8 Recipes for Halloween Treats That Taste Better Than Packaged Candy

We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to loving the Halloween-themed, fun-size candy bars that pop up each October. They’re also a necessity if you plan on handing out sweets to kids as they march from door to door in their finest costumes. Still, we can’t help but feel those staying in deserve something better. We’re talking homemade candies, cookies, and more. Whether you’re hosting a spooky bash or just want to enjoy a scary flick or two, these Halloween treats are exactly what you need.

1. Apple Cider Caramels

caramel toffee caramels on wooden table

Homemade caramels | iStock.com/Ulyashka

Most recipes for homemade caramel are little more than butter and sugar. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, but Halloween calls for something a little more special. We like this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which adds some cider and cinnamon to the classic candy. We promise, even traditionalists will love these sweet treats.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups apple cider
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, or a smaller amount of a finer type of salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup cream
  • Vegetable or canola oil

Directions: Boil cider in a deep saucepan until it’s reduced to between ⅓ cup and ½ cup, stirring occasionally, about 35 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, line bottom and sides of an 8-by-8 baking dish with 2 long sheets of parchment paper, creating a cross to cover all surfaces. Combine salt and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Remove cider from heat and add butter, sugars, and cream. Return pot to stove and set over medium-high heat. Attach a candy thermometer and cook until mixture registers 252 degrees Fahrenheit, about 5 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat, then add cinnamon mixture. Stir quickly, then pour into prepared pan. Let sit until cool, about 2 hours.

Use parchment paper to lift caramel from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Grease a sharp knife with oil and cut into small squares, oiling knife after each cut. Wrap each caramel in a small square of waxed paper, twisting to close ends. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

2. Pumpkin Cookie Pops

Halloween gingerbread cookie

Pumpkin cookies for Halloween | iStock.com/haveseen

Most store-bought Halloween cookies are just frosted sugar cookies, so you’re going to have to do some baking if you truly want a taste of the season. Try these cookie pops from Taste of Home. The recipe is super simple and it has plenty of fall flavor thanks to canned pumpkin and cinnamon. This is also a great recipe for kids to get in on the jack-o’-lantern action since they can decorate the cookies with spooky faces.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 30 popsicle sticks
  • ⅓ cup green gumdrops, quartered lengthwise

Icing

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • Orange, black, purple, green, and red food coloring

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla, then add pumpkin and beat once more. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon to combine. Add to pumpkin mixture and mix just to combine.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Insert a popsicle stick into each and insert a gumdrup quarter at the top to form the stem. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine confectioners’ sugar and water in a bowl and stir until smooth. Reserve ½ cup glaze. Add orange food coloring to remaining glaze and mix to combine. Spread over each cookie, then let sit for 30 minutes to set.

Dye remaining icing with your choice of colors and use to create jack-o’-lantern faces. Serve.

3. Meringue Ghost Tartlets

Naked Carrot Cake with cream cheese

Tart with meringue ghosts | iStock.com/KokiDoo

If your Halloween gatherings cater more to the adult crowds, these adorable tartlets from Country Living are the perfect dessert to serve. With meringue, chocolate filling, and a graham cracker crust, they pretty much taste like s’mores. They’re almost as easy to make, too. If individual tartlets sound too fussy, you can also make a larger tart with multiple meringue ghosts on top.

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 8 whole graham crackers
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter

Ganache

  • ½ cup cream
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Meringue

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Add graham crackers to food processor along with sugar and process until ground into fine crumbs. Add butter until combined. Transfer to each of 8 (2½-inch) mini tart pans.

Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until edges of tartlets have browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

Heat cream in a small saucepan until just simmering. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour into crusts, dividing evenly.

Heat about 3 inches of water in a saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, then set a heatproof bowl over top. Add egg whites and sugar and whisk constnatly until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot.

Remove bowl from heat and beat with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a plastic zip-top bag and snip end off to create a 1½-inch opening. Pipe ghost shapes on top of each meringue. Using a small brush dipped in the cocoa, create eyes and a mouth on each ghost. Serve.

4. Halloween Spider Cupcakes

Halloween cupcakes

Spider cupcakes | iStock.com/Elena Schweitzer

No holiday would be complete without some cute cupcakes, so opt for these spider ones from Damn Delicious, adapted from a recipe on Skinnytaste. They’re perfect for the occasion and surprisingly simple to decorate. The sprinkles cover up any imperfections and making legs is as easy as snipping some licorice string. Even if you can’t find candy eyeballs, any small, round candy will work.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup milk

Glaze

  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon milk

For decorations

  • ½ cup chocolate sprinkles
  • 24 candy eyeballs
  • Black licorice strings, cut into 2-inch pieces

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Adding one at a time, beat in eggs. Add vanilla and beat to combine. Turn mixer to low and alternately add dry ingredients in three parts and milk in two parts. Mix just until combined.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Combine confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, and milk in a bowl and whisk until smooth, adding more milk if needed. Frost each cupcake, then turn upside-down to dip in sprinkles. Add two candy eyeballs to each. Using a small skewer, poke four holes on one side of the cupcake, then repeat on the opposite side. Insert licorice string into holes to create spider legs.

5. Peanut Butter Cups

Peanut butter cups

Peanut butter cups | iStock.com

Though one recent survey reported candy corn is the most popular Halloween treat, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are pretty high on the list as well. As great as the packaged ones are, peanut butter cups are even more delicious when you make them at home, so try your hand at this easy recipe from Every Day with Rachael Ray. The other benefit of making the candies yourself is you can play around with things a bit. Try dark chocolate instead of milk or use crunchy peanut butter instead of creamy.

