Baker, Cook, Writer, Pursuer of Gastronomic Joy

Fat Witch

Last week here on Scoutin’ it Out I told a tale of some misbegotten cookies and pie. This week we explore the brownies that followed with a similar level of success.

My mother and I entered Fat Witch looking for things to like. After such disappointment with our primary dessert location, we were ready for a redemption of the taste buds. The hopes were high for Fat Witch, as a bakery that only does brownies and a company constantly mentioned in the brownie conversation of New York City, there had to be something in these brownies that made them worth all the talk.

For a shop that only makes brownies, we were met with a smattering of options. There were not only a number of flavors to choose from, but many different sizes, not to mention the specialized products such as bags of just the brownie edges, chocolate pieces for hot chocolate making or baking, and their own brownie mix. All this brought my hopes even higher. If their product seemed to have warranted selling their own mix in-store there must be something there. I also had admiration for their business sense. While still keeping to their specialization, they found a way to do a little something extra.

Something that instantly displeased me, however, was the amount of packaging. While there was a case with unwrapped brownie options (also carrying their largest brownie size, a fairly typical square), there were baby witches (two-bite sized brownies) and then seemingly regular witches that were just slightly smaller than those in the case that were excessively wrapped in plastic. While I understand the desire to give a quick grab-and-go option to the public that could make for easy travel, they could perhaps leave all brownies unwrapped and simply give customers an option for travel-proof packaging. Given the process of checking out, there is no time-saving really happening here, only a lot of waste comprised of nonrecyclable items. On top of the act of this pre-wrapping alone, the plastic is unnecessarily bunched up on the underside, using far more than they actually needed to wrap. This was a level of waste that, in this day and age especially, really should be examined by the company.

My mother and I looked at the flavors available in the case and amongst the pre-wrapped witches, of which there was a difference in variety: fat witch original, walnut, coffee, blonde (chocolate chip cookie in bar form), red (a red velvet flavor), breakfast (combination of oatmeal, brown sugar, walnuts, and coffee on top of a little regular brownie), emerald city (brownie with minty sprinkles), snow (white chocolate), honey, matcha, and a number of others comprised the collection before us. This were far more flavors than I would even think to try with brownies, though as previously discussed on this blog, brownies are already not my go-to medium for trying something new. We knew we had to get an original, and my Mom is ever a fan of walnut brownies so that was a must as well. Though we tried to resist, the chocolate peanut butter also made its way into our bag. My Mom and I almost always agree when it comes to favorite flavors and flavor combinations, and when there is a chocolate peanut butter thing available, odds are we’re going to go for it (unless it’s ice cream that has a peanut butter base. It’s chocolate base with peanut butter swirl all the way!). Lastly, we thought a blondie would be interesting to stray off the chocolate base path we were treading and see how this differently flavored base faired. While the chocolate peanut butter was available unwrapped from the case, the original, walnut, and blondie had to be taken with their massive amounts of wrapping, and with our hopeful redemption desserts in hand we made our way back down to my Mom’s hotel room for critiques.

Usually, I would begin with the plainest and most original item of the lot. This time, however, we let wrapping dictate our order. We went for the peanut butter as well as the walnut that evening, and figured if they were as good as we hoped they would be, I would have two readily portable to being back to my room for another night. As I bit into the chocolate peanut butter and my Mom bit into the walnut there was the solemn silence of critique. We each took another bite, in hopes it would sway us more in the direction we wanted our feelings to go. But all it did was confirm what lay in our hearts on first bite: further disappointment. This was nothing more than what you would get from your basic box mix. Weak in its chocolate, peanut butter chips barely coming through – a difficult feat for a flavor that typically dominates the arena – and neither particularly moist nor dry. Just kind of…there. Yes, you can have your cakey or your fudgy brownies. You can even have your brownies that are a little bit of both! But this was like a whole lot of nothing. There was no excitement. All of it, from flavor to texture, was turned down to low.

As we discussed our disappointment, we wondered, what was this city’s problem with brownies? I was now 0 for 2 in my brownie explorations and was growing increasingly trepidatious when thinking about trying another brownie establishment. In this case especially, these are people whose job is literally only to make brownies. I would think that if that’s your business, you would want to make it the best you could. So is it about cost of production? These bakeries don’t want to invest in the necessary chocolate quality? Or are stingy with the ingredients they do have in a way that therefore turns out a mediocre product? I have tried many quality brownie recipes out there, each bringing something different to the table. But in these brownies supposedly lauded as the best in the city, and that you are paying precious money for, they don’t feel so much of a special treat as every day, quickly whipped up at home to partially satisfy a craving.

But when you’re going to a bakery, the experience should be special and the product should be trying its best to fulfill the customer in every way, even surprise them with something they didn’t know they wanted. In a city and world that is constantly going and grinding, baked goods and the professionals that produce them should be dependable harbingers of joy. They produce something that is meant only for pleasure, to excite and satisfy the senses. So why is it that with this item we, as a city, seem to be settling for mediocrity?

The next day I brought the blondie for Nick and me to try while we studied for finals. In short, it was the same letdown, different flavor. Bland and airy. Even making me more disappointed in the chocolate of the night before, as the chocolate had had as much richness as this vanilla did, in other words none. And the chocolate chips that had the possibility to add some levity to the situation seemed to simply sit amongst the vanilla batter, barely participating. We agreed that this, again, was nothing of note.

The last brownie, the original, I gave to my friend Emily, for I simply could bring myself to have one bite for taste. I knew the deal by then. And soon after so did my friend. Though I regret spreading the disappointment, I did not want the brownie to go to waste in its already wasteful packaging, and it could at least serve as something to occupy the mouth inoffensively.

So where are we to go from here? Will I ever venture to purchase a brownie again, or rather bake them myself forever? Does anyone out there have a verified brownie provider? If so, let me know. But for now, we must take a break from the stuff and go on to the bakeries that are fulfilling their duties as makers of joyful morsels.