Get into the fright night spirit with these spooktacularly fun dishes
Halloween has always been a big event in our house and it typically begins with baking barmbrack. This year was the first time our two little boys got involved in the process, and they were mesmerised by the idea that you could bake a ring into the batter, and even more surprised when it turned up in one of their slices when we ate it.
My wife, Sofie, takes traditions very seriously and sprinkles our year with all the occasions she grew up with in Sweden. From midsummer parties and crayfish feasts to Christmas advent candles, she has them all covered, but Halloween is one of the few festivities we Irish have the upper hand on, so it’s left to me.
My starting point is always the food, and Halloween night requires plenty of comfort food, and perhaps a few sweet treats thrown in for good measure.
Before any trick or treating is done, cooking something you can come home to is key. A big pot of slow-braised beef with cheese dumplings, a tender chicken stew, or this roast squash, blue cheese and thyme tart served warm are just what you need on a cold Halloween night.
A tart recipe like this one is good to have up your sleeve. In its most basic form, it’s essentially a quiche — a good pastry base with a savoury egg-and-cream filling. This variation is perfectly autumnal, and any leftovers make for a delicious lunch.
If you have any leftover barmbrack, make these barmbrack parfait pots with whiskey prunes. This is the type of dessert that everyone will think you’ve spent ages making but is quite easy. You can spike the prunes with any alcohol but I love the combination of prunes with Irish whiskey.
Lastly, a sweet treat that also makes a cute homemade goodie bag filler — ghostly peanut butter squares that are a cinch to make and are particularly addictive for grown ups who still have a sweet tooth.
Time: 90 mins + chilling time Serves: 8
For the roasted squash:
1 small squash, deseeded and sliced into bitesize chunks (approx 700g)
1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
A few sprigs of thyme
For the pastry:
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
125g cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp cold water
For the filling:
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 large red onions, halved and sliced into half moons
3 large free-range eggs
300ml double cream
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, plus extra for the topping
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
125g Cashel blue cheese, crumbled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Place the squash on a flat baking sheet and drizzle with rapeseed oil. Sprinkle over the thyme, sea salt and black pepper. Toss to coat completely. Roast the squash in the oven for 40 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove and allow to cool completely.
2. Place the flour, butter and salt in a mixing bowl and, using your fingertips, rub the flour and butter together until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs.
3. Mix through 2 tbsp of cold water and press into a dough. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes.
Heat 2 tbsp of rapeseed oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onions and sprinkle with sea salt. Fry gently for 10 minutes or until completely softened. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.
4. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Whisk through the nutmeg and thyme sprigs and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Lower the heat in the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
5. Once the dough has chilled in the fridge, take out onto a clean surface lightly dusted with flour and roll out until it’s roughly 4mm in thickness. Transfer to a tart tin approximately 20cm in diameter and 6cm deep. Prick the base of the pastry case and lay in a sheet of parchment paper. Pour in baking beans and place the tart tin on a baking sheet. Bake the pastry case for 10 minutes in the oven and then remove the baking beans and parchment paper and return the tart tin to the oven to continue to cook for a further 5 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
6. Fill the pastry case with the roasted squash, blue cheese and caramelised red onions. Pour over the cream-and-egg mixture and allow to seep in around the filling. Wiggle the tin slightly to ensure this happens. Sprinkle the top with a few sprigs of thyme and place back in the oven to bake for 30-35 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin. Cut off the excess pastry around the edges, slice and serve.
Time: 45 mins Serves: 6
For the parfait:
175g barmbrack, crusts removed and broken into crumbs
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp milk
1/4 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
85g white chocolate, melted
2 tbsp Irish whiskey or Irish cream liqueur
For the prunes:
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 large orange
175g golden caster sugar
115g pitted prunes
4-6 tbsp Irish whiskey
Icing sugar, to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
2. Place the barmbrack crumbs in a roasting tin and sprinkle over half of the sugar. Bake for 10 minutes until crisp, then cool.
3. For the custard, whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar. Bring 85ml of the cream to the boil with the milk and vanilla, then add the yolk mixture, whisking. Return this mixture to the heat and cook gently until it coats the back of a spoon, stirring. Strain through a fine sieve and cool, then fold in the chocolate and barmbrack crumbs. Chill for 30 minutes.
4. Whip the rest of the cream to soft peaks, then fold in the custard mixture with the whiskey or Irish cream liqueur. Pour into 6 serving glasses and freeze for 2-3 hours.
5. Bring the water, orange rind and juice and sugar to the boil. Add the prunes, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in enough whiskey to taste and set aside to cool.
6. Spoon the prune mixture on top of each glass and grate some orange rind on top before serving.
Time: 25 mins + setting time Serves: 16
200g smooth peanut butter
100g caster sugar
200ml golden syrup
100g Special K flakes
100g desiccated coconut
200g milk chocolate
For the topping:
150g white chocolate, melted
6 white marshmallows, halved lengthways
Black edible food art pen
1. Place the milk chocolate in a bowl over a small simmering saucepan of water and allow to melt gently. In another saucepan, over a gentle heat, melt together the peanut butter, sugar, and golden syrup until runny and smooth.
2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the Special K flakes and coconut until combined.
Pour the peanut butter mixture over the dry ingredients and, using a wooden spoon, stir until everything is nicely combined.
3. Turn the mixture out into a 2-inch deep baking dish and spread out evenly, pressing down with the back of the spoon.
4. Pour over the melted chocolate and place in the fridge to allow the chocolate to chill and harden, but take out before the chocolate is completely firm to allow wedging in the marshmallow topping.
5. Meanwhile, using a black edible food art pen, draw on eyes and a mouth onto the marshmallows.
6. Once the chocolate has chilled, push the marshmallow ghosts slightly into the mixture and drizzle over the white chocolate, to create a web-like effect.
7. Once the white chocolate has cooled, slice into small bites and serve.