Scaring Up Halloween Cookies

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Scaring Up Halloween Cookies

By Damon Lee Fowler

When Paula and I were children, there were a lot of Southerners who didn’t go in for all that much trick-or-treating. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to, but in rural farming communities where houses were half a mile or more apart, accomplishing door-to-door treat-trolling could be a bit of a challenge. Well do I remember the freedom after we moved in to town, where we were allowed to roam at will with our trick-or-treat bags.

That didn’t mean Halloween wasn’t a big deal out in the country. There was this big carnival at the school house, complete with orange and black crepe decorations, jack-o-lantern carving contests, and a spooky haunted house rigged up by imaginative parents and teenagers who did disgusting things with ketchup and peeled grapes.

When I was four, I was actually crowned King of that carnival. It has been downhill ever since. Anyway—we got to dress up in costumes and stuff ourselves with mostly homemade Halloween treats—chewy fudge, crisp popcorn balls, caramel coated apples, and, of course, ghoulishly decorated cookies cut into creepy shapes from bats and arch-backed cats to jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and broom-riding witches.

The tradition for Halloween-decorated cookies goes back a lot further than you might think—there are vintage Halloween-themed cutters dating from at least the early nineteen-hundreds. Now that there’s been a revival of neighborhood Halloween carnivals, grim-shaped cookies are easy themed treats for a crowd of ghouls, whether they are six or sixty.

Cheese Cats, Bats, and Jack-O’-Lanterns
Yields:  about 10 dozen depending on the size of your cookie cutters

Traditionally, cheese straws are extruded from a cookie press, but they’re really just a savory shortbread, and can be cut into shapes like any other cookie. These may seem like grown-up Halloween treats, but try to name a child who doesn’t love cheese.

¾ pound (12 ounces) well-aged, extra-sharp cheddar, grated
¼ pound (4 ounces) Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
¼ pound (½ cup or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 generous teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or more, to taste
½ teaspoon salt
10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with a stand mixer, cream both cheeses with the butter until fluffy and smooth.

Whisk together the cayenne, salt, and flour in a separate bowl. Add it all to the processor or in batches to the mixer and work into a smooth dough. Gather into a ball, wrap well in plastic wrap, and chill 30 minutes. Don’t let it chill hard. If you make it ahead, soften at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325° F. Roll out the dough on a lightly flour a work surface about 1/8-inch thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. If you don’t have a jack-o’-lantern cutter, use a pumpkin cutter and cut out a face with a sharp paring knife dipped in flour.

Bake 16 to 18 minutes, being careful not to let them brown. The bottoms should be golden but the tops and sides should not color. Cool on wire racks. Store in airtight tins.

Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary historian and author of six cookbooks, including Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, and The Savannah Cookbook. His work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Relish. Damon lives and eats in Savannah, Georgia.

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I don't do facebook or twitter but I want to tell you how much I admire you and love you. I love your recipes. I am a cancer survivor and had to retire early so I can't afford your magazines any more but I have lots of them and lots of your cookbooks. It is on my bucket list to get to meet you. I am so sorry for all you have went through lately but I only watch your son's show on Foodnet work now. They lost me and alot of viewers. You are an awsome person and I want you to know you have alot more people missing you than you could ever imagine. God Bless you and your family. My grandchildren got to eat at your restuarant and met your sons. I about cried. They told them how much their grandmother loves you. Please let me know if you get my e-mail. Your biggest fan. Pam

By Pam Fowler Barnette on October 20, 2013

What a nice change from all the ghoulish stuff. At our house, we do Happy Halloween….only. Nothing terrifying, nothing evil. With so many little grandkids, we keep it, “Happy”. These cookies can fill the bill.
Thanks, Paula, I’m a long time admirer.

Sharon Russell
Imperial, NE

By Sharon Russell on October 07, 2010

Well, what a really cute idea - I’ve made cheese straws forever, but never thought of cutting them into shapes!! 

Thanks for the neat idea

By Sherron Langley on October 05, 2010

I really like this recipe and the story.  I love reading and sometimes the recipes that I read are so interesting and I enjoy reading the books of recipes as much as eating the food.  Thanks for the stories!

By bamaldy on December 06, 2009

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