By SHANNON WATKINS
I personally love a good scary novel. I read all kinds of things, but this time of year I hit the shelves looking for something guaranteed to scare the pants off me.
This means I don’t have a lot of time left over to futz around making caramel apples from scratch or decorating the yard to look like a forensic scene (though I salute those of you dedicated enough to tackle either project). I’m too busy finding out if the tentacled crawling horror will decide to eat its victims immediately or subject them to a five-hour tax seminar first.
So I’d give you a Halloween recipe, except, to be honest, I don’t really have one. Most Halloween stuff is pumpkin-related, which can also be said for Thanksgiving, which means the most distinctive Halloween dish is candy, and presumably you know how to buy a bag of it without outside help. (Or rather, two bags; one for the trick or treaters and one for yourself, best enjoyed alongside a pizza you have delivered because you’re too busy squealing over all the cute costumes to bother in the kitchen.)
Obviously you can make your own candy, although unless there are remarkable circumstances I seldom bother (show me a child who claims to prefer your homemade wintergreen anise ginger drops to a Reese’s cup and I’ll show you a kid who’s bucking for a generous mention in your will), or you can do things like decorate orange-frosted cupcakes with bits of licorice to make them look like jack o’lanterns, which isn’t really a recipe so much as a craft project, which I figure you’re creative enough to handle already.
But homemade treats are usually best served at a kids’ party where everyone is familiar with you and there’s plenty of adult supervision. Serving them to actual trick or treaters at your front door will involve a lot of nervous looks from parents and youthful exclamations of “Mommy said not to take anything that isn’t in a wrapper!” Which, though we know that you, personally, aren’t a dangerous sort, is still a good policy these days.
However, said party, or church trunk or treat, or costume contest, or fall carnival, or whatever function you’re needed at, will already have a graveyard cake and various other “spooky” treats for everyone. I’m not very clever at making hot dogs look like mummies or pretzels look like bats or whatever the newfangled trick is, so I’ll send you in with something plain but tasty.
There’s nothing overly autumnish about this, until you hit the maple syrup, and I believe in New England that’s really more of a winter endeavor, but unless the Vermont Maple Syrup Advisory Board shows up, you should be safe. Peanut butter, as mentioned before, is already popular, especially with kids. I imagine you could let the kids whip this up, roll it into one-inch balls, and press a Hershey’s kiss or a toasted, buttered pecan into the center. And of course if you want, use creamy peanut butter instead and skip the crunchy part. If you’re worried someone has a peanut allergy, I don’t see why you can’t use almond butter or cashew butter instead.
It’s also worth noting that a stand mixer is a real boon for this, given how thick the dough is, although a handheld mixer will work, too.
Crunchy Peanut Butter Maple Cookies
2 stick butter at room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup real maple syrup
1½ cups crunchy peanut butter
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. maple flavoring
Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix butter, sugars and peanut butter together. Add eggs, and flavoring; mix well. Stir dry ingredients together and add into batter, alternating with syrup. Roll into 1” balls and flatten with the bottom of a glass or press a fork into it to form a cross-hatch, or press a Hershey’s kiss or pecan into each. Leaving 2” between each cookie, bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.
These are quite good anytime, although they have the density and heft one associates with cold-weather goodies. Kids love them, and a few reserved adults can be spotted sneaking off with a napkinful.
Best of all, you can make a heaped plate of them ahead of time, and still be able to page through your book and find out if the crawling tentacled horror’s bride is upset he forgot to register them at Tiffany’s.