Go chic and spooky this Halloween with the sort of high-end treats that can grace an afternoon tea spread.

Afternoon tea can be a lucrative addition to a bakery offer – and giving the occasion a seasonal twist can help to scare up new business. But, such spooky fare is not for the faint-hearted, as bakers and pastry chefs must strike the balance between spooky-chic and gimmicky in order to keep the afternoon tea experience high-end.

“Think stylish and subtle rather than stark and primary,” says Brioche Pasquier foodservice sales manager Jon Turonnet.

“Instead of black items, choose chocolate. Go with apple-flavoured patisserie to represent green and add orange flavoured cakes and biscuits,” he suggests.

This idea can also be applied to many traditional afternoon tea products to give them a seasonal twist. By carefully selecting colours and flavours, items such as macarons and tarts can be incorporated into the theme as they are, mitigating the need to develop something new.

Kirsty Graham, marketing executive at Cake Décor, recommends opting for richer shades to keep the experience high-end.

“Traditional greens and oranges can be replaced by more premium purples and blacks for an eye-catching yet suitably spooky appearance,” she says. “Deep and rich flavour options such as pumpkin spice, blackcurrant and blackberry can work for both cakes and savouries.”

For cakes, muffins and doughnuts, Cristiana Ballarini, category marketing director at CSM Bakery Solutions, notes that the finish is the best way to add value to products and transform a simple range into seasonal specials.

“Decoration brings theatre to cakes and makes them visually appealing,” she says. “The trend for multisensory experiences is also creeping into the Halloween occasion to greater appeal to millennials.  “Oozing middles are perfect for doughnuts, muffins or cakes, and can create the illusion of blood and add value to bakery products.”

It doesn’t all have to be sweet treats either; savoury delicacies can be enhanced with spices and autumnal flavours.

Pidy recommends filling macarons with both savoury and sweet combinations.

“A dark chocolate filling will contrast with an orange shell for a strikingly spooky twist. Alternatively, try pairing with a whipped cheese filling and top with caviar to achieve a similar contrast in colours that reflect Halloween,” says Fabien Levet, commercial manager at Pidy UK.

Cake Décor’s Graham suggests using traditional autumn flavoured fillings, such as pork & apple and roasted butternut squash, in sandwiches and savoury items to embrace the Halloween theme. 

Not all aspects of an afternoon tea need to be given a twist. Scones, for example, can remain traditional but be presented in a dramatic way (see box out).

Last year, the London Hilton on Park Lane’s Halloween Afternoon Tea featured traditional scones and sandwiches alongside spooky sweet treats, including a passion milk chocolate tombstone, and a pumpkin & chocolate tart.

The Conrad London St James added a spooky owl cake to its traditional afternoon tea to give it an elegant but effective Halloween twist (see Cover).

Beyond afternoon tea, bakers have been exploring the high-end Halloween market. Last year Mac & Wild unveiled its Bloody Scotch Egg, which incorporated a ‘haggis blood’-filled syringe set, while Konditor created the Bloody Curly Whirly – a cake topped with mascarpone icing and splashed with red ‘blood’.

So, even if your business doesn’t cater for an afternoon tea crowd, there’s nothing to stop you using a little high-end horror to get customers into the Halloween spirit.

Setting the teatime scene

Whether serving high-end Halloween patisserie or more traditional cakes and cookies, giving your business a spooky feel will entice customers.

Draw inspiration from the ancient traditions of Halloween rather than modern ones, suggests Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, noting its Celtic origins where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off evil spirits.

“A real fire and a little candlelight will set the atmosphere, and one huge lighted, carved pumpkin at the front door, rather than several small ones, will be dramatic and make more of a statement.”

If you are offering afternoon tea, Turonnet recommends splashing out on a special menu and giving the dishes clever (not corny) devilish names.

“A little paragraph explaining some of the original traditions of Halloween and how you have incorporated them in your menu would help customers understand your take on the festival,” he says.

When it comes to serving up treats, displaying them on a black dish will add to the drama.

“Instead of the usual pretty flower vases, garnish with nasturtium flowers, birds of paradise or orange dahlia for a natural orange flush,” Turonnet adds.

“Big bowls of fresh green apples or gourds look attractive and are extremely easy to arrange, but don’t overdo it. One or two elegant large displays always looks much more effective than lots of small fussy ones.”

Kirsty Graham, marketing executive at Cake Décor, agrees. “Rather than going all-out on the generic Halloween theme, a classic black and white gothic-style theme for decorations, cake stands and accompaniments would make for the perfect setting,” she adds.