National Oatmeal Month + Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It’s January. The weather is nasty, and is supposed to get nastier before it gets better (tomorrow the temp is a high of -12!!!!). Comfort foods are a necessity and my chosen breakfast has become oatmeal. I’ve been eating it every morning, and while looking for new recipes to make my daily oatmeal more savory, I discovered that January is National Oatmeal Month! My best guess for this designation is that everyone is trying to detox from the holidays. But instead of eating healthy, we’re going to discuss the history of oats as food, and then reward ourselves with oatmeal chocolate chip cookies at the end. Let’s go!

It seems to me that oatmeal cookies, and oatmeal as food in general, are fairly divisive even today. Oatmeal raisin cookies in particular seem to be an issue for many. (I mean, can it really even be considered a cookie??) Present-day oatmeal cookies can be traced back to Scotland, where oatcakes, a less moist, crisper version of modern-day oatmeal cookies, have existed since the Middle Ages. Scotland seems to have been an early adopter of oats as a viable food option for humans. However, some other places were not as fast to catch on. Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary, written in the mid-1700’s, defined oats as “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.”

Many Americans before the mid-19th century agreed with the English. While oats were grown in the United States since the 1600s, they were mainly used to feed cattle. It wasn’t until Ferdinand Schumacher, an immigrant from Germany who arrived in the United States in the 1850s, attempted to change people’s minds about oats. Shortly after settling in Akron, Ohio, he founded the German Mills American Cereal Company. Realizing that oats, which were commonly used for porridge in his home country, were relegated to horse feed in his newly adopted land, he came up with a plan. At this time, oat kernels were ground very coarsely and would have taken a great deal of time to cook. Schumacher developed the “rolled oat”–literally a kernel that had been rolled flat–reducing the cooking time significantly. The timing worked in Schumacher’s favor, as it was around this time that the Civil War began. Rolled oats were a relatively cheap and shelf-stable food, making it an ideal food for both soldiers and civilians during lean times.

After the War, in 1877, Henry Seymour and William Heston registered the trademark for rolled oats as the first breakfast cereal. These two founders of the Quaker Oat Company chose perhaps the most famous face now associated with oatmeal in the United States: The smirking, elderly, Quaker man. He is not based on any real person, but was created for their logo by the two founders as “a symbol of good quality and honest value.”

Even before the cereal was trademarked, people began figuring out how to use oats in sweet treats. Oats were often used in the South during the War to make a cheaper version of pecan pie. And the earliest record I could find for an oatmeal cookie was in several newspapers from the fall of 1883 (though this means that recipes certainly existed before this, in unpublished form). The same recipe was circulated from New England to the Midwest, calling for the oatmeal cookie to be made “just like an ordinary cooky, using two-thirds oatmeal and one third wheat flour.” By 1896, a recipe for oatmeal cookies appeared in Fannie Merritt Farmer’s famous The Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Farmer’s recipe is much drier than the recipes we know today. Her recipe instructs you to mix the ingredients and then “Toss on a floured board, roll, and cut into shape,” in something that sounds more like a scone than a chewy cookie. Farmer’s recipe also did not include raisins, which did not become the norm for oatmeal cookies until Quaker Oats began printing a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies on every carton of their oats in the early 1900s, the result of a collaboration between Sun-Maid Raisins and the Quaker Oat Company, who employed the same advertising agency. The recipe gained popularity during the difficult times of World War I and the Great Depression, again, as a somewhat cheap staple pantry item.

If you are comfortable knowing your go-to breakfast choice and common cookie ingredient were once horse food, then I think you’ll be able to get on board with these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. (The recipe I made calls for chocolate, not raisins, but they could easily be substituted if you’re a oatmeal raisin cookie purist.)

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
For the recipe, I used a mash-up of the classic Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and the original recipe for Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. Makes 18-24 cookies.

Ingredients: 
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups oatmeal
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped into small pieces, or a mix of both (approximately 3/4 cup total)
Flaky sea salt, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and both sugars. Beat until fully combined and smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat until combined.

Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat until just combined so that no flour streaks remain.

Use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix in oats and chocolate.

Use a tablespoon to create scoops and place at least two inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt, optional.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, turning the pans 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before eating warm, or moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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These cookies have come a long way since the oatcakes of Scotland. Simple and so good. I could’ve gone with the traditional raisins, which I actually really like and maybe even prefer, but I can’t be trapped inside my house by the cold with a bunch of oatmeal raisin cookies. Like, I can’t trust myself. Plus, my husband likes chocolate and is, generally, a cookie fiend. And he’s really into these. I think you will be too.

Happy baking and, please, stay warm, my friends!

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National Blonde Brownie Day + Brown Butter Blondies

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Blondies, or blonde brownies, always remind me of school lunch. Don’t get me wrong–that’s a good thing. School lunch memories for me are surprisingly positive. I loved the weird, sort of stale-tasting pizza; I still have dreams about something they served in our cafeteria called “chicken hot rodders” (side note: if anyone knows what this is, or where I can find it, let me know–think chicken tender, but in the shape of a hot dog, and on a hot dog bun–I assume they’ve been outlawed for being the most unhealthy thing ever, which is probably why I love them so much); and my final cafeteria favorite, blondies! Blondies were not something my mom ever made at home. We had a very strict chocolate-only brownie rule in our house, and I was pretty meh about chocolate when I was little. But at school, blondies were chewy, buttery, and always a stark contrast to whatever the steamed vegetable was for the day! I loved them.

Today is National Blonde Brownie Day. I can find no information on how this day got started, or if it’s even a real day at all. And I think we can all agree that a National Blonde Brownie Day is a bit much, but I’m taking the opportunity anyway to write a little about one of my favorite desserts.

If you are a brownie lover, you might think: Who even cares about blondies, when there are brownies in the world? Brownies hold a special place in the hearts of so many, but you might be surprised to learn that blondies actually predate brownies.

In the 1896, in the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook (the cookbook that is responsible for the standardization of measurement in baking), there is a recipe for a “brownie” that calls for sugar, flour, and butter, based on earlier recipes for a dessert bar that resembled gingerbread, minus the spices. No mention of chocolate. The original “brownie” was, in fact, what we recognize today as a blondie, and would have been flavored with molasses. Brown, for sure, but not the beautiful brown-black that we recognize as a chocolate brownie today.

The story the chocolate brownie is a little roundabout. In 1893, Bertha Palmer, a socialite and the President of the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, called on the chef at the Palmer House Hotel, owned by her husband, to make a chocolate cake that was could easily be handled by women at the fair without getting their hands and gloves dirty. The unleavened chocolate cake created by the chef would have closely resembled the modern-day brownie, but it wouldn’t be called a brownie until after the turn of the century, and there does not seem to be any record of this original recipe today. (This was actually one of the first things I ever wrote about on this blog. If you’re interested in learning more about Bertha Palmer and the first brownie, you can find that post here.)

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By the early 1900’s, though, brownie recipes containing chocolate began to be published. Fannie Farmer is often credited with the first chocolate brownie recipe in 1906, after she updated her cookbook from the 1890’s. However, a recipe from two years earlier has been found, calling for the addition of chocolate. Once chocolate was in the mix, brownies, unsurprisingly, were a hit, and the humble molasses brownie became a somewhat distant memory. Then, around the 1940’s, a dessert bar showed up containing brown sugar instead of just molasses, which was renamed a “blonde brownie.” The earliest entry I’ve seen in a newspaper for a blonde brownie was in 1941. The blonde brownie increased in popularity over the years and, in 1956, traveling food critic and cake mix king, Duncan Hines, released boxed mixes of both brownies and “blond brownies.” The ad above announces their release in the Janesville Daily Gazette from March 15, 1956.

