Canada Day + Butter Tarts

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Today is Canada Day! Similar to our 4th of July in the US, Canada Day is a national holiday that celebrates the anniversary of the Constitution Act of 1867, which united the three provinces of Canada–Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia–into the unified country of Canada. It’s often referred to as “Canada’s birthday.”

So I decided to celebrate our neighbors from the Great White North by making what must be one of their greatest culinary contributions to the world: Butter tarts. Think of a more buttery and less sweet pecan pie, baked into individual tarts. This fine little dessert is one of the few pastries considered truly Canadian.

Having existed for hundreds of years, there is no proof of the exact origin of the butter tart, but there are several theories on when and how the butter tarts were created.

The butter tart is perhaps most closely associated with the filles à marier (marriageable girls), also known as the filles du roi (King’s daughters), a group of nearly 800 young women who were sent to Canada between of the years of 1663 and 1673 as part of a program sponsored by Louis XIV. The program’s intentions were to increase the number of French citizens in “New France” by sending women to marry and have children with the French men who had already settled in Canada, and also to entice more men to immigrate to Canada, whose population at the time would have consisted of many more men than women. The program worked: Over the ten-year period in which the women were sent, New France’s population more than doubled.

It is said that the influx of the King’s daughters caused the invention of the butter tart, since the newly arrived women took on the duties of the home, including cooking, and used local ingredients, such as maple syrup. The butter tart was likely predated by the sugar pie, or tarte au sucre, and eventually raisins and pecans–critical but divisive ingredients in the butter tart–were added later. While today butter tarts are closely associated with the Ontario (English-speaking) area of Canada, and are somewhat similar to the British treacle tart, it might be that the tarts got their start in the French-speaking areas of Canada, such as Quebec, the first of the three ports that the King’s daughters would have been able to disembark.

As with many recipes, butter tarts became especially popular in Canada in the 1920’s and 30’s, after recipes were published in newspapers that reached a much wider group of home bakers. Today they are widely available throughout Canada and an annual Butter Tart festival is held every year in Midland, Ontario.

Even among the most polite Canadians, there are arguments about what makes a true butter tart. Some Canadians are vehemently against the addition of raisins, while others say that it isn’t a true butter tart without them. (To complicate the current raisin-or-no-raisin-argument, recipes printed in the early 20th-century include not raisins, but currants.) Additionally, some think that the filling should be gooey and runny when you bite into it, while others think the filling should be firm.

For the texture of the butter tarts shown here, I split the difference: This filling doesn’t ooze when you bite into it, but it’s not firm either. Also, I went with a pecan topping, and dropped the raisins–maybe I’m just an American with a partiality to pecan pie.

Butter Tart

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Canadian Butter Tarts 
Makes 12 small tarts.

Ingredients: 
Your favorite pie dough, enough to make one bottom crust of a pie. I like this one.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped, or 1/2 cup raisin, chopped.

Instructions:

Lightly grease one 12-cup cupcake tin and allow to chill in refrigerator as you prepare your butter tart crusts.

Roll out pie pastry to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 12 circles, 4 1/2-inches in diameter (you want them to be approximately the size of a cupcake liner.)

Press each circle of dough into the cupcake cups, pressing as needed to fit the cup. Return to the refrigerator as you prepare your filling.

If you are using pecans, finely chop and measure after chopping. If using raisins, soak them in hot water for at least fifteen minutes. Drain, pat dry, and chop finely.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, maple syrup, and melted butter until thoroughly combined. Add in egg and vanilla and mix to combine.

Remove the cupcake tin from refrigerator, and fill the bottom of each tart with finely chopped pecans or raisins.

Fill each tart about halfway with brown sugar mixture. (It will bake up further in the oven.)

Bake tarts for five minutes at 400 degrees. Then, lower the oven to 375 degrees and continue baking for 12-15 minutes, until the top is bubbly and no longer jiggles if you shake the cupcake tin.

Allow the tarts to cool completely in the tin before enjoying.

