NORWICH, Vermont -- Baking teacher Susan Reid thinks that Halloween witches and ghosts are delightfully scary -- and even better when they're edible. So she decided to turn chocolate cake layers into a witch's cauldron filled with bubbling brew, newt's eyes, a few long-legged spiders, and broomsticks.
At one end of King Arthur Flour's large kitchen here recently, Reid taught several children -- along with some mothers, a grandmother, and a Dad -- to "fluff, sprinkle, and sweep" flour into a measuring cup, break eggs, and the other particulars necessary to bake cakes and their scary accompaniments.
After she showed them how to do it, the pint-sized bakers went to work at their stations. The group of mostly five- to eight-year olds followed the lead of Ryan Martin, 5, from Barre, when he looked at the KitchenAid mixer and announced, "Let's turn it up!" Machines revved into high gear sending clouds of cocoa dust into the air. Their patient and smiling teacher happily acknowledged the fun. "Messy is OK," she said. "The food police aren't around."
Most of the participants, including 5 -year old Jesse Nicholson from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., were attending a baking class for the first time. Jesse's father, Jack Nicholson (no, not the actor), once attended the center's intensive four-day bread baking class.
After the cakes were safely in the oven, it was spider-making time. The children squeezed and molded modeling chocolate that had the texture of Tootsie Roll, to make spider bodies and thin strands for legs. For Harry Potter-inspired brooms, Reid tossed crispy chow mein noodles in a mixture of melted peanut butter and butterscotch chip to make the bristles, while the kids dipped pretzel rods in melted chocolate for the handles. The teacher, a trained chef, contributed the "no bake" chapter to the recently-published "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion."
"Parchment paper is your friend," Reid explained to the students as she demonstrated how strips of the paper tucked around a cake will catch icing drips and make clean-up a cinch.
The children scooped their chocolate mousse into small balls to form bubbles and placed them inside the cakes. For the finishing touch they sprinkled the mousse with mini marshmallows, chips, and a few long-legged spiders.
Jesse Nicholson, not satisfied with his Dixie-cup ration of marshmallows, added even more of them to the top and sides of his cauldron. "Less isn't more," said his father. "More is more."
Sticky cakes topped with spiders were placed carefully into cake boxes and carried home for that night's dessert.