So, I can’t answer the question of which is better, blondie or brownie, but if you’re ever in a heated argument with someone about it, at least you know a little history. The blondie recipe below is not Fannie Farmer’s or Duncan Hines’, but my own version using brown butter, which makes a great party treat–even if it’s just you at the party.

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Brown Butter Blondies
Makes 9 2.5-in blondie squares, or 36 two-bite pieces. 

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional

Instructions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with two pieces of parchment paper, crisscrossed over one another. Spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

Add butter to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter turns light brown in color, begins to smell slightly nutty, and ceases to sizzle and pop. Pour into a large, heat-safe bowl to cool slightly.

Add both sugars to the melted brown butter and stir to combine. Stir in the eggs and then the vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. You can test by using a toothpick inserted into the middle. It is done when it comes out with damp crumbs, but not wet streaks. Do not overcook.

Allow to cool for at least 45 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar, cut, and serve.

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If you want to add mix-ins, heck yeah, you can do that! Sprinkles, white chocolate chips, nuts, those all sound good! Me? I’m a blondie purist, save for a dusting of powdered sugar, but honestly, these guys don’t need the cover up. They are rich, chewy, slightly nutty from the browned butter, and not overly sweet. And, weirdly, quite important for me: NOT TOO TALL! I kind of like my blondies hovering around a centimeter in height, whereas I prefer a good solid inch square for brownies. Personal preference, probably influenced by that school cafeteria dessert so long ago.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Shulamis Rouzaud + Challah

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For your post-Thanksgiving reading pleasure, I’m super excited to welcome my guest, Shulamis Rouzaud, to the blog today!

Shulamis is the founder of the Chicago Bread Club, an organization created to “share the art and knowledge of bread and to promote the regional grain economy.” She started the Chicago Bread Club when she was searching for work, but coming up disappointed. “I was not very satisfied with what was out there. Looking back, what I wanted didn’t exist until I created my own position.” It started with an Instagram message. “I messaged my friend, ‘Hey do you want to start a bread club?’ and she said, ‘Yes!'” It soon became a full-time organization. “Having someone say yes to my idea and support me in the initial planning processes was crucial,” she said. Once the organization took off, it was gratifying for Shulamis to see the impact she had on the community. “Our grain farmers, millers, bakers, and brewers need our support,” she said, “and it’s amazing to be a part of that effort. It’s also exciting to highlight the work of our researchers and extension agents on grain that is grown and can grow in our region.”

Shulamis was born in North Hollywood, California. When she was still quite young, her family moved to Cleveland for her father to attend dental school. She attended very strict Orthodox Jewish private schools through 10th grade, and halfway through 10th grade, she moved to Chicago, where she was accepted into an Orthodox private high school, and she has been in Chicago since. Shulamis told me she had trouble with the strictness of her school in Cleveland. About halfway through 10th grade I got expelled for not following the rules,” she said, explaining that the school was very strict about contact with the opposite sex. “I had friends that were boys,” she told me. “That was my first time in my life that I failed, and I would say that I failed up.”

After school, she struggled with the expectations placed on her as an Orthodox Jewish woman. “I was expected to become a wife and a mother as an adult. Everything I was pushed to be interested in was geared around that. I remember being told that I should probably not go to college but if I did that I needed to be careful to stay on the Orthodox Jewish path.” She attended the one Ultra Orthodox Jewish college in Chicago for two years before dropping out at the age of 22, when she got engaged. Shortly after she was married, she welcomed her daughter, Maya. After giving birth to her daughter, she was a stay-at-home mom, which led to her interest in food as a career. “When Maya was little, I became obsessed with baking and just couldn’t stop.” She began taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, but within two semesters, she began having reservations. She realized, “The price tag for their culinary arts education did not match the wages and salaries of the restaurant industry and I did not feel I was learning anything I didn’t already know.” She thought she would learn more in professional kitchens, so she began interning, and worked as a pastry cook for over a year. She began asking folks in the pastry world about including whole grains in baking and pastry, having been raised by a mother who had insisted on healthy, Alice Waters-inspired California cuisine accompanied by “100% whole wheat bread that was amazingly dry.” Shulamis as a child wanted meals that were more fun and less healthy, but the spirit of nutritious eating stuck with her. “We never fried anything in the house. Even our latkes were pan-fried instead of fried in deep oil,” she told me. Without receiving much response to her inquiries about whole grains, she began thinking about studying nutrition herself, and she soon graduated from Dominican University with her degree in nutrition and dietetics in 2017. 

