National Cookie Day + Speculaas

Speculaas3

Did you all survive Thanksgiving? We had the best time in our new place, with old friends who trekked all the way up here so that I could make them various carb casseroles and fill them with wine. Then we slept in and ate pie for breakfast. It was the best. And later this week, we’ll get our tree, after which we will reward our hard work by making mulled wine, eating Jet’s pizza and watching Hallmark movies for the rest of the night. We may also eat a salad, because geez, our diets are really screwed up by holiday eating and my pants are already starting to object.

Until I full-on can’t fit into my pants anymore, we’re talking cookies! If you’ve stepped foot on Instagram today, you’ve probably noticed that today is #nationalcookieday. Obviously, December is peak cookie-making time, not only in the United States, but around the world. Obviously, sweets have been making an appearance at special events since early times, but how did the cookie become synonymous with Christmas?

Europeans have been making cookies around Christmas since at least the 1500s. It was also around this time that gingerbread, as a sweetened form of cake, gained popularity in Britain. Gingerbread was not yet considered a Christmas tradition, but was instead used in various instances of “wooing,” with gingerbread men even being used by Queen Elizabeth I as a gift to dignitaries.

Gingerbread cookies have been made for almost that long, employing some variation of sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, all spices that were brought back to Europe during and after the Crusades. And while gingerbread didn’t become associated with Christmas-time in Britain until the reign of Queen Victoria, gingerbread-type cookies called speculaas have been made in the Netherlands and Belgium since at least the 1600s. The cookies are often large and imprinted with a cookie press, depicting a variety of scenes. It is even rumored that woodcarvers could design their own cookie mold, portraying their profession, and give it to the woman they hoped to marry. There is no definite proof of the name’s history, but it’s said that it may come from the Latin word “speculum,” which means “mirror,” because of the mirror image imprint that a cookie stamp would leave behind. Another theory is that the name is taken from the Dutch word for spice, “specerij.”

Speculaas/Speculoos, to Americans, might mean the delicious cookie butter you can buy at Trader Joe’s. However, in the Low Countries, speculaas is most often made to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated in early December by Western Christians, and in mid-December by Eastern Christians. St. Nicholas Day celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek saint who was said to have secretly given gifts and performed miracles. On St. Nicholas Day eve, children set shoes (instead of stockings) out by the door, hoping that Nicholas might leave a small present inside their shoe for them to find the next day.

And while making cookies around Christmas has been happening in Europe for centuries, the Dutch are credited with bringing the “Christmas cookie” to the United States. This Dutch tradition probably arrived first in what is today New York state’s Dutchess County-area. The English word “cookie” is also of Dutch origin. Koekjes were tiny “cakes” made when cooks used a small amount of batter to test their ovens before baking cake.

We in America do not only owe our Christmas cookie traditions to the Dutch, but our Santa Claus himself. Santa Claus’ name is derived from the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas. It is said that Santa Claus may have become an American tradition during the Revolutionary War when, more than 100 years after their ancestors arrived from the Netherlands, colonists in New York were attempting to dissociate themselves from their British enemies and embrace their Dutch heritage.

Even speculaas butter, the Trader Joe’s cookie butter that we all love–which I was sure was an American invention–actually has roots in the Netherlands and Belgium. Workers in those countries were known to make a speculaas “sandwich” of the cookies and butter. By mid-day, the butter would have softened the cookie to a spreadable amalgam.

Speculaas

Speculaas2

Speculaas4

Speculaas5

Speculaas
Makes 10-12 large cookies, or 20-24 large cookies. This recipe is an adaptation of one from the New York Times.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp orange zest
2-3 tbsp milk, whole

Instructions: 

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth.

Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and coriander.

Finally, stir in the almond extract, orange zest, and milk. The mixture should hold when pinched together. If it doesn’t, add one tablespoon of milk at a time until it does.

Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least two hours, or up to overnight.

After refrigerated, roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thick.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cut out shapes using cooking cutters or stamps, placing the cutouts onto cookie sheets. Continue to roll out the remaining dough until you have used all of it.

Bake cookies for 20 minutes, rotating once halfway through cooking. Allow to cool for five minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to cooling rack.

