Kelp here, back with another retro dessert- wait! It's not gelatin! IT'S NOT GELATIN...
Oh... you're still here. Well, if you were interested in spooky sponges, please check out my exhaustive (honestly I'm getting tired thinking about it...) list of gelatin-based seasonal desserts here. Recipes included range from a Pumpkin Chiffon Pie (uncooked egg whites! very scary!) to Shot-glass Sized Stuff You Can Put Booze In. (Or not. I don't imbibe, so I provided non-alcoholic versions of each recipe.)
Anyone scrolling thru that post will likely not be surprised that this year's Halloween dessert doesn't involve gelatin. It's not so much the volume of recipes I went through, however, but the fact that, in my humble opinion, it's really The Bloody Brain and everything else. It's a shame it requires a specific mold for the full effect, as the recipe itself is one of my favorite 'quick n easy' types - just add melted vanilla ice cream! - making it much more accessible than many of my other past experiments. But maybe you're looking to invest in a plastic brain mold? Remember - for best brain results, Strawberry flavor is the way to go.
Grandma Toulouse's Recipe
So what DID I make? While organizing some of my vintage cookbooks (a 70's era party planning tome from the Memphis Junior League, an undated spiral-bound collection of recipes from a Chinese Methodist Church, an omnibus of mid-century recipes printed on product packaging) I came across the relatively unassuming "[redacted] Heritage Cookbook", which was put out by a brand best known for chocolate chips. You know the one. Published in 1980, it's definitely Old, but we probably have the same thought. "How weird could it be?"
Not really weird. First off, while recipes necessarily have to involve chocolate and/or butterscotch morsels, it proclaims itself to be a dessert cookbook, so there's not much need for creativity. However, there are around one hundred and fifty (150) recipes in the dang thing, and they snuck in two savory recipes at the end (chili and chicken mole). Most of the more "hmm" recipes involve the use of butterscotch morsels (including the one I ended up making), but this was usually because my unfamiliarity with the ingredient made me unable to judge the flavor pairings. For example, the recipe directly opposite the titular Halloween Squares is "Butterscotch-Grapefruit Cupcakes", which additionally contain allspice, mace, and nutmeg.
That's a big question mark. But "Halloween Squares" is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Appearing in the "Cakes and Breads" section (which also includes cheesecakes...did someone win an argument with the editor...), the name alone gave me pause. Now, if I knew beforehand that the accompanying frosting made with butterscotch morsels is a nice, seasonally-appropriate light orange, I might not have experienced a sense of trepidation before scanning the ingredients.
But it would be to no avail. Under CAKE, along with flour, butter, eggs, and brown sugar, you'll also find the following:
mashed sweet potatoes
thawed frozen orange juice concentrate
But that's not all! The only spice listed is what I thought was a reasonable amount of cinnamon (more on that later), and you also add walnuts and raisins. Oh, and chocolate morsels are melted down and incorporated into the batter. And there's the aforementioned butterscotch morsel cream cheese frosting.
Kelp's Content Preferences
Now, as a side note, I don't like to make obviously terrible recipes. Recently, someone forwarded me a short video from the clock app made by someone who films himself making interesting vintage recipes. As is per usual for the genre, he very intensely scoffed at a "Chocolate Potato Cake", and then very intensely expressed his disbelief that it was actually quite delicious. I very intensely dislike this kind of content. The vast majority of old recipes (yes, even the gelatin-based ones!) are fine, if not maybe a little out of fashion. On top of that, to this day we are routinely exposed to bad recipes, not just taste-wise, but also from a technical standpoint (i.e., it won't turn out like the video, no matter what you do). When people assume that everyone was uncritically making the desperate dregs filling out the last few pages of an old official brand cookbook, this humanities and social science major heaves a sigh. (PS: there's no shortage of recipes online for said potato cake - here's a nice write-up from a museum archivist.)
But back to Halloween Squares. Poring over the ingredients, I realized I had no idea what it would taste like. Each ingredient by itself, with the exception of the new-to-me butterscotch morsels, was something I liked. (Well, not cinnamon. I'll get there.) The question was this: would it blend? The combination of my morbid curiosity and the opportunity for Bay Area Kei Blog Content sealed my decision to make the dessert...eventually.
Don't Try This at Home
Right off the bat I can't recommend anyone make this. It's not just the sheer number of ingredients, but also the ridiculous amount of steps involved for what is approximately a frosted vegetable bread (one taster took one bite and said "...carrot cake"). Please know I say this as someone who has, on multiple occasions, whipped heavy cream by hand AND made a meringue for one recipe, without complaint...no I prolly did complain a little. But this was worse.
How does it taste? The best I can come up with is "a lot". The cinnamon is really the only recognizable note, and I don't think that's to its benefit. I guess it's also finally time to explain the cinnamon thing - it's likely I am allergic to cinnamon flavoring. Not actual cinnamon. There's a very long and boring story I'm sparing you, but the relevant part here is that basically it's a flavor profile I typically avoid.
The orange juice I think is adding some acidity, but right away the fact I didn't use the word "brightness" here tells you all you need to know. The texture is more or less okay (as long as you don't mind nuts and raisins, and I don't), although much softer and moist than I was anticipating. But every once in a while you get a little cornmeal grit, and it's difficult to say what else the cornmeal is even contributing. Ultimately, it reminded me of the couple of prune-based desserts I tried making last year, in that it didn't taste bad, but it didn't taste good either. Even now I'm remembering that there was also chocolate in this! Somewhere! I guess the flavors did blend?? Oh, and the butterscotch cream cheese frosting was perfectly normal by itself, but added Even More to something that was already Too Much.
The recipe is provided here only so you can see what I suffered through - you'll notice the lack of Kelp tips as there's no salvaging this (don't worry, I halved it, so I'm not stuck with a big ol' pan of Squares). I'd be interested to know if this resembles anything that tastes good that people have made.
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1⅔ cups unsifted flour
3 tbsp cornmeal
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 17-oz can sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
¼ cup honey
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
1 cup butterscotch morsels
2 tbsp water
1 8-oz package of cream cheese
¼ tsp salt
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
CAKE: Preheat oven to 350F. Melt chocolate morsels and set aside. In a small bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs one at time, thoroughly blending after each. Blend in mashed sweet potatoes, orange juice, and honey. Gradually incorporate flour mixture. Finally, incorporate melted chocolate, walnuts, and raisins. Pour into a greased 13"x9" pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Once cool, frost and cut into squares.
FROSTING: Melt butterscotch morsels and water, mix until smooth. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and salt until creamy, then blend in butterscotch. Gradually incorporate powdered sugar until desired consistency is met.