Alex’s Birthday + Dark Chocolate Babka French Toast

Dark Chocolate Babka5

It’s summer, so it seems like time is moving a million miles a minute. We constantly have places to go and things to do, but this week, we’re saving up our energy to celebrate Alex’s birthday!

A quick ode to the quirks that define my husband: He doesn’t drink coffee in the morning. Even if it’s already made and offered to him. He usually only starts drinking coffee after 1:30 in the afternoon. His favorite foods are chocolate, cookies, tortilla chips, and…vegetables. He also has the crazy super power of being able to order, almost without fail, whatever on the menu a restaurant doesn’t have. Pork chops? We’re out. Skillet cookie? We took that off the menu. It was with this constant disappointment in mind that Alex’s birthday treat this year was created.

If you can believe it, there have been two times that Alex has seen chocolate french toast on a menu at a restaurant. Before ordering it, he was perplexed: “What is chocolate french toast? Where do they add the chocolate?” Chocolate drizzled on top? Chocolate chips? Chocolate bread? Anyway, the end of the story is that he ordered the french toast and was told, BOTH TIMES, that they didn’t have it. So we went on with our lives, assuming that chocolate french toast was actually just too good to exist in this world and we were just imagining it on menus. Then! It was time for Alex’s birthday. I’ve mentioned before that Alex doesn’t like cake. (“It’s fine,” he says.) So each year, I try to get a little creative with what his birthday dessert will be. And, this year, I said, “I’m going to make that man some chocolate french toast.” Dark chocolate french toast. Using chocolate babka.

Babka is a sweet yeast dough, often filled with chocolate or cinnamon, or sometimes fruit, and baked in a loaf. At first Alex was skeptical, only becoming more accepting when I explained it to him in Seinfeld. Then he was immediately on board. And so I set out to create the birthday treat of his dreams. Spoiler: It went well.

Dark Chocolate Babka11

Dark Chocolate Babka8

Dark Chocolate Babka12

Dark Chocolate Babka

Dark Chocolate Babka4

Dark Chocolate Babka French Toast

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
6 tbsp sugar
1 1/8 tsp active yeast
1 egg
2 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup warm milk
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, extremely soft

For the chocolate filling:
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup sugar

For french toast:
4 3/4-inch slices of babka
2 eggs
2 tbsp whole milk or heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, for pan 

Whisk together the warm water and yeast in a medium bowl. Allow to sit for about five minutes, until frothy.

Oil a slightly larger bowl.

Add the milk, egg, butter, sugar, salt, zest, and 1 cup of the flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Continue adding enough flour to make the mixture easy to handle, up to 2 cups total.

Place the mixture onto a well-floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks, adding flour as needed, for about five minutes.

Once the dough is elastic, place in the oiled bowl, and turn over to cover the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

To make the chocolate paste, mix the confectioner’s sugar, white sugar, and cocoa powder. Chop your dark chocolate and melt your butter. While the butter is still warm, add the chopped chocolate, stirring until it is melted. Wait to mix the butter/chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients until right before you’re ready to spread it on the dough.

Spray an 8×4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.

When your dough has rested, punch it down and begin to roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Roll to 16 by 12 inches, with the long side nearest to you. The dough is not too precious, so if you need to pull it a bit or use a bench scraper to keep the edges even, do so.

Now mix your butter/chocolate mixture into the dry chocolate ingredients. Spread the mixture over the top of the dough, leaving less than a 1/2 inch border around the edge.

Roll the long side of the dough up onto a roll. Place the roll seam-side-down.

Use a knife or bench scraper to cut the roll in half lengthwise–you want to end up with two long, narrow halves, with stripes of the chocolate mixture showing through.

Then, with the chocolate stripes facing up, gently lay one of the halves over the other until you have a long braid, banded with chocolate. If your ends have gotten uneven, you can again cut them down.

Place the braid chocolate-side-up into your oiled 8×4-inch loaf pan, tucking the ends under.

Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise in a warm spot for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It will not quite double in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

After letting it rise, bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. To ensure it is done, insert a knife into the middle–it may come out with chocolate on it, but there should be no sign of dough.

