Recipes: Make these Halloween treats with your kids

Sure, cookies that look like scarlet eyeballs or severed fingers have their charms. But folks looking for Halloween treats without bloodstains and, well, with better taste, might prefer these delectable meringue ghost cookies. Or some whimsical Dracula-themed brownies with faces made of peanut-butter cups, or a charming pumpkin cake made with three ingredients and then garnished with candy corn? Maybe some tiny marshmallow teeth set into apple wedges slathered with peanut butter, made to look like vampire lips?

These ever-so-slightly ghoulish sweets are designed to prepare with the kids. Put on aprons and turn on some daunting classical music, such as Edvard Grieg’s “The Hall or the Mountain King” or Camille Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre.” Enjoy.

Whimsical Dracula Peanut Butter Cup Brownies are designed to be as delicious as they are fun to make. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

Whimsical Dracula Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

These brownies are designed to be delicious as well as fun to prepare. Peanut butter cups are set into the rich chocolate batter and serve, after baking, as rounded vampire faces.

Yield: 24 to 30


Nonstick cooking spray and aluminum foil

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into several pieces if cold (or use salted butter and omit salt in Step No. 2)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Peanut butter cups, about 15, see cook’s notes

Decorating: candy eyes, red licorice (mouths), and/or red citrus-wedge shaped jellies (alternative mouths), small tube (.67 grams) white writing gel (fangs)

Cook’s notes: My favorite size of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to use in this recipe are the disks that are a little less the 2 inches in diameter; they are sold 2 to a 1.5-ounce pack. I arrange them 3 across in 5 rows (15 total). But other sizes and shapes of peanut butter cups can be used. For the photo, I had some peanut butter bars that I turned upside down, as well as the small round shapes.


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-12-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. Combine butter and chocolate in large saucepan (I use a 5-quart Dutch oven because it gives enough space to stir in Step No. 2). Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally with rubber spatula, until melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

2. Add sugar and eggs to chocolate mixture and mix with whisk until smooth and well combined. Add flour, cocoa powder, and salt; whisk until well combined.

3. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan with rubber spatula. Place peanut butter cups on top of batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of brownies (not in peanut butter cup) comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes (it takes longer in my oven, about 40 minutes). Place pan on cooling rack. Cool completely.

4. Lift brownies out of pan using the overhanging foil. Decorate peanut butter cups to look like vampires, using candy eyes, candy mouths (either red licorice or a portion of candy red citrus-wedge shaped jellies), and fangs (squeezed from white writing gel).

Source: Adapted from a recipe for brownies in “The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book” from the Food Network Magazine (Kids Hearst Home, $25.99)

Meringue Ghosts are crunchy when you were first bite into them, but then dissolve into sweetness. (Photo by Nick Koon)

Meringue Ghosts

Gnarled meringue goblins are sweet and crisp, with an initial crunch of a thick potato chip. But after a second or two in the mouth, that brittle texture melts, dissolving into diaphanous delight. The shapes are amusing. Piped from a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tip (or squeezed from the cut corner of a heavy plastic zipper-style plastic food bag), no two are alike. Some are spooky and some are silly. Some downright weird.

Yield: About 16-18 servings


Parchment paper and pastry bag with plain 1/2-inch tip or gallon-sized zipper-style plastic bag

3 large egg whites, room temperature; see cook’s notes

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup sugar, divided use

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

About 36 miniature semisweet chocolate chips or pieces semisweet chocolate

Cook’s notes: To bring cold eggs to room temperature, submerge in warm water 5 minutes. Pat dry. Meringue ghosts can be prepared 5 days in advance. Store cool cookies in single layer on baking sheet (not touching). After two days, cover loosely with paper napkin.


1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In large (impeccably clean and dry) bowl of electric mixer, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and increase speed to high. Beat until soft peaks form. Continuing to beat on high speed, add 1 tablespoon sugar at a time, beating 30 seconds between additions. Beat until very stiff peaks form, about 1-2 additional minutes.

2. Add vanilla and beat until combined. Smear a tiny bit of meringue under corners of parchment paper to anchor it to baking sheets.

3. Spoon meringue into pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch plain tip (or spoon into gallon-size heavy plastic food bag, then cut off 1 corner to make 1/2-inch-wide opening).

Meringue Ghosts can be piped from a pastry bag or you can cut the corner off a heavy plastic zipper-style plastic food bag. (Photo by Nick Koon)

4. Pipe meringue onto baking sheets into ghostly shapes about 1/2 inch thick and 3-4 inches long, leaving about 2 inches between ghosts. Using firm pressure on pastry bag, squeeze out head 3/4 inch high. Squeeze with less pressure to make body, moving in loose ‘Z.’ At the end, stop squeezing and lift up. To make eyes, press mini chocolate chips into meringue.

5. Bake in preheated oven about 1 1/2 hours (or until firm to touch), switching pan positions halfway through baking. Turn off heat and leave meringues in closed oven 1 hour. Slide spatula under each meringue to release.

Source: Adapted from Sunset magazine

Three-Ingredient Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting can be decorated with Halloween goodies such as candy corn, candy pumpkins or sprinkles. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

Three-Ingredient Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: About 15 servings


Butter for greasing pan

One (15 1/4-ounce) package spice cake mix; see cook’s notes

One (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

3 large eggs

Cream cheese frosting: 1/2 cup (1 stick) room temperature butter, 8 ounces room temperature cream cheese (not fat-reduced or whipped), 1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), 1 teaspoon vanilla

For decorating: Halloween candies such as candy corn and candy pumpkins, and/or Halloween sprinkles

Cook’s notes: Not all supermarkets stock spice cake mix. I find it at Ralphs. If you can’t find it, use a yellow cake mix and stir in 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. If making cream cheese frosting, take 1 stick of butter and one 8-ounce package of cream cheese out of the oven to come to room temperature.

2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, add cake mix, pumpkin puree, and eggs. Beat on medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes or until smooth and completely combined, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. (Alternately, the mixture can be beaten by hand for 2 minutes or until smooth and completely combined.) Pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake in preheated oven until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on cooling rack.

4. Prepare frosting: Add all ingredients to either a mixer or food processor. Beat or process using on-off technique as needed – until completely smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Spread 3/4 of frosting on cake. Leftover frosting can be frozen for future use or used as a “dip” for cookies. Decorate using a Halloween theme if desired. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Vampire Lips can be made with red or Granny Smith apples, with mini marshmallows serving as teeth. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

Vampire Lips

Yield: 4


1 Granny Smith Apple or medium-large red apple, cored, cut into 8 wedges

About 4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter; see cook’s notes

24 to 28 mini marshmallows

8 blanched whole almonds or 8 large, slivered almonds

Cook’s notes: If preferred, use almond butter or any nut butter you like instead of peanut butter.


1. Spread on side of each apple wedge with peanut butter. Top 1 wedge with a row of 6 to 7 marshmallows to mimic teeth, pressing into peanut butter to adhere. Top with a second wedge and press together. Place 1 almond on each side of lips, with pointed end sticking out to mimic fangs. Repeat with remaining ingredients.


Have a cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at