Monday, October 15, 2012

[Cupcake Portraits] Discworld Personalities: Esme Weatherwax

"Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things. Well-known fact."

- Esme Weatherwax (in Wyrd Sisters)

First in what will hopefully become a long series of Discworld Personalities, I hereby present you Esme Weatherwax - doyenne of witches, Hag O' Hags, She-Who-Must-Be-Avoided...

Granny Esme Weatherwax Discworld Terry Pratchett PTerry recipe cupcake
Image belongs to Paul Kidby @

...Not the Maid. Not the Mother. The Other One. 

Granny Esme Weatherwax Discworld Terry Pratchett PTerry recipe cupcake
Image belongs to Daniel Abbott @

The first time I read Equal Rites, a few years ago, I took an immediate dislike to her.
Nowadays... I don't know. My first impression is usually the one I stick to, whether it is real people we're talking about or characters in a book. 
I mean, I know deep down she's a good-hearted, caring old woman. But, she's also a stubborn, bossy, insular-minded, proudly ignorant old bwitch. And her dislike of fiction, and - gosh!- books in general, is a trait I really can't brush aside.

Still... Esme's down-to-earth, no-nonsense attitude strongly reminds me of my own grandmother, who practically raised me, and who is terminally ill at the time I am writing. Born to a poor family, she was orphaned as a little child, was adopted by an aunt who didn't care at all about her, and was forced to give up school and go to work at a very early age. 
She worked in a factory for most of her life, and her surviving colleagues - both male and female - fondly remember the way she kept them all in line. 
She elbowed her way through WWII (despite a very Jewish-sounding family name) and its aftermath, and amid all of this, she married and had a child - my father. 
And when, once again, her husband passed away early and she was left to fend for herself and her son, she managed to feed them both, end even to let him continue his education long enogh to become an accountant. 
And after all of this, in her late years, she still had energies left for the two little brats that were my brother and myself. 
I guess for some women, stubbornness and an unflinching self-assurance are survival traits.

Because of this (albeit tenuous) resemblance, I can't bring myself to truly despise Granny Weatherwax. 

Let it just be said that I roll my eyes at her a lot. She's one of those characters I really love to hate - in a good way!
Aaand... is her cupcake portrait. 

Herbal Liqueur-Flavoured Honey Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Frosting

Now how's this for a peace offering, Esme dear?

Herbal Liqueur-Flavoured Honey Cupcakes

* 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 2 tsp ground ginger
* 2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp ground cloves
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
* 1 cup packed light brown sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup chestnut honey
* 1/2 cup herbal liqueur of your choice
* 3/4 cup hot water
(be sure to scroll down for the syrup and frosting ingredients!) 

1.  Pre-heat oven to 350° F.

2.  Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices) into a bowl.

3.  Cream the butter and sugar (a stand mixer is a godsend for this!)

4.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, then the honey and finally the herbal liqueur.
Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl if you're using a mixer!

5.  Gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring until combined. Don't overmix!

6.  Finally, stir in the hot (not boiling!) water...

7.  ...and pour the batter into a cupcakes mold, lined with paper wrappers (black, of course!)
I got exactly 12 cupcakes out of the doses I gave you!

8.  Carefully place a water-filled silicon cup on the oven's bottom. It will slowly evaporate and the humidiy will make your cupcakes wonderfully soft and moist.
This is a neat trick that you can use every time you bake cupcakes!

9.  Bake until done (mine took a full 20 minutes but then again, my oven always takes longer than most to get there. I'd say you should start checking for doneness after 12-15 minutes.)

10. Glare at them until they're cowed, then... eat them!

These cupcakes are soft and delicious, and will stay so for 2-3 days (in your fridge and carefully covered); plus they bake flat - which is handy for decorating purposes - and can be frozen for later consumption (unfrosted, of course!)

This recipe is not exactly swiped, as I tweaked it slightly to get lighter, cupcake-friendlier consistency, but credit must be given where it's due: it   is heavily inspired by Lucy Baker's J├Ągermeister and Honey Bundt Cake, from her book The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets (gorgeous book btw!)