The recipe Shulamis chose to share was challah–fitting for her in a number of ways. “I have been making it forever. I’ve been eating challah since I was a baby. My mom hated baking and I started making the challah and desserts for Sabbath meals starting at the age of 11.” The religious significance of the bread was impressed on her through worship and through her Jewish day school. “It was the woman’s job to prepare it and say the blessing that is said when preparing to bake the challah. I learned about the history of challah straight out of the Old Testament in Biblical Hebrew,” she told me. “It is impossible to celebrate the Sabbath without it. There are certain Jewish laws governing what is challah and what is not. The laws differ according to custom, but it centers largely on the enrichment of the dough. Sephardic challah is eggless and unsweetened, often called water challah, and even Ashkenazic challah has laws governing how much sugar can be added. I often see people getting creative with their challah production, usually with largely sweet additions. That is not challah to me.”

The recipe she shared came to her from a member of the Jewish community in Chicago, which has been Shulamis’ favorite since she first ate it as a guest at a Sabbath meal. “Since I got the recipe, I haven’t changed anything, although I’ve been using whole wheat for at least half the flour for years.” Along with the recipe, she shared its meaning. “The symbolism of the cutting board and knife that that the challah rests on is as an altar. It hearkens back to when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on the altar. That is why challah is always dipped in salt by the person cutting it at the Sabbath meal (meat is salted after being slaughtered). Sorry if that sounds gross! The Old Testament is not for the faint of heart!” (No apologies necessary!) “Every religious Jewish woman has been making challah since biblical times. Recipes have been passed from woman to woman over time.” Shulamis was passed this recipe, and now passes it to you!

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Challah
Makes 4 loaves. 

Ingredients: 
150 grams sugar (approximately 3/4 cup) 
1 1/2 tbsp yeast
2 1/2 cups water, warm 
1 egg (plus one more egg for egg wash) 
6 tbsp oil 
3 tsp salt 
2 1/2 lbs bread flour (approximately 9 cups) 

Instructions: 

Whisk together the sugar, yeast, and warm water in a large bowl and allow to sit for 10 minutes. 

Whisk in egg, oil, and salt, then knead in bread flour on a floured surface until dough becomes smooth. 

Allow to rise in a warm area, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. 

After the dough has risen, punch down and divide into four equal pieces. Divide each piece into into 6 strands, roll into a rope that this thicker in the middle and tapered at the sides. Shape into a braid, and set on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. Cover and allow to rise for another 1/2 an hour. (If you’ve never braided six strands before, I found this video helpful.) 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Once the dough has risen a second time, baste with one whole egg (beaten) and sesame seeds or poppy seeds. 

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool and serve.

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If you are interested in seeing what the Chicago Bread Club is all about, you can check them out at 6:30 tonight (11/28) at Dovetail Brewery! The guest host will be Andy Hazzard of Hazzard Free Farm! Most months, however, the Club meets the last Monday of every month at 6:30 pm. (This month’s was rescheduled thanks to Monday’s nasty weather.) The location changes each month to various local bars and breweries around the city that allow outside food. Most meetings are free (though those that have an admission fee are announced in advance), and no RSVP is required. Locations are announced each month on Instagram. Every month there is a guest host, who is either a farmer, baker, agent, or researcher involved in the regional grain economy. Occasionally there are special workshops and panel events, one of which, their collaborative event with Cheese Sex Death in October, sold out! In March of 2019, you can visit the Chicago Bread Club’s booth at the Good Food Expo.

