Upgrade this year's spread by trading your usual selection of store-bought chips, dips and candies for these homemade snack platters inspired by classic Halloween symbols, like a cheddar "pumpkin" laced with oniony chives and a party-sized bowl of guacamole topped with a creamy "web."
Photography by Lucy Schaeffer
Crispy-Treat Witch's Hat
For the hat base: Using 2 boxes of chocolate-flavored rice cereal, make crispy treats according to the package directions. The mixture will look very white because of the melted marshmallow. That’s OK, because the color will fade. You can add a dash of cocoa powder to deepen the color if you’d like. Wet or oil your hands so the cereal doesn’t stick, and take a handful of the cereal mixture. Press and mold the mixture on a greased piece of parchment to create a flat circle. If the mixture doesn't hold its shape, let it sit for about 10 minutes to stiffen.
For the hat: Build up the cereal mixture into a cone shape. We like to add bends and divots to the hat so it looks realistic, rather than like a pointy cartoon cone. Set the cone on top of the hat base.
For the hatband: Using 1 box of plain rice cereal, make the marshmallow mixture for another batch of treats. Separate out about a spoonful and mix it with 1/2 cup of plain rice cereal; set it aside. To the remaining marshmallow mixture, add a few drops of green food coloring and mix well until the color is even. Mix in the remaining plain rice cereal to make a batch of green treats. Working on a greased piece of parchment, shape a 14-by-3-inch strip of green treats. Put a second layer of greased parchment on top and roll flat with a rolling pin to 1/4 inch thick. Trim the edges to make a long strip. Wrap the strip around the base of the hat to make a hatband. Shape the reserved batch of plain crispy treats into a square buckle and fasten it to the band. We dusted ours in edible gold powder.
For the web: Place a large round shallow bowl on a larger round platter. Fill the bowl with guacamole and smooth the top with a spoon or offset spatula. Fill a squeeze bottle or pastry bag with Mexican crema, or sour cream with some lime juice added to thin it out. (The thinner the cream, the easier it is to use.) Pipe 4 concentric circles on the guacamole. Using the tip of a knife or skewer, pull the lines from the center of the circle out. This will create a spiderweb pattern.
For the spider: Use 2 pitted black olives to make the spider. Slice 1 olive in half lengthwise. Use 1 half for the body. Slice 8 long spider legs from the remaining 1 1/2 olives. Arrange your spider on the web. Surround the bowl of guacamole with tortilla chips; we used blue-corn ones for this photo.
For the skull: Use a paring knife to carve a skull into a skin-on avocado. Cut out 2 eyes, carving all the way down to the pit. Cut an upside-down heart shape for the nose, only removing the skin. For the mouth, cut a long rectangle, only removing the skin. Using a skewer or the tip of a knife, draw lines for the teeth.
Pumpkin Cheese Ball
Combine cream cheese, shredded cheddar, chopped fresh chives, salt and pepper, and mold the mixture into a ball shape. Press the top of the ball with your hand to flatten it. With the tip of a butter knife, carve lines down the sides to resemble a pumpkin. Refrigerate to keep cool while you run cheese puffs in a food processor until finely ground. Roll the cheese ball in the ground cheese puffs. Use the stem of a bell pepper as a pumpkin stem, and serve on a plate with crackers.
Candy Corn Cheese Tower
Place 2 rectangular blocks of a yellow cheese, like cheddar, next to each other on a cheese board. Stack 2 more blocks of yellow cheese on top of them. Stack 4 blocks of a white cheese, like Monterey Jack, on top of the yellow in the same manner. If desired, insert 1 or 2 skewers down through the top of the blocks to hold them together. Using a sharp knife, carve away the sides of the cheese blocks to resemble the bottom two-thirds of a piece of candy corn. (You will add the white tip at the end.) Reserve the cheese scraps for another use, like queso sauce or grilled cheese sandwiches. Remove the skewers from the tower, if using. Make a mixture of red wine and paprika, and paint it on the white cheese with a pastry brush. Using your hands, mold goat cheese into the tip of the candy corn and add it to the cheese stack. Shape it into a point using a butter knife or offset spatula. Serve with an array of crackers.