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The chopped pecans rise to the top of the tart, and become slightly crisp, while there is a gooey, buttery (but not too sweet!) layer underneath. It’s like a less-sweet, individual version of the pecan pie. I am certainly not claiming that this version is as good as anyone in Canada can make. However, if this is any indication of what the Canadian version is like, count me in.

Happy Canada Day!

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German Chocolate Cupcakes

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Today is National German Chocolate Cake Day! And we’re here to talk about it. First, right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: German chocolate cake has absolutely nothing to do with the country of Germany. Shocked? I know.

So why is German chocolate cake called such? In the early 1850’s, an English-American chocolate mill worker named Samuel German invented a sweet chocolate baking bar for The Baker Chocolate Company in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Walter Baker, owner of Baker’s, bought the recipe from German for $1000, and the chocolate bar was named in honor of him: Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.

At the time, Baker’s (which is also a misleading name, as “Baker” was the last name of the family, and was not chosen to mean that the chocolate was only for bakers) chocolate was exclusively used for baking. It was more bitter, whereas the German chocolate bar had a higher sugar content, and was marketed as “palatable” and “a great favorite with children,” implying that it was meant to be eaten on its own, much the way you would eat a Hershey’s bar now, instead of to be used in baked goods.

The Baker Chocolate Company continued to thrive over the next hundred years, which allowed for what we now know as German chocolate cake to be created. German chocolate cake, a multi-layered chocolate cake separated by a caramel-pecan-coconut filling, and sometimes topped with chocolate frosting, is often attributed to Mrs. George Clay, a homemaker in Dallas, and was first shared by The Dallas Morning News food editor Julie Benell in 1957. While this is the most-referenced origin of the recipe,  I’ve seen a reference to almost the exact same recipe over a year earlier in a May 1956 edition of The Irving News Record, printed in Irving, Texas. Curiously, the 1956 article states that “Daisy,” the food editor for The Irving News Record, actually got the recipe from her daughter, who was living in Oklahoma, and brought it back to Texas.

Whether we thank “Daisy” or Julie Benell for the recipe, we know that once it hit papers, it spread like wildfire across the United States. By 1958, General Foods, which now owned Baker’s chocolate, had decided to print the recipe in a recipe booklet. After this, the public’s interest was fully piqued, and Baker’s German chocolate sales increased by a whopping 73%.

It should also be noted that, by the earliest printings of this recipe in newspapers, the cake was already being called “German chocolate cake” instead of “German’s chocolate cake.” I’ve seen a lot of references to the fact that the name changed over the years, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have guesses as to why this is, the most probable being that home cooks, 100 years after Samuel German invented his chocolate bar, had no idea that the possessive German’s chocolate bar was created by a man named Samuel German. I would suppose that they assumed it was a German form of chocolate.

Hopefully this post will give Samuel German a bit of his due. To celebrate the day of his influence, I’ve made cupcakes, instead of the traditional 3-layered cake.

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German Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 20-24 cupcakes.

Ingredients: 
For cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 oz. Baker’s German chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup boiling hot coffee

For filling: I used 3/4 of the filling from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
6 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large egg yolks
6 oz evaporated milk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup pecans, chopped

Optional:
Chocolate frosting (store-bought works fine, but you can also make your own)
Maraschino cherries

Ingredients: 

For cupcakes: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

In a medium bowl, mix well the eggs and egg white, vanilla, buttermilk, and vegetable oil.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix together until fully combined.

Chop chocolate and add to a bowl. Pour boiling coffee over the top. Quickly whisk until the chocolate has melted, then quickly whisk into the other ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350. While the oven is preheating, fill two cupcake tins with cupcake liners.

Fill each liner up halfway. Bake, and begin checking for doneness at 18 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool completely.

For topping and filling:

Add the butter, sugar, yolks, and evaporated milk in a saucepan.

Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Allow the mixture to come to a steady boil, then begin whisking constantly until the mixture thickens (about 4-5 minutes).

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, shredded coconut and chopped pecans. Allow to cool completely before filling cupcakes.

Scoop out the center of each cupcake, but not the entirety of the top.

