Behind-the-Scenes: Halloween Dessert Cart

Happy Halloween!

When John asked me if I wanted to start a food blog with him, I was sold as soon as he mentioned doing a Ghostbusters-themed recipe series for Halloween.  It ended up being a huge undertaking for our first Crustrcumbs food photography shoot, but it was a lot of fun. John wanted to set up a slimed dessert cart as an homage to the scene with Slimer in the Sedgewick Hotel.


We contacted several different properties about shooting on location, but it ended up being too complicated and prohibitively expensive, so we decided to shoot at my photography studio.  We borrowed a cart from our friend Jordan (thanks Jordan!), got a cheap white sheet from Wal-Mart to cover it, and convinced Home Depot to sell us a sample roll of hotel-esque wallpaper.  Overall, it cost us less than $20.   This is what our backdrop looked like:

Behind-the-scenes food photography

I taped the wallpaper to the studio wall with gaffer’s tape.  I thought about buying a piece of plywood and gluing the wallpaper down, because it was really annoying trying to keep the pieces lined up while minimizing seams, but it was nothing a shallow depth of field and Photoshop couldn’t fix.

John prepping the fruit salad Bernardin Fruit Fresh

John made most of the food beforehand, and assembled it at the studio.  The fruit sculpture took the longest amount of time.  Food photography tip: use Bernardin Fruit Fresh to keep the fruits from browning!

John toasting Stay Puft Marshmallows John toasting Stay Puft Marshmallows

John brought his torch to toast the Stay Puft marshmallows, which made our photoshoot smell like camping.  After John had everything plated, we realized only about half of the food fit onto the cart.  It took some time to shuffle everything around.


The profiteroles were balanced on a light stand.  By the power of Zuul, they never fell down.

We wanted the lighting to look like crappy hotel hallway lighting to keep it on theme, but still highlight the food.  Believe me, “make my slime-covered food look like it’s in a hallway with crappy lighting, but also make it not look too gross” is more difficult than it sounds.

Most of the time when doing food photography, I use natural lighting or a bounce flash, but for this I set up some strobes. I use Paul C. Buff’s Alien Bees for lighting, which are reliable, easy to use, and relatively cheap.  You can also find cheap accessories and modifiers on eBay or Amazon. I ended up with the following setup:

Lighting Diagram

The main light was a big softbox on the right side.  I decided to light from the side to reduce reflections on the dishes, metal, fruit, and marshmallows, while cursing John for using so many shiny things in our first photoshoot.  I used a gold reflector to bounce light back onto the profiteroles and cheesecake.  This achieved the “crappy hallway” look, but the fruit was too dark, so I added a spotlight on the fruit plate.  I did this by using a 20 degree honeycomb grid in a standard 7″ reflector.

This was taken after we already started cleaning up, but it shows the lighting setup:

Behind-the-scenes food photography

When we were finally happy with the lighting on the food, John decided to add more reflections by covering everything in slime.  Fun!

Slimer visiting our photoshoot

This is the final image we ended up with:

Halloween dessert cart covered in edible lime slime

Still life isn’t my area of expertise, but this shoot was a lot of fun.  Tomorrow we have a photoshoot with an actor from Second City, so stay tuned for something sniffly next week.  (Sniffly?  What?)

Halloween Dessert Cart Roundup

Halloween dessert cart covered in edible lime slime

I wanted to pull together a list of all of our Ghostbusters-themed Halloween dessert recipes.  All of the recipes were written by John, and the photography done by me.  Tomorrow I’ll show you a behind-the-scenes look at our photoshoot.

Ghostbusters Halloween Dessert Cart

Halloween dessert cart covered in edible lime slimeLime Slime
A little bit of molecular gastronomy to kick off Crustcrumbs. A gooey, sticky slime that’s perfect for Halloween.

Cheesecake with a Coconut Crumb Crust

Cheesecake with a Coconut Crumb Crust
This gluten-free cheesecake is perfect on its own, but on Halloween, the lime slime is required.

Ginger Ice CreamGinger Ice Cream
A spicy ginger and boozy-sweet apple ice cream; and John explains how to stop your homemade ice cream from becoming too hard in the freezer.

Profiteroles Filled with Strawberry Mascarpone CreamProfiteroles with Strawberry Mascarpone Cream
A messy dessert covered in white chocolate and drenched in lime slime.


Exotic Fruit Sculpture

Exotic Fruit Platter
Exotic fruits arranged on a serving tray and, of course, topped with slime.

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops
Homemade marshmallow toasted and placed on top of delicious concord grape tarts.

