National Oatmeal Month + Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Blonde Brownie Day + Brown Butter Blondies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Boston Molasses Disaster + Joe Frogger Cookies

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Hi! Welcome to my first post of 2019! I was away from this blog for the entirety of December, and instead spent that time working, and napping, and snacking in the light of my Christmas tree. It was a great December. And now we’re in the post-holiday January yuck, and I need something to brighten my days, so I’m back to blogging.

Last summer, Alex had to go to Boston for a work trip. Having never been to Boston before, I tagged along and explored the city’s oldest neighborhood, the North End. It had everything I could ever want: Graveyards dating back to the 1600’s, tiny Italian bakeries, historic homes, and narrow winding streets. But a less noticeable feature of the ward, a tiny plaque near the water, commemorates a tragedy in Boston’s history. On January 15, 1919 (100 years ago today), a tank of molasses exploded in Boston’s North End, sending what some witnesses described as a 25-foot wave of molasses flooding through the neighborhood. Twenty-one people were killed and several others were injured. The explosion, as well as flying debris, was responsible for some of the deaths. Others died trapped in the sticky substance, unable to breath. Some blocks were flooded with two to three feet of molasses and some of the dead were missing for days as rescuers combed the muck.

The failure of the tank, designed by a man named Arthur Jell who had little to no engineering or architectural design experience, was caused by poor construction, and weak rivets and steel. Pressure internally from increasing external temperatures may have also played a role. Finally, some say that the company that owned the tank, Purity Distilling Company, may have overfilled it, due to the expected ratification of the 18th amendment (the prohibition of alcohol), which took place the day after the explosion. Molasses has a long history in Massachusetts, not so much for its use in cookies and cakes, but in rum.

In all, the area immediately surrounding the tanker took at least two weeks to clean, but by that time, people had tracked molasses through the rest of the city, as well as into the suburbs. The class-action lawsuit that families of the victims brought against United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the company that had purchased Purity Distilling, helped shape modern laws on corporate regulation.

Today’s recipe, the classic Joe Frogger, combines molasses, rum, and a little Massachusetts (though not Boston), history. These spiced molasses cookies have their own interesting story, so be sure to stay tuned after the recipe to learn more about them.

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Joe Froggers
Adapted from this recipe from Taste of Home. Makes 24-30 cookies.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg

3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup hot water
2 tbsp rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

White sugar, for rolling

Instructions: 

Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg.

Stir together molasses, hot water, vanilla extract, and rum.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, ground cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.

Add creamed mixture to dry ingredients, alternating with molasses mixture, beating after each addition. Cover and refrigerate for four hours, or until it’s easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Fill a shallow bowl with 2/3 cup of sugar.

Scoop out enough dough for a 1 1/2-inch ball. Roll in your hands, and then drop into the bowl of sugar. Roll to coat, and set on parchment paper. Continue, leaving about 2 or 3 inches between each ball, until the cookie sheet is full. Taking a flat bottomed cup or bowl, press down on each ball slightly, until each is about a 1/4-inch thick disk.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet at six minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for two minutes on pan, then allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

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While the focus of this post is the Boston Molasses Disaster, it’s hard to share a Joe Frogger recipe without discussing its own interesting history. Very rarely can you pinpoint a place of origin for a food, but most historians agree that this cookie was created in Black Joe’s Tavern in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “Black Joe” referred to a free African American Revolutionary War soldier (and some sources say hero) named Joseph Brown. Joseph Brown was born into slavery in 1750, the son of an African-American mother and a member of the Wampanoag Tribe. He was likely freed because of his service as a militiaman in Captain Francis Felton’s Company. Shortly after the War, Brown and his wife Lucretia, along with another couple, Joseph and Mary Seawood, purchased a Saltbox, a N.E. architectural style home, where they lived and worked. After Joseph Seawood’s death, Mary Seawood sold her half of the home to the Browns.

Brown’s wife, Lucretia, was born in Marblehead, the daughter of two former slaves. After marrying and establishing their home, the Brown’s opened the front part of the building they had purchased as a tavern. The tavern owned by the Browns was integrated, and was popular with sailors at the time, though women and children would have frequented as well. Lucretia Brown would have done the cooking for the tavern, and she is the one credited with creating the cookie now known as the Joe Frogger. Though Lucretia Brown’s original recipe is lost to history, the constant in any close-to-authentic Joe Frogger seems to be the addition of both rum and molasses. The cookie  was popular with the sailors because they were sturdy enough to survive long trips at sea better than the average confection, and better than many fresh foods, thanks to the addition of the rum. Likely the first recipe contained no eggs, but might have contained a curious addition of seawater.