Pipe a ring of chocolate frosting around the top of each cupcake, optional.

Fill each cupcake with the coconut/pecan mixture. Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry, optional.

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Look, there are people who can do amazing things with cake. I’m not one of them. I kind of hate decorating cakes. Cupcakes, though, I can do! Plus, you get your own little maraschino cherry on top that you don’t have to share with anyone!

Thanks, Samuel German, for giving the world the essential ingredient for your namesake cake!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Linzer Cookies

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Ah, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I prefer them more in my adult life than I ever did as a kid. I have distinct memories of peanut butter in jelly sandwiches in a brown paper bags for lunch. Then, when lunch came, I usually wouldn’t eat, because by that time, the jelly had seeped through the soft white bread. As a child, I found this unacceptable, assuming something was wrong with it. I was an awful child, is what I’m saying.

But every now and again, since becoming an adult, I will need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If I can’t think of anything to eat, and I’m not craving anything (a real rarity), I’ll just make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and everything is right with the world again.

Some might argue that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is more American than apple pie. (And they would basically be right, since apple pie has been around since at least the 1300’s, and probably originated in England.) Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a truly American, born and bred.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich came about with the proliferation of its three ingredients, at approximately the same time: peanut butter, jelly, and sliced bread.

Let’s begin with peanut butter. Peanut butter was developed in the late 1800’s as a health food, by John Harvey Kellogg, a name you might recognize from your breakfast cereals as a kid. Kellogg ran the Western Heath Reform Institute, a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, which was more a health spa for the middle and upper classes, rather than a hospital. Kellogg began using a peanut paste in the sanitarium as a way of administering vitamins for patients who had trouble chewing or swallowing. Before Kellogg, it was Dr. Ambrose Straub who patented the first peanut butter making machine. Kellogg, however, patented the first process to produce peanut butter. At this time, the peanut paste that Kellogg was feeding his patients was unlike the butter as we know it today. It would be years before peanut butter was available to the masses, as it did not transport well, and was generally only considered a health food for the rich.

By 1901, the very first peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe was printed in The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics, by Julia Davis Chandler. Chandler suggested that her readers serve the bread, crab apple jelly, and peanut paste bite, to guests at parties, or high tea. Though Chandler combined peanut butter with jelly, at the time, peanut butter was most often served with savory accompaniments, such as watercress, at upscale restaurants or tea rooms.

As for jelly, it has been around, in some form, for more than a thousand years. The first known recipe for a jam dates back to the 4th or 5th century in one of the earliest known cookbooks in existence, De re coquinaria (called the Art of Cooking in English), otherwise known as Apicius (after its presumptive author). However, until pasteurization, jelly would have been made in smaller batches, for the home. It was Nicholas Appert, a Frenchman, who answered Napoleon Bonaparte’s offer of a reward for anyone who could find a way to preserve foods in large quantities for soldiers in 1785. Appert discovered that, by boiling the fruit at high temperatures, and storing them in jars that had been tightly sealed, food would remain safe to eat for long periods of time. Since that time, home cooks would use this method to make jams and jellies as a way of preserving seasonal fruit for the winter. In 1918, however, the brand Welch’s, which was, at the time, exclusively making grape juice, invented “Grapelade,” a food similar to marmalade, but using grapes. The initial stock was bought by the U.S. Army for troop rations during World War I. After the War, the troops brought home their love of grapelade, and in 1923, Welch’s created their Concord grape jelly, the cornerstone of the original PB&J.

The third and final component of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the bread. Of course, bread has been around for thousands of years. But, like jam, making bread was something that was often done in the home, and required time. In the late 1920’s, Otto Frederick Rodhwedder of Iowa invented a bread slicing machine, which revolutionized the way people ate bread. With the arrival of sliced bread, people were eating more bread than ever before. And the timing of the invention, just a few years after Welch’s released their grape jelly, meant that people were using more jams to go along with their bread. By this time, too, peanut butter was no longer considered only a food for the rich. The price point had dropped, allowing all classes to enjoy it. By the time the Great Depression hit in 1929, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had become an easy, fairly nutritious, and cost-effective meal that was easy for children and adults alike to assemble and carry with them. By the time WWII began, peanut butter and jelly sandwich ingredients were included in the soldiers rations, which cemented their status as a icon in American history.