Gin and Tonic with Lime Slime
Lime Slime Gin & Tonic
A slimy twist on a cocktail classic.

Lime Slime Gin & Tonic

Gin and Tonic with Lime Slime

This cocktail seems like the obvious choice if you happen to have a little lime slime leftover. Like the rest of the desserts on the cart, it came about by seeing what would pair well with lime. What would it taste like if some lime slime happened to fall into our post-shoot gin and tonics? This is a playful cocktail and perfect for a Halloween party. The slime doesn’t dissolve readily into the drink and leaves an attractive pile of slime at the bottom of the glass. When stirred, the slime captures and holds the bubbles in place. Plymouth gin is my choice for most gin-based cocktails but go ahead and use your favourite. There are some fantastic artisanal tonic syrups on the market now but because this drink is fairly low-brow, what with the slime and all, save your money and go with a big name brand.

Lime Slime Gin & Tonic

Makes 1 drink
2 oz Plymouth gin
5 oz tonic water or sparkling water
splash of lime slime

In a glass filled with ice, add the gin and tonic water. Splash in a little lime slime and watch it pool on top of the ice and into the bottom of the glass. Serve with a cocktail swizzle stick so your guests can play with the slime in their glass.

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops

You can’t have a Ghostbusters themed food shoot without Stay Puft marshmallow something. There aren’t exactly many food references in the movie, with the exception of eggs of course, which you’ll see were used plentifully in the recipes for ginger ice cream and profiteroles.

Concord grapes are in season and available through to the end of October in some markets. Buy them up whenever you see them and freeze them so they’re always on hand to add to flavour and colour to various desserts throughout the fall and winter. Just be sure to seed them before freezing. They also compliment the lime slime nicely and their deep dark purple lends itself well to a Halloween menu.

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops

Makes 12 Tartlets

For the marshmallow:
10.5g unflavoured powdered gelatine
100ml cold water
125ml white corn syrup
175g granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or ground vanilla powder
1 teaspoon bourbon (optional)
icing sugar, for coating

For the pastry:
400g unbleached all-purpose flour
150g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
210g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
zest from 1/2 lemon
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold milk

For the filling:
690g concord grapes, halved and seeded
75g granulated sugar
35g instant tapioca (we used Kraft Minute Tapioca)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Start by making the Stay Puft marshmallow tops. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper and generously coat it in icing sugar. Using the top of a 3 1/2″ brioche tin, outline 12 circles in the sugar so you know how large to pipe the marshmallow tops.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, add 50ml of water and sprinkle the gelatine evenly over the surface and allow to plump as you begin making the syrup. In a small pot combine the corn syrup, sugar, salt, and 50ml of water. Attach your candy thermometer to the side of the pot and cook the mix over medium-high heat until the sugar syrup reaches 240°F (it won’t take long so watch carefully). Turn on the mixer to the lowest speed and slowly pour in the syrup, followed by the ground vanilla powder. Slowly increase the speed of the mixer to its highest speed and whip until the mixture is thick and white and the outside of the stand mixer bowl begins to feel cool to the touch. If using, add the bourbon and whip until fully incorporated.

Fill a piping bag with the marshmallow and pipe rounds onto the prepared sheet, filing the circles just inside the outline as the mix will settle and spread a little bit. Dust the tops of the marshmallows with more icing sugar and leave to dry for 6-8 hours. If you have the time, by all means make the marshmallows a day or two ahead of time and store them coated in icing sugar in an airtight container.

Begin making the tartlets by starting with the pastry. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, butter, and lemon zest. Using your fingers and a light touch, gently squeeze the butter into the flour mixture to form coarse, uneven crumbs. You are done as soon as you are sure there are no bits of the flour mixture left untouched by the butter. Add the egg yolks and milk, and using a fork, work them through until a crumbly dough forms. Divide the dough in two and tightly wrap each portion in plastic wrap, forming the dough into a flattened and compact disc as you go. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients for the filling in a medium bowl and set aside while you finish up the pastry.

Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to warm up for about 10 minutes or until it’s pliable enough for rolling. Roll the dough out between two large sheets of parchment paper to approximately an 1/8″ thickness. You could also roll out the dough on a well floured surface with a floured rolling pin, if you want to save on parchment. Line six 3 1/2″  brioche tins (or muffin tins if you’re without small brioche tins) with the pastry, pressing it gently to the sides and put the pastry cases in the fridge while you repeat the rolling and lining process for the additional six tins. You could of course skip the dividing stage and roll out everything at once, but unless you’re working on a beautiful and spacious cold slab of marble, you may find the amount cumbersome to work with.