Speculaas6

If you’re not into crisp cookies (like me), you might not love these cookies. Though I am considering making them again, just to turn them into an icebox cake. But the history of these cookies is the most interesting part, like most of what I write about here. These old recipes have mostly become well-worn American ideas, but it is exciting (at least to me!) to dig up their stories and show how our traditions in the United States have been shaped over the centuries. Happy National Cookie Day, y’all!

Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Sugar Cake4

Realizing only now that this will be my last post before Thanksgiving. Holy smokes! Then it’s Christmastime! Which, in this house, means fancy at-home steak dinners with wine (our coziest tradition ever before the holidays), lots of Hallmark movies (don’t look at me, Alex is the one who really loves them), and oodles of homemade Chex Mix. Last year, between the two of us, we polished off two large batches in, like, two days. Can we beat that record this year? I believe in us.

In November of 1789, North Carolina became a state, but more than 30 years earlier, a religious group called the Moravians settled in the area that is now Forsyth County. The Moravians were one of the earliest Protestant sects, and some claim it is the earliest Protestant group, formed in the 1400s, in what is today the Czech Republic. They were held to be radical at the time because of beliefs we would consider today to be basic tenets of the Protestant church, such as allowing priests to marry and the disbelief in Purgatory. While the group flourished in the early years, they were forced to flee their country when the devoutly Catholic Hapsburg King Ferdinand II came to power. They first settled in what is the present-day Saxony region of Germany.

Eventually arriving in the new world, the group first attempted to settle in Savannah, Georgia, in 1735, but within five years, the group had broken apart, in part because they were looking for another location for a permanent settlement. One of the group’s main tenets was to proselytize and, after being invited by several Algonquin chiefs in the New York region, the group set up a mission there. However, by 1744, the group was expelled by the local powers. (Side literary/movie note: Chief Chingachgook, a fictional character in James Cooper Fennimore’s Last of the Mohicans, is a Moravian convert during this time, who ends up rejecting the faith at the end of his life.)

The first permanent settlement for the Moravians came on Christmas Eve of 1741, when the mission of Bethlehem was settled in Pennsylvania. A little more than a decade later, a group was sent south, to present-day North Carolina to establish a settlement there, which they did in what is modern-day Winston-Salem, in 1752.

Bethlehem, PA, in the north and Salem, NC, in the south were considered “homes” for the church. The northern and southern “homes” did frequently visit one another, though, and one thing they shared was old-fashioned sugar cake. Moravian sugar cake was similar to German kuchens, or cakes, that were made with a yeasted dough and topped with streusel. It is also a slightly simpler version of what we know as “coffee cake” in the United States today. The real difference to Moravian sugar cake is mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are thought to have been used in the dough to help the yeast’s growth. This common-man’s ingredient is balanced against a cinnamon-sugar topping, so it’s sweet but not too sweet. The topping, applied after bakers made deep pockets in the dough with their thumbs, sinks in, making a dimpled and rumpled topping as the cake bakes. It is said that Moravians took their sugar cake so seriously that when a Moravian man went looking for a wife, he looked for one with large thumbs who would be able to make the best sugar cake. (Gross, yes.)

Recipes for Moravian sugar cake appear in the mid-1800s in both Pennsylvanian and North Carolinian newspapers. It is frequently mentioned in early newspapers being served along with coffee for church anniversaries and “love feasts.” Now commonly served for Easter celebrations, it has become a regional favorite, even for those outside of the church.

Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Sugar Cake2

Moravian Sugar Cake3

Moravian Sugar Cake
Makes one 8×2-inch round cake. Adapted from Garden & Gun’s recipe.

Ingredients:
For cake: 1 1/4 tsp dry-active yeast
1/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp milk, warm (about 115 degrees)
1/4 cup mashed potatoes
1 egg
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
For topping: 3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon

Instructions: 

In a large bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast, and a tablespoon of sugar. Whisk together and allow to sit and get frothy for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the remaining sugar, as well as the potato, egg, butter, salt. Then add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour streaks are gone and the dough begins to form a ball.

Pour the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place the ball of dough into clean, slightly greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Grease a round 8×2-inch cake pan. Punch the dough down and press into the greased cake pan. Set aside as you prepare the topping.

Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Using your thumbs, make deep indentations all over the top of the dough, making sure to not poke all the way through the dough. Pour the butter-brown sugar mixture over the dough and spread evenly over the top.

Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Moravian Sugar Cake6

I just love this kind of food history. Here is a perfectly innocent-looking cake, that actually serves as a reminder of pre-Revolutionary pioneering, radical European Protestantism, and entrenched US regionalism. Also, you know, it’s just great with coffee. 😉

Condensed Milk + Lemon Icebox Pie

Lemon Icebox Pie.jpg

Hi! Is it freezing where you are? It sure is here. How are you holding up? We have basically been staying cozied up in our apartment. And I find the time of year between Halloween and Christmas so strange. I know there is Thanksgiving and all but, while I’m excited for green bean casserole, I really just want to get my Christmas tree up, you know? Anyway, not wanting to leave the house for any reason has its perks. It gives me a lot of time (too much time?) for food history research. For example, I few weeks ago I started reading about condensed milk history, and thinking to myself, “Man, wouldn’t other people like to learn about condensed milk history?” And so, now you’re going to have to bear with me for the next 500 or so words…

Before refrigeration, and the advent of condensed milk, dairy had a very short shelf life, only a few hours. In 1851, Gail Borden was returning to the US from England on a ship. During the voyage, the cows aboard the ship got sick and eventually died. Before dying, however, passengers were still drinking the cows’ milk. This led to the death of several children who had consumed the milk, leaving a lasting impact on Borden. He was determined to find a way to make milk last longer and make it, more importantly, safer.

Elsewhere in the world, confectioner and food preservationist Nicholas Appert had already been condensing milk in his native France since the 1830s, but the method had not yet made it to the United States. (Even Marco Polo was said to have encountered a version of condensed milk during his travels, citing the Tatars use of “milk paste,” though historians believe it was likely made from already fermented, not fresh, milk.) Borden began developing his own technique for making milk shelf-stable shortly after returning from his traumatic voyage. Borden failed several times at creating a product he was happy with before he was successful. Finally, he thought of using a vacuum pan to concentrate the milk, borrowing a method used by the Shakers for condensing fruit juice. The technique worked and, after adding sugar as a preservative, Borden was able to make his condensed milk available to the public. By the late 1850s, Borden’s brand of shelf-stable milk, sold as Eagle Brand, was considered the pinnacle of purity. It’s likely this was due not only to its indispensability and therefore trustworthiness to the everyday user, but also because Borden took the production of his dairy very seriously, imposing the “Dairyman’s Ten Commandments” on the farmers who supplied him with his milk, which included washing their cows’ udders before they were milked, and thoroughly cleaning and drying the strainers they used for the milk each morning and night. In a time when hand-washing was not even commonplace for doctors, Borden’s rules likely seemed extreme.

While condensed milk began growing rapidly in popularity soon after its creation, it was during the Civil War in the 1860s that condensed milk became an invaluable ration to troops, solidifying the product’s place throughout the country. Its popularity and reach grew when, in Europe, Charles and George Page, two brothers from Illinois, opened Europe’s first condensed milk plant in the mid 1860s, after learning the technique from Borden. Hoping to match Borden’s American success on the continent, their company eventually merged with Heinrich Nestle’s baby formula business. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, these companies would become Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company.

Thanks to Borden’s innovation and commitment to quality, condensed milk gained popularity in everyday households, and over time, it became especially popular as a dessert ingredient. This development ensured its continued success even after the invention of the refrigerator, which might have made it obsolete. This all brings us to today’s recipe, a condensed milk dessert favorite: Icebox Pie.

Lemon Icebox Pie2

Lemon Icebox Pie4

Lemon Icebox Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:
For the crust: 10 full sheets of graham crackers
6 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
For the filling: 1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Optional for topping: Freshly whipped cream
Lemon zest

Instructions: 

Break the graham cracker sheets into a food processor, then pulse until only small pieces remain. Add the butter, sugar, and salt, until the mixture is fine and holds when squeezed together in the palm of your hand.

Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a shallow, 8-inch pie pan. Place the pie in the freezer for 10 minutes. While the pie is in the freezer, begin to preheat your oven to 350.

After 10 minutes in the freezer, bake the crust for 10 minutes.

While the pie is baking, beat together the condensed milk and egg yolks in a large bowl until combined. Add in the lemon juice and continue to beat until thoroughly combined and no streaks remain.

Pour the filling directly into the hot/warm pie crust, and continue baking at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of lemon zest before serving, optional.

