drops of green food coloring to the yolks. Mash until well combined and mixture is creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Scoop out a small amount of the mixture and spoon it into the center of each egg half. Add 1 sliced black olive to the center of each egg. Using a toothpick, draw red squiggly lines on the whites of the eggs, starting from the inner area, outward.
Eggs are best eaten immediately after decorated as some food coloring may bleed.
Mom’s Chocolate Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes:
- 4 ounces Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate Bar
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup (2 bars) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, separated (whites, stiffly beaten)
- 2 ½ cups sifted Swans Down cake flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate bar in water. Cool slightly. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy in a standing mixer. Add egg yolks, vanilla, and melted chocolate. Sift in flour and baking soda. Add buttermilk. Fold in beaten egg whites. Pour into muffin tins lined with cupcake paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool then frost with your favorite chocolate or vanilla frosting.
For the Decorations:
- Reese’s Pieces
- Licorice (I used Haribo licorice wheels)
- White frosting
- Chocolate frosting
- Orange-colored frosting or food coloring
- Decorative gel (I used Wilton black sparkle gel)
For the Pumpkin Cupcakes
Generously frost cupcakes with orange-colored frosting. To make the stem, place a small piece of licorice in the center of each cupcake.
For the Spider Web Cupcakes
Frost with white frosting. Using the Wilton decorative gel, draw concentric circles on the frosted cupcake. Then, using a toothpick, draw lines from the center outwards to create a web.
To make the spiders, unravel an entire wheel of licorice, leaving the center intact. If using Haribo licorice, separate the two strands. Cut 8 pieces of licorice to make legs, about 1 inch long. Place the intact center of the licorice wheel in the center of your cupcake to create the body. Place the legs just over the body and fill in the center with decorative sparkle gel.
For the Reese’s Pieces Cupcakes
Use chocolate frosting with orange candies and orange-colored frosting with brown candies.