Find a wicked way to cook up Halloween
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Spooky bakes are not just for Halloween, Helena Garcia tells Ella Walker.
Unfortunately this year, thanks to the spectre of Covid-19, trick or treating looks to be a total no-go. That doesn’t mean you must forgo the magic of All Hallows’ Eve entirely though. Carve that pumpkin – and then pick up Garcia’s debut cookbook, The Wicked Baker.
It offers many a ghoulish – but tasty – way to celebrate, and features bakes that, without exception, have a “spooky twist”. Some are just plain ingenious, like her Cousin Itt baklava, whose Addams Family shroud of floor-length hair is recreated using Greek pastry kataifi (“Basically shredded filo”), which Garcia constructed amidst a pastry surplus following the making of breadstick broomsticks – because of course.
There’s a haunted Yule log (a tree stump appearing to howl), truffles masquerading as eyeballs, eclairs iced with entombed mummies, and lemon and thyme cupcakes that writhe with (modelling chocolate) sand worms. Don’t expect edible maggots or blood-drenched sponges though; Garcia draws the line at gory bakes. “In relation to food, it really is off-putting,” she says. “I’m not a gore junkie at all.” However, she has stretched her own rule with a batch of cinnamon rolls made to look like brains, as “it was too good [an idea] not to!”
Born in Spain, Garcia went to high school in Las Vegas, ostensibly to learn English, but it was there, surrounded by desert and high rollers, that she picked up her penchant for baking, and for “flavours like cinnamon and maple, pecan and pumpkin puree. I love them.”
Living with a family of Mormons, who, unlike many an average American family, would cook everything from scratch, she was swept up in a world of community bake sales, and – already crafty – got utterly hooked. “It was amazing, absolutely incredible,” she says, recalling her Las Vegas school days.
Her interest in Halloween, however, is less the gaudiness of America’s traditional, plasticky blowout and more to do with the history, tradition and aesthetic of “Celtic festivals and paganism, magical plants and anything witchy.” And while she might like the gothic, slightly macabre side of things, fun and wit run just as strong in her. “I just want to be able to have the best time possible,” says Garcia. “Humour is very important in my life. It’s in my bakes and everything else.”
Take her affinity with Bake Off presenter Noel Fielding (“We’re both idiots – I feel like if we had gone to school together, we would’ve been inseparable”) and that time she famously told Prue Leith: “They come to me ’cause I’m dead,” when the judge reached to pluck a fly from her hair.
The Wicked Baker: Cakes And Treats To Die For published by Quadrille, priced £12.99.