Savoring the treats of child's first Halloween
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I never tasted a Milky Way bar until I was nearly 12 years old.
Trick-or-treating door to door in my homemade Halloween costume – often some variation on "princess" or "queen" draped in a beach towel "cape" and gaudy gobs of my mother's costume jewelry – my pillowcase grew heavy with the best of drugstore candy. Later I would savor the Hershey's Miniatures, the bite-size Snickers and the puckery watermelon Jolly Ranchers. But somehow, every year after forking over my stash to my parents for "safety inspection," every single tiny Milky Way bar seemed to be MIA.
Only years later did I find out that they had been removed with a surgeon's precision and hidden in the back of the freezer for my mother's personal snacking. Multiply that haul by the four children in the family, and she probably looked forward to the holiday more than we did.
Now I'm the mom. And this year I'm looking forward to taking my 3-year-old son, whose birthday is also on Halloween, trick-or-treating for his first time. And for an added dose of comic relief, I'm also seven months pregnant with our second – a sight that is sure to make the flowy pants of my Carmen Miranda costume just that much more hilariously ironic.
I can't wait to see my son's joy in receiving an enormous bag of candy – simply because he asked for it! In addition to all the aforementioned chocolate treats, I'm wondering, too, if the food-conscious, culinary revolution families of Noe Valley and Cole Valley still dole out the same mass-produced chocolates. Or more tragically, if they still settle on the Mary Janes, Double Bubbles and boxes of raisins that always fell to the bottom of my bag and eventually got tossed just before Thanksgiving.
I'm also pondering how I'm going to tell him that the holiday comes but once a year. And then, of course, there's the (hopefully tearless) difficulty of persuading him not to eat the entire haul within the first three days of November.
Should we be those parents who "buy" the entire sack in exchange for a new Thomas the Tank Engine toy? Or do we use the opportunity to teach a lesson in the pleasures of occasional junk food and the grace of moderation and common food sense?
One road we will explore to sating the Halloween sweet tooth is making some of our own special treats. If we control the quality of the ingredients, I'm still convinced it's more redeeming than the high-fructose extravaganza that comes in those tiny plastic packages. I also love the notion that he will understand that candy isn't just something to be unwrapped, but that it can be crafted by hand, together, and at home, from the apples from our local farm, and the cream from our local dairy.
Let him taste and compare the outcome with a prefab Chick-o-Stick or a "blue raspberry" anything. At his age, he might exhibit a preferential palate, and he might not. The only thing I know for certain is this: He (and his brother, forthcoming) will never know the taste of a store-bought Milky Way until he is at least 12 years old.
Makes 12 cups or 48 mini-cups (see note)
Black all the way through to its core, the pseudo-Middle Eastern flavors of this confection are a revisionist take on the humble peanut butter cup. The subtle herbs add a surprising dimension of flavor. And the totally Goth presentation will make these a hit at your next grown-up Halloween gathering. Note that a food processor is required for this recipe. These can be made up to two weeks ahead. Food & Wine intern Rachael Daylong adapted the recipe to the mini size.
- 11/3 cups black sesame seeds
- 4 teaspoons honey
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 1/2 cups chopped good quality dark chocolate (about 18 ounces)
Instructions: Toast the sesame in a heavy-bottomed skillet for about 3 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat when the seeds start to pop and crackle.
Combine the sesame seeds, honey, oil, sugar, rosemary, caraway and salt in a food processor and blend until extremely smooth, about 5-8 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides. The filling will come together into a thick paste.
Place paper or silicone cup liners into each of the 12 cups of a muffin pan. Meanwhile, take about 1 tablespoon of the sesame butter filling into your clean hands, roll into a ball, and flatten into a disc that will fit into the center of the cupcake liner, but not touch the sides. Shape the remaining 11 centers, using all of the filling.
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate on high for 1 minute, and stir well to distribute the heat. Heat for 1 more minute, and stir again. Heat an additional 30-60 seconds, stirring thoroughly. The chocolate should be melted, quite satiny, and able to drop in ribbons from the end of a spoon.
Working quickly, spoon about 2 tablespoons of melted chocolate into the bottom of each liner, being careful to coat the bottom in a complete, thin layer, and to coat up the sides about halfway. Gently drop each of the filling centers into the middle of the cup, and give it a gentle tap to secure it into the chocolate (but don't push it all the way through to the bottom). Cover each center with an additional tablespoon of chocolate, covering the top completely, and allowing it to surround the sides of the sesame butter, enclosing it completely. If chocolate gets too thick, heat for an additional 30 seconds and stir.
Gently smooth out the tops with the back of a spoon. Let sit, undisturbed, at least 4 hours, until the cups harden completely. Eat immediately, or store up to two weeks in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate.
Note: For bite-size candies, use 4 cups chopped chocolate (about 24 ounces). Place paper liners into each of the 12 cups of 4 mini-muffin pans. Form the sesame butter into 48 teaspoon-size balls and flatten into disks. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon melted chocolate into each muffin tin and place the sesame disc on top. Cover with an additional 1 teaspoon of chocolate and let cool.
Makes 4 to 6 apples
Note that a candy thermometer is necessary for this recipe, and that it's best to make the ginger syrup well ahead – that's essential if you want to make the crystallized ginger. At any rate, the caramel apples need to cool
at least 1 hour before eating.
- 1/4 pound fresh ginger, peeled
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4teaspoon kosher salt
- 4-6 small, tart, crisp apples (like Granny Smith, Mutsu, Arkansas Black or King David)
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup honey
- — Minced crystallized ginger (optional; see accompanying instructions)
Instructions: Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the ginger very thinly, about 1/8-inch (or 3 mm). Meanwhile, bring the sugar and 1 cup water to a boil, uncovered. Add the ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring to coat, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Let cool, then strain the liquid from the solids. Use the solids to make crystallized ginger (see accompanying instructions). If making crystallized ginger, refrigerate the syrup and proceed with the instructions for the ginger. When ready to make the apples, wash, dry, and destem them. Insert pop sticks or trimmed wooden barbecue skewers through the top of the apple and halfway through toward the core. Lay a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet and have the skewered apples at the ready.
Pour the cream into a large straight-edged saucepan. Attach the thermometer to the side of the pan, being careful not to let the sensor touch the bottom. Heat the cream over medium-high heat until it starts to bubble, about 3 minutes. Add the honey, 3/4 cup of the ginger syrup (save the remainder for another use) and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Combine well and heat until the temperature reaches 255-260°, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Note that the mixture will foam and increase in volume.
Once temperature has been reached, remove the pan from the heat and stir constantly for about 70-90 seconds, until the caramel cools slightly and becomes viscous enough to run off of the spoon in a steady stream.
One at a time, dunk each apple into the caramel, covering it completely, tipping the pan or spooning the caramel as necessary to cover the fruit. Lift the apple from the caramel and turn upside down momentarily to smooth the caramel, then place, bottom-side-down, on the parchment-covered baking sheet. If you are using the crystallized ginger, adhere it immediately to the caramel.
Let apples cool for at least 1 hour. To store, gently peel from parchment paper and rewrap in large squares of wax paper or parchment paper. Close with a ribbon or twist-tie around the stick.
Karen Solomon is a freelance writer in San Francisco, and the author of "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It" (Ten Speed Press, 2009). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.