For today’s recipe, I thought, why not take the beloved sandwich, and dessert-ize it by turning into a beloved sandwich cookie. I give you: Peanut Butter and Jelly Linzer Cookies.

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Linzer Cookies
Makes about 15 sandwich cookies. Adapted from this recipe from Southern Living.

Ingredients: 
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup grape jelly
powdered sugar, optional

Instructions:

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

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, both sugars, and the peanut butter until well combined. Add in the egg and vanilla and beat in until just combined. Add in the flour and salt, all at once, and beat in until just combined with no white streaks remaining.

Dump out the dough onto a well-floured surface, gathering up any loose pieces that fall away, and form into a disk. Separate the disk into two equal pieces.

Working with one half of the dough, roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out 15 (or as many as you can fit) 2 3/4 to 3-inch circles with a cookie or biscuit cutter. Place the cut outs onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet, about 1 centimeter apart.

Bake for about 9-10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for five minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack.

Repeat the above process with the second half of the dough, this time cutting out a smaller hole in the center of the circle cutouts. Place the cutouts on the second lined cookie sheet and bake for 9-10 minutes.

When the cookies have completely cooled, put a one teaspoon dollop of grape jelly in the center of each of the whole cookies. For the cookies with the center cutout, sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional), and sandwich with the cookies topped with grape jelly.

*Cookies can be served immediately, but I think they actually get better after a day in an airtight container.

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These cookies are quite delicious, almost impossible to stop eating (especially if served with milk!), and really do taste like a PB&J. Bonus: They look like they have little jewels in the middle! Happy National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day! P.S. If you’re craving more peanut butter history, you can check out my previous post here.

Madeleines with Blood Orange Glaze and Pistachios

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Happy Mardi Gras! In honor of the holiday, we’re celebrating with some French history and buttery cookie-cakes. I give you, the madeleine.

The madeleine is most closely associated with the small town of Commercy, in the Lorraine region of eastern France. While no one knows for sure the true provenance of the madeleine, both nuns and royals are said to have had a hand in popularizing the cookie-sized cake.

Often the madeleine is associated with two different female bakers of the same name. Some histories suggest that the madeleine was simply named after a baker employed in the castle of Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz in Lorraine. However, this is probably the least likely story of all, as absolutely no evidence of such a baker named madeleine has been found, nor any evidence that a baker in the household had any hand in the creation of the dessert at all. It’s also unclear if the house the woman worked in belonged to the Cardinal at all.

A slightly more convincing story suggests that an exiled Polish King and his French king son-in-law may have played a part. In 1725, King Louis XV of France married Maria Leszczynska, the daughter of the former Polish King, Stanislaw I Leszczynski. After losing his throne, Stanislaw was given the Duchy of Lorraine. He established himself in the Chateau de Luneville, and it’s suggested that it was here that the first madeleine was created by a woman named Madeleine Paulmier. Legend has it that Madeleine was a baker in the Duke’s castle and that in 1755, after she had created the madeleine, the Duke’s son-in-law, King Louis XV of France, tasted the confection, fell in love with it, and introduced the new dessert to the Court of Versailles. Others say the Duke gave it to his daughter, Maria, the Queen of France, and that it was she who introduced it to the court. Some sources state that the cookies were named after the baker herself, while others say that the King named them for his wife, Maria, though why they would be called madeleines instead of marias is hard to say. (I wish that I could dig through some local records in Lorraine to see if there was any credibility to this claim. With both a first and last name, if this woman existed, certainly she should show up somewhere.)

The second suggestion is that madeleines were not created in Lorraine at all, but instead in the kitchen of Jean Avice, the cook to Prince Talleyrand in Paris. Avice is credited with the distinctive shell-shape of the cookie, achieved by baking the batter in aspic molds. This seems like a good argument in favor of Avice, but his recipe is often dated to the 19th century, and madeleines almost certainly existed before then. Recipes dating back to the mid-1700s have been found, and were already being made in other parts of France.

