Part of the celebration of Hallowe’en is taking to the kitchen and baking. A black and orange chocolate biscuit cake is a suitably macabre offering.
Hallowe’en. The eve of all hallows – hallows meaning holy. Holy because on that night, after darkness falls, the dead return to visit the living. Oíche Shamhna, as it’s known in Ireland; the night when, in Irish mythology, a portal opens to allow the dead and the living to communicate. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in the Hispanic tradition too.
Those who say Hallowe’en has become too americanized are mistaken- we Irish invented it. It may have become too commercialized but you know what to do about that….just reclaim it!
My Mum, who grew up near Tarbert in North Kerry in the 1920’s gave a great account of Hallowe’en through the eyes of a child. Her Mum would bake up a storm for the Hallowe’en feast, and always cooked for the dead…” a pinch of cloves in one apple tart for your grandfather because he loved it that way, and another apple tart with no cloves for your grand-uncle Gerry” . When all the apple tarts, barm bracks, soda breads and scones were baked, the kitchen table was set for the children. They played games dipping in a basin for apples, swinging apples from the rafters, chasing each other in blind man’s buff. Families who could sing and make music went from door to door in disguise. You had to sing for your supper before you were given sweets or apples for Hallowe’en. Then the children sat to the table, ate their fill and before going off to bed (I’m quite sure the rosary would have been said too) they helped re-set the table for the dead. The fire was banked up, the table groaned with harvest baking, then my granny would throw open the windows so the departed souls of family and neighbours could come to supper, and know that they were welcome.
In the morning, to the children’s bewilderment, there was never a scrap of food left (your guess is as good as mine…). It being the 1st of November, All Saints’ Day, and a holy day of obligation, all went to mass to pray for the departed and to pray also for the strength to sustain them (anyone over the age of 7) through November, a month of fasting and abstinence.
Today, Hallowe’en is celebrated and enjoyed by all without serious regard to the afterlife. Children and adults of all ages dress up in spooky costumes. Bats, spiders, ghouls, headless persons stalk our neighbourhoods. In the city centre the tone is distinctly more edgy. One thing hasn’t changed- the sugar rush. Vast amounts of confectionery are consumed creating excitement and exuberance. Comfort eating on a grand scale- the use of the sugar rush to prop us up as we encounter reminders of our mortality. Here’s one to make at home- easy enough for children to do with little supervision.
Hallowe’en Chocolate Biscuit Cake
- 150g (5oz) good-quality plain chocolate, broken into squares
- 150g (5oz) butter
- 2 large tablespoons golden syrup
- 175g (6oz) Digestive biscuits, crushed (in a bowl with your hands or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin)
- 2 full sized Crunchies, chopped
- 10 Jaffa Cakes
- Orange M&M’s or Smarties ( open a few packets and remove the orange ones)
( I used Crunchies and orange M&M’s to create Hallowe’en colours, but you may replace them with Maltesers, marshmallows, nuts, candied cherries or whatever you like. Just be sure that there’s enough melted chocolate/butter mixture to enrobe all the chopped stuff.)
Line a square container 16cm x 16cm with two overlapping strips of greaseproof paper. these most overhang the rim of the container as you’ll use them to lift the cake out of it once set. This cake is not going in the oven so a Tupperware box will do, especially if you plan to transport it to a party.
- Chop everything.
- Crush Digestive Biscuits by putting them in a Ziploc bag, sealing it with most of the air removed, wrapping in a clean teatowel and bashing with a rolling pin.
- Cut the Crunchies into small pieces
- Quarter the Jaffa Cakes.
- Melt the chocolate with the butter and golden syrup in a large bowl sitting over a saucepan of simmering water on a low heat.
- When they are melted enough to blend together, add the crushed Digestive biscuits and mix well, using a large metal spoon.
- When the mixture has cooled slightly but is still workable, add the Crunchies, Jaffa cakes and M&M’s ( in the hope that the orange colour of the m&m shell won’t melt into the mixture. Mix well with a metal spoon and spoon into container.
- Try to even out the mixture so that there are no air-holes, and flatten it with the back of a metal spoon.
- Refrigerate for a couple of hours until well set, or pop into the freezer for 45 minutes.
Once the biscuit cake has set, turn out of its container onto a wooden chopping board.
Using a large bladed knife, cut into small fingers, keeping the shape of the original cake.
Cover with foil /clingfilm or greaseproof paper and return to plastic box.
This chocolate biscuit cake carries an almost lethal dose of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, saturated fat -just read the labels- but most people pay no attention to all that. (sugar, lactose, starch, glucose syrup,glucose-fructose syrup, dextrin, wheat flour, cocoa mass, dried whey, cocoa butter, milk fat, vegetable fat, animal fat are all identified on the labels of the confectionery I used)
You’ll be mobbed if you bring Chocolate Biscuit Cake to a party as it’s quite addictive. Were it not for the body’s sophisticated mechanisms for storing excess food as body fat, this stuff would be dangerous and would merit a government health warning.
Just because you make it at home, it’s no less harmful. Excess sugar in the blood interferes with insulin levels, rots tissues and sets up chronic inflammation in all systems. The trick is to eat a balanced meal first (protein, veggies, etc.) and to have a finger or two afterwards. If eaten on an empty stomach, chocolate biscuit cake will cause blood sugar to spike, then crash. Then, unless you’re very disciplined, a wild, uncontrollable craving sets in, the body wants more, and the vicious cycle continues. Every Hallowe’en we see some truly macabre behaviour out there. Much of it would be due to blood sugar imbalance.
On the other hand, those who exercise a lot can burn this stuff. Just watch the dancers at a wedding descend on the chocolate biscuit cake at midnight, then go back to the dance floor and keep on dancing- they’ve earned it!
When sugar first came to these shores in the sixteenth century, people thought it was a medicine. We know now that it’s not and in the meantime, it has become a widely available commodity. One way or another, we need to consume this stuff with great care and discernment. Californians are currently fighting for the right to have foodstuffs containing GMO labelled appropriately. Prop. 37 is being energetically resisted by big business. When it comes to the food we eat and feed to those we love, we all need ‘the wisdom to know the difference’. RTL- read the labels.
Now that you’ve been sufficiently scared, feel the fear and do it anyway! This cake is very easy, and very sweet. And even if you have a second slice, or a third, sure there’s the entire month of November to recover!