There are several suggestions for why they are named Joe Froggers. Some say that the name “Frogger” comes from “flogger,” a name for a ship’s provisions. These particular “floggers” came from Joe’s Tavern. Another theory is that, as the cookie would have traditionally been made in a skillet, as opposed to baked, the cookie would take the shape of a frog when the batter hit the pan. Alternatively, some sources say the name comes from the fact that these cookies would have been much larger than what we think of today and would have been as big as the lily pads in Joseph Brown’s pond.

Both of the Browns are buried in Marblehead. Their former home and tavern, built in 1691, stayed in the Brown family until their adopted daughter, Lucy, sold it in 1867. Amazingly, it still stands today, though it is a private residence.

Thanksgiving + Crawberry Pie

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While planning some upcoming travel recently, I had the shocking realization that Thanksgiving is, in fact, TOMORROW! And that there are only five weekends separating us from Christmas. Who plans these years, with January located directly next to November?? Anyway, I freaked out about that for a while, resisted the urge to take a stress nap, then decided to start planning what sides I am going to make for Thanksgiving dinner. If we have dinner here, we usually make Ina’s herb-roasted turkey breast (which is still enough to feed a small army and forces me to get creative with the leftovers). We also always have sweet potatoes of some kind, stuffing, and green bean casserole (did you know the creator of the green bean casserole died this year? Her name was Dorcas Reilly, she was 92). We probably won’t go all out this year. Is an all-carb Thanksgiving dinner a thing? Trick question. It is, and we’re having one! Oh, and pie. We will definitely have pie. I’m planning a sweet potato pecan with a gingersnap crust. It might be too adventurous, though. We’ll see.

Before I really get into my Thanksgiving planning, I’m doing a little procrasti-blogging, which leads me to today’s recipe: crawberry pie. Let me explain. Occasionally, we have Friendsgiving, often with our friends David and Quinn. When we do, one of my favorite parts of the dinner is Quinn’s family’s crawberry pie. If you are unfamiliar with crawberries, that’s OK. It’s actually just cranberries, written in Quinn’s grandmother’s hand, and mistaken for “crawberry”. Quinn was nice enough to give me the recipe, which she found out along the way was not her grandmother’s recipe, as she thought, but a recipe from one of her mom’s coworkers, who gave it to her grandmother and it became her specialty at family dinners after that. Funny how family recipes work sometimes. I suppose there are more than a few of our “grandma’s famous” bouncing around out there that are actually clipped from a magazine, or originate from other families. There’s beauty in that. (I was hoping to share a photo of the recipe in her grandma’s handwriting, but Quinn grew up in New Orleans and, unfortunately, the recipe didn’t survive Hurricane Katrina. Luckily, though, the recipe was preserved!)

How to describe this dessert? It’s basically a crustless pie, almost a cake, really. The top is not really a crumble, as it’s sweeter. However, it’s a little more dense than a cake. It’s hard to explain, but it’s in a class all its own, and it’s delicious.

Crawberry Pie

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Crawberry Pie
Makes 1 nine-inch pie.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
3/4 cup melted butter
Cranberries, enough to cover bottom of pie pan
1/4-1/2 cup of sugar

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs well.

Gradually beat in one cup of sugar. Then, beat in the flour and melted butter.

Grease the bottom of a pie pan, and add enough cranberries to cover the bottom.

Sprinkle the additional 1/2 cup of sugar over the top of the cranberries.

Pour the batter over the top of the sugared cranberries.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top of the pie is just golden.

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If you’re a cranberry fan like me, I think you’ll like this. The cranberries rise up through the batter as it bakes, distributing just the right amount of tartness throughout the sweet pastry. It’s a very simple-to-make (and probably welcome) addition to your Thanksgiving table. I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think. Then I can pass all your kind words on to Quinn and her family!

Thanks so much for sharing, Quinn!

Amanda McLemore + Green Tomato Sandwich Spread

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I’m pleased as punch to welcome my guest today, Amanda McLemore! Amanda is a chef and urban farmer, originally from Detroit, Michigan, who now resides in Chicago. She runs the website Baguette and Butter, a resource for those interested in eating locally, sustainably, and growing their own food. 

