That first breath of crisp, cool air brings back vivid memories of my autumn in Hyde Park, NY.
The energy at the Culinary Institute of America that fall electrified the campus. Summer's heat felt long gone and everyone it seemed wanted to try their hand in the pastry kitchens. No need for our chefs to announce the arrival of baking season -- hot ovens and fresh spices did that.
Our pastry project that fall required us to create a gingerbread house. Inspired by the gold and crimson trees lining the Hudson River and the pumpkins growing plump in the fields I chased away the sugar plum dancing in my head and started sketching plans for a haunted gingerbread house. Ideas flowed once I realized I didn't need to focus on constructing a flawless structure. Imperfections enhance the scary look of a decrepit gingerbread house and create an eerie ambience.
Great baking hinges on following food science almost to a fault, and while I honored the rules and reveled in successful results, focusing primarily on the architecture and decor felt indulgent at this culinary school.
Building a haunted gingerbread house unearthed Halloween memories from my younger years of trick-or-treating. At dusk, houses take on a darker hue and I melded this memory into baking the gingerbread. Dark brown sugar infused deeper color and extra spices added a speckled design in dough. Jagged slits baked into realistic wall cracks.
To keep the décor from evolving into a shiny and new exterior, I stirred flat black food color into royal icing creating a matted finish for the roof. Before the gingerbread cooled, I inserted broken pieces of melted and cooled Life Savers candies into crooked window panes. A slight hand with a fork created distressed siding.
Shutters hung precariously on the side, while the house entry gave visitors pause to enter. Broken gingerbread stairs and the front doors slightly open offered a glimpse of the current residents: spiders dangling from webs and peeking out from crevices. And then there were the residents of the yard -- the graveyard. For the freshly shoveled dirt I used Oreo cookies, finely ground by a food processor. Oval cookies easily subbed for tombstones and gummy worms slithered out of the edible soil. Dark chocolates and Halloween candies finish the haunting decor.
Creating a haunted gingerbread house is a fun way to spend an afternoon with the kids, but I know not everybody has that luxury. So for simplier, and no less tasty treat I offer Monster Bars. Rice Krispy Treats create a base for the bars. Stir in crushed Oreos and like black magic, a haunting dessert takes shape. Grab Halloween decorations and candies and trick them out. For my treat, I include a few creative suggestions to get you started.
• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Write her at email@example.com.