Going batty over Halloween

Halloween appetizer recipe

My assignment from the hostess:  Create a spooky appetizer for the neighborhood Halloween party.

It should have been easy.  But as much as I like the fantasy of the scary holiday, I still want my food to be real.  Yet wherever I looked for inspiration, all I found was processed food and outrageous colors.  The dishes were amusing  but I wouldn’t eat them.

What I needed was terrific food in Halloween disguise.   Enter homemade sesame seed crackers in bat shapes and zesty pimento cheese spread, which just happens to come in the perfect shade of orange.

Inspiration for the crackers came from a bat cookie cutter I picked up for less than a dollar last weekend.  The recipe is drawn from “D.I.Y. Delicious,” by Vanessa Barrington (Chronicle Books, 2010, $24.95), an inspiring new cookbook on making everything from jam to yogurt at home.

Pimento cheese is a family favorite that I remember my parents making in big batches when I was a child.  It’s a southern tradition and a staple at parties from Atlanta to Austin. Although my parents made a production of pimento cheese, employing a food grinder to grate huge blocks of sharp cheddar cheese, I make smaller quantities in a snap with a food processor.  I’ve also introduced a little cream cheese to make the mixture more spreadable.

Making the crackers is simpler than you might think, too, and they taste much better than the packaged variety.  The whole wheat and olive oil dough comes together quickly – again in a food processor–and rests for half an hour or so before you roll it out as thin as you can, sprinkling on sea salt and sesame seeds before the last couple passes of the rolling pin.

Creating the fancy shapes is a little more difficult since the dough stretches and resists cuts more than cookie dough.  I used a small sharp knife to trace the outline of the cutter before trying to transfer the bat shapes to the cookie sheet for baking.  One way to save time would be to cut about half of the dough into fancy shapes to decorate the serving platter and slice the rest into strips for dipping into the pimento cheese.

Getting enough sesame seeds to stick to the crackers also is a bit tricky. I brushed a little egg white wash over the crackers and sprinkled on more seeds just before baking.

The finished appetizer may not send the kids shrieking from the room in horror, but the adults are bound to be delighted.

Makes about 20 4½-inch shapes plus strips

2 cups whole wheat flour plus more for rolling
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
5-6 tablespoons black sesame seeds
Sea salt for sprinkling
1 egg white beaten  with 2 tablespoons water

In the work bowl of a food processor, whirl 2 cups flour, olive oil, water, kosher salt and baking powder together until the mixture forms a ball, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from processor and shape into smooth ball. Cover with a towel to keep it from drying out and let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to two hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch, flipping it over and adding more flour as necessary if the dough sticks.  Sprinkle the surface lightly with sea salt (or more kosher salt) and heavily with sesame seeds.  Continue rolling, pressing the salt and seeds into the surface, until the dough is very thin but still thick enough to handle.

Cut the dough into shapes with cutters or slice into strips about 2 inches wide.  Transfer shapes to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Prick each cracker several times with the tines of a fork, brush lightly with the beaten egg wash, and sprinkle with a heavy layer of sesame seeds.

Bake crackers until they begin to turn a light golden brown, 12-15 minutes.  They will continue to crisp up as they cool.  Break strips into irregular shards.

Store cooled crackers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Adapted from “D.I.Y. Delicious,” by Vanessa Barrington

Makes 2 cups

1/3 cup grated yellow onion, preferably sweet Vidalia or Maui
1/2 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup cream cheese (about 2 ounces)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2-ounce jar pimentos, drained, and coarsely chopped
Dash of hot sauce, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine onion, cheddar cheese, cream cheese and mayonnaise and whirl until well combined.  (I usually grate the onion and cheese in the processor, too.)  Add pimentos, hot sauce, salt and pepper and pulse just until the pimento is mixed throughout the spread.  Flecks of red should remain visible.

Transfer spread to a bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate until about an hour before serving.  Pimento cheese keeps in the refrigerator for about a week.

Aleta Watson