Hoping to be a chef since she was a child, she began her career in food where most do: by attending culinary school. However, it was while she was in culinary school that she realized that she, and many of the people around her, didn’t really know where their food was coming from. So she began educating herself on the politics that surround food in the United States. She told me, “Knowing where my food comes from is so important to me because Americans have given such an essential part of how we survive to politicians, corporations, and industrial farms, yet we cannot trust ourselves to be able to cook and sustain ourselves as a local community.” But she says that outsourcing this fundamental part of our lives is no longer sustainable in terms of our health, the environment, or ethical transparency. It was with these worries in mind that she decided to start her website, with a mission of nourishing and advocating “for a new definition to our American food culture” that lives up to “high ethical standards, is intentional with our packaging waste, and uplifts foods and dishes that help our bodies become stronger.” As part of her own journey of discovering how to live and eat more sustainably, in 2014 Amanda gave up going to the grocery store. Instead, she grew her own herbs and some of her own vegetables, and utilized her local farmers market for the rest. This was not her first foray into gardening, though. Amanda was influenced by her grandmother, a teacher and gardener who had grown up in the south and moved to Detroit as an adult. Though her grandmother passed away when Amanda was only six years old, she told me that she remembers helping her grandmother in the garden. After rediscovering a love a gardening since then, Amanda set out to educate others. “Baguette & Butter was founded to change the way the American diet is defined,” she told me, “by teaching cooking skills that have been lost, simple gardening, and home skills to give Americans more time, money, and space for bettering our community.”

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For her recipe, Amanda decided to share her grandmother’s Green Tomato Sandwich Spread, which is not only delicious, but supports Amanda’s mission of using seasonal ingredients and wasting as little as possible. She tells me that she chose this recipe “since the garden season is coming to an end and green tomatoes are everywhere!” She was happy to share it because “lost recipes and the stories that go with them are important to talk about,” and recipes from previous generations carry with them “stories, memories, and lessons.” Though her grandmother passed away early in her life, Amanda tells me there are a few things she remembers clearly, “She was born in the south. She began working as an educator in Detroit as an adult and loved to cook, run, and garden. She used to make sure that the family was always first and together.” Amanda couldn’t be sure where her grandmother picked this recipe up, but her grandfather told her that “she most likely used it in class, as she taught home economics.” The recipe was saved in her handwriting, and kept in her recipe box. Amanda said, “I know very little about this recipe, but I haven’t found one out there like this either.”

The recipe, it turns out, is as delicious as it is original.

Green Tomato Spread

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Green Tomato Sandwich Spread
Makes 10 pints. (Recipe scaled down for photographs.)

Ingredients:
4 quarts of green tomatoes
6 onions
6 green peppers
6 red peppers
1/2 cup salt
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 quart white vinegar
4 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 tbsp turmeric

Instructions:

Chop the green tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and red peppers together, and process briefly to combine. Add salt, and allow to sit overnight, covered.

Drain, and add finely chopped celery.

Mix in the vinegar and sugar in a large pan. Heat until boiling.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, dry mustard, and turmeric with some water to make a paste. Add the paste to the green tomato mixture and continue to cook until the mixture is thick.

Add to sterilized pint jars, seal, and boil in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.

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Eventually Amanda would like to “publish a couple of books and continue to build an online platform that will help others learn how to cook, shop, and eat sustainably.” In the meantime, she has some exciting things in the pipeline. For one, her Thanksgiving Field Guide is now available for purchase on her website. The guide is full of family recipes and walks you through how to throw a Thanksgiving dinner that’s “local, sustainable, and made from scratch.” She also has several online, live-streamed workshops coming up, as well as a cocktail pop-up at Mi Tocaya on November 2nd.

If you want to find out more about Amanda’s work, and get more information on her upcoming classes, you can visit the Baguette and Butter website, or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your grandmother’s recipe, Amanda!

The Tatin Sisters + Apple Tarte Tatin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarte Tatin

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

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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

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

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

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

Serve while still warm.

Enjoy!

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

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts with Spiced Chocolate Glaze

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Clearly, I’m a little late with my first October recipe. We were out of town for three weeks in September and the early part of October, which is a crazy time to be away from your bed (and your kitchen). We’re back now, though, just in time for the chilly weather, which means more incentive for staying in and baking! Also, even though the cold weather is hitting a little early this year, October is still my absolute favorite month for a lot of reasons: 1) It’s family history month 2) Our anniversary is this month! 3) Halloween!!! and 4) Pumpkin everything!!!

