In the spirit of this time of year, where people put on costumes and pretend to be what they are not, I decided to make believe I could cook as well. But instead of simply disguising myself as a baker, I took it one step further and thought I’d create some homemade Halloween treats.
I normally don’t make anything. This includes costumes, decorations, jack o’ lanterns, candy bags for my kids to pass out to their classes, and yes, baked treats. So Halloween (and holidays in general) is already a nerve-wracking time of year for me, as I usually have to figure out how to get around all of this creativity and still produce the necessary magic for my children.
This year, though, since I was pretending to be a from-scratch type of mother, I chose a make few recipes that seemed fun, seemed like they would turn out, and might actually taste good. I selected a cookie recipe, a candy one, and a drink (okay, a shot) to expand my repertoire and because I (rightly) figured I’d need a drink by the end of this whole process.
First things first, though, I had to go shop for the necessary ingredients. Why is it that there’s always at least one item on the list that’s either impossible to find or is something you’ve never heard of? I got lucky and experienced both.
One recipe called for “blanched almonds” and while the shelves were full of whole, raw, slivered, and sliced almonds exactly none of them were blanched. So I shrugged and bought sliced almonds instead. I learned three things from this experience:
- If you want blanched almonds, you actually need to make them yourself by boiling raw almonds and then squeezing the skin off of each of them. Ha ha, no thank you.
- The recipe then actually wanted me to slice each of the almonds in half to basically make—you guessed it—sliced almonds.
- Buying sliced almonds from the store works like a charm, thank you very much, but that’s probably the same thing as cheating. A real baker wouldn’t have cut corners, right?
The next speedbump was finding lollipop sticks. Did you know there are actually two separate baking sections in the store? There’s the normal one for people like me who buy a cake mix now and then, and then there’s the hardcore baking section for people who use fondant in mysterious ways to make cakes that make the rest of the world cry with envy. Of course I’d never known such a baking section existed; it was too close to the crafts aisles full of yarn, glue guns, and other similar items that I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to.
Finally, after spending just 3 hours shopping and $800 on ingredients and supplies (the price is probably a slight exaggeration) it was time to get back home and start baking.
Severed Finger Cookies
The first task was separating eggs, and I’m not too ashamed to say that I enlisted the help of my husband as I have never successfully separated an egg in my life. So he nicely obliged and set it aside and then whisked the yolk, the other egg, and vanilla together and set that aside too.
While my husband was doing that, I took on an admittedly easier job. I had to pour food coloring into a bowl and add the almonds, coat them, and then set that bowl aside for later. Yes, we used about fifty bowls that day. The dishwasher is officially on strike.
I also used my husband to combine the rest of the ingredients and beat with an electric mixer. There are small appliances that I’m very familiar with (like microwaves and toasters) and others that confuse me (basically everything else). Then we wrapped the dough in plastic and chilled it for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes were up, we cut half of the dough and put it back into the fridge. Then we split the remaining half in fifteen pieces. Now, this is harder to achieve than it sounds. I was supposed to hand roll each piece into a “finger-sized piece” while forming bumps for knuckles and scoring said knuckles with a knife. My attempts looked more like earthworms or chicken legs, but my daughter thought they looked finger-esque. She also loves what passes for my cooking, so her judgement is already suspect.
Then, it was time to brush each finger with egg white. Oh, that’s right. You also need a pastry brush if you don’t already have one. Note to self: next time, read all of the directions before shopping. What next time? Forget note to self. A paper towel dipped in egg white works just as well.
I placed a red almond at the tips of each for fingernails, and that’s the first time they actually looked like anything resembling fingers to me. Helpful hint: you might want to wear gloves if you don’t want your own fingernails red for days.
The last thing was to transfer the fingers to one of the baking sheets (it doesn’t tell you how to do this, but don’t use your own fingers or the dough WILL come apart in a gooey mess; use a pancake turner) and bake for 12 minutes or until just golden brown at the edges. Then we were to repeat the directions for the other half of the dough. I may or may not have thrown the rest away without bothering.
Verdict: These actually taste pretty good, but they look a bit bland. My daughter was calling them “itchy witchy fingers” so I had the idea that if I made them again, I’d use green food coloring on the dough as well to liven it up a bit. If you’re at all artistic, they might actually look like fingers so you don’t have to bother. But all in all, this really didn’t seem worth it for the time and effort it took. Not only that, it looked like someone had picked up the trash outside of a bakery and confused my kitchen for the landfill. An honest mistake, really. And I still had two more recipes to go.
This is one of those recipes where you need to prep everything beforehand because it gets stressful really quickly once the candy is ready to be transferred to the pans. Trust me on this. The directions called for lining two baking sheets with foil and cooking spray (this was something else I was caught off guard about; good thing I had some Grilling Pam for when you want that smoky caramel taste).
I combined the ingredients and brought them to a boil over medium heat. The directions called for a pastry brush (!!) dipped in water to wash down the sides to eliminate sugar crystals. Because I didn’t feel like dipping a paper towel into a saucepan full of boiling sugar, I just pretended not to notice any sugar crystals. See? I’m a creative problem-solver. For instance, I also recommend turning up your car’s radio to ignore that irritating clunking sound.
I had everything under control, I really did, until the candy thermometer started fogging up and I began panicking because I couldn’t see the red line anymore. Not to mention those numbers are tiny and it’s difficult to tell whether you’re at 300 or 310. I had to guess, and my candy was a bit on the gooey side in the end. Thanks, Obama.
After the mixture (most likely) reached the hard crack stage, I dumped in the vanilla and waited a bit for the mixture to thicken. The recipe says 2-3 minutes, but I say give it an extra minute. It was definitely not thick enough when I started spooning it out at first; it should be less gravy and more molasses. Of course, you don’t want to wait too long because it will harden right there in the pan. The directions suggest that if you fall off this tightrope to heat it up and start again. It says nothing about screaming obscenities at this point, but I’ll add that tip in for free.
Because I didn’t wait for it to thicken (or maybe it was because of the foggy thermometer or hell, perhaps even the sugar crystals) the caramel ran everywhere when I tried dropping it on the pan until I finally wised up and grabbed a circle-shaped cookie cutter (okay, it’s actually a hamburger patty shaper because when do I ever make cookies?) and dropped the sludge right into it. But you can’t take too long shaping because all the time, the candy is hardening. You have a window of only a few seconds to form a perfect circle AND get that stick in there. This is a great recipe if you feel like you just don’t have enough stress in your life.
As if that wasn’t enough, I was also supposed to melt chocolate chips and then drizzle it on to the pops to make fun designs. Only they don’t tell you how to melt chocolate. I assumed that you just pour the chips into a pan and melt them, but that resulted in chocolate paste, which is really not amenable to drizzling. So I gamely slathered the paste on a few of the lollipops. It should surprise no one at this point that the only D I’ve ever received was in art class. Or maybe it was home economics class.
Verdict: This isn’t the worst way I’ve ever spent a Saturday afternoon, but it’s close. The candy was a moderate hit with the children at the party, who presumably didn’t care that the candy was a bit burnt or that instead of spiderweb designs or even spooky faces, they had blob frosting.
Candy Corn Jello Shots
So, confession time. Once I got done with the Lollipops from Hell I looked around at my twice-over destroyed kitchen and decided: no. I was done making stuff. I didn’t even care that this last recipe was supposed to be my reward and realized that doing things the long way just to brag that it was homemade doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes, simpler is just better. So I took a shot of vodka and then one of rum and called it good. And suddenly, everything was.