While the bread is baking, whisk together the sugar and water over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Remove the loaf from the oven and immediately brush the glaze entirely over the top, ensuring some gets down each side of the pan.

Allow to cool.

If making french toast, mix together eggs, milk, and salt into a flat-bottomed pan. Place slices of babka into the mixture for about 30 seconds, then flip and allow to soak for another 30 seconds on the second side.

While the bread is soaking, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.

Carefully move the soaked bread into the hot pan, allow to brown (about 2-3 minutes on each side).

Serve warm with berries, powdered sugar, syrup or butter. Enjoy! 

Dark Chocolate Babka2

Dark Chocolate Babka3

My God, it is a thing of beauty. And the taste? Forget it. It looks so much more difficult to create than it is. You will need a little time, mostly for letting it rise, but if anything is worth waiting for, it’s this french toast. (It’s so good, I think I might trying making another loaf to use in my friend Sarah’s grandmother’s bread pudding recipe.) For this dough, I used my mom’s time-tested pecan roll recipe. For the filling, glaze, and preparation, I followed this Seven Spoons recipe, halved, which itself is an adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. I only made one loaf, because I’m no fool: I know that 2 loaves of babka equals one loaf per person in this household, and I just can’t have it around.

On Alex’s actual birthday, we will be going out for a nice Italian dinner. I can’t say where, because this post goes up before his birthday and Alex’s birthday dinner location is always a secret to him. Then we’ll go out for drinks (but more likely we’ll be tired, get one drink, and go home, which is nice, too).

Happy birthday, my dear love! This babka’s cool, but not half as cool as you.

Advertisements

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.

Strawberry Chiffon Pie8

Strawberry Chiffon Pie7

Strawberry Chiffon Pie5

Strawberry Chiffon Pie4

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!

Michigan Trip + Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins10

Hey, guys! How was your 4th of July?? I hope it was full of good eating and safe fireworking! We spent our 4th on the road, on our first road trip of the season! We were in Michigan for a few days, stopping in all the adorable lakeside towns we could find. We made a stop at the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City and ate plenty of cherry pie, cherry donuts, and cherry salsa (SO.GOOD.). We ended by spending some time in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Sleeping Bear Dunes.

On our way back to the city, we stopped to grab some blueberries from a roadside fruit stand. (Did you know that the western swath of Michigan is part of America’s fruit belt? What a perfect place to be when practically every beautiful fruit is in season.) Blueberries are native to the United States, and Michigan is one of the top producers of the berry.

Native Americans have been using the wild plant for centuries, usually combining it with meat and fat to form pemmican, or adding it to cornmeal bread, or using it as a dye for clothing. But wild blueberries are not the blueberries that you find in stores. In the early 20th century, a botanist named Frederick Coville began experimenting with ways to domesticate wild blueberries. He published his findings in 1910, revealing that wild blueberries thrived in acidic soil, and his work was read by a cranberry farmer’s daughter living in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, named Elizabeth Coleman White. She had often noticed wild blueberries growing near her family’s cranberry bogs, so she reached out to Coville, inviting him to her farm to continue his study of how the wild fruit could be bred as a viable season-lengthening crop. Coville, with the funding of White’s father, was able to work with local residents who knew where the the best wild plants were located. For five years, locals would bring Coville wild berry plants. Coville, in turn, would attempt to cultivate the wild plants. Only a handful of the 100 plants that were brought to Coville proved successful. In 1916, Coville and White sent their first domesticated blueberries to market. It’s hard to believe that “tame” blueberries have only been available for a little over 100 years.

Blueberries are on the menu today because… it’s National Blueberry Muffin Day, and on top of that, July is National Blueberry Month! So let’s celebrate!

I have the best memories of my mom making blueberry muffins (from a box) on Saturday mornings, biting into the warm muffins too soon and getting burned by little molten lava blueberries. I also have great memories of just destroying the cartons of blueberries my mom would buy in the summer. I think I was trying to get all my nutrients in one sitting.

Anyway, this recipe for blueberry muffins is not from a box, but it’s still weekend-morning-easy to make, and makes tall and fluffy muffins that aren’t too sweet (very important to me, when it comes to muffins) and are just stuffed to the gills with fresh blueberries. They are what you want in the morning and also any other time of the day.

