By Karen Barr
Halloween favourites are now more than just candy and cupcakes |
By Karen Barr
Halloween traditions date back 2000 years, when the Celtics celebrated what they considered the last day of the year. The festival was called Samhain and it involved lighting bonfires and donning costumes to ward off ghosts. Today, the costumes and ghouls remain, but Halloween is more about collecting and eating sweet treats.
“Halloween has always been a favourite in our family,” says Belinda Bigold, owner of High Tea Bakery, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “My mom had an old school tickle trunk full of costumes, from years in theatre, and ballet classes. All the neighbourhood kids would come to borrow from the collection each year. So, we’ve tried to keep that spirit at the bakery. We decorate with cobwebs, pumpkins, and witches. My team plays dress up, and we give away a free cookie to anyone who shows up in costume. People think it’s for the kids, but we give away just as many, if not more, to adults!”
High Tea Bakery is known for their cookie collection. For Halloween they bake up a variety of hand decorated sugar cookies. The cookie they are most famous for is the in-house invention called the Imperial Cookie, an almond shortbread, with a raspberry preserve filling and pure almond icing. In October, Imperial Cookies are dressed up as pumpkins, skeletons, and monsters.
Nutmeg log cookies, so popular during Christmas rush, flip into Halloween mode and are turned into severed fingers. On top of this selection, the bakery also makes up Day of the Dead sugar skulls. And then, there are mini monster cupcakes, with vibrantly coloured buttercream “fur” and large beaming royal icing eyes.
Flirt, a 12-year-old bakery in Edmonton, Alberta, is owned by entrepreneur Michelle LeMoignan and her business partner, Brianna Vallet, the company’s pastry chef. “We love to decorate the shop for Halloween and encourage our staff to dress up for it if they feel inclined,” says LeMoignan. “We take traditional Halloween creatures such as ghosts and Jack O’lanterns and turn them into cupcakes. These are typically done with buttercream icing and small fondant features.”
Then, the scare factor is elevated. “We bake a more elaborate cupcake, where we step it up a notch, with a horror movie-themed pack. Each cupcake represents one of our favourite horror movies, from Nightmare on Elm Street to The Shining. We use fondant to make our custom toppers and swirl buttercreams together to make for a little darker, Halloween treat.”
And then there are cakes, “One of our bakery’s signature cakes is our ruffle floral cake. It’s a combination of ruffles and rosettes piped with buttercream. For Halloween, we incorporate the classic colours of purple, orange, and black, into the design. We finish it off by adding eyes to the white ruffles to make for some spooky ghosts.” Then she adds, “We are an egg-free bakery so everything we make is safe for those with egg allergies. Our designs are available in vegan and gluten-free friendly versions as well, so no one gets left out.”
Customers line up from all over the city and the Flirt car cruises around, all week long, bringing cupcakes and cakes to the people of Edmonton.
“Halloween is more popular than Easter for us,” says Catherine O’Donnell, pastry chef and owner of Willow Cakes and Pastries, in the historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. “I think adults really enjoy Halloween too. It has become a social event. Parents like to dress up and really get involved.”
In keeping with the party atmosphere O’Donnell points out, “As pastry chefs, if we can make it easier for parents to do things with their children at home it really helps. Then, they don’t have to bake anything but can just participate and have fun.”
The bakery has a thriving business with do-it-yourself butter vanilla sugar cookies that are imprinted and packaged along with containers of food colouring. Then, it is simple to just follow the lines and paint.
The cookies are produced by Willow Cakes and Pastries own self-taught cookie master Karen Clifford, who has been baking for 17 years. “I love being creative and coming up with specialty or personalized cookies,” she says. “I really enjoy what I do! It doesn’t feel like a job.”
O’Donnell and her team also bake up Halloween gingerbread houses using all natural ingredients. These are preassembled and feature crooked roof tops and front doors that can slide across or drop down like guillotines. All the royal icing and candies are included in these ready-to-go kits.
A warming autumn mug of hot chocolate becomes even more special using chocolate bombs. For Halloween, O’Donnell crafts up chocolate skulls in both white and dark chocolate. “We create the back and front of the skulls using good quality chocolate such as Cacao Berry. Then, we place tiny marshmallows and grated chocolate inside. Later, customers just add a chocolate bomb to a mug, pour in hot milk and stir to dissolve.”
Ghosts and ghouls abound in cakes with Halloween flavours like “Blood Red Velvet,” Pumpkin Spice, and Death by Chocolate. “Bone White” is a cake that has marshmallow filling. O’Donnell and Stacey MacIntyre are in charge of designing cakes.
With a career that spans 20 years, many customers remember MacIntyre competing on television shows like The Big Bake on Canada’s Food Network. “I love the challenge of new art creation every day, and I love to bring events to the next level with incredible art,” she says.
Halloween comes once a year and children through adults contemplate their costumes months in advance. Bakers and pastry chefs across Canada can add to the joy of the day, by making these special treats for their customers to delight in. /
Karen Barr writes about arts, culture and cuisine. She is a graduate of George Brown College and is a Red Seal pastry chef.