I think perhaps the most compelling argument for the cookie is not related to a baker named Madeleine at all, but rather to the faith of French nuns. The name Madeleine is the French form of “Magdalene,” as in Mary Magdalene, the follower of Jesus Christ. It is known that convents around France baked lots of things, which would support the theory that nuns were behind at least the name of the dessert, if not also the recipe. It also seems that Commercy, in particular, had a convent named after Mary Magdalene. After the convents of France were shut down in 1790, the nuns may have sold the madeleine recipe to bakers for a profit. This might also explain how it spread across France around that time. While it might be more romantic to imagine one baker named Madeleine creating the treat in a humble kitchen, the fact is pastries were already big business in the 1700s, particularly in France. Additionally, there is a popular cupcake-like dessert in Spain that closely resembles the madeleine, called a magdalena. It’s hard to say which dessert came first, but the Catholic link between the two countries and the similarity in names seems undeniable.

While the dessert has been popular in France for centuries, a mention in the 1920s by Marcel Proust, in his work In Search of Lost Time, may have been responsible for taking the cake’s popularity beyond the French border. In the work, he describes how the madeleine crumbs transport him back in time to his childhood (though, as Proust grew up more than 160 miles away from Commercy, one must assume that the cookie had already been popularized throughout France.)

Perhaps we will never know the true creator for sure, but you can add your own name to the history of the dessert, and make it yourself! For the recipe, you will need a bit of lead time: Once made, the batter should be refrigerated at least three hours. After that, things come together quickly, and what you’re left with is fluffy, buttery, and perfect straight from the oven, or cooled and glazed. Either way, they’re quite comfortable alongside a hot cup of coffee.

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Madeleines with Blood Orange Glaze and Pistachios
Makes 12 full-size madeleines, or 24 mini madeleines.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp blood orange zest, optional
4 tbsp (or 1/4 cup) butter, melted, plus 1 tbsp butter, melted, to grease the pans

For topping, optional:
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
OR
1 tsp blood orange juice
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped finely

Instructions:

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Add sugar and eggs to a large bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until thick and pale, about 2-3 minutes. Fold the vanilla and almond extracts and orange zest into the mixture until just combined.

Fold in the melted butter. Sift the flour mixture over the top and fold in until no dry streaks remain.

Press plastic wrap directly on top of the batter (as you would with homemade pudding) and refrigerate for at least three hours, or up to two days.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush melted butter into the shell molds in a madeleine pan (or a small muffin tin), freeze pan for 5 minutes, then brush the remaining melted butter on. Lightly flour each shell.

Fill molds almost all the way to the top, but not quite full. (Batter will will be thick, but will spread and even out as it bakes).

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 10 minutes. Each cookie should spring back when you press your finger into the center.

Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Or, add about 1 tbsp of blood orange juice to 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar. Dip half of a (cooled) madeleine into the glaze, and immediately top with fresh, chopped pistachios.

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Perhaps there is no more perfect dessert than a madeleine. Half cookie, half cake, a springy sponge cookie-cake that makes for a light-as-air dessert. It’s a perfect little two-bite, shell-shaped morsel, and it’s not hard to see why it went down in history.

Pear and Walnut Ozark Pudding

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Welcome to September! It’s been a doozy so far. We were planning to spend last week in New Orleans, searching for a new apartment. Instead, we ended up cancelling because of Tropical Storm Gordon. We were super-bummed and were sort of at a loss for what to do next. Instead of sticking around Chicago, since Alex had the time off, we took a quick train trip to Milwaukee for a few days. It was a bit of a mind-shift, but we had a really nice time! Anyway, it looks like a move back to New Orleans is not going to happen right now, but our lease is up in February, so we’ll reassess then.

While we were in Milwaukee, the temperature briefly turned chilly and there was a definite feel of fall in the air. It actually made me excited for cooler weather (even though it was back in the 80’s yesterday). Mostly, it made me excited about cooking with heat again. It also made me crave slightly richer desserts than I am interested in in the summer, which led me to Ozark Pudding.

