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Monday October 25, 2010

Halloween Spooktacular never as spooktastic as I want

I love love love the idea of a Halloween Party. Halloween has drama and excitement with no real obligations or weight. Appropriately, the candy of holidays: all fun, no nutritional value.

Every year, I desperately want to throw a Halloween party, but after a few disastrous ones from years past, I’ve abandoned all hope. I utterly fail in every regard as a hostess and throw the worst parties. From the outside looking in, one could easily imagine that a professional baker would make for a good party hostess.

But I don’t. My parties always end up like an awkward parade of bad timing, nervous chit chat, and excuse making. Hostess with the mostess? I don’t even have some, much lest most, of the requisite skills.

Mr. BraveTart and I gamely get dressed up in super involved or high concept costumes. Then our first two guests arrive in pretty nominal costumes, like a guy in a suit and a girl in a vaguely retro dress claiming to be Bernie Madoff and Betty Draper. Oh, c’mon, you wore that to work! It’s not a costume.

Uh, anyhow, so they feel awkward that we’re so over dressed, and we feel awkward that we’re so over dressed and no one eats any of the desserts, because no one wants to go first. So we all drink nervously and hope more people show up.

But before anyone else arrives, the first comers make an excuse to scram and depart, just missing the next wave of semi-costumed people. Repeat ad infinitum, so that no four guests ever inhabit our house at the same time, each escaping before the next batch arrives.

I still haven’t found the trick to combining desserts and cocktails in a way that doesn’t nauseate everyone. It seems like such a fun combo, but always ends up too much sugar and booze and just bad, bad, bad.

So, I’m just having a pretend Halloween blog party, which lets me enjoy all the fun (making on-theme desserts, styling the table) without the sick realization that no one came to my party, that hot buttered rum and pie aren’t such a good idea, and that I’m the only one wearing face paint.

spooky cupcake tree

Last week, I exercised (exorcised?) my yearning for playful, dye-free Halloween desserts for adults with Candy Corn Panna Cotta. This week, I decided to revisit the recipes I used in Matchy Matchy Matcha to harness the coloring powers of matcha in service of another Halloween dessert.

I cupcake-ified my Gluten Free Chocolate Cake and topped them with the spooky green glow of Matcha Swiss Buttercream.

chocolate cupcakes with green tea buttercream

While, undoubtedly, one can find many good sources of matcha here in the states, I’ve come to rely on Essencha, located just an hour from my house. (Saying “just” reflects that I live in Kentucky and must often drive pretty decent distances to get at what I want in the realm of specialty foods.)

Mr. BraveTart and I make the trek from Lexington to Cincinnati a few times a year for the sole purpose of visiting Essencha and drinking tea. Yeah, I know. Our dorkery knows no limits.

On our last visit, I got a refill on my matcha sawa, a ceremonial grade of green tea, unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere.

To illustrate: I worked for a Japanese bakery here in Lexington a few years ago and I noticed the matcha melonpan we made had a sort of lackluster quality. When I asked our chef why, he said it was because he couldn’t buy decent quality matcha in the US and hadn’t found a good deal on shipping from his Japanese source. He had purchased a bucket of super sketchy, semi-tan matcha off E-bay from some vendor in Duluth. Since he didn’t speak any English, their claims of “TOP QUALTY JAPENESE GREEN TEA- BEST FROM JAPAN!1!” didn’t set off any alarms to him.

I brought in my tin of Essencha’s matcha sawa the next day, to his astonishment. He made a batch of melonpan with it, and the customers were soon abuzz with the sudden improvement. The melonpan boasted a slightly floral, slightly herbal flavor along with a pleasantly bitter edge, and a 100% natural brilliant green color. He actually told me using it for baking was a waste, matcha of such quality deserved drinking. And I quote, “これ、材料として使うのがもったいないよ。飲んだ方がいいよね。”

Back to English and the here and now, I did my best to pipe the buttercream to look like matcha soft serve (ソフトクリーム, “soft cream” being my favorite word in all of the Japanese language).

Spooky green tea cupcake

So what is everyone else doing for Halloween? I would love to live vicariously by hearing about your party plans, your menus, your costume ideas.

