Halloween is so not a thing in this Great Southern Land. I remember, when I was younger, my friends and I putting on some kind of animal ears and maybe a tail and trying our luck on the streets. (And I say younger, but if I am being completely honest... I was fourteen). We ended up with an apple and a lot of confused looks. I remember, a few years later, going to Halloween parties where people ever so half-heartedly "dressed up" and it was really just a excuse for everyone to drink vodka cruisers whilst adorned in novelty head bands. And then a few years after that, I went to Canada. I arrived in the middle of November, just two weeks after Halloween. And I remember my excitement on my first walk around the suburban neighbourhood I was staying in, when I spotted the classic, bright orange carved pumpkins still dotted about on porches and driveways. And then getting home to the family who were generously hosting me and seeing the remainders of the stash of candy the kids had bagged two weeks before (the Australian lollies I had brought them seemed a little superfluous...) So it was a real thing after all! People did get into it, kids did get bags of treats, people did carve pumpkins!
And I am sad that we don't. I don't think that us adopting an enthusiastic attitude to the spookiest holiday of them all is an indication that we are becoming too "Americanised". (Not least because Halloween is not even originally an American thing). I think it would be more of an indication that we have finally accepted that kids love dressing up, they also love treats, adults also love both of those things and would be very happy to have an opportunity to indulge that love... Or is that just me?
If it is just me.... well, I don't really care. I like it. It's fun. If I ever have children and it turns out that the general population has for some incredibly odd reason ignored my compelling arguments to embrace Halloween, I will take said children to the Great Northern Land to celebrate it there.
But for now, I don't have children and I don't have money. So it's Halloween in Australia again. A good excuse to make sugary treats? Of course! I quite enjoy making 'candy', because a lot of the time it is a far more immediate- and therefore satisfying- result than baked goods. Some sugary treats take mere minutes, and that really appeals to the insanely impatient side of me.
Because most confections are quite quick to make, there is usually a few minutes in between the stirring and the setting that are pretty high pressure. Keep calm, DON'T touch the hot-hot-burny sugar, and get yourself a sugar thermometre. Also have everything ready before you start heating sugar... that really really helps.
Go forth and make Halloween treats! (The children still may prefer the chocolates wrapped in pretty colours, but any grown ups with a sweet tooth will appreciate these goodies.)
The recipe for halvah I got from here and the only thing I would change about it is to add a little more lemon zest, but that is because I am a lemon lover from way back. If you have never eaten halvah but you like things that are sweet and you like sesame seeds, then you should make some halvah. It's good, my friends, real good.
ALMOND TOFFEE (WITH CHILLI)
The almond toffee is your standard sugar-butter-water-bicarb-toasted almond mix, which you simply spread on baking paper and top with chopped chocolate while it is still hot. I also added some chilli flakes with the chocolate, because then it is a trick and a treat (in the best possible way).
The caramel apples though. They are the real revelation here. For me, anyway. Maybe everyone already knows about the magic that happens when you coat slightly tart apples in a shiny layer of firm BUT NOT CRUNCHY caramel? If, like me, you have horrible memories of eating toffee apples when you were younger and getting sticky sugar everywhere and bits of solid toffee stuck in your teeth and just having pointy, sharp toffee shards all over the place, then these are the sugar coated apples for you. (Or maybe you aren't such a toffee apple wuss... I understand. You should still make these though.)The flavours match like wine and cheese, they are simple to eat and any uneaten apples can be sliced, quickly sauteed and spooned over ice-cream, french toast, pancakes... I've convinced you, yes?
CARAMEL APPLES (Halloween inspired twigs optional). Thanks to the clever bakers at Tartine bakery for this recipe, and the book they published it in.
Line a tray with baking paper, poke the sticks into the centre of the apples (be careful not to pierce the bottoms of the apples because the juice will sneak through and melt the caramel) and set aside.
Put the remaining ingredients into a deep, heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat. Gently stir the mix with a wooden spoon occasionally, to prevent sugar from sticking and burning on the base of the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches 113 celsius.
Remove from the heat and carefully dip the apples into the caramel. If the caramel doesn't stick to the first apple, wait a moment and try again- it may be a wee bit hot.
Cool completely and enjoy! (If you can't bring yourself to consume this much sugar coated apple in one sitting- umm, weirdo- then they'll keep uncovered in the fridge for 3 days.
I also feel like these would be good sprinkled with a little flaky sea salt straight after being dipped- alas I was not organised enough and the caramel had set before I had time to do this.
10-12 tart apples
150ml thick cream
85g glucose syrup
50ml (2 tbsp) maple syrup
15 ml (1 tbsp) dark treacle
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of good salt
10-12 twigs, popsticks, lollipop sticks etc