Ever tried to recreate the Halloween recipes featured on the flawlessly styled covers of those food magazines that surround the check-out counter of your go-to grocery store? Talk about horrifying. For CL A&E Editor Cathy Salustri and I, this was — in some ways — an IRL version of the online recipe community's Pinterest Fails.
Cathy had to explain to me what a Pinterest Fail was (it’s a failed DIY project recorded on Pinterest — a sorry excuse for a Bunny Head Fruit Platter, for instance). But now I'm with it, you guys.
Despite our scrappy Ziploc icing bags, not being able to correctly melt "white candy melts" (seriously, this happened) and me buying the wrong kind of chocolate wafers, I think Sandra Lee would be proud of our full day's work. Cathy pulled off a "purr-fect Halloween cake" using fondant and whatever the heck Tylose powder is (I'm still not sure, but it costs $10 at Michaels) for christ's sake. This cake, plus four other spooky recipes (Cathy made two, I did three), were reproduced over the course of last Sunday.
While I went into our 'tis-the-season kitchen experiments thinking some would be easier than others (and "easy" is relative, of course), we agree that none of what we attempted was suitable for baking beginners.
As Cathy puts it: "I can't believe it took me eight hours to make that damn cake, and I've been in the kitchen since I could walk. Beginners should maybe make a veggie tray that looks scary."
The hardest of my bunch was what Woman's Day calls a "cookie centerpiece." Your party guests are supposed to pick at the cookie leaves and dip them in the chocolate tree truck once it starts to melt onto the serving platter. Or something. The original reads more "fall" than "Halloween," so I decorated our leaves darker and nixed the owls, raccoon and fox for three little bats. The recipe also calls for Super Baker stuff I’ve never heard of, so I bought what I could from Michaels (gel food color included) and made the rest myself, mostly. Luster dust (see what I mean?) didn’t seem that crucial — and turns out it isn’t. But I did fashion homemade sugar dust (put sugar in a Ziploc bag, add food coloring and combine), which, yes, is different from luster dust, to sprinkle on top of several leaves. Oh, and you get to mix vodka (I used tequila) with food coloring and “paint” some leaves like a true culinary artist. Why alcohol instead of water? No clue. We don’t ask questions when it comes to booze. —Meaghan Habuda
PURR-FECT HALLOWEEN CAKE
Halloween Fun! Celebrate! with Woman's Wold Special Collector's Edition!
I have a... complicated... relationship with Halloween cakes. They're sort of my Everest of baking. This one looked relatively straightforward, which it was. Straightforward, I'd like to note, does not mean "speedy." We started this cake at 1:15 p.m. and finished shortly after 9. That's one Sunday I'll never see again. While the cake doesn't look bad, it doesn't look exactly like the picture. The recipe involved a lot of food coloring and the world's most ambiguous instructions: "cut out two shapes." Seriously, Halloween Fun!? We didn't have a cat cookie cutter, so I had to free-form cut the cats out of black fondant. Black. Fondant. Let that sink in for a moment. Fun fact about fondant: it hates me. Another fun fact? It gets sticky when you add liquid to it, which is what the sadistic bastards at Halloween Fun! had me do to turn the white fondant into orange fondant to cut out the aforementioned ambiguous "shapes." At one point in the day — right after I'd sent a glass cake platter shattering on the terrazzo and also after I'd become a sticky orange fondant mess of a person — Meaghan turned to me and said, "Why do you touch anything ever?" That pretty much sums up how I feel about the recipe creators at Halloween Fun! —Cathy Salustri
YUMMY MUMMY CUPCAKES
Halloween Fun for All Ages by Better Homes and Gardens
These red-eyed mummy cupcakes were my favorite to make and taste. The instructions (you have to go to BHG.com/spookyfood to get them) are to-the-point, and using store-bought cake mix is totally cool. Once the ‘cakes are baked and cool, they’re ready to eat in three steps. 1) Steadily pipe white frosting onto the cupcakes, making them look like they’re covered in layers of cloth (not like an Egyptian embalmer jacked up on way too much caffeine wrapped them, which is how many of my cupcakes turned out, but whatever). 2) Give each a pair of eyes with red frosting. 3) Dot every eye with black frosting for pupils, and viola! —MH
SPIDER WEB SANDWICHES
Sandra Lee is the real person's Martha Stewart Living, and since I've successfully made things from the pages of Living (they cost more, in time and money, than buying something similar at the store, but it's the sense of achievement I was after), I figured this would be an easy recipe. And it was, for the most part. One problem: I don't know where Sandra Lee gets her chocolate wafer cookies, but the chocolate wafer cookies at Publix (Meaghan wouldn't allow us to shop anywhere else; she has an unhealthy relationship with the store) come in the skinny, hard sandwich variety, not the big circle cookies. No problem: I whipped out my grandmother's sugar cookie recipe and added cocoa powder and food coloring. Then, in a spurt of inspiration, I cut the cookies into pumpkins. Of course, this meant I couldn't realistically create icing spiderwebs on the cookies (because realism matters when you're making things like purple-iced cakes), but it did yield some scrummy ice cream sammies. —CS
GHOUL-LICIOUS MUMMY PRETZEL RODS
First for Women
The no-bake Halloween dessert from hell is what this one should really be called. It features — get this — Wilton-brand white candy melts, exactly what we bought, that, you know, DON'T. ACTUALLY. MELT. We tried melting half the pack of candy melts in the micro, then with a double boiler, only to get the same disappointing result: gummy, not-even-a-little-bit-melted gloops of white chocolate. First for Women, I expected more from you. Essentially, we should've ended up with liquid candy to dip the pretzel rods in, but since that didn't happen, we mashed the candy onto a few pretzels with our hands instead. Then, the recipe tells you to reheat — yes, reheat — the candy clumps into a liquid, transfer it all into a Ziploc, snip off a corner, pipe "bandages" around each pretzel, and add eyes. Our pretzels turned out more like ghosts; swirling that "melted" candy around wasn't worth attempting. Nailed it! —MH