While Halloween has witnessed countless transformations in its celebrations, one constant remains: food. From the harvest feasts that marked the end of the farming season to the more modern customs of trick-or-treating and baked treats like Halloween cookies.
Halloween and autumn bakes
Amid the ghosts and ghouls, the real magic might just be in the baking. There’s a unique warmth that only autumn bakes can offer.
This season brings with it an abundance of hearty ingredients that when placed in the heart of the oven, begin to mellow, melt and meld together beautifully. Warm apple pies that bring to life the orchard’s bounty, with crisp crusts that cry for lashings of vanilla custard. Wobbly quiches with earthy mushrooms and caramelised onion, nestled in a buttery case. And nutty loaves, infused with spices, that evoke the rustle of dried leaves underfoot.
Caramel and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; these are the distinct notes that define autumn bakes. Bakes that carry with them the story of a harvest, a changing leaf or the comfort of a cosy evening spent beside a crackling fire. And central to these autumn bakes are Halloween cookies — both a treat and a testament to the rich history of the holiday.
The history of Halloween cookies
The art of cookie making and decorating can be traced back to mediaeval Europe. Cookies and biscuits were not just sweet treats; they were canvases for artistic expression, often reflecting the season or occasion. Mirrors of the moments they marked.
As centuries progressed and Halloween’s popularity grew, particularly in the United States, the tradition of baking cookies and other treats became intertwined with the celebration. And so, ‘Halloween cookies’ became synonymous with the season.
The gingerbread man, a staple cookie, can be traced back to Queen Elizabeth I, who would gift her esteemed guests with gingerbread effigies of themselves. Over the centuries, the gingerbread man has been adapted to fit various occasions, including Halloween. Ginger, with its fiery punch, seemed the perfect ingredient to contrast the autumnal chill, making gingerbread men a seasonal favourite for Halloween cookies.
GAIL’s Halloween cookies recipe
The complex, richly-spiced flavour profile of our Halloween cookies is a nod to those mediaeval bakers who, with limited resources, brought art to life in their cookies. The deep flavour of treacle combined with golden syrup and warming spices make these cookies both comforting and celebratory — everything one could want from their autumn bakes.
You’ll need to begin making these Halloween cookies a day before you want to bake them, in order to allow enough time for the flavours to properly develop and meld.
This recipe makes around 30 large gingerbread men (or other seasonal gingerbread shapes of your choosing).
- 75g butter, at room temperature
- 75g caster sugar
- 35g treacle
- 25g golden syrup
- 3 tbsp whole milk
- 1 egg yolk
- 225g plain flour
- 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- A pinch of ground white pepper
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar together thoroughly until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the treacle, the golden syrup, the milk and the egg yolk until completely combined.
- In a third bowl, sift together 200g of the flour, along with all the other dry ingredients. Set the remaining 25g flour aside in case you need it later.
- Add roughly a quarter of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar and mix in briefly, then add around a third of the milk mixture and stir gently. Repeat, alternating dry and wet ingredients and mixing only gently each time and finishing with the dry ingredients, until everything is combined and you have a slightly sticky dough. Avoid overworking the mixture. You can judge at this point whether you’ll need the reserved flour – the dough should be rather tacky, so try to add only as much flour as is necessary to make it relatively easy to handle. It will firm up once chilled.
- Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle, wrap well in cling film, and chill overnight (or for up to three days). Alternatively you can freeze the dough for up to two weeks and defrost it overnight in the fridge before using.
- When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 170C. Dust your work surface and a rolling pin very lightly with flour, and roll the chilled dough out to a thin sheet 3-5mm thick. Dip your chosen cutter lightly in flour and cut out as many shapes as possible, regrouping and re-using the dough as you go. Transfer the biscuits carefully to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 10-15 minutes — adjust the time depending on the size and shape of your biscuits, and how crisp you like your gingerbread.
Once baked, your Halloween cookies will keep well in an airtight container for up to a week.
For more spooky treats, pop into your local bakery — if you dare.