That cake was, in turn, based on the cocktail called Honey Bear. So if you're planning a funny sabbath with your fellow witches, mix up a few shots - just be sure to replace the Frangelico with the same liquor you put in your cupcakes - and you're granted to end up with a very tipsy, very giggly coven! (Not that Granny Weatherwax would approve of it at all, but still...)

Honey & Herbal Liqueur Syrup

* 12 Tbsp chestnut honey
* 6 Tbsp herbal liqueur

Pour the honey and liqueur in a small saucepan. Heat on low fire, stirring constantly. Turn it off as soon as the mixture starts boiling.

Let it cool off slightly, then spoon some syrup onto each cupcake. 

It is perfectly fine to call them done at this point!

Or, if you're lucky enough (as I am!) to know a beekeeper who will provide you with whole honey combs... can cut off a little piece, and place it atop your cuppies!

If, on the other hand, you happen to be a gung-ho "cupcakes must be iced" kind of person...

Goat Cheese Icing

* 8 ounces goat cheese (the fresher, the better!)
* 1/8 cup + 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1/8 confectioner's sugar

1.  Cream the goat cheese, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. 

2.  Whip the heavy cream with the confectioner's sugar. (Make sure to refrigerate both the bowl and the cream itself beforehand; it will be much easier this way!)

3.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture with a rubber spatula. 

Spoon a dollop of icing on top of each cupcake. No fancy swirl-piping for Esme!

Cover your cupcakes and put them in the fridge (ditto for any leftover syrup and icing.)

Time to prepare the decoration! 

I wanted to keep it simple, so I merely rolled some black fondant, cut out some hats (cutter's from Silikomart's Halloween Set), and picked out the buckle detail with edible golden gel...

...but you could surely go fancier than this! E.g. you could model a 3-D version of Granny's hat out of black fondant, or you could make a stylised portrait of hers into a topper. Why not making a few objects associated with the character, such as hat pins, an owl, or the infamous "ATEN'T DEAD" sign? 
Also, I guess you could tint the icing black and call it a day. I actually considered doing so, but decided against it in the end - I think a natural look suits Granny Weatherwax better. And frankly, if ever I'll go to the trouble of attempting an all-black look, it will be for, ah... someone who looks far sexier in it than some old witch. Just saying. 

Just remember: if you're making your toppers out of fondant, prepare them at least the day before, so they'll have time to dry. And don't put them on the actual cupcakes until the last moment, otherwise they'll melt out of shape, and leave nasty black smudges on your icing. Ewww!

Hey, guess what? You're done!

If you have some syrup and goat cheese cream left, serve them alongside the cupcakes, so your guest will be able to plop some more on them if they like their dessert well-soaked!

When making up this particular cupcake recipe for Esme, I was merely thinking of something she could conceivably bake herself in her cottage amid the mountains of Lancre. Granny gathers herbs in the thicket, raises goats, and keeps hives - thus I went, "Hell yeah, triple check!"

But later on, while taste-testing the resulting cuppies (hey, it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it!), it struck me that they reminded me of her in another, subtler way - the first impression you're going to get of them is bound to be the tangy, slightly gamy taste of the goat cheese. If you don't let yourself be put off by it, though, the underlying sweetness will emerge, alongside with a slight bitterness from the herbal liqueur... all of them merging into a more complex, delicious flavour. 

Thus, in the end, I think I got a thing that looks more like the thing than I had intended. Which is, like, totally appropriate for Granny Weatherwax, wouldn't you agree?

PS - Should you still have leftover frosting, throw a handful of your favourite nuts in it and dip sliced Granny Smith apples in the creamy goaty goodness. Or else, spread it on your favourite bread and top with fresh figs and/or grapes. In both instances, feel free to use up any remaining syrup too! (And to double the batch next time, so as to get more leftover...)