For the muffin recipe, I tweaked the no-fail pancake recipe that I’ve been using for over a decade. The pancakes are delicious, I thought, so why not try it. The results did not disappoint.

Blueberry Muffins2

Blueberry Muffins3

Blueberry Muffins4

Blueberry Muffins5

Blueberry Muffins6

Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk, plus two tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries, washed and dried

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.

In a large measuring cup, or small mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, butter, egg, and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. (If you don’t have buttermilk, you can instead use 1 cup whole milk, combined with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. If you use this method, combine these items and allow to sit for five minutes before adding the butter, egg, and vanilla.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. (If the mixture is still a little dry, you can add up to a 1/4 cup of whole milk, one tablespoon at a time. The mixture should still be quite lumpy, but should not be clumping together or have any dry streaks.) Carefully fold in blueberries, without too much additional stirring.

Allow the batter to rest for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

Fill a muffin tin with paper liners. Spoon the mixture into the top of each liner. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for another 10 minutes. (You can begin checking for doneness at the 18 minute mark. When done, the top of the muffin should spring back when gently pressed.)

Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Eat right away, or remove to a wire rack until completely cooled.

Blueberry Muffins8

I believe these muffins will be making a regular appearance in my house from here on out. The recipe only makes twelve muffins, because I find that they don’t keep for very long, and while they’re good, 12 muffins seems sufficient for most households. However, the recipe could easily be doubled if you have guests or are a blueberry muffin monster.

Also, if you have any good recipes that use blueberries, please pass them on. I still have lots and I cannot sit back and watch these precious babies go bad. Back in May, I made blueberry rhubarb pandowdy. I’m thinking of doing it again, this time swapping out the rhubarb for some delicious, sweet peaches that I’ve had my eye on.

I hope you’re taking full advantage of blueberry/fruit season. If you follow this blog, or my social media, I will apologize now for the inundation of fruit-related recipes/photos that are to come. You’ve been warned!

 

Sweet Tea + Sweet Tea Pie

Sweet Tea Pie

We are one, I repeat, one day away from summer! We had a positively searing weekend, and I was all about it. Do you have any habits, patterns, or routines that change with the seasons? For me, summer means that, in the mornings, I have no interest in hot coffee, but instead I want iced tea or a matcha latte. I love those little changes my body insists on, without much thought, because it gets me really excited for the upcoming season.

And, speaking of iced tea, June is National Iced Tea Month. (Side note: I think people wouldn’t be so eye-rolly with national food days/months if we just knew where the hell they came from. For example, I just recently found out that National Rhubarb Day is in January. January?! But why?!)

Anyway, at least iced tea month in June makes sense. It’s a great porch-sitting drink for a great porch-sitting month.

So here’s my question: Are you a plain tea, or a sweet tea person? Have you ever even had sweet tea? I used to hear that sweet tea was especially a southern favorite, but I dismissed that as just a stereotype. But it turns out many of my friends who grew up in the south really do love sweet tea!

In Indiana, when you went to restaurants, usually the only option was sweetened tea. (When I got to Chicago and was asked if I wanted sweetened or unsweetened, I thought it was a trick.) But sweetened tea and sweet tea are two different beasts. The main difference between sweetened iced tea and sweet tea is when the sugar is added. Traditional sweet tea is sweetened while still warm or hot, while it’s brewing. In fact, in the early 2000’s, a politician in Georgia, partially as a joke, drafted a bill requiring that “sweet tea must be sweetened when brewed,” and that any restaurant serving iced tea must also serve sweet tea. The bill never went to vote, but it does give you an idea of how serious southerners are about their sweet tea.

So how did sweet tea become part of southern identity?

The very British practice of drinking hot tea first came to the colonies with the British. (Tea drinking became more commonplace in England when Catherine de Braganza, a Portuguese princess, arrived in England to marry King Charles II in 1662. The first gift of two pounds of tea were presented to Charles II by the British East India Company two years earlier–and they have never looked back.) Before the American colonies fought for their independence, disputes over the taxation of British tea lead to the Boston Tea Party, a protest by colonists against British taxation without representation, which would become one of the first steps toward the American Revolutionary War. In the years that followed, Americans generally tended to favor coffee, thought of as a more “patriotic” beverage.

