Halloween is my favourite holiday. I'm sure we've discussed in years past that this is probably to do with the fact that my birthday follows Halloween by less than a week, but regardless of why, Halloween is my jam. This year we decided to host our first Scottish Halloween party, and it was great. After years of throwing Halloween parties in Atlanta (nearly 10 years straight by the time we moved to Scotland, starting long before I met Judson!), it was a sad shift to stop doing so when we moved here- but Halloween isn't a big deal in Scotland, and it took a couple of years to get a decent enough group of friends who we could convince to dress up.
Also there were a couple of years in there where we were traveling for my birthday on the 31st- once in Paris, where, together with friends, we sipped glowing shots spiked with dry ice and served to us by a bartender dressed as Frankenstein, and once in Portugal, where Judson and I sat alone together on the southwesternmost tip of Europe, watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean while sipping ice cold beer bought from an enterprising guy with a cooler.
Those Halloweens abroad were amazing, don't get me wrong, but there's something that I love about throwing a Halloween party at home. Transforming my house into a Candy Land wonderland or a World War II USO building or, this year, a Haunted House is so much fun, and having friends over to eat Jello shots and candy and dance in the living room while shedding bits of costume is just the best. So this year, to keep it lowkey for the Scots who weren't super into the idea of dressing up, we did 'traditional' Halloween costumes. I was a witch, Judson a vampire and Holtzmann, who took home the award for cutest costume, a bat. Judson handled décor, which centred around spiderwebs, spooky old portraits of strangers we picked up years ago in a thrift store and foraged sticks, dried leaves, dead flowers and gourds. I took on the food, going for 'things that are tasty but still look spooky,' so there was tomato jam, beetroot dip, balsamic-roasted grapes and all the sweet things you can imagine, including this cake, which contained over a kilo of chocolate, all in.
Unfortunately, I froze the cake to make it easier to frost, and then frosted it with ganache which was so heavy it compacted the cake into a quite dense crumb, but it still tasted delicious and I think it might take the prize as prettiest cake I've ever decorated. The only portion of the cake that comes from the recipe box is the chocolate leaves, but through trial and error I've learned that these are not as difficult as I assumed, so here are all my best tips for making them, all in one place.
5 spoons out of five. It's just chocolate, ladies- what did you expect?
One year ago: Crazy Crust Apple Pie
Two years ago: Taffy Apples & Popcorn Balls
Baking chocolate (dark, milk or white)
CLEAN ivy, laurel, mint or other leaves with a prominent vein pattern
Wash leaves carefully in hot water. Our ivy was a little suspect, so I used soap.
Line worktop in wax paper or parchment paper
Melt chocolate carefully over low heat in a double boiler or in 5-second bursts in the microwave.
Use a paintbrush or frosting knife to spread a very thick layer of chocolate over the veined side of the leaf (layer should be completely opaque, as uniform as possible, and should go all the way to the edges of the leaf).
Make sure your chocolate layer is VERY thick- mine was close to 1/4” in thickness. This will help when it's time to remove the leaf.
If you're using a sturdy leaf like ivy, you can lay them chocolate-side up on the paper to firm up or place in the fridge if you don't live in the frigid Scottish climate.
If your leaves are flimsier (mint, etc.), lay them over the handle of a wooden spoon to give them some shape and dimension when they are set.
Once all leaves are set, remove leaf by either tugging gently on stem to peel it away or using the point of a paring knife to get it started, then peeling gently away.
MAKE MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED because you'll definitely break one or two.