Not much toil and barely any trouble...
After the astonishing wonders and wondrous astonishments of the Fat Witch Bakery, I was determined to try making some witches of my own. Belated regard for luggage limits prevented me buying the recently released Fat Witch recipe book, and in a half-hearted attempt to curtail my recipe book buying
obsession habit, I’ve resolved to, where possible, try out recipes from prospective purchases online, to see if they live up to expectation. Though given the alarming tendency of cookbooks to practically leap at me from shelves, my lack of general restrain where food and books are concerned (hence a combination of the two is verging on fatal) and the fact that the recipes you want to try just might not be out there on the interwebs, I suspect this will last all of a fortnight. If I’m lucky.
But back to those witches. The ones I was most keen to try were the caramel witches that I’d so loved while in New York. Looking for witch recipes (thankfully no newts, toads or frogs were tripped over in the search) produced something rather surprising – a lot of comments that the witches appeared to be faulty. Both on Amazon and on assorted blogs, numerous people were saying that their home-made witches weren’t working – too cakey, not dense enough, far too many eggs to possibly work, not fudgy, not chocolatey... in short, nothing like the famous Fat Witches from the Chelsea Market.
To a bolshie baker (not just rustic, but stubborn too!), this was a little like a red rag to a bull. Even with a strong streak of cynicism, I find it a little improbable that somebody would release a book of baking carefully calculated to not give away their secret recipe – the sheer level of blood, sweat and tears in developing a recipe book would dissuade just about anybody from even contemplating that. Plus, as availability of witches is relatively limited, it’s unlikely that those of us able to bake our own witches would reduce the level of sales. But most significantly, if you were going to be so Machiavellian as to publish a book of artificial recipes... you’d still make sure that the fakes worked. Surely!
So, I was even keener to try out those witches for myself and see how they turned out. A small confession: I’ve actually tried the witches twice – the night after we returned, I baked up a tray of Original Witches as a thank-you for a couple of our friends who kindly flat-watched. But while energy levels extended to baking, they didn’t extend to photographing the results. The speed with which the still-poorly Other Penguin demolished the remainder suggests they came out quite well. A reprise will undoubtedly occur, and the results shared in the not-too-distant future.
More Sticky Penguins
I was pleased to discover that a recipe for Caramel Witches was available online, having been made by The Pastry Chef's Baking, although with results they weren't entirely. Discovering the witches called for pre-bought caramels, I made a rare recipe adaptation – I decided those witches deserved their own caramel. So, the night before witching hour, I tried out something I’ve up till now been too time-poor and too cowardly to attempt for fear of kitchen explosions – I made my own dulce de leche.
The thing that made me most nervous about the dulce de leche was that tins of condensed milk come only with a ring-pull top, and not a top that needs a tin opener. With all the stories about exploding cans, I was quite worried that a ring-pull can would be much more likely to explode. The cans went into my largest pot, a vast thing normally only used when cooking for hordes, as soon as I came through the door, and stayed on until I had to admit defeat and go to bed – all up, a bit over 3 hours (maybe just shy of 3½). When I opened the cans, I was pleasantly surprised (and a little relieved, being halfway through witch-making... or should that be witchery?) to find that the condensed milk had become dark – and unexpectedly solid – and very caramelly.
Also concerned about the potential for witch-failure, I decided to diversify my risks (the Fat Witch creator did start as a trader, after all), and made a batch of caramel witches, but also a batch of dulce de leche brownies which I came across over at Baking Bites.
Dulce de leche and (still tasty) back-up brownies
Important note: all references to cups are the US sizes – in hindsight, I realised I didn’t weigh ingredients for the benefit of those who don’t have them – I will definitely do this next time, but in the meantime, hopefully the many online converters will do the job.
Given the number of tweaks made to the brownies, I've reimagined the Caramel Witch as something a little closer to home... a Sticky Penguin. This is how they're made...
198 grams butter / margarine (I used low-fat margarine*), cut into small pieces
½ cup plus 1 tbsp dark chocolate (I used Cadbury's dark cooking chocolate)
3 large eggs
¾ cup caster sugar
¼ cup + 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup plain flour
1½ tbsp cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
½ can dulce de leche
2-3 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 160˚C.
Line a 9 inch square cake tin with baking paper (you don't need to grease it as well - the finished brownies have quite enough that they won't stick).
Either directly in a middle-sized saucepan, or in a large bowl on top of a small saucepan of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring the mixture regularly. This works best if the pieces of butter are the same size as the pieces of chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted and just a few small blobs of butter remain, remove from the stove and stir so that the heat of the mixture melts the rest of the butter - you don't want to overcook it. Set the mixture aside, and let it cool down to around room temperature.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk lightly with a fork to combine the yolks and whites, and add the vanilla essence. Add the caster sugar and soft brown sugar, and mix until smooth.
While you're still waiting for the chocolate to cool down, add a small amount of milk to the dulce de leche and mix until the mixture thins out a little (you want a loose spreadable consistency, rather than the dense texture that results after the dulce de leche is made). Alternatively (I've not tried this, but have subsequently seen it suggested online and it sounds a very sensible idea), beat the dulce de leche in a mixer until it is lighter and creamier).
Add the egg and sugar mixture to the cooled chocolate and mix until (but only until) combined. You could add the chocolate to the egg, but I prefer doing it the other way round and finishing the brownie batter in the saucepan, as it seems to waste less mixture this way**.
Add the sifted flour, cocoa powder and salt, and mix until the flour is combined. Again, don't over-mix.
Pour half of the brownie batter into the prepared cake tin and refridgerate for around 30 minutes. (The other half of the batter doesn't need to be put in the fridge). This helps make the mixture a bit less runny before the dulce de leche gets added.
Spread the dulce de leche in a layer on top of the cooled brownie batter, spreading it right to the edges, and then pour the remaining half of the brownie batter on top, ensuring that all the dulce de leche is covered.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the sides of the brownie are just coming away from the pan. The top of the brownie should have a crackled crust, almost as if it's formed a skin on top. It's probably ready before you think it is - this is a very fudgy, squishy brownie. Overdoing it just makes it dry (especially round the edges), rather than less squidgy. The first time I made these, I perched by the oven like a hawk, watching to make sure they didn't bake too long. There should also be just enough time, before you worry about whether they're done yet, to enjoy the batter scrapings...
Allow to cool in the pan. When mostly cool, the whole brownie, paper and all, can be lifted out and finish off cooling on a chopping board.
Once completely cooled, slice into pieces (as big or small as you choose - I do mine into either 16 or 20). A pizza wheel, if you have one, is perfect - otherwise, a large, sharp knife will do just fine.
* Because it's what lives in the fridge chez penguin - any attempt to lessen the dietary impact of Sticky Penguins would be like trying to empty the ocean with a teacup. At least.
** And conserving as much mixture as possible is Very Important. Because it means there will be more left over to eat raw, while waiting for the brownies to bake...