Alex Guarnaschelli: 4 Fall Sweet Treats for Halloween & Beyond

10/21/2014 at 01:18 PM ET

Candy Apples Alex Guarnaschelli
Courtesy of Alex Guarnaschelli; Inset: Larry Busac

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

I am always searching for something new to do for Halloween. I’m taking a break from the usual pumpkin-related suspects and immersing myself in all the beautiful apple varieties this year. I also love a good candy bar now and then, and sometimes, when I’m feeling inspired, I give a homemade Halloween treat a try.

Don’t give yourself a hard time about things like this. Personally, I only do projects like this when I have extra time, or when I’m in the mood. The Halloween candy police are not going to arrest you for whatever you decide to do. Halloween happens to be tied for my favorite day of the year with Thanksgiving. My mom used to eat a lot of my Halloween candy so maybe that’s where I first got the idea to make homemade treats to supplement. (Sorry mom, but the truth has to come out!)

Here are some of my favorite recipes:

The Beverage: Warm Apple Cider

1 quart apple cider (The fewer ingredients, the better the cider!)
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
4 cinnamon sticks
The juice from 1 lemon (and a little bit of the zest as well)
The juice from 1/2 orange (and a little bit of the zest as well)
2 Rome, Gala or Braeburn apples, cut into small pieces

1. Bring the apple cider to a boil in a medium pot and skim the surface with a ladle.
2. Reduce the heat until the cider simmers lightly. Reduce the cider for about 10 minutes. This will intensify the flavor.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and add all of the other ingredients. Allow them to “steep” for about 15 minutes before serving. Strain out cinnamon sticks, if desired.

The Snack: Baked Apple Bars

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into thin slices
2 tbsp. honey
The juice from 1 lemon
The juice from 1 orange
2 cups butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups almonds, finely chopped
1 tsp. dry ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a small pot, combine the apple slices, honey and lemon and orange juices and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir to blend and cook, simmering gently, until the apple becomes soft. Continue simmering the mixture until the apples meld together, 10–12 minutes. Note: If liquid is needed while cooking the apples, feel free to add some water to the pot.
3. In a large bowl, knead the butter and sugar together until the mixture is smooth. Add the salt, flour, almonds and ginger and mix to blend. Set aside about
13 of the dough.
4. Press 23 of the dough into the bottom of a greased baking sheet so it forms a flat layer. Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and top with the apple puree and crumble the reserved dough over the top like a crumb topping. Place the tray in the oven and bake for an additional 30–35 minutes. The top should be light brown.
6. Put the cinnamon in a strainer and sprinkle it over the top while it’s still hot. Allow it to cool before cutting into wedges.

Candy Apples

This is a great time of year for apples. Lady apples, or any smaller variety, are great for caramel apples. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Just make sure the apples you use are firm.

1–2 cups sugar
Any small variety of apple

1. In a dry, medium-sized sauté pan, evenly spread ½ to ¾ of an inch of granulated sugar. Melt the sugar over a low heat until it becomes golden brown and the sugar looks completely dissolved. Turn off the heat.
2. Meanwhile, wash and thoroughly dry each apple. Put each apple on an individual stick and dip and roll it in the caramelized sugar.
3. Turn the apples onto a greased baking sheet. Roll the ends in some toasted nuts or coconut shreds, if desired, before the sugar cools and sets completely. Note: If the sugar hardens while dipping, simply warm it again over low heat until the texture loosens.

The Crunchy Indulgence: Salty Maple Syrup “Crunch”

This recipe is simple. You just need a candy thermometer to help you through this process. I have also dropped pieces of this on top of the apple bars.

1 ½ cups pure maple syrup
Butter for greasing
Pinch coarse sea salt

1. Use a stainless steel pot to heat the syrup. (Aluminum and other metals can impart flavor to the maple syrup.) Heat the syrup gently until it reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Place some parchment on two baking sheets and lightly grease them with butter.
2. Cool the syrup until it reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a tablespoon to stir the syrup until it becomes thicker in consistency. Drop and drizzle the syrup onto the parchment. You need to move quickly.
3. Sprinkle the syrup with the sea salt to give it a salty touch. Note: If the syrup hardens, and it will, simply put it back on the heat for a minute to warm it gently and stir it until it thickens slightly before you resume.

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Celeste on

Caramel/candy apples: One of my favorite fall desserts. Can’t wait to try out her recipe.

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