Happy Halloween! I LOVE Halloween. Our neighborhood, which is near “Sleepy Hollow” (I kid you not!) is all decked out in all of its spooky finery
I’ve noticed quite a few new residents
who seem to be getting up to all sorts of mischief
and well some of them are just downright creepy!
I am so sad to say that the husband and I have not attended a proper Halloween costume party since 2010! I am simply appalled!! Unfortunately that trend is continuing this year as we have no big plans at all. As I mentioned in my last blog, things around here are craaaaZy (that’s right…with a capital Z) right now. I had all sorts of plans for the Halloween goodies I was going to conjure up for you. I’ve made some really fun treats in the past. I think my all time favourite Halloween creation is the Soul Cake.
It might just be the historian in me that makes me love it so much, because truth be told, unlike most sugar laden, tooth-achingly sweet candies found in abundance on Halloween, these little cake like cookies are only mildly sweet. There is not a speck of chocolate to be found in them, only a few currants top the cakes arranged in a cross pattern. What can I say, sometimes less is more. Here is a little bit from my Soul Cake blog post which talks about the origins of Halloween and the Soul Cake connection.
Our modern Halloween celebrations are derived from the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was Celtic New Year. It was a harvest festival which marked the dying of the sun-god and a turning to the colder, dormant half of the year. On this night, the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its lowest point. The dead could more easily travel back over to our side, and if we weren’t careful, we could accidentally wander over in to their world and be trapped-a good reason to stay close to home and bonfires, no doubt! This belief likely gave rise to our Halloween legends of ghosts, ghouls and witches wandering about on this night in particular. As Christian beliefs took hold, Samhain celebrations became re-branded as All Soul’s Eve. By the eighth century beggars, rather than the spirits from the other world, would travel door to door on this night. In exchange for their prayers for the family’s departed, they were given a small cake, known as a Soul Cake.
I also was quite fond of these Halloween Popcorn Balls I made back in 2011.
The husband is a big fan of popcorn. He would be quite happy to eat it every day. And I think his love of popcorn has rubbed off on our pup. He actually recognizes that word now and can make it into our kitchen from anywhere in the house in less than 10 seconds when he hears the telltale rattle of the popcorn kernels hitting the metal pan.
Alas, all I could manage to get done this year was this batch of Cookies & Cream Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars. Yup, there sure is popcorn in this treat. I figured if I could only get one of my intended treats done, I would pick one that I knew would make the husband very happy. And turns out this one was a real winner!
Believe me, if you find yourself a little short on time today and haven’t managed to conjure up any fabulous holiday treats, this might be the recipe for you. But let me tell you about these little devils. The bottom layer is a cookie dough crust. I used chocolate chips and those Halloween white chocolate Candy Corn M&M’s that can be found this time of year. I am so thankful that they are only found around this time of year, because those things are similar to the Cadbury Mini Eggs for me…pure crack! I could literally eat them until I popped….or more likely until the top button popped off my britches! So as happy as I am to see them arrive in stores, I am somewhat relieved when they disappear again. But back to the recipe, if you aren’t as fond as I am of the Candy Corn M&M’s (I can’t imagine!) you can throw in a cup of whatever candy you like and customize it to fit your taste. The original recipe I had for these uses Reese’s peanut butter cups, which I think would be delicious as well. I am a big fan of the Reese Cup, but I was really trying to Halloween things up around here so the candy corn colours of the M&M’s won out. On top of that great cookie base you will find a thin cream layer, similar to what you find sandwiched in the middle of a Oreo cookie. The top layer consists of gooey salted caramel coated popcorn, which has been drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. Good grief! They are amazing! I think I chose well.
Although there are several steps involved in making these bars, they are all pretty quick and easy. Make sure you allow for cooling time for the bottom cookie layer as well as at least 1 hour or so for the bars to set before cutting them. If you want to make them look even more “Halloween-y” you could sprinkle some candy corn over the caramel popcorn layer or even some Candy Corn M&M’s that you have left over from the cookie base. I’m sure you know by now that I did not have any “left over” M&M’s by the time I was adding the salted caramel popcorn layer. Nope I promptly inhaled the rest of the bag shortly after it was opened. I had to keep my strength up in the kitchen, I had no choice. But you might be able to exercise some self-control and set a few aside. Although I really wish the husband and I were getting all dressed up tonight and heading out to a fancy party to celebrate Halloween, I guess there is always next year. I definitely feel somewhat less deprived finding myself in possession of these sinfully delicious, salty sweet bars. Or maybe it is them who have possessed me……Mwa-hah-hah! Happy Halloween!
Cookies & Cream Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars
recipe slightly adapted from: Half Baked Harvest
yield: 18 -20 bars depending on how you slice them
For the Cookie Layer
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup Halloween Candy Corn M&M’s (or your favourite)
For the Cream Layer
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Salted Caramel Popcorn
- 1/2 cup brown sugar + 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup butter, cut into cubes
- 3/4 cup cream
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup butterscotch chips
- flaked sea salt
- 5 cups popped popcorn
- melted chocolate for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13″ baking tin or line in with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl until creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and the 2 teaspoons water. Fold in the chocolate chips and M&M’s (or candy of your choice.)
Spread the dough into the prepared pan. Bake 18 – 25 minutes, until just set in the center. Allow to cool completely before adding the cream layer. You can pop the pan into the freezer or fridge to accelerate the cooling process if you are pressed for time.
Once the cookie layer is cool, make the cream layer. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar slowly. I usually do 1 heaping Tablespoon at a time. It will be less gritty if you add the sugar slowly. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until smooth. Spread the cream over the cookie layer.
Now for the caramel popcorn. Combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once it begins to boil watch closely and whisk until the mixture starts to smell like caramel. This will take about 5-6 minutes. Add the butter cubes and slowly pour in the cream, whisking constantly. Continue to heat over medium-high until the mixture has thickened, about 5 -10 minutes more. rEmove from the heat and stir in the butterscotch chips, vanilla and a good pinch of salt. Stir until smooth. Place the popcorn in a large bowl and pour the caramel over it. Toss well and then spread the popcorn over the cream layer. Melt 1/4 cup chocolate chips and drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with a good amount of flaked sea salt. If you would like to add some additional candy decoration such as candy corn or the elusive “left-over” Candy Corn M&Ms, do so now. Let sit at least 1 hour before cutting. You can place them in the ridge to help them set faster. Cut into bars.