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The Feast: Scary Good, Wicked Easy Halloween Treats

Get the party started with three bewitching homemade candy recipes from Hedy Goldsmith, plus 15 recommended value wines
Photo by: Ben Fink / Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors
Treat yourself: Relive your childhood with adult versions of classics such as caramel popcorn and peanuts.

Hilary Sims
Posted: October 25, 2017

Cooking for a crowd? WineSpectator.com's newest online feature, "The Feast," turns to ace chefs—who better to advise on feeding the whole crew?—for recipes, prep advice and, of course, wine pairings. Plus, we'll give you 15 value wines recommended by our editors. Get ready: It's time to feast!

For many of us, the giant bags of candy that show up in stores before Halloween prompt a powerful psychic push and pull: Our inner schoolkid is ready to dive in headfirst, while our grown-up brain does a quick cost-benefit scan and pronounces the mass-market candy a too-cheap thrill. So what’s a responsible adult to do?

“The rule is that there are no rules,” pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith advises. “Why not throw a dessert party at Halloween?”

Known for her dramatically flavorful riffs on childhood favorites, the sweets wizard rose to prominence first at the Waldorf Astoria New York, then as executive pastry chef of Michael Schwartz’s Genuine Hospitality Group, including the flagship Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, in Miami. Many of Goldsmith’s playful sweets recipes can be found in her cookbook, Baking Out Loud (Clarkson Potter, 2012). Now based in Los Angeles, she runs an online dessert shop (www.sweethedy.com) and is planning a new retail-café venture focusing on edibles for cancer and AIDS patients.

Her Halloween candy picks reflect a longtime orientation toward combining sweet and savory flavors. “The desserts that really appeal to me are the ones that aren’t so cloyingly sweet, that have a little relief in the palate,” she explains. Her creations tend to be simple, with nothing extraneous to detract from the “flavor rush” hitting multiple areas of the palate. “It reminds me of drinking a great glass of wine,” she says. “I think that that’s the beauty of eating something so simple. It hits all the right areas.”

Growing up in Philadelphia, Goldsmith lived for Halloween every year, in large part because it meant all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups she could get her hands on. Her take on the classic, dubbed You’ve Got Chocolate in My Peanut Butter Bars, is a gush of creamy, roasty, salty-sweet peanut butter and rich, smooth dark chocolate.

If you don’t have the standard loaf pan called for in the recipe, something else on the smaller side will probably work fine—just keep in mind that the wider the pan, the thinner the bars. For bite-size delights, Goldsmith recommends using silicone ice cube trays, which have the added convenience of not requiring a liner: You can simply jimmy the treats out when you’re ready to serve. Muffin tins also make a great mold—but be sure to use cupcake liners for easy removal.

The bars also freeze beautifully. Goldsmith notes that high-sugar-content items like these don’t quite freeze solid, and they happen to taste great cold. You could freeze them for up to a month, then remove them an hour before serving.

She suggests pairing the bars with a tawny Port such as the Burmester 30 Year Old NV, whose concentrated vanilla and spiced nut notes play well with the peanut butter and chocolate. She also likes the bars with the Emilio Lustau Pedro Ximénez Jerez NV for a rich, figgy, well-spiced treat. “The weightiness of the beverage works amazingly well with the dense flavor and texture,” she says. (If you can't find those, Wine Spectator editors recommend more picks below for each recipe.)

Her Fruit Gelées are reminiscent of Gummi Bears, but are made with the pure fruit puree of your choice. “I love flavors that have a wallop,” she says. “It’s one little bite, and it’s just jam-packed with flavor.” She notes that a strawberry gelée will have that sense of just-picked freshness; peach versions evoke the bursting juiciness of the fruit in late summer. “It’s a fun way to freeze a moment in time,” she reflects.

Nailing the gelées is mostly a matter of staying organized. Make sure your cooling pan is lined and ready before you start cooking the fruit juice, as the mixture needs to be transferred quickly, before it starts to set.

Goldsmith also has a pro tip for creating neat squares: A hot, sharp blade begets a clean slice. Right before getting to work, run the blade of your knife under hot water, then dry it. Between slices, wipe it with a clean towel, rewetting with hot water as needed.

To complement the tart, sweet candy, Goldsmith goes dry and fruity on the pairing, with the Boundary Breaks Riesling Finger Lakes Dry No. 239 2016. “I chose it for the fruit-forwardness that balances the tart of the gelées,” she explains. (See five more Riesling options below.)

“Cracker Jack shaped my entire youth, from the moment I would pick out the box at the pharmacy to opening it and digging all the way down to the bottom to get the little prize,” Goldsmith says. Caramel Popcorn + Peanuts is her tribute to that simple time—though you’ll have to find your own trinket.

The prospect of making caramel at home can be intimidating. However, Goldsmith says, “It shouldn’t be scary if you’re doing it right.” Use a stainless-steel pan rather than a darker one—it makes it easier to see the color of the caramel, which is key in testing for doneness. If you only have a dark pan, she advises removing a bit of caramel every once in a while as it cooks, wiping it on a white plate to check the color.