Obviously, we have PSLs now, but pumpkins themselves have been an important part of the North American diet for much longer. Pumpkins are a fruit native to the Americas. Seeds of the pumpkin family dating back to between 7000 and 5500 BC have been found in Mexico. In the beginning they were probably used to store items, due to their hearty exterior, but the pumpkin’s high nutritional value and the edibleness of the entire fruit (even the stem) meant it became an important food source. It is thought that about 10,000 years ago, pumpkins, as well as other varieties of squash, were on the verge of extinction. Luckily, the people of the time valued pumpkins enough to domesticate them, which likely led to their survival. Pumpkin, calabeza in Spanish, is still important ingredient in Mexican cuisine too, with dishes from mole to calabeza en tacha, or candied pumpkin, being created using every part of the pumpkin from the flower, to the pepitas, to the flesh.

The name pumpkin is derived from the Greek word for “large melon,” pepon. This changed to “pompon” in French (France became early importers of pumpkins from North America), then into “pumpion” in England, which eventually became the modern word “pumpkin”.

For us in the U.S., pumpkins are associated with autumn, and particularly Thanksgiving. They were likely part of the first Thanksgiving dinner, but probably as a savory dish, instead of the pumpkin pie we are used to today.  Pumpkins, already a staple in the diets of the Wampanoag at the time, were vital to the colonists, who likely wouldn’t have survived winter without them (and many didn’t–by the time of the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621, more than half of the original colonists had died of starvation or disease).

Sweet pumpkin pies were likely first made in England with pumpkins imported from the States, then adopted by the colonists. France was an early importer of the fruit and recipes for sweet pies date to as early as the 1650’s in France. The earliest recipe for “pumpion pye” in England dates to Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion, from 1675.

In the United States, more than 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed during the Thanksgiving holiday, and there is a good chance that the pumpkin you’re eating is from Illinois. Illinois is the top grower of pumpkins in the United States. My friend Jennifer wrote a fascinating piece for Slow Food last year about the Dickinson squash, the heirloom variety of squash that is used by Libby’s, located in Morton, Illinois, for their canned pumpkin puree.

For my recipe today, I decided not to go with a traditional pumpkin pie, but to make pumpkin doughnuts instead. I love doughnuts. LOVE them. But I have noticed, in my early thirties, that I can no longer chow down on fried foods the way that I once did because I get heartburn. (Hi, I’m 100 years old.) With that in mind, these doughnuts are baked, which does mean you have to buy a doughnut pan, but also means you don’t have to deal with doughnut frying clean-up so… win?

Pumpkin Doughnuts

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Baked Spiced Pumpkin Donuts with Cinnamon Chocolate Glaze
Makes 12 doughnuts.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground clove
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp unsalted butter, browned

For chocolate glaze:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne powder, optional

Instructions:

Move a rack to the top 2/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, and clove. Set aside.

In a small skillet or saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until browned. You’ll know it’s done when it’s changed in color, it smells nutty, and it has stopped “popping”. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, beat the buttermilk and egg together thoroughly. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Stir in only 2 tablespoons of the browned butter.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until everything is just combined. Don’t overmix, or your doughnuts could come out chewy.

Lightly grease two 6-doughnut pan, fill each indentation 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 4 minutes, turn pan 180 degrees, and continue to bake for 4 more minutes.

Allow the doughnuts to rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, before removing to a cooling rack. Repeat with additional batter.

To make glaze, heat the whipping cream until it’s just starting to steam, but not yet boil.

Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then mix the chocolate into the cream until full combined.

Add the cinnamon, and cayenne if you don’t mind a little spice.

Dip the bottom half of each doughnut into the bowl, twisting until it is covered by chocolate.

Enjoy!

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Warning: You will be tempted to eat all of these doughnuts straight from the oven, before they’ve properly cooled, and before you glaze them. While you won’t be disappointed because the doughnuts are pretty great on their own, I highly suggest you try them with the glaze. Pumpkin-chocolate is a genius combination, maybe because both ingredients originated from the same area? On top of that, these doughnuts are not only scrumptious, they are essentially Halloween-colored. And I’m a big proponent of delicious foods, color-coordinated with my favorite holidays. I hope you are too. Happy October, and happy baking!