HALLOWEEN is a time to have fun with baking, the squishy, squelchy and gooey textures that you can achieve can be suitably spooky.
These witches’ fingers are very effective, I find them very gory. You can leave out the ‘blood’ if it is a bit too much and just press an almond into the tip of each digit. The recipe is for a simple shortbread but you can add a drop of almond essence if you wish or some vanilla. I put the dough into the fridge to harden so that it makes shaping the fingers a little easier. They will expand slightly as they bake so it is good to have them firm and cooled again before going into the oven.
I had the great fortune, one year, to visit Mexico for Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. I found the traditions that surround the day fascinating, there are many overlaps with our traditional Samhain celebrations. The most striking custom involves families bringing food to the graves of their loved ones. This is a celebration in honour of those who have passed away and an opportunity to share another meal with them, if only in theory. I thought it was a beautiful way to keep a person’s memory alive and to share stories about them with younger members of the family. The idea of eating in a graveyard may seem very strange, but it seemed right when we were there, the sun was shining and the temperatures were warm, even as the evening descended. The celebrations seemed joyous, with colourful bunting fluttering in the trees and mariachi bands wandering through the crowds signing and encouraging everyone to join in.
The Dia de los Muertos cookies are little works of art and probably not attainable for most people, but it is fun to try and replicate them. You can use them as a template and experiment with your own designs. Piping pens, for want of a better word, are available in some baking shops. They are primarily used for writing birthday greetings onto cakes but would be excellent for finicky work like this.
Pre heat your oven to 190 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.
Beat the butter and sugar together until pale in colour. Slowly add in the flour until it is all combined and a smooth dough is formed. Wrap the dough in parchment or clingfilm and place it in the fridge for at least an hour.
Remove the dough from the fridge and shape it into finger shapes, I usually get about twenty out of it. Put a small spoon of jam at the top of each figure and press an almond into it. This should look like a bloodied nail.
It is helpful to place the tray of biscuits back into the fridge for about half an hour to firm the fingers up before they go into the oven.
Bake for about 15 minutes and allow to cool on the tray for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
Wipe all of the utensils that you are using with the vinegar. This will help you get a light and fluffy result when beating the egg whites as the vinegar will remove any traces of oil that stops the eggs from rising.
Pre heat your oven to 110 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form then add the caster sugar a quarter at a time beating slowly. Add the sieved icing sugar a quarter at a time. You want the final mixture to be very stiff and to stand up well when spooned or piped onto the baking tray.
You can use a spoon and put a few blobs of the meringue mixture on the baking sheet and swirl it up or use a piping bag with a large round nozzle, for a neater result.
Bake for about an hour and a half until the ghosts are crisp.
Allow them to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, decorate them by adding mouths and eyes by piping on chocolate ganache. You can make ganache with equal amounts of chocolate and cream heated together and then cooled. You will only need a small amount.
Dia de los Muertos cookies
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and pale in colour. Slowly add in half of the egg, lemon juice, zest and vanilla.
Sieve the flour and baking powder together and add the flour mixture a third at a time until a smooth dough is formed, wrap it in cling film or parchment and leave in the fridge for an hour.
Roll the dough out into 3-4 mm in thickness. Cut with a large skull cutter. Brush the cookies with the remaining egg.
Bake for 7 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the tray then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing whisk the egg white powder with the warm water and slowly add the icing sugar until a smooth paste is formed. Add the lemon juice and stir it in. Keep half the icing white and add colours to the rest. Fill a selection of piping bags which have small nozzles so that you can pipe thin lines.
Pipe a white line around the edge of the cooled cookies. With a brush fill the interior with the same white icing so you have a neat flat white surface. Allow it to harden. Decorate the skulls by piping the different colours in Dia de los Muertos patterns. Allow the icing to set in a warm place.