Has anyone been to a good Halloween party? What made it good? Why are my parties so terrible? I would love to get some pointers regarding a) how to throw an all around excellent party but also b) how to ensure that people arrive at a similar time so that the awkward trickle of guests can be averted.

Come by the Facebook Page or shout out on twitter or just leave a comment if you have any Halloween ideas to share before the spooky day arrives.


Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
Matcha Swiss Buttercream.

posted byStellaand filed under:  Chocolate  Cupcakes  Gluten Free  Sideshow Photos

28 comments and counting

Oct 25, 2010 ·  5:13 PM


 · andrea · 

Oct 26, 2010 ·  7:54 AM

i love love love matcha things.. in any way, shape, or form. when i was living in the states, my mom and i wanted to do some baking with matcha and we also didnt find anything that was great quality.. so we asked my dad to send some from japan (weird, my mom’s japanese and my dad’s american. lol) and he sent us ceremonial grade stuff too.. in a huuuge can… so since we have so much, we feel no guilt in baking with it. i LOVE your cupcake stand, by the way.. and the cupcakes, of course.

 · Megumi ·

Oct 26, 2010 ·  1:11 PM

Oh my gosh, it’d be so much fun to have such giant can of matcha!! When I lived in Japan, I didn’t have a kitchen, so it was heartbreaking to have access to so many wonderful ingredients but no place to make them!


Oct 26, 2010 ·  7:54 PM

Love your clever cupcake presentation! They look delish! I find it hard to believe that you could throw an un-fun party…

But since you asked for help, here are my two non-negotiable party rules to live by:

1. Always have music playing when guests arrive…nothing worse than being the first ones there and having it be dead silent.

2. I am usually pushing cocktails before both feet are in the door…LOL. Helps people get comfortable if they don’t have to ask for a drink and it helps to have something to do with their hands. After that, be liberal with your refill policy so there’s never an empty glass…people are way less likely to leave if their glass is full.

Hope that helps!! Happy Halloween! xoxo Cindi

 · Brass Paperclip ·

Oct 26, 2010 · 10:00 PM

Greetings from Shizuoka, Japan!

Why do you worry about failed Halloween Parties.
These cakes are enough to make party goers happy!
Best regards,

 · Robert-Gilles (ロベル) ·

Oct 26, 2010 · 10:55 PM

@ Cindi, brilliant. The music, I’ve got!I just haven’t been breezing to the front door, cocktails in hand. The very idea of it makes me feel up for trying again. I have a well stocked bar, so I usually ask people what they want for fear of giving them something they won’t like. But I can see that perhaps the paradox of choice clams up the guests. “Oh, gee, what will she know how to make? What does she have…Uh…”

@ロベル, ボンジュール! Thanks for stopping by! I’m warmed by your confidence. Perhaps I’m just worrying too much and should just throw the darned party.


Oct 27, 2010 ·  3:41 AM

I am not sure what I will do on Halloween yet, since where I live it will be raining that day. But I am definitely going to dress up like a ninja…specifically the girl version of Kakashi (from Naruto).
Thank you for stopping by my site and commenting. I appreciate it a lot. Arigato gozaimasu!

 · Miki ·

Oct 27, 2010 · 11:30 PM

I think interesting Halloween parties are a myth. But the Day of the Dead celebrations I attended in the Philippines and the three that have been held right on Campsie and behind my house are some of the most memorable events ever. There’s food everywhere – but not spooky food. A whole different tone, more like wonder and delight and power all mixed up. Anyway, come round next Monday, 11/1, 5 PM, to the Living Arts and Science Center, or just come around twilight for the amazing candlelight procession and the candlelit Burying Ground. It may make you want to bake something really different next year – I don’t know!

 · Rona Roberts ·

Oct 27, 2010 · 11:46 PM

I say stay in and have a spooky party with Mr. BraveTart. But I am getting increasingly anti-social and grumpy in my old age!

 · SSW ·

Oct 28, 2010 · 10:16 AM

Sarah, I think that’s what we’ll end up doing this year. We’ve got a pumpkin. We’ve got some apple cider. We’ve got some butternut squash soup. No need to go anywhere, or let anyone in…

Rona, that sounds AMAZING! Wow! I’ll ask Rosco if he can make it (sounds photo worthy) but I will totally be there. Thanks for the scoop!