To learn more about Shulamis’ work with the Chicago Bread Club, you can follow the club on Instagram @chicagobreadclub, or like them on Facebook. You can contact Shulamis directly with any questions or contributions at shulamis@chicagobreadclub.org

Shulamis, thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I look forward to seeing what is in store for you and the Chicago Bread Club in the future! 

The Tatin Sisters + Apple Tarte Tatin

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Hi! Hello! How are you settling into October? The early chilly weather we have in Chicago is wearing me down a little. I wore my winter coat twice last week. TWICE! However, I’m trying to take advantage of the little bit of October I have left by watching all my scary favorites. Cold weather helps with this. Channel Zero just started again. I watched the first episode of the season last night. I… have thoughts. Mostly my thoughts are that I don’t want to go into our basement to do laundry anymore. Season 2 of Lore is up on Amazon, even though I haven’t dug into it yet. AND, just as I was making this list, I realized that the Halloween episode of Snap Judgement should be coming up soon. It’s really a wonderful month. (I just realized how often I talk about the weather and TV here. It really sums up who I am as a person…)

In addition to October being full of ghouls and goblins, and being National Pumpkin Month, it’s also National Apple Month!

Today we’re getting into some tarte Tatin history. Have you ever had tarte Tatin? I had not. However, I had seen many pictures online and I kind of fell in love with it. First, I think it’s beautiful. A little lumpy, with beautifully arranged apples. It’s really ugly-beautiful in a lot of ways. Anyway, if you haven’t had it, you’re in for a treat.

Tarte Tatin is said to have originated in Lamotte-Beauvron, in the Sologne region of France, at the Tatin Hotel, shortly before the turn of the century. The Tatin Hotel, and the subsequent tarte, is named after the two sisters who ran the hotel, Stephanie and Caroline Tatin.

There is, of course, always a story. The story goes that the tarte was created when the older Tatin sister, Stephanie, who was responsible for running the hotel’s kitchen, had a particularly busy day. Stephanie would often serve apple tarts to the Hotel guests, but in her fluster that day, she nearly burned the apples and, not wanting to discard the entire dish, she laid the pastry on top of the apples, finished baking the dessert in the oven, then flipped it over to serve. The dish was well-received and the rest is history. Whether or not this story is actually true, we’ll never know. According to a website dedicated to the tarte Tatin, the dish was already in existence before the sisters opened their hotel in 1890’s. It’s likely this dish was served at the Hotel–however, it was also certainly not the first upside-down dessert of its kind: There was a similar dessert from the area known as the tarte Solognote. The only thing we really know for sure is that the Tatin sisters were not the ones who named this recipe after themselves or their hotel.

By 1917, both sisters had passed away, and there is no record that the Tatin name was linked to the dish until the 1920’s. So, how did the tarte Tatin get its name?

One story credits French culinary writer Curnonsky. He wrote about it in his 1926 La France Gastronomique. He wrote, “The Famous Apple or Pear Tarte from the Demoiselles [Sisters] Tatin of La Motte-Beuvron.” The dessert’s popularity grew when the famed Parisian restaurant Maxim’s added it to their menu. Louis Vaudable, the owner of Maxim’s in the 30’s, claimed that he discovered the dessert after stumbling upon the sisters’ Hotel and, after being refused the recipe, passed himself off as a gardener to gain access to the Hotel, learned the recipe, and brought it back to his restaurant. However, Vaudable was only 15 when the last Tatin sister died, and they had retired long before then. So, while this story may have helped the tarte gain popularity and cement its name, it’s likely very false. C’est la vie.

Tarte Tatin

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Apple Tarte Tatin
Makes 1 12-inch tart. Very slightly adapted from Bon Appetit.

Ingredients: 
6-7 Pink Lady or Honeycrisp apples, peeled
1/2 cup of white sugar, divided
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
Flour, for rolling out puff pastry

Instructions:

Take one sheet of frozen pastry out of the freezer. Allow it to thaw just enough to unfold it.

