Caramel apples without the mess: A free-form apple tart with caramel sauce is a delicious addition to a Halloween party for kids or grown-ups. The photo is from “Betty Crocker: The Big Book of Pies & Tarts.”
There are two Halloweens celebrated in America. One involves small children dressed as princesses and Minions (see: “Despicable Me”) playing “Pin the rib on the skeleton” while scarfing Skittles. The other involves adults dressed like French maids or Jesse Pinkman (see: “Breaking Bad”) getting silly on spiked punch.
Whatever kind of Halloween you celebrate at your house, you are going to wake up the day after with candy corn ground into your rugs.
Halloween has many foods associated with it. Think of any candy bar and there is likely a “mini” version that will make its way into trick-or-treat bags. There are also candied apples, caramel apples and popcorn. For the apples, we can thank our British ancestors, who celebrated Snap Apple Night in late October with a game involving biting into apples hung on a string.
The jack-o'-lantern — although not eaten — hails from an Irish folk tale about a skinflint named Jack who tricks the devil and is, upon his death, rejected by heaven and even by hell, and forced to walk the earth until Judgment Day with only a single coal burning in a turnip lantern to guide him. Several sources say Irish emigrants to America chucked the turnip part of the story for the much more dramatic pumpkin, and thus a Halloween tradition was born.
But there is no “menu” for Halloween, no traditional set of foods (like turkey and stuffing) that evoke a common memory. In fact, the words “Halloween” and “dinner” don't go together at all. But “Halloween” and “party” do — which is why you had better start cooking.
Whether you've got pint-sized unicorns or adult-sized Lady Gagas at your party, you can plan on pretty much the same menu. Both young and old will appreciate ribs, wings, sliders and the like. Instead of salad with dressing, consider skewering tiny grape tomatoes and small chunks of bell peppers or cucumbers and serving them with a dip. In other words, you are serving cocktail party food, no matter the age of your guests.
You can have fun with spooky names: Meatballs become “eyeballs,” ribs become “bones,” and there's the ever-popular “deviled egg.” (Oh, right — that's what they're actually called.)
Ree Drummond, aka “The Pioneer Woman,” has a new book out, “A Year of Holidays,” in which she introduces a raft of Halloween foods. There's the Platter of Darkness (black candies, chocolate sandwich cookies, dried cherries, decorated with a gummy rat) and the Cheese Ball of Death (a cheese ball coated in black sesame seeds and topped with a gummy tarantula). She makes Eyeball Cake Balls too, but they look like way too much work.
Dessert at your party, however, can be super easy: brownie bites, cookies or — why not? — mini candy bars. But the Caramel-Apple Crostata (a free-form pie) gets the nod for my favorite Halloween dessert. It's like a caramel apple, but without the mess. It's relatively quick to make and serves as a kind of cool-down course to civilize the party by requiring the use of plates and forks. The recipe comes from “Betty Crocker: The Big Book of Pies & Tarts.”
Caramel Apple Crostata
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box
6 cups thinly sliced peeled baking apples (about 6 medium)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
˝ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger (available in the spice aisle, dried fruit part of the produce section, or the Asian aisle of most supermarkets)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/3 to ˝ cup caramel topping
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment. Unroll pie crust onto parchment.
In a large bowl, toss the apples and lemon juice. Add brown sugar, flour, ginger and cinnamon, and toss again. Mound apple mixture in center of crust, leaving a 2-inch border. Sprinkle butter pieces over apples. Fold edge of crust over apples, pleating to fit. Brush crust edge lightly with water; sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Loosely cover top and sides of crostata with foil; bake 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake 9 to 13 minutes longer, or until crust is golden brown and apples are tender. Immediately run spatula or pancake turner under crust to loosen, but let it sit on the cookie sheet to cool, about 30 minutes.
When ready to serve, warm the caramel topping. Cut crostata into wedges and drizzle each wedge with caramel.
(Recipe slightly adapted from “Betty Crocker: The Big Book of Pies & Tarts”; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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