Though, as the years pass, I find myself favoring more family-centric, “togetherness” holidays, when I was a kid nothing held a candle to Halloween. I think that’s probably the case for most people as well, still hopelessly nostalgic for a holiday in which they’ve been pushed out of the main activity on the bias of age. I don’t know why adults can’t go trick or treating. At 5’6”, I’m tempted to don a mask and try my luck.
While my trick or treating days are tragically behind me, as hard as that is to admit, my Halloween routine has deviated little else since childhood. Here’s a sample rundown of my October each year…
- Decorate parent’s house for Halloween with my comrade-in-halloween brother.
- Start planning costume (party plans not yet required).
- Watch Hocus Pocus twice in a row (no more, no less). Place DVD high atop shelf, out of reach of destructive nephew.
- Buy Halloween candy for Trick-or-Treaters (must have Kit Kats & Twizzlers).
- Get invited to one Halloween party. Breathe sigh of relief that I am still socially relevant.
- Re-buy Halloween candy after regrettable binge.
- Panic buy pumpkin at last minute. Start with low expectations for outcome. Carve signature crazy scary face in approximately 5 minutes. Be satisfied with outcome due to low expectations.
- Attend Halloween party.
- Nurse hangover (a more recent, but reliable tradition).
- Halloween Night: get very excited for first trick-or-treater to arrive. When first knock on the door occurs, have unexpected rush of anxiety and make someone else answer the door for small talk with children.
And then repeat next year. The one thing I did not mention, as it changes by the year, is any Halloween baking. Some years that means making those Funfetti cupcakes from the box. They taste like chemicals but that kind of adds to the Halloween-ness (I tell myself). This year, on my vintage kick, I was inspired by a few images of orange-frosted Devil’s Food Cakes with piped, black Halloween motifs like witches and black cats. I went with the black cats because I had a cookie cutter to use as a stencil for the piping.
I set out to research the provenance of Devil’s Food Cake and I actually got a lot of mixed results as to what specifically makes a chocolate cake “Devil’s Food”. Some sources said more baking soda, so lighter in texture. Some said no milk, use water. The answer I was most satisfied with is that it is a cousin of the Red Velvet cake, and some early recipes call it “Red Devil’s Cake”. I ended up adding a beet puree to my favorite chocolate cake recipe and called it a day. It’s rich, beautifully reddish-brown, and has the slightest hint of earthy, beet flavor. Plus you really can’t go wrong eating a couple extra vegetables this time of year. You know, moderation and all that.
Devil's Food Beet Cake
Devil’s Food Beet Cake
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup beet purée* (about 4 large beets)
*To make beet purée: Preheat oven to 425°. Wash 4 large beets and dry thoroughly. Cut beets in half, then wrap each half in tin foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 45-60 minutes, until fork tender. Remove from oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Unwrap beets from foil and place in a food processor (you may need to do this in two batches). Blend until the mixture is smooth, then force through a sieve so that you have a silky smooth purée. Measure out 1 cup for recipe.
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease, flour, and line with parchment paper 2-8 inch cake pans. In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a large liquid measuring cup, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Turn mixer on low and slowly pour in wet ingredients. Once combined, add in beet purée and mix until combined. Divide batter equally among pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in each comes out clean. Let cakes cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Basic Buttercream Frosting
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream or half & half
- orange food coloring (I used Wilton Gel “Yellow” + “Red (no taste)”
- black food coloring (I used Wilton Gel “Black”)
- sprinkles (I used Wilton Black Non-Pareils)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Add in vanilla and cream and beat for another couple minutes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and fluffy. Measure out about 1/4 cup of frosting to a small bowl. Dye this portion black. Dye the large portion orange.
To assemble the cake, place one half of cake, dome-side down, onto your serving platter. Spread half of the orange frosting on top. Use a long serrated knife to cut the dome off of the other half of cake. Place this cake, cut-side down, onto orange frosting layer. Use the rest of the orange frosting to frost the top of the cake. Use a pastry bag fitted with a #5 round tip to pipe black cats on cake (I used a cookie cutter as an outline but you could make a stencil or go freehand). Carefully place sprinkles on top of black cats (if you get some sprinkles on the orange, place the cake in the freezer for a few minutes to allow the frosting to harden slightly and they will be easier to flick off with a knife).
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake”.