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6 simple Halloween treats to share with your kids

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Giggles and squeals of delight erupted last Thursday from a group of 20 children, ages 3 to 12, who were preparing to dig into an afternoon of delicious and spooky Halloween treat making at Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma.

When Ramekins Culinary Instructor Lisa Lavagetto demonstrated how to make the tiny, chocolate mice — complete with beady eyes, almond-slice ears and licorice-stick tails — one child gasped. “They’re so cute!”

Throughout the afternoon, the children moved between six different tables, concentrating on their edible masterpieces with heads bowed and tongues firmly in place. They were fortified with lemonade and the promise of being able to take their treats home afterwards.

Amazingly, most of the candy and icing actually made it into their boxes. Although, if truth be told, there were a few who may have given into temptation, licking the frosting or popping a kernel of candy corn into their mouths a bit early.

Armed with blunt knives and piping tools, they smoothed icing, drizzled gel and made faces from candy corn and other edible decorations.

They also planted almond fingernails, surrounded by gel blood, into pairs of knobby Witch Fingers. In a twist on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, the Witch’s Fingers ended up being baked in the oven — not the children.

Lavagetto, who has given the Kids-Can-Bake Halloween Treats class a half dozen times, enjoys showing kids how to have fun in the kitchen during the holidays, especially the kid-friendly holiday of Halloween.

“I change it up each time,” she said. “But the Witch’s Fingers and the Chocolate Mice are so popular, I can’t take them off.”

The parents, some of whom stuck around to enjoy the culinary wizardry, said they were happy that their kids could get a hands-on experience with baking and decorating. And the bonus for this arts and crafts project? They could eat their own handiwork.

Lavagetto and her staff made some of the baked goods ahead of time, so that the students didn’t have to wait around for the treats to come out of the oven. That might be a good plan if you have young ones with short attention spans.

Some of the recipes, such as the Witch Hats, only call for ingredients you can buy at the grocery store — fudge stripe cookies and chocolate kisses and decorating gel. That’s a no-brainer for the kindergarten set.

Others, like the Cob-Webbed Cupcakes, are more labor-intensive, requiring home-baked cupcakes and homemade frosting. The older kids might be able to handle that task, and younger kids can just decorate the cupcakes.

For parents who want to work a little bit ahead — some of the baked goods need to cool — Lavagetto suggested making the Chocolate Mice bodies, the Cob-Webbed Cupcakes and frosting, the Pumpkin Bars and cream cheese frosting and the Spooky Witch’s Fingers dough earlier in the day, so that everything is cool and ready to go.

At just under two hours, the Halloween Treats class kept the children’s attention, although by the end of the class, the more fidgety had a hard time waiting for their sweet creations to be boxed up.

But who knows, maybe one of them will dress up as pastry chef this Halloween.

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You can find dragées for the mouse eyes at Pool Mart and Lil’s Cake Corner in Sonoma or Nancy’s Fancy’s in Santa Rosa.

Chocolate Mice

Makes 12 mice

4 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate

1/3 cup sour cream

1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs, such as Nabisco

1/3 cup chocolate wafer crumbs, such as Nabisco

24 silver or white dragées decorating candy

1/4 cup sliced almonds

12 (2-inch) pieces long, red vine licorice

Melt the chocolate and combine with sour cream. Stir in 1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs. Cover and refrigerate until firm.

Roll by level tablespoonsful into balls. Mold to a slight point at one end (the nose).

Roll dough in confectioners’ sugar (for white mice), and in dragées in appropriate spot for eyes, almond slices for ears, and a licorice string for the tail.

Refrigerate for at least two hours, until firm.

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Halloween Ghosties

Makes 24 cookies

1 (12-ounce) package white chocolate chips, or as needed

24 peanut-shaped peanut butter sandwich cookies, such as Nutter Butters

48 miniature chocolate chips

Place chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl and heat on low in microwave for 1 minutes; stir. Continue heating on low several more times, 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each time, until white chocolate is warm and smooth.

Use 2 forks to dip cookies into white chocolate; set cookies on sheets of waxed paper. Place two miniature chocolate chips onto one end of each cookie for eyes; set cookies aside until coating has hardened, about 20 minutes.

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Pumpkin Bars

Makes 24 bars

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 cups canned pumpkin

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups white sugar

1 cup chopped walnuts

For cream cheese frosting

16 ounces cream cheese

1 cup butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 pinch ground cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9x13-inch pans.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the pumpkin, vegetable oil, eggs and sugar. Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Mix in the walnuts.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack and frost bars with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla together in a bowl with an electric hand mixer until creamy. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar; beat until smooth. Spread frosting evenly over cooled pumpkin cake; sprinkle with cinnamon.

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Spooky Witch Fingers

Makes 60 fingers

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup whole almonds

1 (.75 ounce) tube red decorating gel

Combine the butter, sugar, egg, almond extract and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer; gradually add the flour, baking powder, and salt, continually beating; refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets.

Remove dough from refrigerator in small amounts. Scoop 1 heaping tablespoon at a time onto a piece of waxed paper. Use the waxed paper to roll the dough into a thin, finger-shaped cookie. Press one almond into one end of each cookie to give the appearance of a long fingernail.

Squeeze cookie near the tip and again near the center of each to give the impression of knuckles. You can also cut into the dough with a sharp knife at the same points to help give a more finger-like appearance.

Arrange the shaped cookies on the baking sheets. Bake in a preheated oven until the cookies are slightly golden in color, 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the almond from the end of each cookie; squeeze a small amount of red decorating gel into the cavity; replace the almond to cause the gel to ooze out around the tip of the cookie.

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Cob-Webbed Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup hot water

For frosting:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

— Black food coloring (or, if you like green or purple)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pans with fluted paper baking cups.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add all of the flour mixture at once, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir just until all the flour is moistened. Pour the hot water over the batter all at once. Stir just until the batter is smooth.

Spoon the batter into the paper cups, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

In a small mixing bowl, cream together the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Set aside one-third in a separate bowl, and tint black (or very dark green or purple) with food coloring.

Spoon colored frosting into a disposable pastry bag and snip off a tiny piece from the bottom tip. Set aside, upright in a glass.

Spread a thin layer of white frosting on each cupcake. Using your pastry bag, draw swirls on top of the frosting. Take a toothpick and gently drag lines from the center of the swirl outward, creating a “cobweb” effect.

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Witch Hats

Makes 32 hats

2 (16 ounce) packages fudge stripe cookies (preferably, dark chocolate mint)

1/4 cup honey, or as needed

1 (9-ounce) bag milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped

1 (4.5-ounce) tube black (and/or red) decorating gel

Place a fudge strip cookie with top side up onto a work surface. Smear a small dab (about 1/8 teaspoon) of honey onto the bottom of a chocolate kiss and secure the candy piece to the center of the cookie, covering the hole.

Use decorating gel to pipe a small bowl onto the cookie at the base of the candy piece. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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