Goldsmith does concede that “you have to respect the caramel” if you want to avoid burning it. “Make sure the baby isn’t crying, the phone isn’t ringing, you’re not running around doing other things,” and give that bubbling pot your undivided attention.

For this pairing, Goldsmith pulls another dry white—the San Simeon Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles Estate Reserve 2016, which creates textural and flavor contrast with the dish. “The bright acidity stands up very well to the sweetness of the caramel corn,” she says. (Find five more choices below.) Textbook California Sauvignon Blanc notes of lime, melon and papaya refresh the palate after a fistful of softly crispy popcorn enrobed in that peanut-studded Halloween caramel.

You could have your glass of whatever’s open with your perfectly nice bite-size Snickers, or you could go for a flavor rush. We think we’ll take the latter.

Ben Fink / Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors
A combination of savory and sweet, these chocolate–peanut butter bars make a great match for tawny Port.

You’ve Got Chocolate in My Peanut Butter Bars

Recipe reprinted from Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors by Hedy Goldsmith with Abigail Johnson Dodge. Copyright © 2012 by Hedy Goldsmith. Photographs copyright © 2012 by Ben Fink. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Chef's wine-pairing suggestion: Burmester Tawny Port 30 Year Old NV or Emilio Lustau Pedro Ximénez Jerez NV

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Caraïbe 66 percent)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter (preferably organic), at room temperature

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 1/2-inch × 4 1/2-inch loaf pan (or other pan of similar volume) with parchment paper or foil, and grease it lightly (preferably with Pam). Melt the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring until the chocolate is smooth, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

2. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar and salt on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until blended and smooth. Add the peanut butter and mix until just blended.

3. Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and, using an offset spatula, spread it evenly. Place plastic wrap directly onto the peanut butter mixture and press to smooth the top. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, until very cold, or freeze for 45 to 60 minutes.

4. Using the parchment paper or foil liner of the loaf pan, transfer the candy onto a work surface. Peel away the paper or foil and invert the rectangle onto a cutting board or plate. Using a large knife, trim off the edges to make an even-edged rectangle (nibble on them—so good). Pour the melted chocolate over the top and spread it evenly. Refrigerate for 2 hours, until very cold.

5. To serve, cut the candy lengthwise into two 1 1/2-inch-wide strips (if using an alternate pan, adjust as needed to halve the candy). Cut each strip into 10 pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Make sure to serve chilled. Makes 20 pieces.

Ben Fink / Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors
Evoking the appeal of Gummi Bears, these gelées pack a pure fruit wallop.

Fruit Gelées

Recipe reprinted from Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors by Hedy Goldsmith with Abigail Johnson Dodge. Copyright © 2012 by Hedy Goldsmith. Photographs copyright © 2012 by Ben Fink. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Chef's wine-pairing suggestion: Boundary Breaks Riesling Finger Lakes Dry No. 239 2016

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, plus more for dusting and serving
  • 1 cup unsweetened fruit puree
  • Two 3-ounce pouches liquid fruit pectin

1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper or plastic wrap.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and the fruit puree. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to high and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the pectin. Stir until well-blended and then pour into the prepared baking dish. Set aside at room temperature until completely cool and firm. This time will vary depending on the fruit used.

3. Run a small knife around the edge of the baking dish. Invert the gelée onto a work surface and peel off the parchment paper or plastic. Using a large knife, cut the gelée crosswise into eight 1-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip into 8 squares. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

4. Toss with extra sugar just before eating; otherwise leave the gelées alone until eating. The sugar melts if they are tossed too far ahead of time. Makes 64 gelées.

Ben Fink / Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors
No trinket needed: A Cracker Jack–inspired handful of popcorn and peanuts coated with homemade caramel is its own reward.

Caramel Popcorn + Peanuts

Recipe reprinted from Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors by Hedy Goldsmith with Abigail Johnson Dodge. Copyright © 2012 by Hedy Goldsmith. Photographs copyright © 2012 by Ben Fink. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Chef's wine-pairing suggestion: San Simeon Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles Estate Reserve 2016

For the Caramel Popcorn + Peanuts:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups salted peanuts (preferably Virginia)
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups freshly popped popcorn (recipe follows)

To make the Caramel Popcorn + Peanuts:

1. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick liner. (Parchment paper won’t work for this.) Grease the bottom of a metal spatula (preferably with Pam).

2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear.

3. Add the peanuts and salt, increase the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar begins to turn amber at the edges. The sugar will look granular but will melt into a caramel. Continue cooking and stirring (to even out the color) for another 4 to 6 minutes, until the caramel is liquid and a deep amber.

4. Slide the pan from the heat and add the butter and the popcorn. Stir until the butter is melted and the popcorn is evenly coated with the caramel. Carefully and quickly pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and, using the greased spatula, spread it into a thin layer. Reminder: This caramel stuff is freaking hot, so be careful!