Lemon Icebox Pie5

Yes, some traditional icebox pies (like Key Lime) would have contained egg yolks, and would not have been cooked at all. I cooked mine, just enough to make sure the eggs were safe. It’s still a very hands-off pie. It’s very similar to, but maybe even better than,  my old favorite, Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie, because it is insanely light and lemony.

It is not an over-exaggeration to say that Gail Borden saved thousands, if not millions of lives with his condensed milk invention, both in homes and on the battlefield. I’m sure he didn’t predict that it would become a dessert darling, but we’ll call that a happy accident.

Stay warm, my friends!

Happy Halloween + Flies’ Graveyard

Flies' Graveyard5

Happy Halloween! This is my favorite, favorite holiday, and I’m so excited. We did go out last Saturday, when it was pouring rain, and today we are waking up to snow, so… welcome to Halloween in the Midwest.

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the origins of Halloween in the United States, many of which we owe to ancient traditions in Ireland and Scotland. The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the pre-Christian Gaelic festival of Samhain, or summer’s end. While Samhain was determined by the end of the harvest, it was also known as a time when feasts were held for dead loved ones, and the spirits of the Otherworld could enter this world. Because of this belief, bonfires were a common part of a Samhain celebration, as they were thought to protect humans and ward off any evil spirits who crossed the boundary.

Because fire was regarded as protective, in Ireland, root vegetables were carved–mostly turnips in Scotland–into faces, and a light was placed inside to ward off evil spirits. Still used today, the name Jack O’Lantern comes from an Irish legend about a man named “Stingy Jack,” a drunk with such a bad reputation that the devil himself sought him out. According to some variations of the story, Jack twice tricked the devil into buying him food and drink, both times escaping the devil’s plans for him. Tricking the devil again by striking a deal that he would never be taken to Hell, Jack lived to old age. However, at his death, he was turned away from the gates of Heaven for his bad lifestyle. He then attempted to enter Hell, but was also turned away, the devil now keeping his promise to never take him. So Stingy Jack is forced to wander the netherworld for eternity, with only an ember inside of a turnip to light his way.

Even trick-or-treating has its origins in Samhain. Known as “mumming” or “guising,” the practice involved people dressing in costume and going door to door to receive treats. It’s said that the disguises were worn in an attempt to walk among the supernatural beings who had entered the world through the weakened threshold. Later, this became a practice for children, who would go door to door, sometimes performing songs or tricks in exchange for treats or coins.

Over time, with the arrival of Christianity, the celebrations of Samhain began to meld with All Hallow’s Eve, which was the night before the celebration of All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Halloween traditions gained traction in the United States with the mass arrival of Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 19th century.

In honor of the festival of Samhain, today’s recipe is a treat from Britain often called a fruit slice, but alternatively known by the ghoulish name, “flies’ graveyard.” (Maybe Halloween is the only day I could get away with making such a gross and peculiar dessert. Halloween is good for so many reasons.) This dessert, also known as a flies’ cemetery, is called such because the filling, which is usually composed of currants or raisins, looks like dead flies caught in a trap. Yum.

Flies Graveyard

Flies' Graveyard2

Flies Graveyard3

Flies' Graveyard4

Flies Graveyard
Makes 9-16 squares.

Ingredients:
For pastry: 1 3/4 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp lemon zest
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

For filling: 2 1/4 cups cranberries
1 1/4 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp, plus 2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

For top of pastry: 1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream
2 tsp sugar

Instructions: 

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat until very smooth and almost completely white in color, about five minutes.

Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, and beat until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three batches, beating each batch until it’s just incorporated.

After you’ve added all the flour, begin pulling the mixture together. Divide in half. Form both portions into a disk. Wrap the two disks with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Place the cranberries into a food processor (you can also chop by hand). Buzz a few times until the cranberries are in smaller pieces, but not yet purified. Add the raisins (if using a food processor) and buzz just a time or two to slightly break up the raisins. Add both to a heavy bottomed saucepan. To the saucepan, add water, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt. Mix together and then bring to a boil over medium heat, for about 15 minutes total cook time. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

While the filling is cooling, roll out one of the disks 1/8-inch thick and place in the bottom of a 8 x 8-inch pan. Gently press to fit the pan, and cut an edge about 1 centimeter up the sides of the pan. Fill this pastry with the cooled filling and spread smooth.