The Ozark region surrounds the Ozark mountains, encompassing a large part of Missouri and Arkansas, as well as parts of Kansas and Oklahoma. To be honest, before I saw Winter’s Bone, I knew nothing about the area (and what I learned after watching the movie terrified me), and even less about the food. Even when seeking out Ozark-specific recipes, I came up almost entirely empty-handed. Some of that may be explained by this Vice article, published several years ago. Many of the families that settled in the Ozarks have remained there for generations and the area is notoriously mysterious, and is often considered somewhat isolationist. However, I did find one dessert recipe, so specific to the Ozarks that it has it in the name: Ozark Pudding. It’s likely we wouldn’t know the name Ozark Pudding if it weren’t for the fact that it was one of Harry Truman’s favorite dishes, who was from the region.

Many sources say that the first recipes for Ozark Pudding were printed in the 1950’s. We know that it existed before then, because Bess Truman had it on the dinner menu in 1946 when Winston Churchill visited, before giving his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, the Trumans’ home state. (Harry and Bess Truman both grew up nearby, hailing from Independence, Missouri.)

Ozark Pudding also has a genealogy on its own. It shares similarities with a South Carolina favorite called Huguenot Torte, and most agree that the dishes have some relation. There are two stories about that relation. The less likely, and less accepted, explanation credits the French with the creation of the recipe. This story claims that a version of this dessert, originally called Gateau aux Noisettes and made with hazelnuts, arrived with the Huguenots, persecuted French Protestants, who sought asylum in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1600’s. After arriving in Charleston, the nuts changed from hazelnuts to pecans, which were more accessible. Then, as the recipe moved west, its choice of nuts changed to walnuts, which are found in the Ozark area.

However, the more accepted story is that the pudding originated in the Ozarks and then traveled to South Carolina, where it was embraced. It was renamed Huguenot Torte because the recipe was first printed in 1950 and attributed to Evelyn Florance, who recreated the Ozark recipe at the Huguenot Tavern in Charleston. (Florance claimed that she first had the dessert in Texas in the 1930s.)

Either way, the recipes for the torte and the pudding are nearly identical, both containing equal parts fruit and nuts, mixed with sugar, egg and a bit of flour to bind it together.

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Pear and Walnut Ozark Pudding
Slightly altered from Bess Truman’s original recipe.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup pear, peeled and chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoon vanilla
4 tbsp flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional

Instructions: 

Butter the inside of a nine-inch pie pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar. Stir in pear and walnuts. Then fold in the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom, until no streaks remain.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Remove and cool slightly, before serving warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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This is a rich, almost decadent, dessert–read: it’s sweet. There is a bit of crust that develops at the edges, and the inside is almost like pecan pie filling. Next time I make it, I would cut down the sugar at least 1/4 cup. I used pears, instead of the traditional apples, and I added a few spices that could easily be omitted, if they don’t appeal to you. Other in-season fruits, or nuts, could be used, too.

Are any of my readers out there from the Ozark region? Can you tell me a little more about your food culture and history? Or better yet, write a book. I’d buy it.

 

Julia Child’s Birthday + Queen of Sheba Cake

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Hi from Beantown! We planned a super-last-minute trip to Boston after Alex got scheduled for a work trip. So I’ve been stumbling over cobblestone, taking pictures of pretty doors and windows with flower boxes, and soaking up every ounce of history I can before we have to go back home.

Before that, though, I’m doing a small virtual celebration post for my girl, Julia Child, whose birthday is today!

A self-confessed late bloomer, I cherish stories of women who did not find their calling until later in life. Factor in a supportive husband and a life that revolves around food… well, Julia Child’s life is my own personal fairy tale.

