This post originally appeared in the October 30, 2023 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
I know the concept of “what to do with leftover Halloween candy” sounds like someone inventing a problem. Like with casserole or meat sauce or Thanksgiving turkey, becoming leftovers is Halloween candy’s raison d’être. And unlike those other delicacies, a wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup will take months to go bad — meaning that a good trick-or-treat haul ensures plentiful snacking through the fallow seasons. You have gathered, and now your family will survive the winter.
But let’s say you were a teensy bit sick of bite-sized candy bars as they are, or you went into a fugue state on November 1 and bought so many pounds of discount Halloween candy that your roommate is concerned. There are ways to cook with it to use up more at once. My favorite option is to use candy bars as a quick and easy cake glaze, and I mean so easy it’s one of the first things I learned to make on my own.
I first became aware of this trick from my mom’s copy of Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor, by Anne Byrn, who made a career out of developing inventive adaptations of boxed cake mix. Her recipe for Milky Way Swirl Cake, which she says she found in an issue of Vogue, calls for five full-sized Milky Way bars. (When Byrn wrote the recipe, they weighed 2.05 oz each, which she complains was down from 2.23 oz. Now, they’re 1.84 oz.) Half of the candy bars are sliced and mixed into yellow cake mix. The other half are melted, with two tablespoons of butter and two teaspoons of water, into a glaze to pour on top of the cake.
In college, I started making this cake for my birthday, and then for everyone else’s birthdays, because the glaze is revelatory. The chocolate and caramel together make it stickier and more complex than icing, but the nougat keeps it from becoming as rich as ganache. If you can melt anything in a saucepan, you can make this. And pouring it over a cake is so much easier, and just as visually stunning, as frosting the whole thing with buttercream. (I’m sorry, but no matter the style, buttercream tastes like nothing.) It worked in college because I had a shared dorm kitchen and minimal supplies. But even now, with a stand mixer and more than one bowl at my disposal, I don’t think cake gets much better than this.
The original recipe calls for Milky Way bars, but the formula adapts to plenty of other chocolate candy. Snickers and 3 Musketeers would work similarly, as would bite-sized Krackle or 100 Grand. Twix or Kit Kat, with their cookie and wafer elements, might be more difficult to melt but could also give you a more varied texture. Byrn also has a recipe for an Easy Hershey Bar Swirl Cake. You can experiment, and if it doesn’t work with a certain candy, you’ve barely wasted any ingredients.
You don’t even have to make the cake recipe in the book. This method works on practically any cocoa-friendly cake, on ice cream, or anytime you need to drizzle something in a chocolate glaze — which, hopefully, is often. And don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of candy left for snacking.