Roll the second disk 1/8-inch thick. Lay it over the pastry filling. Cut the edges off and gently press to the bottom pastry edges to seal it.

Beat the egg with the heavy cream and brush it over the top. Sprinkle with sugar.

Place the pastry in the freezer as you preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Allow to cool completely before cutting and serving.

Flies' Graveyard7

For my version of this flies’ graveyard, I used a combination of cranberries and raisins–and fly’s eyes, newt’s noses, frog’s ears, and whatever else was on sale during October.

What are you doing for Halloween this year? Do you have kiddies who are dressed to mingle safely with the wandering ghosts? Did you carve any lanterns in honor of the lost soul of Stingy Jack? Will you catch a few flies in your pastry and bake them up crisp? God I love Halloween. Happy ghouling!

Milwaukee Move + Pumpkin Cream Puffs

Pumpkin Cream Puffs5 - Edited

Wow, wow, wow. It’s been a while since I posted here, and I am feeling a little rusty. In the two months (yikes!) since my last post, we moved from Chicago to Milwaukee! So I’ve been trying to get my bearings, trying to unpack, and trying to figure out a new kitchen with new light. But I’m back, baby!

Today, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite childhood snacks: Cream puffs! And it turns out, when it comes to cream puff love, I’m not alone. Apparently cream puffs are big business in Wisconsin. They are a hit at the Wisconsin State Fair, where they sell approximately 400,000 cream puffs each year, and have been selling them since 1924,  when they were first sold by the Wisconsin Bakers Association.

The original cream puff recipe is said to have been created by Charles Kremer, a state bakery inspector who lived on the south side of Milwaukee. At the time, the Governor of Wisconsin, John Blaine, was looking for someone to create a dish that would highlight Wisconsin’s dairy industry at the State Fair. He chose Kremer not only because of his job as a bakery inspector, but also because Kremer’s family had recently opened their own bakery. The cream puff was a hit with fairgoers straightaway, and the rest is history.

In my never-ending quest to find some genealogy-food link between dishes and people, I did a little research on Charles Kremer himself. According to census records, he was born in Rhineland, Germany, in 1865. Rhineland borders France, which may give us a hint why Kremer’s family had a cream puff recipe. Cream puff recipes are actually a version of a French profiterole, a pastry made from choux dough, a buttery, egg-based concoction which incorporates no leavening agent. It is said that the recipe for the dough dates all the way back to the 1500s, when it was created by a Florentine chef named Pantarelli or Pantanelli in the French court of King Henry II and his Italian wife, Catherine de Medici. In the early 1800s, French chef Marie-Antoine Careme modified the recipe, creating a more modern version of the profiterole. (Careme even took it a step further by creating the formidable, towering croquembouche.)

The Kremer-profiterole-cream puff connection is, of course, just a hunch. I’ve found no link between the family and a French profiterole recipe, and it should be noted that the cream puff had been popular in the United States since at least the 1850s, with the dessert even showing up in 1851 on a menu from the Revere House in Boston.

For the cream puffs you see here, I’m using my grandma’s recipe, which turned into my mom’s recipe, and is now my recipe. (As for the famous Wisconsin State Fair cream puff, according to those in the know, the recipe has changed little since 1924, though it has been tweaked to account for production quantities.) But to keep them truly seasonal, these are pumpkin-cream filled puffs, topped with a bit of cinnamon cream cheese glaze. (Or, if you’d prefer, you can just dust them with a little powdered sugar, exactly the way I used to have them as a kid, and they will still be delicious!)

Pumpkin Cream Puffs

Pumpkin Cream Puffs2

Pumpkin Cream Puffs3

Pumpkin Cream Puffs

Ingredients:
For cream puffs:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs

For pumpkin pudding filling:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling!)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

For pumpkin pudding filling: Combine sugars, pumpkin, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan. Add heavy cream, then begin stirring in milk and turn on stove to medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil for one minute.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.

Allow to cool slightly before pouring into a heat/refrigerator safe container.

Press plastic wrap directly on to the top of the pudding. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use.

For cream puffs: Preheat oven to 400 degree and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, combine water and butter and bring to a boil.

Add the flour and salt and stir until the mixture begins to combine and form a ball.

Remove from heat, add to a large glass bowl. Add one egg at a time, stirring to combine. The mixture will slowly come together and, when ready, should be stiff enough to hold the spoon vertical.

