Classic Confections: Homemade Sweets for Halloween

This Halloween, ditch the overpackaged, too-well-preserved, artificially colored and flavored candies for classic sweets made from scratch using real ingredients like butter, sugar, cream, dried fruits, nuts and popcorn. These old-fashioned goodies are the treats ghosts and goblins did their tricks for in decades (and centuries) past; making them yourself will spare you the expense (both monetary and environmental) of shopping for manufactured candies, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon with the kids. In fact, candy-making is a perfect party activity if you’re planning Halloween festivities, particularly for ‘tweens who need more stimulation than younger children.

Of course you’ll need to package anything you make at home, but that’s part of the fun: small paper or plastic bags, mini Chinese take-out containers and even paper cones – the disposable drinking cups or those rolled out of a sheet of parchment – will suffice for individual servings. If you’re throwing a party, put out a bowl with a stack of multi-coloured paper muffin liners to serve large batches of pink popcorn or chunks of sponge toffee, and any of these could be wrapped in squares of waxed paper, parchment or cellophane.

(Note: If you plan to dole out handmade candies to trick or treaters, make sure their accompanying parents know where they came from.)

Sponge Toffee

Also known as cinder toffee, this is made with a molton sugar mixture to which baking soda is added, making it foam up like a science experiment before setting. For something similar to a Crunchie bar (but far better), dip cooled chunks into melted chocolate and set on waxed paper until set.

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 Tbsp. baking soda

Line a 9″x13″ pan with foil and spray it really well with nonstick spray.

Combine the sugar and syrup in a heavy medium saucepan set over medium-low heat. (Make sure there is lots of room in the pan for the mixture to foam up when you stir in the baking soda.) Stir until the sugar begins to melt. Continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until the mixture turns a deep caramel color. Watch it carefully sugar burns fast!

Remove from heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. It will foam up like a science experiment! Quickly pour it into the pan and set aside for a couple hours, or until set. Break into chunks to serve. Serves about 10.

Pink Popcorn

You can use any type of red Jell-O powder for this; I tried cherry and raspberry and liked the flavour of raspberry better, although the cherry was a paler pink.

4 L popped popcorn
2 cups sugar
1/2 small box red Jell-O gelatin powder
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Put the popped popcorn in a large bowl, carefully picking out any unpopped kernels. (I do this by popping into one bowl and shaking the bowl back and forth a bit, then lightly scooping out the popcorn with my hands into another, leaving the unpopped kernels in the bottom.) Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line one or two rimmed baking sheets with foil.

In a medium saucepan (with room for the mixture to at least double in size), bring the sugar, Jell-O, water and butter to a boil. Once fully boiling cook for 4 minutes without stirring, swirling the bowl occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and soda. Pour over the popcorn and toss with tongs to coat completely.

Spread out onto the baking sheets and bake, stirring once or twice, for an hour. Set aside to cool, then break into chunks. Makes about 16 cups.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Package this brittle in small cellophane bags to give away, or serve in bowls at your Halloween party.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup or honey
pinch salt
3/4 cup water
2 cups green pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved do not stir, but swirl the pan occasionally until the mixture reaches 325°F on a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat and stir in the pumpkin seeds, vanilla and baking soda the mixture will foam up in the pan. Immediately pour onto a rimmed baking sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick spray and spread out fairly thin with a spatula or the back of a spoon that has been sprayed as well.

Cool completely and break into chunks. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 10 servings.

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