Halloween essentials: Spiced cider, popcorn balls and doughnuts

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For an adult drink, chill the spiced cider, add a shot of bourbon and a spring of fresh rosemary. Honey is used in the caramel sauce to add extra flavor to nutty popcorn balls. A little salt helps to balance the sweetness.
If you go to a farm to pick out pumpkins to carve for Halloween, you know that spiced apple cider is an essential part of the pumpkin-carving event. Other goodies to serve at a carving party, or at a full-on Halloween costume party, could be popcorn balls and apple cider doughnuts.

The spiced cider can be served hot or cold. If you want to serve it as a cold punch, heat the cider with the spices (you could do this days ahead), let it chill and mix it with ginger ale for some sparkle.

An adult version uses the chilled spiced cider with a shot of bourbon and a rosemary sprig.

Honey is used in the caramel sauce to add extra flavor to nutty popcorn balls. A little salt helps to balance the sweetness. Add nuts or not. Pecans are used here, but you can use any nut you like, including coarsely chopped mixed nuts or peanuts.

Press the caramel popcorn into balls or serve it as it is, in clusters. Package either in Halloween treat bags, labeling them with ingredients, your name and address for handing out to children and parents you know on Halloween.

Apple cider doughnuts require some planning because you need to reduce the cider and let it cool before making the dough. You might want to make extra reduced cider to use as syrup for pancakes or waffles. The donuts need 2 cups of cider reduced to 3/4 cup. Reduce 4 cups of cider to 1 1/2 cups or 6 cups of cider to 2 1/4 cups to use as syrup.

Use a wider pot for faster reducing. First pour 3/4 of a cup of the cider into the pan (or 1 1/2 cups or 2 1/4 cups, if starting with 4 or 6 cups of cider). Use a wood chop stick, a skewer or a wooden spoon handle to show that level of liquid. Mark that depth with a slight notch in the wood. This will let you know when the liquid has reduced to the right amount.

Pour the rest of the cider into the pot and heat on high until the cider boils and the liquid reduces to the marked level. You’ll have to move the pot off the heat from time to time to let the bubbles stop so you can check the amount of liquid remaining.

Frying isn’t something most people do every day. I prefer an electric skillet because you can set the temperature rather than trying to keep the temperature constant on a stove top. If you really don’t want to fry, the doughnuts can be baked instead, either as muffins or in a doughnut baking pan with ring depressions.

Apple cider doughnuts require some planning because you need to reduce apple cider and let it cool before making the dough.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (can substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 2/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened almost to melting
  • 2 cups apple cider reduced to 3/4 cup and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Turn the doughnuts over as they become golden and rise to the surface of the oil. Fry a minute or so on each side or until golden brown.

In deep fryer or an electric skillet, heat 3 to 4 inches vegetable oil to 350 degrees F.

In large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the butter, apple cider and the eggs. Beat with a spoon until almost smooth. Occasional bits of lumpiness are fine. It should be soft like muffin dough. If it seems dry, you could stir in a tablespoon or two of milk or not-reduced apple cider.

Plop the dough onto a generously floured surface. Generously dust the top of the dough with flour. Roll to a little less than 1/2 inch. Cut dough with floured doughnut cutter.

Using a wide flat turning spatula, gently ease two or three of the rings and their holes into the oil. Turn them over as they become golden and rise to the surface of the oil. Fry a minute or so on each side or until golden brown.

Use a slotted spoon to move doughnuts and holes from the oil to drain on a paper bag set in a baking sheet. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Roll warm doughnuts in cinnamon sugar. Makes about 2 dozen.

Variations: Spoon or scoop the dough into greased and floured mini muffin tins and bake at 375 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Brush with melted butter on all sides and roll in cinnamon sugar.

– Spoon the dough into a pastry bag or sealable plastic bag. Cut the corner of the plastic bag. Pipe the batter into the depressions in buttered doughnut ring baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Brush with butter and roll in cinnamon sugar.

Honey Caramel Popcorn Balls

  • 1/2 cup popcorn, popped
  • 1/2 cup honey, preferably local
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups broken pecan pieces or any other coarsely chopped nuts or whole peanuts

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Put the popped corn in a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, heat the honey and brown sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let bubble for 2 minutes. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Stir in the salt.

Pour the caramel over the popped corn. Add the nuts and mix until the popcorn is evenly coated. Turn onto the lined baking sheet and spread to an even layer.

Cook for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time. The popcorn should have some browned spots where the sauce has caramelized.

Put the caramel corn back into the large mixing bowl. Let it cool just enough so you can handle it. Press the mixture into balls.

Variation: Let the popcorn cool in the bowl, stirring occasionally as it cool. Break into pieces to serve.

Hot Spiced Apple Cider

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 half-inch coin of peeled ginger
  • 2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced, for garnish

Heat all of the ingredients until steaming. Ladle into small mugs and garnish with a thin slice of apple.

This also can be served cold after heating the cider to infuse it with the spices. Add 1 liter ginger ale for a sparkling punch.

Variation: For adults, pour 1 ounce bourbon into a glass half filled with ice. Top with chilled apple cider punch. Stir with a sprig of rosemary and leave it in the glass. Float a thin slice of apple on top.