By the early 1800’s, cold green tea was being served, often spiked with alcohol, as a punch. There are recipes for a cold tea punch dating back to 1839 in Kentucky. By the mid-to-late-1800’s, iced tea, sans alcohol, began making its appearance in the north. Before the days of ice production or refrigeration, iced tea was non-existent in the south. The first recipe for sweet tea came from Housekeeping in Old Virginia, a cookbook by Marion Cabell Tyree that was printed in 1879. This recipe called for the use of green tea and suggested the sugar be added after steeping. Green tea was the preferred choice for tea drinking, until lower-cost black tea from Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia was made accessible. And during the second War War, the US was almost completely cut off from its supply of green tea, which strengthened Americans’ black tea habit.

Sweet iced tea became a popular alternative to alcohol during Prohibition, and it was also during this time that it began appearing more often in Southern cookbooks, eventually turning it into a staple in the south.

To play with this ingredient–and to, you know, make a pie–I decided to make a sweet tea pie! Sweet tea pie appears not to be an old southern recipe. I can find references to sweet tea pie dating back to only the early 2000s in newspapers and, in 2010, Martha Hall Foose included a recipe for a sweet tea pie in her book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook (which won a James Beard Award). I guess it’s not, as I hoped, very historical. Too bad, because it’s heavenly.

Sweet Tea Pie5

Sweet Tea Pie4

Sweet Tea Pie2

Sweet Tea Pie9

Sweet Tea Pie7

Sweet Tea Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie. Recipe from Taste of the South Magazine.

Ingredients:
1-crust pie shell (I love this recipe from Epicurious, halved. You can also use store-bought, frozen.)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cornmeal
1/8 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/2 cup strongly-brewed unsweetened tea, cooled
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Whipped cream and lemon zest for serving

Instructions: 

Roll out your pie crust to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Trim, fold, and crimp edges, then poke holes all over the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Trim a piece of parchment paper to fit the inside of the pie crust and fill with pie weights. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, while refrigerating your pie crust for 15 minutes.

Bake your chilled pie crust for 15 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes as your prepare the pie filling.

In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt. Stir together, then add the eggs and the egg yolks. Beat together until everything is well combined.

Add the tea, melted butter, and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Pour into the pre-baked crust.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes. The middle of the pie should not jiggle when done.

Allow to cool completely before serving, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sweet Tea Pie9

Whether you take your iced tea sweet or “unsweet,” I think you’ll love this creamy, tea-scented custard pie, reminiscent of my home state’s sugar cream pie. And, although you brew unsweetened tea for this recipe, you eventually mix it with butter and sugar–amen! It’s not a great beauty but, guys, it’s good. You will find yourself taking bites and asking, “What is that flavor?” It’s not exactly tea-flavored. For sure you will taste the lemon, while there is only a hint of tea.

Next time I really want to make it with green tea (the original tea of choice!) to see if I notice a difference. You guys will be the first to know!

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookie9

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.

Peanut Butter Cookie2

Peanut Butter Cookie3

Peanut Butter Cookie4

Peanut Butter Cookie5

Peanut Butter Cookie7

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.

Peanut Butter Cookie

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.

 

Blueberry Rhubarb Pandowdy

Bluebarb Pandowdy11

Happy Memorial Day!

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Despite the annual confusion about its meaning, it’s actually to honor fallen soldiers who died serving in any of the U.S. wars (in contrast to Veterans Day).

Initially known as Decoration Day, it was first celebrated after the Civil War in the 1860s, as a day when people would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. A few places in the United States claim to have been the first to practice the tradition that eventually became Memorial Day, but it is often attributed to women in Columbus, Mississippi, who honored the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers as early as 1866. It was a tradition that started in the south and moved north, with John A. Logan, a Union general, calling for an annual and nation-wide observance of Decoration Day in 1868.

The name Memorial Day did not start being used until 1882, and it did not become a federal holiday until 1971.

