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Tricking out your treats
Get into the spirit of Halloween with these recipes ranging from wickedly easy to excruciatingly expert.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
I’m a fan of Pinterest.
For someone who likes cooking, gardening, crafts, fashion, art, traveling and more, it’s easy to find gorgeous pictures and Internet articles I can “pin” to my “boards.” Better yet, because I save too many magazine clippings, recipes and cookbooks, Pinterest offers me the liberating ability to hoard online to my heart’s content.
But the content on Pinterest is sometimes annoyingly perfect. The wedding dresses, gowns and jewelry can be beyond the average person’s means; gardens and craft projects that look so easy are often anything but.
This is particularly true in the realm of recipes, which are typically accompanied on Pinterest by professionally styled images. At home, the finished product might be delicious but the appearance probably won’t be up to Pinterest standards.
For Halloween, I decided to test some of the cutest recipes I discovered through Pinterest to determine if they were more like tricks than treats. With the help of two coworkers, we tested six recipes — a pumpkin-shaped cake made by stacking two Bundt cakes, Frankenstein heads made from crispy rice treats, white chocolate ghosts, witch hat cookies, witch brooms and white chocolate “bones.”
Some of the results made us cackle like a witch over her cauldron, but others made us scream like a vampire in the sun.
WITCH BROOMS are the easiest of Halloween treats. They are made by inserting pretzel sticks into upside-down miniature peanut butter cups.
Our tips: Inserting the sticks too deep causes the peanut butter cup to fall apart. To overcome this problem, gently insert the pretzel stick only far enough that it stands on its own.
WITCH HATS are assembled using Keebler Fudge Stripes cookies, Hershey’s Kisses and icing. The flat, round, chocolate-covered cookie serves as the brim, and the Kiss is “glued” to the center with icing to make the point of the hat. Icing in the color of your choice also serves as the hat brim.
Our tips: A frosting piping bag with a fine round tip can be used to draw a hat band with a bow around the base of the Kiss, but an easier way to do this (and a better way if children are helping) is to simply squeeze a thick ring of icing around the hole in the cookie, then press the Kiss down on top. The icing will squeeze out around the bottom of the Kiss to create the hat band.
FRANKENSTEIN HEADS are terribly cute and relatively simple to make.
A pan of crispy rice treats is prepared the typical way, with the addition of green food coloring to tint the treats a monster hue. Once set, the treats are cut in rectangular pieces and dipped in melted chocolate to form hair. The face can be drawn with icing while the neck bolts are fashioned out of mini pretzel sticks and mini marshmallows.
Our tips: Use a square 13-by-9-inch pan to make the treats and be sure they are evenly spread in the pan. If any treats are too thin, it will be difficult to insert the “bolts.” We used Wilton Candy Melts in dark cocoa for his hair; the product can be found at craft stores and are easily melted in the microwave. After dipping each piece, lay it on wax paper to set up.
For the bolts, break one pretzel stick in two pieces for each treat. If you don’t want to use icing for his face, you can glue candy pieces or chocolate chips to the treat using some of the melted chocolate.
WHITE CHOCOLATE GHOSTS AND BONES are separate recipes, but you may want to make them at the same time because they both involve common foods coated in white chocolate.
Our tips: In this recipe, the dipping is the tricky part. We used white Wilton Candy Melts because they can be easily microwaved (or melted in a double boiler).
For the ghosts, which are Nutter Butter cookies dipped in chocolate with two mini chocolate chips for eyes, it’s best to hand-dip each cookie and lay them out on a sheet of wax paper. You can use a pastry brush to fix the dent your finger will leave on the cookie. Also, try melting the chocolate in a deep dish such as a mug so you can dip the cookie. We used a bowl, which required flipping the cookie in the chocolate, leaving streaks.
Those smooth, pristine ghosts in the Pinterest picture look factory-dipped compared to ours, which have a thicker, more uneven coating.
For the bones, place a mini marshallow on each end of a mini pretzel stick. Then use two forks to dip and coat each piece, and place it on a sheet of wax paper to set up. Try breaking some of the pretzels so you have bones of different sizes.
The PUMPKIN-SHAPED CAKE is made by stacking two Bundt cakes bottom-to-bottom. The entire cake is then covered in icing or glaze and decorated with a “stem.”
Our tips: Be sure to use rounded Bundt pans and to grease them heavily (we used butter) because the cakes must pop out in one piece. Because Bundt cakes tend to puff up when they bake, you’ll probably have to slice away some of the bottoms to better fit the two together. We still had a bit of a gap, but it was easily filled in with icing. Speaking of icing, be sure to make or buy plenty. We prepared a double batch of cream cheese icing and colored it orange.
After assembling the cake on your platter of choice, cover the entire surface with a thick layer of icing. Do not worry at first about creating the ridges. After coating the entire cake, use a frosting spatula or a spoon to form the ridges. Beginning at the bottom, pull the smooth side of the utensil up in even rows, stopping on the top. As long as the frosting is soft, you’ll be able to patch over dark places and smooth them into ridges repeatedly until you like the look.
Recipes we consulted advised making the stem from marzipan, a thick almond paste, or using an upside-down ice cream cone sprayed with food-safe green paint. But marzipan is expensive, and so is that spray paint you’ll probably never use again.
We solved the problem by cutting a tree branch (about one inch in diameter) about 7 inches long, then wrapping all but the top 2 inches in plastic wrap to prevent the bark from touching the cake. The unwrapped section protruding from the cake looked pretty realistic, and we added a twig of leaves to complete the presentation.
While testing this idea, we stumbled upon a delicious and simple recipe for pumpkin spice cake. Even if you don’t want to make a pumpkin-shaped cake, we highly recommend this recipe.
Pumpkin Spice Cake
Makes 1 Bundt cake
Oil or butter to grease the pan
Flour for dusting the pan
1⁄2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
1 package (18.25-oz.) plain spice cake mix
1 cup canned pumpkin
2⁄3 cup milk
1⁄3 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan, then dust it with flour. Shake out excess flour. If using pecans, scatter them in the bottom of the pan. Set pan aside.
2. Place cake mix, pumpkin, milk, oil, eggs and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium speed for 1 1⁄2 minutes more, scraping down the sides of the bowl again as needed. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
3. Bake the cake until the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 to 15 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edges of the cake, shake the pan gently, then invert the cake onto a wire rack. Let cool completely, 25 to 30 minutes more, before icing or glazing.
Source: “The Cake Mix Doctor Returns” by Anne Byrn
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