5. Set the sheet aside at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the mixture is completely cool and hard.

6. Break the mixture into small clusters and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Makes 5 cups.

For the Popcorn:

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels (preferably organic)

To make the Popcorn:

1. In a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot, heat the oil and salt over medium-high heat. Add 1 or 2 kernels and cover the pot tightly. When these kernels pop, add the remaining kernels and cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar. Gently shake the pot, sliding it over the burner, until the popping slows to a few seconds between pops. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Remove the pot from the heat and dump the popcorn onto a large cookie sheet. Make sure to fish out any unpopped kernels, or you will have large dental bills from your friends. Makes about 5 cups.


15 Recommended Value Wines

Dessert Wines for You’ve Got Chocolate in My Peanut Butter Bars

BODEGAS YUSTE Oloroso Jerez Aurora NV Score: 90 | $18
Offers a relatively open-knit feel, with notes of singed orange peel, date and toasted sesame mixed together, backed by a dried-walnut thread on the finish. Drink now. 1,000 cases imported. From Spain.—James Molesworth

CROFT Tawny Port 10 Year Old NV Score: 90 | $29
A restrained style, with gently mulled cherry and blackberry fruit flavors that meld into cinnamon, black tea and anise notes. Offers a pretty, lingering wood spice accent. Drink now. 500 cases imported. From Portugal.—J.M.

POÇAS JUNIOR Tawny Port 10 Year Old NV Score: 90 | $28
Enticing, with an open feel that draws you into the core of rum raisin, mulled cinnamon and toffee notes. A streak of caramel lines the finish, but there's a singed almond note keeping this honest. Drink now. 750 cases imported. From Portugal.—J.M.

WARRE Tawny Port 10 Year Old Otima NV Score: 90 | $32
There's good intensity here, with a racy hazelnut edge alongside the core of singed walnut, sesame, toffee and cinnamon notes. Offers a focused, dry edge through the finish. Drink now. 13,400 cases imported. From Portugal.—J.M.

TAYLOR FLADGATE Tawny Port 10 Year Old NV Score: 89 | $32
A plump, open style, with tasty fruitcake, cinnamon, bergamot tea and singed orange peel notes. Offers a juicy, friendly finish. Drink now. 13,000 cases imported. From Portugal.—J.M.


Rieslings for Fruit Gelées

FORGE Riesling Finger Lakes Classique 2015 Score: 92 | $19
Weighty for a Riesling, with a rounded feel and layers of creamed yellow apple, white peach and persimmon flavors. Delivers energy and cut throughout, with lemon pith, citrus oil and chamomile accents filling in. Shows length and range through the finish. Drink now through 2021. 1,800 cases made. From New York.—J.M.

JIM BARRY Riesling Clare Valley The Lodge Hill Dry 2016 Score: 91 | $20
A taut and linear white, with a lip-smacking blend of peach, lime and green apple flavors, finishing on a refreshing note. Drink now. 3,000 cases imported. From Australia.—MaryAnn Worobiec

RAVINES Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2015 Score: 90 | $18
Still youthfully tight, this brims with tension as the long, minerally spine holds the core of yellow apple, star fruit and white peach flavors together. Shows serious cut and drive on the finish, with a mouthwatering echo of dried fennel seed. Best from 2018 through 2022. 5,125 cases made. From New York.—J.M.

DR. KONSTANTIN FRANK Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2015 Score: 88 | $16
A high-pitched style, with notes of pippin apple and Key lime zest rippling through, backed by crunchy acidity on the finish. Lean but invigorating. Drink now through 2018. 3,101 cases made. From New York.—J.M.

GRACE LANE Riesling Yakima Valley 2015 Score: 88 | $12
Supple and pretty, with notes of melon and grapefruit, accented by a hint of petrol. Drink now. 15,000 cases made. From Washington.—Tim Fish


Sauvignon Blancs for Caramel Popcorn + Peanuts

BUITENVERWACHTING Sauvignon Blanc Constantia Bayten 2016 Score: 92 | $15
This is refined, with a steely spine that lets gooseberry, verbena and white peach flavors streak through. A hint of shortbread adds range and mouthfeel along the edges. The long finish has lovely cut. Drink now through 2019. 5,000 cases imported. From South Africa.—J.M.

KUNDE ESTATE Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley Magnolia Lane 2015 Score: 91 | $17
Perfectly ripe peach, mango and melon flavors are intense and fleshy, with bright acidity and floral and honey details that linger. Drink now. 8,900 cases made. From California.—M.W.

SANTA BARBARA WINERY Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley 2015 Score: 90 | $16
This offers a succulent, refreshing mix of ripe Bartlett pear, melon and lime zest flavors, with lemon verbena and peppery white flower notes. Impressively focused and intense. Drink now. 3,385 cases made. From California.—M.W.

HONIG Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2016 Score: 89 | $18
Grapefruit, lime and lemon zest flavors are crisp and elegant, with a pretty note of chamomile on the finish. Drink now. 49,820 cases made. From California.—M.W.

CASAS DEL BOSQUE Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley Reserva 2016 Score: 88 | $13
A well-balanced white, with fresh, juicy green apple and ripe citrus flavors that are accented by dried savory herb and pepper notes, followed by a minerally finish. Drink now. 5,000 cases imported. From Chile.—Kim Marcus

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