Julia Child would have been 106 today. Born Julia McWilliams in California to a wealthy family, Child did not cook for herself until she married and, even then, she confessed that she was not a natural. During the second World War, Child worked as a typist for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). While stationed in Asia, Julia met her future beloved husband Paul Cushing Child. Paul Child was a lover of food, with a refined palate. When he joined the Foreign Service and the couple was sent to live in Paris, Julia experienced the first taste, literally and figuratively, of her future. Later in her life, she described her first meal in France as a life-changing experience.

She attended Le Cordon Bleu, and joined a women’s cooking group where she met a woman named Simone Beck, who was writing a French cookbook for Americans. Along with Beck’s friend Louisette Bertholle, Child began working on the cookbook, which (more than a decade later) would be her first published cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

By this time, Julia and her husband had settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she wrote a column for the Boston Globe, and worked on other cookbooks. Child became a television chef when she appeared on WGBH-TV, after a series of other guests canceled. On live TV, instead of simply discussing how she would follow a recipe, Child flipped an omelette, much to the excitement of the viewers. This led to a television show starring Child called The French Chef that would run for more than 10 years. Other shows and cookbooks would follow; she published almost twenty during her life (and one posthumously, with the help of her nephew). She also continued making cooking shows, sometimes teaming up with her friend and fellow chef, Jacques Pepin.

I’ll admit, my first interest in Julia Child did not come from her cooking, but from her height–she was over six feet tall. I don’t know why that stuck with me. I’m fascinated by tall people, probably because I’m so short. I also appreciated her epic love affair with her husband. He even designed a special kitchen to accommodate her height and make cooking easier for her. Paul died in 1994, but Julia lived in their home in Cambridge until 2001, when she moved into a retirement home in California. Before moving, Child donated her kitchen to the Smithsonian museum, where it is housed today. She died in 2004, three days before her 92nd birthday.

To celebrate Julia’s birthday, I decided to make her Queen of Sheba cake. This recipe appeared in her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as in some of her subsequent cookbooks. It’s a very fancy name for a very simple and elegant dessert, which is essentially a rich chocolate cake.

This was the first cake that Julia had in France and may have ultimately helped Julia fall in love with French cuisine. It might have the same effect on you, because it’s delicious and approachable and everything good.

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Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba Cake

Ingredients:
For cake: 
1/3 cup ground almonds, plus 2 tbsp sugar 
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 tbsp strong coffee (or 2 tbsp dark rum)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour

For frosting:
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

Optional:
Sliced almonds

Instructions:

Grease and line one 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Move the rack to the bottom third of the oven.

Process together 1/3 cup of almonds with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the coffee or rum and the semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate and heat until just melted. Set aside.

Cream the butter until completely smooth. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat for another minute. Add the egg yolks and beat together until smooth and light yellow in color.

In another bowl, beat together the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating sugar thoroughly into the egg whites before adding second tablespoon of sugar. Continue to beat the egg mixture until you have stiff, glossy peaks.

Stir the chocolate/coffee mixture, ground almond mixture, and almond extract, into the egg yolk mixture.

Add in a third of the egg white mixture, carefully folding until thoroughly mixed. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and continue to fold into the mixture. Continue alternating the egg white and flour into the mixture two more times, until completely combined.

Pour mixture into the greased cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 30 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. When the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn over onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

If adding frosting, put semi-sweet chocolate into a bowl. Heat the heavy cream until it is hot but not boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Pour over the cake and smooth over the sides. Decorate edges with sliced almonds, if you wish.

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There you have it. It takes a few bowls to accomplish, but not too much fuss beyond that (unless you find egg whites fussy, which some do). Alex usually makes the same simple request when I try out a new recipe: “Can you add chocolate?” But he was finally satisfied with this recipe. It’s rich, almost like a brownie, but not too sweet, and you get a hint of the almond, which is what does it for me. And you don’t even need a specially designed kitchen for it. Happy birthday, Julia!

Peanut Butter Cookies

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Hey! It’s June now! You can barely tell, but here it is! On a recent June day, walking to the store, I found myself angrily cursing at how cold and windy it was. Since then, I’ve been looking at Craigslist apartments in… Austin? Savannah? Should we just move back to New Orleans? I mean, summer used to be Chicago’s saving grace, but these last few springs and summers have just been… chilly.