Divide the apples into three nearly equal-sized slices, and remove the cores, without going all the way through the apple. (I used the small end of my melon baller and it worked like a charm and I felt like a genius.)

Unfold the puff pastry. Roll it out to reduce the creases slightly, then cut a 12-inch circle out of it. Lay the circle on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and place back into the freezer until you are ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put 1/4 of the sugar (so 1/8 cup) into a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pan (I used my cast iron skillet). Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until the sugar has all dissolved. (If you find you’re getting clumps of sugar, don’t stir them. Give them a minute to melt. Keep stirring the already melted sugar, though, or it will burn.)

Once the sugar has melted, add the rest of the sugar, and stir until it has dissolved and has become a deep golden color. Then add the butter, the apple cider vinegar, and the salt. (The mixture will no longer seem smooth. That’s OK.) Lay your apples into the pan, cut side down. You may need to overlap them a little when they first go in. That’s OK too, as they will shrink as they cook, and you don’t want them to gap. Allow them to cook for about 10 minutes.

Once they are a bit caramelized, remove them from the heat. Flip the apples over so the cut side is now facing up. Lay your frozen puff pastry circle over the top of the apples. Place in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Then, turn the heat down to 350, and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to sit for about 2 minutes. Then, place a (heat-safe!) serving plate over the top of the pan, bottom up. Wearing oven mitts, grab both the pan and the platter tightly, and invert the skillet so it’s on top. (Do this very quickly, or you’ll lose your caramel, make a mess, and burn yourself!)

Serve while still warm.

Enjoy!

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This is just my kind of dessert. The focus is obviously on the apples because, well, it’s mostly apples! No double-crust. No super-thick caramel. Just delicious apples, lightly sweetened, accompanied by a thin, flaky crust. Next time, I’m going to try it with pears or quinces. File this one under deceptively, but impressively, simple.

The Pie King + Strawberry Chiffon Pie

Strawberry Chiffon Pie

How’s summer rolling along for you? It’s the middle of July, we’ve been able to get out and roam around the city, hitting up some of our old favorite spots and finding new favorites. On top of that, I’m looking forward to Alex’s birthday next week (even if he isn’t), and we may have some exciting travel plans coming up! Summer is just the best, isn’t it?

So, you’re going to need to stick with me on this post. It’s one of those cases where I just got excited about something that’s not as exciting as I think it is, and the next thing I knew I had written about 900 words and there was a whole pie in my fridge.

A while back, I was hunting around for vintage recipes and I came across an article in the L.A. Times from over twenty years ago about a man named Monroe Boston Strause, A.K.A. the Pie King. But it was a line in the second paragraph that caught my eye, that mentioned where Strause’s father was born: Garrett, Indiana. WHERE I GREW UP!

Garrett is small. It’s basically a blip on the map. We do have more than one stop light, but the population hovered just above 6,000 last time I checked. So you can understand my surprise when I learned that a man, who eventually became known as the “Pie King,” had a link to my hometown. It’s not a huge link, but when you’re from a town with nary a claim to fame (with the exception of one tragic silent film star and a MLB player from the early 1900s), even little connections are interesting.

I’m not here to talk about my hometown, though. I’m here to talk about the man known as the Pie King. Somewhat surprisingly, there isn’t a lot known about the personal life of Monroe Boston Strause. We do know that he was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1901, 117 years ago today. He was born to Boston Monroe Strause and Emma Studer.

Monroe Boston Strause(Portrait of Monroe Boston Strause, taken from his book Pie Marches On.)

It’s said that when Strause was still quite young, he became the owner of a bakery when when a relative who owned the business left it to Monroe. As a way of drumming up interest in the bakery, he began perfecting pie recipes and touring the country teaching others to make pie. By the 1930’s, he was already being written about by reporters who called him a pie expert.

