I have two favorite Halloween-themed movies, both of which I look forward to watching every year–and their plots could not be further from each other on the Halloween spectrum. One of the movies, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, has been (and, I’m a little embarrassed to say, still is) part of my gearing up for October 31 ritual for as long as I can remember. Even though I have seen this classic cartoon so many times that I can recite the lines with Lucy, Linus, and Pig-Pen, watching poor Charlie Brown cut too many holes in his ghost costume, so that he resembles swiss cheese, never grows old.
The second movie, in my opinion, is by far the scariest movie that has ever been produced. The music alone is enough to send chills up my spine, and even though I know the plot inside-out, to this day I cannot watch the entire feature without diving into the couch pillows to cover my eyes. Does the expressionless white mask of Michael Myers ring a bell? The movie that I am referring to is John Carpenter’s Halloween, the horror flick that set the precedent for every teen slasher since 1978. My dad and I started watching this film together on Halloween, once I was too old to trick-or-treat (but apparently not too old to have post-movie nightmares.) The plus side of watching this movie, at least for me, is that I love a good scare every so often. The negative side? Very few "scary movies" live up to their genre, as I am always comparing them to Halloween.
Another thing that I love about Halloween is that it allows for so much fun and creativity in the kitchen. Pumpkins, bats, spider-webs, witch hats, and ghosts all serve as inspiration for brightly decorated sugar cookies and cupcakes. Titles like "ghoul-osh" or "witch’s brew chicken stew" add character to ordinary recipes. I look at this graveyard cake as a happy medium between the whimsical and cartoony (is that a word?) nature of the Charlie Brown special and the bone-chilling spookiness of Halloween. A "great pumpkin" cake topped with a rich chocolate glaze serves as the graveyard in which espresso-flavored shortbread headstones reside. Cookies and cake in one dessert? Definitely a treat! Here are some extra tips for this spooky sweet Halloween treat:
- The shortbread dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 1 week. Let soften slightly before rolling out. If the dough has become too soft after you shape the tombstones, then refrigerate the baking sheet for 20 minutes prior to baking. This will firm up the dough and help the tombstones to retain their shapes.
- Instead of using chocolate to decorate the tombstones, feel free to use decorating tubes (found in the baking aisle) of various colors. If you do not have a piping bad and tips, you can also place the chocolate in a zip-top bag and snip off a small corner to simulate a piping bag.
- Cutting out a piece of cardboard to unmold the cake on makes it easier to move the cake once iced and decorated. Size the cardboard slightly smaller than the cake itself, and wrap it in foil. You can also unmold the cake directly onto a serving platter.
- Instead of adding chocolate chips to the cake batter, try adding golden or black raisins, cranberries, currants, or chopped nuts.
- If you don’t have all of the dried spices called for in the ingredients, you can substitute pumpkin pie spice, which is usually a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice (and occasionally ginger and cloves.)
Pumpkin Spice Graveyard Cake with Shortbread Headstones
For the shortbread headstones
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
For the cake
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup canola or safflower oil
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest from 1 orange
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
For the glaze
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
10 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate
For the shortbread dough: Whisk together the flour, salt, and espresso powder in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture. Transfer the dough to plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, and wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.
Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray a 9X13X2 inch baking pan with non-stick baking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, and nutmeg; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugars with the oil until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, and orange peel, beating until well combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips and the coconut.
Bake the shortbread: Preheat the oven to 275F degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the shortbread dough to 1/8-inch thick. Using a paring knife, cut out "tombstone" shapes, consisting of a flat bottom, slanted sided, and a rounded top. Cut out 12 tombstones and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the cookies until set but not browned, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Prepare the chocolate glaze: Stir together the cream and the honey in a small saucepan; bring just to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until smooth.
Set the cake, top-side up, on a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with foil. Pour the warm chocolate glaze over the cake. Using a small offset spatula or knife, gently smooth the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Let stand at room temperature or refrigerate until set.
Decorate the tombstones: Melt the 3 ounces of chocolate in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Let the chocolate stand until cool but not stiff. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a very small round tip. Pipe designs and "RIP" on cookies. Top the cake with some of the tombstones and serve the remaining cookies on the side.