Place a muffin paper-liner inside each shell and fill with pastry weights (we use dry beans). Blind-bake the shells for approximately 20 minutes, pulling them out just as they begin to turn golden around the top edges. Remove the weights and liners and fill the par-baked shells with the grape filling. Return the tartlets to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the filling begins to set and the pastry turns a deep golden brown. Allow the pastries to cool for 10 minutes before unmolding.

When ready to serve, place a marshmallow top on each tartlet and torch the tops using a kitchen blowtorch, being sure to go around the bottom edges in order to help adhere them better to the tarts. You could also do this under a broiler, watching carefully that they don’t burn.

Exotic Fruit Platter

Exotic Fruit Platter

Thankfully not everything on our Ghostbusters cart requires pastry-making skills or a sweet tooth, the former of which I don’t claim to have at all. In addition to being the most visually impressive item on the cart, it’s also the easiest thing to put together. We’re lucky in Toronto to have such a bustling Chinatown with many fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, although nowadays you can also find a small selection of more exotic fruits at well-stocked grocery stores. If all you have is your local grocery store to work with, you can still create something fun for Halloween using more readily available items and some inventive cutting.

To achieve the visual effect, we left some of the fruits listed below whole, with their seeds in and peels intact. If you want to be kinder to your guests, prepare the fruit to be more easily plucked and eaten from the platter, saving some of the trim for an inedible garnish.

This is what’s on our exotic fruit platter:

3 Limes
1 Orange
4-5 Mangosteens
1 Dragon Fruit
4-5 Rambutans
1 Custard Apple
1 Papaya
1 small bunch Black Seedless Grapes
1 Red Mango
1 small Cantaloupe
10 Strawberries
1 large Cortland Apple
Lemon Verbena or Mint, for garnish

Limes: Transform the limes into completely cheesy-looking lime flowers first by slicing off the top and bottom of each lime. One lime creates one lime flower. Going from end-to-end, cut two slices as thinly as possible without going through to the very bottom of the skin so that you have to two thin slices of lime joined together by a connecting piece of skin. The process is similar to creating a hasselback potato but instead of leaving the lime whole, you’re only aiming to get two slices per piece. Repeat the process for the entire lime. Spread each segment of lime flat, creating two petals that are joined at the base by the skin. Layer the other slices of lime on top in opposite directions to create a sort of lime flower. Using a sturdy toothpick or small skewer, pierce the pieces from the bottom to hold them all together, leaving a portion of the skewer coming through the top of the flower. Place a rambutan, strawberry or grape on the tip of the skewer to act as the centre of the flower.

Orange: Repeat the process above for creating lime flowers.

Mangosteens: These look their best when the fruit is peaking out from its fibrous, deep purple shell. With a sharp knife carefully cut around the centre, cutting through the shell but not through to the segments of fruit inside. Remove the bottom end of the shell, leaving the exposed fruit cradled inside the top-end where the stem is.

Arranging exotic fruit platter

Dragon Fruit: Cut the lower half of the fruit off, leaving the top half available to act as the towering 55 Central Park West top of the platter. Either slice the bottom half into pieces or use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh. To get the most out of the fruit, use a melon baller to carefully remove the flesh from the top half of your centre piece, leaving behind an ornate empty shell.

Rambutans: Either cut them in half as you have for the mangosteens or peel them completely, leaving just the pale white orb of fruit behind. Be sure to leave a few whole so you and your guests can enjoy the spidery effects of their skins

Custard Apple: Using your hands, gently split the fruit into a few jagged pieces. Let your guests grab at the seeds with their fingers or give them a small spoon to take bits as they will be a bit difficult to access once covered in lime slime.

Arranging exotic fruit platter

Papaya: Slice segments lengthwise, leaving the seeds in for optimum visual effect.

Black Seedless Grapes: Using scissors, clip a few small clusters from the bunch and arrange on the platter.

Red Mango: Slice on either side of the pit, giving yourself two equal fleshy pieces. Using a small knife score the fruit, slicing down to the skin but not through it, creating a diamond pattern. Invert the pieces so that the flesh now pops up into a porcupine-esque shape.

Arranging exotic fruit platter

Cantaloupe: Slice into thin whole rounds, removing the seeds if you wish.

Strawberries: Slice some but leave most of them whole to garnish the platter.

Cortland Apple: Slice into pieces and brush with citric acid solution (I used Bernardin’s Fruit Fresh) to keep from browning.