Halloween essentials: Spiced cider, popcorn balls and doughnuts

For an adult drink, chill the spiced cider, add a shot of bourbon and a spring of fresh rosemary. Honey is used in the caramel sauce to add extra flavor to nutty popcorn balls. A little salt helps to balance the sweetness.
If you go to a farm to pick out pumpkins to carve for Halloween, you know that spiced apple cider is an essential part of the pumpkin-carving event. Other goodies to serve at a carving party, or at a full-on Halloween costume party, could be popcorn balls and apple cider doughnuts.

The spiced cider can be served hot or cold. If you want to serve it as a cold punch, heat the cider with the spices (you could do this days ahead), let it chill and mix it with ginger ale for some sparkle.

An adult version uses the chilled spiced cider with a shot of bourbon and a rosemary sprig.

Honey is used in the caramel sauce to add extra flavor to nutty popcorn balls. A little salt helps to balance the sweetness. Add nuts or not. Pecans are used here, but you can use any nut you like, including coarsely chopped mixed nuts or peanuts.

Press the caramel popcorn into balls or serve it as it is, in clusters. Package either in Halloween treat bags, labeling them with ingredients, your name and address for handing out to children and parents you know on Halloween.

Apple cider doughnuts require some planning because you need to reduce the cider and let it cool before making the dough. You might want to make extra reduced cider to use as syrup for pancakes or waffles. The donuts need 2 cups of cider reduced to 3/4 cup. Reduce 4 cups of cider to 1 1/2 cups or 6 cups of cider to 2 1/4 cups to use as syrup.

Use a wider pot for faster reducing. First pour 3/4 of a cup of the cider into the pan (or 1 1/2 cups or 2 1/4 cups, if starting with 4 or 6 cups of cider). Use a wood chop stick, a skewer or a wooden spoon handle to show that level of liquid. Mark that depth with a slight notch in the wood. This will let you know when the liquid has reduced to the right amount.

Pour the rest of the cider into the pot and heat on high until the cider boils and the liquid reduces to the marked level. You’ll have to move the pot off the heat from time to time to let the bubbles stop so you can check the amount of liquid remaining.

Frying isn’t something most people do every day. I prefer an electric skillet because you can set the temperature rather than trying to keep the temperature constant on a stove top. If you really don’t want to fry, the doughnuts can be baked instead, either as muffins or in a doughnut baking pan with ring depressions.

Apple cider doughnuts require some planning because you need to reduce apple cider and let it cool before making the dough.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (can substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 2/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened almost to melting
  • 2 cups apple cider reduced to 3/4 cup and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Turn the doughnuts over as they become golden and rise to the surface of the oil. Fry a minute or so on each side or until golden brown.

In deep fryer or an electric skillet, heat 3 to 4 inches vegetable oil to 350 degrees F.

In large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the butter, apple cider and the eggs. Beat with a spoon until almost smooth. Occasional bits of lumpiness are fine. It should be soft like muffin dough. If it seems dry, you could stir in a tablespoon or two of milk or not-reduced apple cider.

Plop the dough onto a generously floured surface. Generously dust the top of the dough with flour. Roll to a little less than 1/2 inch. Cut dough with floured doughnut cutter.

Using a wide flat turning spatula, gently ease two or three of the rings and their holes into the oil. Turn them over as they become golden and rise to the surface of the oil. Fry a minute or so on each side or until golden brown.

Use a slotted spoon to move doughnuts and holes from the oil to drain on a paper bag set in a baking sheet. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Roll warm doughnuts in cinnamon sugar. Makes about 2 dozen.

Variations: Spoon or scoop the dough into greased and floured mini muffin tins and bake at 375 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Brush with melted butter on all sides and roll in cinnamon sugar.

– Spoon the dough into a pastry bag or sealable plastic bag. Cut the corner of the plastic bag. Pipe the batter into the depressions in buttered doughnut ring baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Brush with butter and roll in cinnamon sugar.

Honey Caramel Popcorn Balls

  • 1/2 cup popcorn, popped
  • 1/2 cup honey, preferably local
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups broken pecan pieces or any other coarsely chopped nuts or whole peanuts

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Put the popped corn in a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, heat the honey and brown sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let bubble for 2 minutes. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Stir in the salt.

Pour the caramel over the popped corn. Add the nuts and mix until the popcorn is evenly coated. Turn onto the lined baking sheet and spread to an even layer.

Cook for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time. The popcorn should have some browned spots where the sauce has caramelized.

Put the caramel corn back into the large mixing bowl. Let it cool just enough so you can handle it. Press the mixture into balls.

Variation: Let the popcorn cool in the bowl, stirring occasionally as it cool. Break into pieces to serve.

Hot Spiced Apple Cider

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 half-inch coin of peeled ginger
  • 2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced, for garnish

Heat all of the ingredients until steaming. Ladle into small mugs and garnish with a thin slice of apple.

This also can be served cold after heating the cider to infuse it with the spices. Add 1 liter ginger ale for a sparkling punch.

Variation: For adults, pour 1 ounce bourbon into a glass half filled with ice. Top with chilled apple cider punch. Stir with a sprig of rosemary and leave it in the glass. Float a thin slice of apple on top.

By Kim Davaz

Kim Davaz always wants to know the story behind a recipe. She’s written about food for The Register-Guard since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @kimdavaz; contact her here.