June is a funny time anyway because work is quieter for us both, and our summer trips don’t usually pick up until July 4th, so we’re just here, dealing with the moody Chicago weather, mostly inside, watching scary movies. We just finished Tabula Rasa, a Belgium mystery, on Netflix and we both loved it! Now we’re on to Requiem, which is so far good, a little slow, but I would happily watch paint dry so long as it were set in the Welsh landscape, so we’re sticking with it.

Also, of course, I’ve been hunting around for new recipes to write about. I saw that today was national peanut butter cookie day. I know. I don’t get it. But it did set me on a quest to learn some peanut butter history, and it was actually pretty great! Some things I learned: Peanut butter, as we know it, is a fairly modern marvel, only first appearing in the late 1800’s. George Washington Carver did NOT invent peanut butter! (I feel like I learned this in elementary school at some point. And now I feel like I’ve been living a lie.) GWC did have an important role in its promotion, though. Finally, peanut butter is just not a big deal in other countries. It’s a very American snack. Depending on your peanut butter views, this may come as no surprise.

In 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Canadian chemist, obtained the first patent for peanut flavoring paste to be used in sweets or candies. Ten year later, in 1894, George Bayle began producing peanut butter as a snack food, mostly selling it near St. Louis.

By 1898, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (you might know him by his cereals), began using boiled peanut paste in his sanitarium, the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. The paste provided patients, particularly those who were unable to chew, with a protein-rich, vegetarian food option, which Dr. Kellogg promoted. At this time, peanut butter was not available to the masses, as it did not transport well, and was generally only considered a health food for the rich.

By 1903, however, Ambrose Straub, also of St. Louis, had patented a peanut butter-making machine, and a year later, peanut butter made an appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Shortly after that, it gained popularity on a nation-wide scale and, less than a decade later, recipes for peanut butter cookies began appearing in newspapers.

If you’re curious about George Washington Carver’s role in the history of peanut butter in the United States, it did not begin until about 1915. During this time, the boll weevil, a type of beetle, had devastated southern cotton crops. In response, Carver began focusing his research on crops for farmers to alternate with their cotton crops, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, which were both healthy for human consumption and would help restore nitrogen in the depleted soil. As part of his work, Carver began promoting the use of sweet potatoes and peanuts in recipes.

By the early 1920s, a chemist named Joseph Rosefield added partially hydrogenated oil to the peanut butter, which prevented it from separating. And by the 1920s, the first peanut butter company, Peter Pan, was founded using a license provided by Dr. Rosefield.

Nutritious and affordable, good for the soil and good for the body. And delicious in a cookie! For the recipe, I adapted one of my favorite cookie recipes: the America’s Test Kitchen Crinkle Cookie. I wanted a lot of peanut butter flavor, but I didn’t want them to be too thick, chewy, or crispy. The results were… very fluffy, and very dangerous.

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Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes between 24 and 36 cookies.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 cup white granulated sugar, for rolling 

Instructions:

In a small bowl, melt together the peanut butter and butter, stir to mix together, and set aside to cool slightly.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-combined.

Add the peanut butter mixture to the sugar and eggs mixture and stir together until combined. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir together until there are no more white flour streaks. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Move a rack to the middle rung in oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Fill a bowl with granulated sugar. Scoop 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into the sugar. Once all sides are coated, pick up and form into a ball in your hands. Place on cookie sheet. Continue, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each ball, until you’ve filled the baking sheet. Using a fork, slightly flatten each ball and make a crisscross shape across the top of each ball. Bake for 6 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees, and continue baking for another 6 minutes. The cookies will look soft, but they will be done. Don’t over-cook! Continue on the second baking pan, until you’ve used all the dough.

Allow the cookies to cool on the pan before serving or transferring to an airtight container.

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My husband described these as cookies for people who love cake. They are incredibly soft, with the slightest crisp edge. You will have a terrible time not eating the whole batch because they’re so light and pillowy. Because of this, they do not hold their traditional crisscross imprint very well, but you won’t hardly have time to notice.