Last week I got talking about Willy Wonka with a coworker, possibly while craving chocolate, and I decided I had to have a Roald Dahl party so that I could make Veruca Salted Caramel… something or other. (Ideas don’t always come to me whole. I usually have to connect lots of fragments.)
So I looked up Dahl’s birthday and it turns out it’s this Saturday, September 13th! What a lovely coincidence.
I’ve been celebrating office birthdays once a month now that my team is too big to do individual birthday celebrations for people, and this seemed like a fun one that everyone would get. (A few of my co-workers still aren’t too sure who that Gene Roddenberry guy is.)
Starting with simple things to buy, if you can find Wonka chocolate bars, grab them. I tried three different stores and couldn’t find anything but Wonka candy (Nerds, Laffy Taffy, and Everlasting Gobstoppers).
Instead, I found printable Wonka wrappers online and made a dozen to go around Hershey bars. Because in my mind it’s still 1995 and Hershey bars are still wrapped in tin foil and paper that can easily be replaced with a new wrapper. Then I got to the store, looked at the plastic-wrapped chocolate bars and went, “Oooooh, right. They don’t do that anymore.”
The wrappers were a little too big for the ever-shrinking Hershey bar, so you may want to resize the wrapper or just trim it a little shorter. I also printed four Golden Tickets and put those in the chocolate bars that I gave to the birthday boys and girl.
They didn’t look perfectly authentic, but I still fooled plenty of people into thinking they were real Wonka bars that I found somewhere.
You can also buy some veggies to represent the Fantastic Mr. Fox’s stolen garden treats and some peaches for James and his giant one. I attempted “healthy” peach turnovers made with phyllo dough, but that stuff is really bland and tasteless. Give me high-calorie pie dough any day.
I also printed out fox masks (which, when worn by several people at once comes off as a bit creepy, like they’re going to rob a bank together. Try to use heavier paper if you can so that they hold their shape when you put them on a stick, and don’t wilt.
To honor the four office birthdays I printed out pictures of each person along with illustrations from Dahl’s books.
If you really want to just do a Willy Wonka party then you can use pictures of Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp, but I wanted this to be more about the classic books, and not just the modern film adaptations. I’m glad I did because a lot of people didn’t realize that Dahl was the author of so many of these stories. See? Parties can be both fun *and* educational.
For the baking I needed a couple of gluten-free items, because that’s become a more common request in the office. The fruit and veggies were a good start, but I decided to also make gluten-free Veruca Salted Caramel Brownies.
Now, with most things, when I hear “gluten-free” I think “dry” or “dense” or just “ugh”. But long before gluten was the word of the day, I was making flourless brownies. They’re more rich and chocolately and fudgey, so unlike cake or muffins that depend on flour to fill them out, I think brownies actually benefit from having the flour subtracted from the recipe.
And don’t fall for the recipes that have you add avocado or beans or anything weird. Try this flourless brownie recipe from Life Made Simple and you’ll be very happy. It’s simple and delicious. The brownies were the first thing to disappear from the table.
While grocery shopping I passed a display for this Smucker’s Salted Caramel topping which also had a $1 off coupon. I figured that would save me from making the caramel so I got a jar, heated it in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and drizzled it over the top of the brownies before putting them in the oven.
It’s very hard to use a camera with one hand and drizzle with another. I used a knife to swirl it around a bit before baking.
Meringues are another treat that are naturally gluten-free and simple to whip up. I stuck with Martha Stewart’s Meringue Swirls recipe because it’s always served me well, but instead of the orange stripes she suggests for hers, I used green and purple food gels because they seemed more Wonktastic. I called them BFG Meringues, for being Big, Friendly, and Gluten-Free.
You’ll see that the colors are very clean and bright on some, and more muted and almost tie-dye looking on others. That’s because as I refilled the piping bag with the second half of the meringue, the colors started to blend a little more. Both are pretty, but if you want to keep your swirls cleaner then you’ll need to start over with a new piping bag.
Lastly, I made a mini bundt cake. I’m still working on that New Year’s resolution to use up all the odds and ends in my kitchen, and I had some malted milk powder I wanted to finish up. And my “Baked Elements” book just happened to have a recipe for a Vanilla Bean Malt Cake that uses the smaller 6-inch bundt pan. I happen to have two (doesn’t everyone?) and never remember to use them, so this killed at least two birds with one stone.
It’s perfectly Matilda sized.
If my weekend was longer and my table was bigger, I would have liked to make a pie with pretzel bird feet sticking out for “The Twits”, or maybe a chocolate cauldron for “The Witches”.
Or how about Violet Beauregard Blueberry Pie? Or Snozzberry cookies that taste like snozzberries! Or good eggs and bad eggs!
There are so many possibilities!
Oompa Loompa doo-pa-dee do,