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup honey

Directions: Set 12 (2½-inch) paper liners on a baking sheet. Meanwhile melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water. Reserve water in case you need to melt chocolate again.

Spoon about 2 teaspoons of chocolate into the bottom of each cup and swirl to coat halfway up the side of each cup. Refrigerate until set.

Beat butter until fluffy using an electric mixer, then add peanut butter and honey. Beat to combine then transfer to a plastic zip-top bag and snip off one corner. Pipe peanut butter filling into each cup, filling about three-quarters of the way. Smooth surface, then chill for 15 minutes.

Re-melt chocolate if needed, then top each cup with remaining chocolate. Smooth surface, then chill until hardened. Serve.

6. Giant Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars

homemade chocolate and caramel millionaire's shortbread

Homemade Twix cookie bars | iStock.com/xrrr

Calling all Twix lovers: You can recreate the candy bar in your kitchen with this recipe from Epicurious. This dessert does take quite a bit of time to make, but the individual steps are very easy. As long as you plan in advance, this dessert is totally doable this Halloween.

Ingredients:

Cookie

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Caramel

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1¾ cups sugar

Chocolate coating

  • 1 pound milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coconut oil or another neutral oil

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter and line with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until fluffy. Beat in ½ teaspoon salt and the vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour just until it starts to come together.

Using your fingers, press dough into prepared pan. Poke all over using the tines of a fork. Bake until golden and firm, about 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely.

Heat cream, 4 tablespoons butter, and remaining salt in a heatproof measuring cup in the microwave until butter is melted, about 45 seconds.

In a large saucepan, combine remaining sugar with ⅓ cup water. Cook over medium heat, occasionally brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush to dissolve any crystals and gently swirling, until deep amber, about 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately remove from heat, add cream, and stir until mixture is smooth.

Attach a candy thermometer and cook over medium heat, without stirring, until temperature reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately pour over cookie crust, tilting pan to allow caramel to spread evenly. Let sit for at least 1 hour.

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in oil. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until slightly firm, about 10 minutes.

Set a piece of parchment paper over cooled cookie and caramel, then set a large cutting board on top. Flip to invert, then lift off pan, using parchment paper to help. Remove parchment, but pour one-third of chocolate over cookie. Spread with an offset spatula to fully coat. Chill for 15 minutes.

Using an oiled knife, cut cookie directly in half lengthwise. Carefully flip bars over so caramel is facing up. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet that’s been lined with waxed paper.

Pour remaining chocolate over bars. Spread with an offset spatula to cover completely. Chill until firm, about 45 minutes.

Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, then slice each cookie bar crosswise into 10 to 12 pieces. Serve.

7. Salted Bourbon Caramel Apples

fresh candy apples

Caramel apples | iStock.com/sharpshutter

How do you improve upon classic caramel apples? Add bourbon and a sprinkle of salt, of course. This recipe from Michael Symon of ABC’s The Chew shows you how. Though the recipe is simple, you have to be really diligent about cleaning the apples by dunking them in boiling water, then scrubbing the exterior really well. If there’s even a bit of residue left on the skin, the caramel won’t stick.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • ⅔ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 10 Granny Smith apples

Directions: Combine brown sugar, butter, condensed milk, honey, syrup, and vanilla in a heavy, 4-quart saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved, occasionally brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush.

Attach a candy thermometer and increase heat to medium high. Cook until temperature reaches 236 degrees Fahrenheit, then remove from heat, and stir in bourbon. Let cool for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and briefly dunk each apple into it. Remove promptly, then rub thoroughly with a clean towel to remove any wax.

Remove apple stems, then insert a skewer into each. Line 2 large baking sheets with greased parchment paper.

Working one at a time, dip apples into caramel, submerging almost to the top. Lift out, allowing excess to drip back into pack. Twist apple in the air for a few seconds to help set. Sprinkle with salt, then transfer to prepared baking sheets. Repeat with all remaining ingredients, allowing plenty of space between each apple.

8. Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream with Cinnamon

Pumpkin ice cream | iStock.com/bhofack2

Any true ice cream lover will tell you the frozen treat is seasonless, and it must be true with so many fall-themed recipes floating around. One of our favorites is this pumpkin version from Ice Cream, featured on Williams-Sonoma. It has all the flavors you’d expect in a pumpkin pie, but it’s so much easier to make. All you have to do is cook a simple custard, let it chill, then put your ice cream machine to work. For a truly special dessert, top a scoop with some caramel sauce, crumbled shortbread cookies, and whipped cream.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup canned or fresh pumpkin purée
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cream, divided
  • ¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar, divided
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon

Directions: Whisk pumpkin and vanilla to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Add 1½ cups cream and ½ cup brown sugar to a 2-quart saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook until beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, remaining cream, and remaining brown sugar in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.

Remove simmering cream from heat, then slowly whisk about ½ cup of it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour tempered egg mixture into the pan and return to the stove. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 4 to 6 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.

Set bowl into a larger bowl filled partially with ice water. Chill, stirring occasionally, until cooled, then whisk in pumpkin. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly against the surface and chill until cold, at least 3 hours.

Transfer custard to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Add bourbon during the last minute, then transfer to a container, cover, and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.

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