Nov 02, 2010 · 10:54 PM

I have photo envy at this very moment. I cannot get over the drama, the lighting, the rich colors. Who cares about the party…you had yummy, delicious cupcakes and fabulosa props! Can’t wait to see what you come up with for Turkey day!

 · the urban baker ·

Nov 03, 2010 ·  9:38 AM

Thanks so much!! Thank goodness for parents with a garage filled with all kinds of who knows what. Now the Thanksgiving pressure is on!


Nov 08, 2010 ·  2:23 AM

I definitely over-bake for all of my Halloween parties. This year I made candy apples, cookies and rice krispy treats, and barely anyone ate anything (mainly because there was pizza and chips at the party).. bah

 · Cathy ·

Nov 08, 2010 · 12:56 PM

Derailed by pizza and chips again! Bah humbug! I’m all about some candy apples!


Sep 08, 2011 ·  3:33 PM

I know this is a year late, but hey, maybe it’s enough time to have an amazing Halloween 2011 party. I’ve been to some great Halloween parties and some not-so-great ones. Here’s what I think makes one good:

1. Music – for sure!
2. Booze – same as @Brass Paperclip said. However, your reluctance at having too much liquor and too many sweets is well-founded. The fix? Beer. It cuts through the sweets beautifully. That way you, being a pastry chef, can showcase your lovely desserts rather than getting all bogged down with theme drinks, too.
3. Being really, really into it, and having friends who understand that you’re really, really into it. Even if your friends do the quasi-costume, if you’re master of your convictions, the enthusiasm will spread.
4. Low lights, because that, plus the booze helps people feel more comfortable.
5. Not too much seating. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but if people start sitting down, there’s the danger that the party will lose momentum. You want people walking around, clustering, grouping and re-grouping, not sinking into the couch and staying there all night. Also, people tend to congregate in the kitchen, so make it moody and party-ish, too.
6. In terms of timing, just try to get people there all at the same time. Tell those early guys to come later, for example. Maybe tell everyone that the party is starting earlier than it is, so that when they’re late, they’ll actually be on time.
7. Savory food as well as sweet. First of all, salty food makes people want to drink, and drinking makes them more social. Second, people tend to want to have dessert second, you know? Having dessert first somehow seems like a faux pas to some people. Get them started on crackers with a wonderful cheese, or brushetta (homemade, of course), and then they’ll get the hankering for something sweet.
8. Relax! If you and the Mister have fun, your guests will have fun.

 · Kat ·

Sep 08, 2011 ·  9:40 PM

@Kat, you’re just in time to give me a boost of confidence for my next crack at Halloween! Thanks for all the wonderful tips, I can certainly tell this ain’t your first rodeo.


Mar 18, 2013 ·  3:30 PM

I’m just getting into trying some gluten free baking which led me to this article…quite a bit more than a year later but I think I have a couple tips for you too. Every Halloween we have a pumpkin carving party instead of a traditional Halloween party. We do it the Saturday before Halloween and make it a kid friendly affair. We set up tables in the garage with all the tools, patterns and bowls to save seeds. Some years we’ll set up our portable fire pit in the driveway or backyard and people will gather ‘round the fire once their pumpkins are finished to continue visiting. Costumes are optional since some of our carvers really get into their work and don’t want to mess their outfits but most dress up. The party is centered around a project, so no one just stops by quick, the designs get more and more competitive and elaborate each year and guests usually work up an appetite. This year we had a huge crockpot of loaded potato chowder which we served in paper cups for convenience. We had a couple more savory things but kept it simple like chips and salsa and veggies and dip. For sweets we had pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting, chocolate cream pie with spiderweb-style chocolate piping, orange and black meringues and my personal favorite: red velvet cupcakes with little butcher knives sticking out of them! I agree with everyone else who mentioned music too, we usually have some Halloween mix playing. The combo of an activity, music, being able to bring kids as well as serving savories and sweets seems to be a hit and we get asked by more and more people each year if we’re planning to do it again. It’s definitely become a highlight of the year for us.

 · Jen · 

Mar 18, 2013 ·  8:17 PM

Hi Jen! Ahhh, that is such an excellent idea! I absolutely love carving pumpkins, but it never occurred to me to make it a part of the party; pure genius. Thanks so much for sharing.


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