Drop 1/4-cup spoonfuls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. (I used a pastry bag to pipe them onto the cookie sheet. This step is completely unnecessary, but it makes the puffs slightly more uniform, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Bake for 35 minutes until the puffs are light brown.

Allow cream puffs to cool completely, then poke a hole in one side and pipe the chilled pumpkin pudding into the center. Top with cream cheese glaze, optional. (For cream cheese glaze, combine 4 ounces of room temperature cream cheese, beaten with a few tablespoons of milk, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp of vanilla, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon.)

Pumpkin Cream Puffs4 - Edited

If you’re looking for more pumpkin fall treat goodness, as well as some sweet pumpkin history, may I direct you to the chocolate ganache-covered pumpkin donuts I made last October. And if you need me, I’ll be looking far ahead to next year’s State Fair where I can pick up a cream puff.

Baked Chocolate Zucchini Doughnuts with Cream Cheese Frosting

Zucchini Doughnuts10

Do you have a million zucchini squashes in your garden right now? It’s the time of the year where they are everywhere, people are giving them away, and trying to figure out different ways to use them.

Though usually thought of as a vegetable, zucchini is actually a fruit that grows from a flower (which can also be eaten). The popularity of zucchini in the United States actually came about in a circuitous way. Zucchini squash has been part of the diet in Mesoamerica for centuries, dating back to at least 5500 BC. Seeds for the squash were likely brought back to Europe with Christopher Columbus, after his travels to the Central and South American coasts. But the particular variety of zucchini that we know in the States was likely not cultivated in northern Italy until around the late 1800s. Shortly afterward, Italian immigrants brought the new varietal of the squash back to North America, around the late 1900s. (The word Americans now use for the fruit, “zucchini,” is the diminutive of the Italian word “zucca” or “gourd,” and is the plural of “zucchino.”)

By the 1920s, people in the United States were being advised to grow the “Italian squash” in their own gardens. When citizens at home were asked to plant “victory gardens” during World Wars I and II, the hearty zucchini was prolific, raising its popularity. Most early recipes for zucchini from the 1920s called for the squash to be boiled and stuffed with bread crumbs and tomato sauce. Popularly used to make zucchini bread now, zucchini baked into bread has only really existed since the 1960s. During this time,  health fads called for the use of zucchini in desserts (as well as brown sugar instead of white) as a healthy way to lose weight.

And, while zucchini may seem to be the most innocent of vegetables, some varieties of zucchini have a toxin in them called cucurbitacins. It is technically a steroid that is present as a defense mechanism for the fruit. The varietals found in the supermarket have had the toxin bred out, but in Germany in 2015, a couple was hospitalized after eating an heirloom variety of zucchini from their neighbor’s garden. (I hope this doesn’t scare you away from your own neighbor’s zucchini bounty!)

With zucchini on the brain, and in the backyard, and on sale at the grocery, I thought I would use up some zucchini in a recipe that mid-century dietitians would have called healthy…chocolate donuts? They’re baked too, so, yes, they’re definitely a health food.

Zucchini Doughnuts.jpeg

Zucchini Doughnuts2 - Edited

Zucchini Doughnuts3

Zucchini Doughnuts5 - Edited

Zucchini Doughnuts6 - Edited

Zucchini Doughnuts7

Baked Chocolate Zucchini Doughnuts with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 12 doughnuts.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 cup zucchini, finely shredded (1-2 medium-to-large zucchinis)

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
6 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
Chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, or mini chocolate chips, optional (but recommended)

Instructions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat two six-hole doughnut pans, or one 12-hole doughnut pan, with cooking spray. Set aside.

Cut both ends off of a medium-to-large zucchini. Finely shred, then place the shredded zucchini in two paper towels, or on a cheese cloth. Squeeze out excess water. If the zucchini isn’t completely dry, that’s OK. Measure zucchini for volume after it has been wrung out.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, coffee, and zucchini. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined, so that no white streaks remain.

Fill a pastry bag with the batter, snip off the end, and fill the cups just over 3/4 of the way full. (You can also carefully spoon the mixture into the pan holes, just be sure to smooth the batter evenly around the holes before baking.)

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Once a toothpick inserted into the doughnuts comes out clean, they’re done.