Today’s recipe, pandowdy, has an even longer American history. It was an 19th century recipe that later became a suggested ration recipe during WWII, because it used less sugar and fats than other pies. The name pandowdy comes from the early recipes, which call for a pie crust to be layered over fruit in a deep baking dish. During baking, the dish would be removed from the oven, the crust would be “dowdied” or cut up into the fruit, and then returned to the oven. In its early American life, this dish was almost exclusively made from apples. It is said to have been a favorite of President John Adams, made by his wife Abigail, who insisted that it be served on the 4th of July.

Pandowdy is the easiest and humblest of dessert recipes. Throw together some fast-ripening spring fruit, a little sugar, lemon juice and flour. It’s a one-crust pie turned on its head, meaning the only crust goes on top, instead of the bottom. (Mary Berry would perhaps approve of this dish.)

It is the type of recipe that you’d find in church cookbooks across the country. The earliest recipes are from at least the 19th century (it was mentioned in the New England Farmer newspaper of Boston as early as 1838), but the dish enjoyed a resurgence, like so many early American/colonial recipes, during the World Wars, as it was a quick, easy, and relatively cheap dessert to throw together.

Though Americans did not suffer the food shortages that other countries involved with the World Wars did, rationing did exist, and Americans were encouraged to stretch ingredients anyway they could. WWII ration cookbooks were created to provide helpful ways to provide families with nutritious recipes as well as money-saving tips. Because of the ease of preparation of desserts like pandowdy (when home cooks, almost exclusively women, were not only taking care of their families, but also working outside of the home), as well as the use of fewer expensive or hard-to-find ingredients, pandowdy became a wartime favorite.

You can make this recipe with any fruit. Rather than apples, I used blueberries and rhubarb (bluebarb, you know). I wanted to make the most of the short rhubarb season, and it’s a tasty and balanced combination–and it’s almost red, white, and blue.

Bluebarb Pandowdy3

Bluebarb Pandowdy4

Bluebarb Pandowdy

Bluebarb Pandowdy6

Blueberry Rhubarb Pandowdy
Makes one 10-inch pie.

Ingredients:
For crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick, plus 1 tbsp, of unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/3 cup water, very cold

For filling:
1 lb rhubarb, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 pints (about 5 cups) blueberries
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

For crust:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to mix. Add in the frozen butter. Pulse until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas. Add the apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup water. Pulse until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the processor. You may use a bit more water if needed.

Pour the mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic around the dough and shape into a disc. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness.

Use a small cookie cutter, or knife, to cut out tiny 1-2-inch pieces of dough. Place on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and put in freezer while you prepare the fruit. (To give you an idea, I used almost 50 little cutouts on my pandowdy.)

For filling:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease the sides and bottom of a cast iron skillet, deep dish pie pan, or any other oven-safe pan. Lay the rhubarb flat on the bottom and sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, lemon juice, flour, sugar, and salt.

Pour the blueberries over the arranged rhubarb. Top with the pie dough cutouts, overlapping them to cover most of the fruit.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the blueberry mixture is bubbling up around the pie crust pieces, and the crust is light to medium brown in color.

Bluebarb Pandowdy8

Super-easy. No pie edge crimping. The perfect combination of sweet blueberries and tart rhubarb. (And let’s get these final rhubarb recipes in under the wire!) Also, you definitely wouldn’t need cookie cutters for this. You could easily cut the crust into little squares, or just make a round crust to lay on top, but be sure to cut vents in the top before baking. In the early days, this dish would have likely been eaten for breakfast, but I think it’s a perfect Memorial Day dessert.

I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day parades and remembrances, picnics, BBQs, and these first unofficial days of summer!

Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream

SSC3

Hey! I jumped off here for a bit. My dude and I paid a nice little visit to New Orleans, the only other city we’ve ever lived in together. It was half vacation, half we’ve had too much Chicago winter and, even though it’s getting nice now, our bones are still frozen. Since we left, New Orleans is 300 years old (what?!) and way cooler. Us leaving may have even had something to do with that. We do not usually go to the swankiest places, but a quick rundown of our old and new favorites include: Elizabeth’s and Paloma Cafe, in the Bywater, for great food and drinks; our old haunt Cure on Freret (they just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program!); Alto, the poolside, rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel; Bouligny Tavern, our favorite neighborhood spot (when Uptown was still our neighborhood); and Jacques-Imo’s on Oak, for really solid New Orleans cuisine (be prepared to wait for a table).

