Penuche is a brown sugar fudge-type candy. It’s got no chocolate, but the finished texture is similar to traditional fudge, and the cooking process is basically identical once you get past combining the ingredients. From what I can dig up online, it’s primarily Hispanic in origin, although Wikipedia claims that it was once very popular in Hawaii. It’s still pretty well-known in the southern parts of the U.S.A., although less common elsewhere. I’d never heard it pronounced (and thus was mispronouncing it pa-noosh instead of pe-noo-chi) but I think I’d read about it somewhere or other… probably in cookbooks from previous generations.
Since I was feeling both creative and generous, I decided to bring treats to share with
the class my co-workers for my birthday. Technically it was the day before my birthday, but I didn’t expect many people to be in the office on a Saturday.
One of my cookbooks has a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie dough fudge that’s based on penuche. The recipe looks fantastic and I can’t wait to make it; the only problem is that it calls for a stand mixer and ours is out of commission. I considered using a hand mixer but after reading the steps, I realized why the brute strength of a stand mixer is needed. Since I couldn’t make that recipe, I fiddled around and came up with a variation that I hoped would suggest chocolate chip cookies. My plan was to make a cookie-crumb crust along the lines of a graham cracker crust, then pour the penuche over that to set up, and top it off with miniature chocolate chips. It didn’t turn out quite how I’d envisioned it, but it was close, and got positive reviews from my officemates, family and friends.
For the crust, I used Alton Brown’s recipe for The Thin chocolate chip cookie. I wanted something that was more on the crispy side, so that it would crumble up more easily. I left the chips out because I didn’t want to pick them out of the crumbs later. This resulted in some rather naked-looking cookies.
I baked the cookies the night before I made the rest of the components, so that they’d have time to cool and get crunchy.
The penuche recipe I used is basically the one from The Joy of Cooking, except I replaced half the brown sugar with white sugar, and I increased the recipe by 50 percent.
One of the best cooking habits I’ve gotten into (not just for candy but pretty much everything) is to gather and prep everything, and even measure out ingredients ahead of time before I even turn on the stove. Soooo much easier to have that right at hand mid-recipe, rather than trying to chop or measure while also keeping track of what’s going on elsewhere.
And now, get to cookin’! Combine the ingredients (other than the vanilla and butter which go in later), cook without stirring up to 238 F, then remove from heat, float the butter and vanilla on top, and let it cool — again, without stirring — to 110.
Meanwhile, my Chief Taste Tester and Personal Brute Squad was tasked with crushing the cookies. That champagne bottle next to the stove top is what I’d been trying to crush them with, until my CTTPBS stepped up to the plate… er, counter.
My base crust was just cookie crumbs and butter, combined and then pressed down flat in a 9×13 pan. I used the time while the penuche was cooling to get the crust ready. In retrospect, I should have gone with a thinner layer of crumbs, and possibly found something other than just butter to use as a binder for the crust. Because– well, you’ll see soon enough.
Once the penuche had set up for about an hour, I sprinkled chocolate chips over the top. I think I should have done it a little sooner, because the top was already firm enough that the chips didn’t really stick. And next time I’ll be more generous with the chips as well. Next time, wall-to-wall chips!
The following morning, I attempted to cut out little circles with my new biscuit cutters. The idea was that they’d look like cute little round cookie bites. The upper two-thirds of the team went along with this plan quite nicely, but the cookie crust crumbled.
I was bummed, to put it mildly. I almost gave up on taking them to work. After some grumbling and muttering, I fell back to my second plan, which was to cut squares rather than circles. That worked better.
And off to work I went, and made many new friends.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had these leftover naked cookies to deal with. They tasted fine without the chips so I could have just left them as they were, but I had a bunch of mini chips left over as well. So I melted the chips and channeled my inner Jackson Pollack. (Do you know how hard it is to take pictures with one hand while drizzling chocolate with the other? I do.)
So, lessons learned (because engineers habitually do post-release analyses, even when off the clock).
- Making test batches is a good idea and they let your spouse take goodies in to the office too. (This is what led me to adjusting the JoC recipe.)
- Test out as many components as possible before bringing them all together. If I’d tried a proof-of-concept crust with just one or two cookies, I might have known how to adjust it to make it work the way I wanted.
- Don’t tell people how something was “supposed to” turn out. Let them enjoy it as-is (because they will), and pretend you meant to do that.
Changes for next time:
- Much thinner cookie crust
- More chocolate chips
- Experiment with penuche recipes to find one with a creamier end result. Mine ended up more on the grainy side, which was still very tasty although not quite what I’d intended.