There is always a story behind every tradition and Halloween is no exception. If you’ve ever thought about the reasons behind ghosts and goblins on Halloween, fret no longer. Evidence suggests that Halloween originated in the early Middle Ages as a Catholic vigil observed on the eve of All Saints Day, November 1. The word Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, meaning the day before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. Some researchers have even traced it back as far as the pagan festival of ancient Ireland known as Samhain, a celebration that marked the end of harvest and is said to have been celebrated by offering sacrifices and paying homage to the dead. Among the practices associated with Halloween during the Middle Ages was the lighting of bonfires to symbolize the quandary of lost souls.

Another popular belief, and one I grew up with, suggests that lost souls are given the chance to wander freely on Halloween. Their masks and costumes are customarily used to disguise their identity, and trick-or-treating symbolizes an opportunity to exchange light and forgiveness with mortals. Pretty much the same folk beliefs behind carnivals.

The earliest documented customs traceable to Halloween grew out of the observances of All Saints Day (November 1), a day of prayer for all saints of the Church, and All Souls Day (November 2), a day to pray for the souls of the dead. Despite the similarities between the old and new, the past and the present, there are no firm historic evidences of such timeline. Yet, at the end of the day, Halloween is simply a secular holiday, a combination of traditional harvest festivals with customs and expensive decorations based on tales from the dead.

Today, the celebration that takes place on October 31st is mostly regarded as a children’s holiday. But just in case any of those old tales are true, I will have my sweet treats ready to keep the dead happy. This Halloween dare to get spooky and naughty, sweet and hot, with these Haunted Cookies to enchant both the dead and the living.

Happy Halloween!

These cookies are boo-licious and super easy to make. You can prepare the dough ahead of time and let it rest in the fridge until ready to use. Get the little ones to help!
Makes: about 40

1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher
1/2 tablespoon powder ginger
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, optional

1. Combine the water with the butter. Add the sugar and molasses. Mix well.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients. Combine carefully trying not to overdo it. (However, trying too hard not to overdo it might lead to future cracks on the dough. Find the balance.)
3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for about one hour (or overnight), until firm enough to roll.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch or simply shape the dough into walnut sized balls. You can also use a cookie cutter to give the dough any desired shape. Make sure at all times that your dough is well chilled.
6. Line as many baking sheets as you might need with parchment paper.
7. Place cookies on sheets about 2 inches apart.
8. Bake 8-10 minutes in the center of the oven or until golden brown.
9. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
10. Once cool, you can store the cookies with parchment paper in an airtight container––they will keep well for a couple of weeks. Frost with icing (see below) and sparkling sugar, if desired.

You can prepare this icing while the cookies are in the oven.

1 cup confectioners or powdered sugar
Coloring, optional (choose natural over artificial)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon whole milk or light cream

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Adjust the amount of sugar, or liquid, depending on the consistency needed to cover the cookies. This is now your royal icing for cookie decorating.

• Cover with plastic wrap when not in use. Frosted cookies will keep several days in an airtight container.
• Store between layers of parchment paper or wax paper.
• Be sure to let the royal icing dry completely before storing.