It was also in the 30’s that he wrote Pie Marches On, essentially a pie bible explaining how to make the best versions of pie. He has a chapter dedicated to pie crust (if you’ve ever had a pie featuring a graham cracker crust, you can thank Monroe Boston Strause for it), as well as several variations of fruit and cream pies, black bottom pie (that he is credited with creating), and the chiffon pie, which it is said he invented in 1926.

By the 1940s, his mentions in the newspapers seem mainly to be companies promoting that their baked goods were “baked under the authority” of Strause, who may by this time have been traveling around the country less. His family situation may account for this. In the 1940 Census, he appears with his wife, Violet, and a one-year-old daughter, Marilynn. After that, I couldn’t find much information on him. He and his wife both died in 1981, a few months apart, but were living in different parts of California at the time.

Although his is no longer a household name, you can find vintage pie tins that bear his name still being sold on Ebay. He reminds me of many of our modern-day celebrity cooks. He perfected his technique, made a name for himself, and was able to profit from his celebrity status by allowing his name to be stamped on others’ products.

My search for more information on the Pie King’s later years will continue, because I usually can’t let things like this go. In the meantime, though, I’ve made a slightly updated version of his strawberry chiffon pie, which is a perfect for the dog days of summer, when the idea of turning the oven on at all is not very inviting, let alone long enough to bake a pie. It’s the perfect cool and creamy dessert for a hot and steamy day.

Strause’s original recipe called for uncooked, beaten egg whites to be mixed with a mashed berry/cornstarch concoction. The pie has a graham cracker crust base which only bakes for a short time, before being piled high with a light and airy egg-white-based filling, which is cooked for a short time over a double boiler to make the eggs safe, before it is allowed to set in the fridge.

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Strawberry Chiffon Pie
For my pie, I slightly altered this recipe. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients: 
Graham cracker crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 sheets of graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Chiffon filling:
1 cup strawberry sauce (basically 16 oz of strawberries–see instructions)
2/3 cup sugar
.25 oz of unflavored gelatin
4 egg whites
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

Graham cracker crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sheets of graham crackers into a food processor. Process into fine crumbs, but stop before they are powder.

Stir in sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter until very well combined.

Pour into the bottom of a pie pan and use a measuring cup or your fingers to press into the shape of the pan.

Bake for about 9 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the pie filling.

Chiffon filling:
Food process about 16 ounces of strawberries (for me it took the whole carton), until quite liquefied.

Pour into a measuring cup, straining out the larger strawberry pieces and seeds from the mixture, until you get 1 cup of sauce.

In a small heat-proof bowl, big enough to hold 1 1/2 cups of liquid, add 1/4 cup of water and sprinkle .25 oz of gelatin over the top to bloom.

Add the sauce to a small pan with the 2/3 cup sugar. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fill a larger bowl with a little water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Pour the strawberry mixture into the bloomed gelatin, put the bowl into the ice bath, and continually stir the gelatin mixture until it thickens slightly, about five minutes. Set the bowl in the refrigerator as you prepare the egg whites.

Over a double boiler (a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water, but not touching the water), add egg whites, 1/4 cup of sugar, and cream of tartar. Whisk to combine. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has reached a temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove from the double boiler, add in the vanilla, and use a mixer to beat the eggs on high speed until they are glossy, light, and fluffy.

Immediately add the gelatin mixture to the egg whites, folding in gently but thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and put back in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight to set.

Top with whipped cream and/or sliced strawberries and serve cold.

Strawberry Chiffon Pie2

Three really good things about this pie: 1) Intense strawberry flavor. There is little getting in the way of the flavor of whatever berry you use. 2) Almost no bake time. It’s too hot, it’s too hot, etc… 3) It really is as light as air. (That’s perhaps my only gripe with it. Alex liked this recipe better than I did. I like pie with a little bite to it.)

Thanks for indulging me in this walk down pie history lane. If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know what you think. I want to know what kind of pie people I’m dealing with here!