Archive for: jack o lantern
Carving a big pumpkin into a jack o’ lantern is one of those Halloween traditions that no one should ever grow out of. The spooky faces of those pumpkins generally indicate to kids that there is candy to be had nearby. For adults, carving those faces is a fun way to get into the Halloween spirit and get a lot more creative than you were as a kid. And having the opportunity to to toast a bunch of fresh pumpkin seeds while you’re carving doesn’t hurt either. I like to put a foodie twist on my pumpkins these days, rather than just sticking with the classic grinning jack o’ lantern face. Whether you start with a commercial pumpkin carving kit or are just relying on your arsenal of kitchen knifes, here are a few Foodie Jack o’ Lantern ideas to inspire you:
The first is the Skeleton Chef Pumpkin, pictured above. This pumpkin features a skull topped with a chef’s hat, ready to serve up a variety of tricks and treats to anyone who approaches. It’s a simple design, but it never fails to catch the attention of anyone who sees it.
Another skeletal design comes in the form of this skeleton hand reaching for a cupcake. The design is a little more detailed, with many small cutouts to represent the bones of the hand. Fortunately, you can take plenty of anatomical liberties when working with Halloween designs. Carve a little sleeve underneath the hand and it can double as a zombie arm!
One of my favorite Halloween traditions is carving pumpkins into jack o’lanterns and I always carve at least a few every year. The spooky faces of carved pumpkins don’t always translate well into baked goods like cookies, because it is very difficult to carve out the eyes, nose and mouth of a cookie-sized jack o’ lantern unless you have a very sharp, small knife and a lot of patience. This Jack-O-Lantern Cookie Cutter Set, which I spotted at a recent trip to Williams Sonoma, makes jack o’lantern cookies as easy as putting together a Mr Potato Head. The set starts out with a heavy duty pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter and comes with a number of tiny additional cutters that make pumpkin eye, nose and mouth shapes. It’s fun to put together the different combinations and much easier than the hand “carved” method.
The only trick to using a detailed cookie cutter set like this one is that you need to use a cookie dough that won’t spread – or won’t spread very much – to preserve the neat cutouts on the pumpkin faces. Store bought sugar cookie dough (a favorite with kids doing holiday baking projects) will spread too much and won’t produce good results. A relatively stiff homemade butter cookie dough with a minimum of leavening agents (or none) is typically the best choice, like my Best Butter Cookie Dough. To dress it up to match your Halloween cookie cutters, mix a little black and orange food coloring into the dough and you’ll have very authentic looking Jack o’Lantern cookies.
I’m always inspired to bring a foodie element into my Halloween pumpkin carving and my pumpkins this year were no exception. My first creation was a Skeleton Chef, a skull with a little chef’s hat on top. I wish I had had a slightly larger pumpkin to give me a little more room for the hat, but the finished effect was still both cute and creepy.
My second pumpkin was a big black widow spider, but instead of a red hour glass on the spider, I added in a sculpted cupcake. When I say that I sculpted the cupcake, I mean that I carved it into the pumpkin without going all the way through the rind. I used the same technique last year with my I Vant A Cupcake pumpkin, where I also gave a more detailed description of how the cupcake was created. For this Cupcake Spider pumpkin, I carved out the cupcake design first so that my work surface would be as stable as possible, then I carved out the spider around it. Be sure to get your cupcake as thin as possible so that you can see the detail when you light up the jack o’lantern!
I didn’t make templates for these two shapes because I free-handed the designs. Since I was able to do this, that means that they’re pretty straightforward designs with just a few simple lines. Sketch your shapes onto a pumpkin with a pen before taking a knife. And when carving outlines, remember that you can always make a shape wider by trimming the edges, but you can’t put pumpkin back once you’ve carved it away.
There are several ways to make a pumpkin shaped cake for fall entertaining, whether you want a cake jack o’lantern for Halloween or a simple spice cake that doubles as a centerpiece for Thanksgiving. The easiest option is to buy a pumpkin-shaped pan. This is all well and good if you have space to store one during the off season, or simply plan on baking quite a few pumpkin cakes in a short period of time each year, but it is not necessarily the most practical option. Another choice is to make a square cake and try to sculpt it – Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes-style – into a pumpkin-shaped showpiece. This option is easier said than done, and it is worth noting that you’ll, have better results when you start with with a bigger cake, so this will be the most time consuming choice.
The third and final option is really the most practical of the three. I’ll admit to having sculpted cakes in the past, but this is the way to go for most home bakers who don’t want to buy pans for every season. This option is to take two oven-safe, round mixing bowls (either metal or pyrex) that are the same size and use them in place of regular cake pans to bake your cake. Just grease and flour the bowls and your cakes should pop right out. When the cakes are done – you will have to test them with a toothpick since most recipes don’t give you mixing bowl baking directions – you can turn one on top of the other for a rounded cake that requires no special equipment and no intricate cake-sculpting. You can use just about any cake for this type of project, but most recipes that make bundt cakes work well because they provide plenty of batter and are easy to handle when baked.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
I hope you’re all done with your Halloween baking and are ready to sit back, carve a pumpkin and eat some candy this evening. My pumpkin this year had a definite baking theme: a skeletal arm holding up a cupcake. It was fairly easy to carve using a fine-blade pumpkin knife (one of the really, really thin ones). There are two tricks to making the design come through clearly. The first is to thin the wall of the pumpkin by scraping it from the inside when you’re hollowing it out. A thinner wall is easier to cut through. The second is to cut off the excess pumpkin from behind the design once the design is in place. Making each of the holes less “deep” lets more light through in the end and makes your design much clearer.
If you want to try your had at carving this pumpkin, I made up a template for it that should fit against most medium-large pumpkins (anything where the carving space is about 8-in by 8-in. Draw it onto your pumpkin with a red sharpie (it won’t show up when the lights are out and the pumpkin is lit) and cut out the pieces marked in yellow on the template. Don’t forget to toast your pumpkin seeds for a little Halloween snack, too!