A treat for Halloween | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A treat for Halloween

Cal Orey

It's Oct. 31 — the week of Halloween activities including decorating, carving pumpkins into Jack-o'-lanterns, apple bobbing, haunted houses, and watching horror movies. Trick-or-treating is also traditional celebration for kids on this special night, a time when little ones dress up in costume and trek through a neighborhood, house to house, asking for candy by asking, "Trick-or-treat?"

In my childhood this big day was a big deal. Throughout the years in the suburbs, I morphed into a cat, scarecrow, farm girl, and beatnik. My mom would purchase different types of candy, including mini chocolate bars and candy corn. And if the day fell on a weekend we were sure to get baked goodies, too — that included homemade gingerbread but we called it "gingerbread cake" and it was drizzled with warm lemon sauce.

Gingerbread is a semi-dense single-layer sweet cake that calls for syrupy molasses, brown sugar, and a myriad of spices. History tells us that it has a popular European history that goes back centuries. It made its way to America and is still a winner, especially during the holiday season. While it's often served for Christmas and New Year's Day for good luck, its dark color and sweet and savory flavor makes it an ideal goodie for autumn (with its brown and orange hues of falling leaves) and Halloween with black, orange and white as prominent colors, thanks to pumpkins, ghosts, witches, and black cats.

Last year on Halloween Eve, I was on deadline working on my olive oil health-cookbook. I baked gingerbread (but it was semi-homemade since I used a box mix and added my own ingredients). Instead of turning on the porch light, and dishing out candies to children, I played a trick. I turned off the lights and went to the cozy bedroom with my fur kids. Instead of having them bark at every knock on the door — it was calm. I watched sci-films, sipped hot herbal tea, and enjoyed a piece (okay two) of gingerbread cake sprinkled with powdered sugar. And this week it will be a sequel. But note, I made gingerbread cake from scratch. My mother would be proud.

Rustic Gingerbread Cake

• ¾ cup dark brown sugar

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• ¾ cup molasses

• ½ cup European-style butter (1 stick), melted (save a tablespoon for greasing baking dish)

• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

• 2 organic brown eggs

• 2 tablespoons European-style butter, melted

• 2 teaspoons baking soda

• 1 tablespoon ground ginger

• 1 teaspoon cinnamon

• ½ teaspoon allspice

• 1 cup hot water

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, molasses, butter, and eggs. Stir until smooth. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and spices. Combine dry and wet ingredients. Add water. Mix thoroughly. Using the unused butter, grease an 8" by 8" square baking dish. Pour batter into it and spread evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or till the top is firm. Cool. Makes approximately 12 servings. Garnish with a dollop of store bought whipped cream (or make your own by using heavy whipping cream and sugar and beat until creamy). Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.

Once I put the gingerbread cake into the oven and turned on the light I knew this recipe was easy as pie. It's quick to make. It's an easy recipe. It's a keeper. When it was done, I sliced a small square without cooling it and it came out perfectly. The thing about this cake is that it's versatile. It can be dressed up or down. Eating it plain, with whipped cream, or topped with fresh berries drizzled with honey is festive. Also, frosted with cream cheese frosting (mix two cups confectioners' sugar with 1 cup cream cheese, and a capful of pure vanilla extract) decorated with candy corn pumpkin candies, chopped walnuts, or crystalized ginger pieces can make it a sublime Halloween treat dressed right for kids and adults.

Motto: It's fun to bake classic desserts that can work as is or taste good dressed up for any occasion.

— Cal Orey, M.A. is an author. To learn more about her visit http://www.calorey.com.

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