Allow the doughnuts to sit in the pan to cool for five minutes, before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Beat together cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, and heavy cream. Transfer the frosting to a shallow bowl.

Dip each doughnut halfway into the frosting, then top with chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, or mini chocolate chips, if you wish.

Zucchini Doughnuts8

I’m not sure if a recipe where you hide zucchini in a chocolate doughnut actually counts as a seasonal zucchini recipe, but this is a dessert history blog, so here we are. Happy zucchini season!

Alex’s Birthday + Raspberry Alexandertorte

3Alexandertorte

Hello! I’ve missed you. I had so many posts I wanted to get up this month, but it just got away from me. However, we’ve had some fun and exciting things happening in the Limanowski household (fun for us, probably not fun for you). We visited Detroit for the first time together at the beginning of the month, and had a really awesome time. Detroit’s great! Go visit Detroit! Then we both got sick (not fun or exciting). But in the meantime, we were tooling around with some important planning for our next move in October (fun and exciting, but not yet finalized). Finally, Alex successfully defended his dissertation last week. That’s right! He’s Dr. Limanowski now. And then he celebrated his birthday this weekend. Whew.

In celebration of both of these events, I thought I’d try to sneak in one last July post, before I have to start thinking about what the heck I can make for August! As I have mentioned in the past, Alex is not really a cake enthusiast. He never wants a cake for his birthday. He is, though, an almost-every-other-kind-of-sweet enthusiast. I had been tooling around with a post a while back about the Danish favorite hindsbaersnitter, which translates to “raspberry slice.” It is a popular shortbread pastry in Denmark. In fact, it was said to be Hans Christian Andersen’s favorite dessert. When I told Alex about it, he expressed a lot of interest, especially after I compared it to a fancy Pop-Tart. Then, while doing some research, I realized that the Danish hindsbaersnitter may have actually been a copycat of an earlier pastry from Latvia, known as–ready for this–Alexandertorte. An even earlier form has existed in Finland, since at least 1818, called the Aleksanterin leivokset (Alexander cakes). Both Alexander-based desserts were named to commemorate the visit of a Russian Czar: In Finland, Alexander I; in Riga (Latvia’s capital), Alexander III.

So, name-wise this was obviously a perfect choice. It’s not celebrating a Russian Czar, but it is celebrating a newly-minted doctor, and birthday boy. Even better.

1Alexandertorte

2Alexandertorte

4Alexandertorte

5Alexandertorte

Raspberry Alexandertorte
5-10 servings.

Ingredients:
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream (For pink frosting (optional): use 1 tbsp raspberry juice, and 1 tbsp heavy cream. For juice, combine 1/4 cup raspberries in a small bowl, heat for 30 seconds in microwave and strain through a fine mesh sieve.)

3/4 cup good-quality raspberry jam

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat until very smooth and almost completely white in color, about five minutes.

Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, and beat until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three batches, beating each batch until it’s just incorporated. If the mixture is very sticky, you can add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.

After you’ve added all the flour, begin pulling the mixture together. Divide in half. It may look a bit dry at first, but should come together. There may be some crumbs and that is OK. Form both portions into a disk.

Wrap the two disks with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Once refrigerated, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Keeping one disk refrigerated, roll out one disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into a 6 x 10″ rectangle. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. You don’t even need to have golden edges. The cookie should be a little soft to insure that it’s less crumbly when you cut it.

After you remove it from the oven, allow it to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then remove to finish cooling on a cooling rack. Roll out the second disk and repeat the process.

Once the cookies have cooled completely, spread one half of the completely cooled shortbread with raspberry jam.

In a small bowl, combine the confectioner’s sugar and heavy cream (or cream and raspberry juice). Stir until smooth. If mixture is runny, add a little more confectioner’s sugar. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more cream. Sprinkle top with freeze-dried raspberry crumbles, pearl sugar, or sprinkles, optional.

Pour the frosting over the top of the second shortbread cookie and smooth to the edges.

Place the frosted shortbread on top of the jam-covered shortbread. Allow to set for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Slice into five large pieces, or 10 smaller squares. Enjoy!

6Alexandertorte

This dessert is a little on the sweeter side, that’s for sure. Definitely not for those missing their sweet tooth. However, we had it alongside some hot, black coffee, and it was just perfect.

Happy birthday and congrats to my favorite guy of all time!