So, now the reason for this post: It’s the two-year birthday of my little blog-baby! As a person who studied and loves history, but has no interest or intention of ever teaching, my blog has become my little passion project of researching, writing about historical people, historical recipes, and family recipes. I’ve been lucky enough to have very, very cool women agree to share their family recipes and stories with me. I’ve learned some cool new things myself, and hopefully you have, too! I’m having a mini-celebration with cake.

When I was little, my favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake (and my favorite cartoon was Strawberry Shortcake–which came first??). I see recipes for strawberry shortcake online and they look amazing, but they are not what I had as a child. In fact, the only strawberry shortcake recipe I knew as a child was probably mostly chemicals: Those little store-bought, yellow, spongecake discs, accompanied by a tub of bright red glaze, strawberries (perhaps the only non-lab-created ingredient), and cool whip. As a child of the nineties, my body was raised on preservatives and corn syrup. I think it’s really nice when I hear people my age say that cookies and candies weren’t even allowed in their house, or that if desserts were allowed they were always hand-made from scratch. That just wasn’t my experience. Cake was available at every celebration, and almost always from a box. And I loved every minute of it.

As a grown-up who knows more about nutrition now, I eat a little better. Cakes are made, sure, but I enjoy only a little, or give them away as gifts. Also, I am blessed with a lot more time than my mom had. I am not working overtime in a factory, with two kids to feed. So, while I appreciate the tiny celebrations that we had, my happy medium as an adult is making things I love from scratch, with fresh and whole ingredients (including sugar and butter) when I can. This strawberry sponge cake is my version of my favorite childhood treat.

There is no history to this post, except for my own. It’s just a thankful strawberry spongecake recipe to remind me of summer days as a child, why I love food so damn much in the first place, and how grateful I am that people like you show up to look at my pictures and read my words.

To begin, and to really get the nostalgia flowing, instead of a biscuit-like base (like the ones I see online that are very beautiful and delicious), I made a yellow sponge cake. There are not one, but two, layers of strawberries, one layer floating just above the cake, dripping with a strawberry glaze that melts into the top, the second sitting on a cloud of fluffy whipped cream. It’s my own personal version of heaven.

SSC

SSC2

SSC4

SSC5

Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream
Makes one 9×13-inch cake.

Ingredients:
For cake:
2 cups unbleached cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
For topping:
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (measure after quartering)
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (to add to sauce)
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (to add to whipped topping)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, very cold
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

For the cake: Grease a 9×13-inch pan and line with parchment paper (you may want to use a binder clip to hold the parchment to the sides of the pans). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter and combine with the whole milk. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside.

In a double boiler, combine the eggs and sugar. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture should be very light yellow and thin. Remove from heat.

With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until about double in size. When ready, the mixture will be very light yellow in color, and will hold its shape for a moment, when you move the beaters through it.

Pour in all the flour mixture and gently fold from bottom to top until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Add in the butter and milk mixture and stir until combined. The batter will be quite thin.

Pour the batter into the pan, bake for about 25-30 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees at the 15-minute mark.

When it is lightly golden brown on the top, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the topping: Hull and quarter strawberries and add them to a food processor with sugar. Blend until liquefied, then strain the mixture into a bowl.

Slice two cups of berries and stir them into the sweetened berry purée.

Beat the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla.

Quarter the two remaining cups of strawberries.

Using a large serrated knife, slice the very top layer off the cake to make it a flat and porous surface. Pour the strawberry purée mixture evenly over the top of the cake. Add whipped cream. Then top with quartered berries and mint (optional).

SSC6

This cake is not for everyone. Not even my mom who used to make it for me, who says she doesn’t like “goop” on her cake. But for me, it’s perfect. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s a little messy. Probably good for a picnic. It checks a lot of boxes.

If you share my passion for food and history, you’re always welcome here! This is not a business for me, but it does feel like more than just a hobby. Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’ll be back soon!