Canada Day + Butter Tarts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canadian Butter Tarts 
Makes 12 small tarts.

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Canada Day!

Raspberry + Lemon-Poppyseed Battenberg Cake

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I’ve made lots of recipes for this blog now. Something like, 90, I think! But, I’ll be honest, some are way more interesting to me. Battenberg cake has been on my list now for years. I mean, it’s just so pretty!! The perfect spring cake. I finally got around to looking up what it’s all about, found out that it had royal connections, and decided now was the time to share it. So what is Battenberg cake? The famous checkerboard teacake is a beautiful dessert, and its design, reminiscent of a coat-of-arms or a flag, is fitting of its royal history.

Though we don’t know the exact origins of the Battenberg cake, it is believed that it was created for the marriage of Princess Victoria of Hesse, a granddaughter of the English Queen Victoria. Princess Victoria married her first cousin, once removed, Prince Louis of Battenberg, a German nobleman serving in the British navy.

The couple were to become the maternal grandparents of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Phillip. But before the wedding, Princess Victoria’s father did not approve of the marriage, believing that the Prince of Battenberg couldn’t financially support the lifestyle his daughter had grown up accustomed to. Victoria paid little attention to this, and married Prince Louis on April 30, 1884, in Darmstadt, Germany. (A bit of irony on the side here: Princess Victoria’s father, though unapproving of his daughter’s marriage to a man he thought of lesser status, took the opportunity of her wedding day to marry his second wife, Countess Alexandrina Hutten-Czapska. The Countess was certainly not of equal rank to her husband and, due to the disapproval of his family, their marriage was annulled within three months.)

(And if the only royalty you like is the terribly tragic, or the terribly Disney, kind, you should know that one of Princess Victoria’s sisters would marry Nicholas II of Russia, becoming known as the Czarina Alexandra, who eventually lost her life in 1918 during the Russian Revolution, along with her husband and five children, including the well-known Anastasia.)

The Battenbergs would eventually change their last name in response to the anti-German sentiment brought on by World War I, to the English translation of Battenberg: Mountbatten. (The British royal family would change their last name too, from the extremely German-sounding “Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,” to the much more English sounding “Windsor.”)

The Battenberg cake, which was said to have been created for the wedding, and which is also sometimes called domino cake, or church window cake (for its resemblance to stained glass), was to become a British teatime classic. Battenberg cake is traditionally composed of pink and yellow sponge cake, arranged in a checkerboard pattern, held together with jam, and wrapped in a layer of marzipan. The new teatime delicacy was a complicated step forward in the evolution of a fairly recent invention: Sponge cake as we know it today became popular during Queen Victoria’s rule, when eggs began to be used in cake baking, which allowed for a fluffier texture. The invention of baking soda in 1843 allowed for an even lighter and taller cake. It was also during Queen Victoria’s rule that English teatime became popular. (Queen Victoria herself was said to have been a fan of sponge cake during tea time, so much so that sponge cake in Britain would become known as “Victoria Sponge.”)

But just why the Battenberg cake is checkered is unknown. Some suggestions say it’s possible that the cake was used as a welcoming symbol to the German prince. It has been said that the four quadrants of the cake represent Prince Louis and his three brothers (an older sister was omitted).

Another unknown is why the the Battenberg Cake is pink and yellow. Perhaps it was because it was made for a spring wedding. Perhaps the pastels represent Easter colors, as the bride was born on an Easter Sunday.  I was able to find a reference to a “new Battenberg Cake” in a Scottish newspaper from November of 1885, the year after the wedding, which lists the confection as “flavored by fresh fruit.” It may have simply been that sponge cake, using additional eggs, naturally made for a yellow cake, and fruit was added as contrast.

As for why the cake was wrapped in marzipan, it may have been to celebrate the German union. Lubeck, in northern Germany, is considered the marzipan capital of the world. Marzipan would have been immensely popular in both England and Germany at the time.

This cake looks a lot more difficult to make than it is. For the longest time, I couldn’t even wrap my head around how anyone would make it. My brain just doesn’t work that way.  But just walk through the steps (there are a lot of them!), and don’t rush the process. It will all make sense in the end, and by then you’ll have a pretty pastel cake!

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Raspberry + Lemon-Poppyseed Battenberg Cake
Makes one 7-inch cake.

Ingredients: 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup, plus 1 tbsp of sugar
1 egg white, plus 2 whole eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup whole milk (room temperature)
1 2/3 cups flour
1 tbsp poppyseeds
1/2 tsp lemon zest
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup raspberry jam, warmed and strained through sieve to remove seeds, separated
2 drops red food coloring, optional
7 ounces prepared marzipan
Confectioner’s sugar, for rolling marzipan
Freeze-dried raspberries, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8×8-inch square pan with oil. Crisscross two sheets of parchment paper over each other in the pan.

Take an 8×6-inch piece of foil and fold until it is a two-inch tall strip. Place down the center of the pan, cutting down if needed.

Beat together softened butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Add in the egg white and stir in until just combined. Add the additional two eggs, one at a time, mixing each in fully. Stir in the vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the vegetable oil and milk. Finally, add the flour, all at once, stirring until just barely combined (as you will continue to stir when adding flavors).

Equally separate the batter into two bowls. To one bowl, add the poppyseeds, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together until just combined. In the second bowl, add three tablespoons of raspberry jam, plus two drops of red food coloring, if you want to enhance the color. Stir until just combined. Pour the lemon-poppyseed batter into one half of the pan. Pour the raspberry batter into the other half.

Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each half comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to sit in pan for 10 minutes. Then, remove the two cakes to a rack to cool completely.

(From this point on, I found it easiest to work with the cake with some periodic 10-15 minute refrigeration.) Once the cakes are cooled, trim each cake into two equal strips, approximately 1.5 by 1.5 by 8. There should be four strips total, two of each color.

Using the remaining raspberry jam, lightly paint each side of the cake strips with raspberry jam (you should still have approximately 1/4 cup of jam left at this time). Then, place one raspberry strip next to one lemon-poppyseed strip. Next, put the second lemon-poppyseed strip on top of the first raspberry strip, then place the second raspberry strip next to the second lemon-poppyseed strip. This should make one large rectangular cube with a checkerboard pattern. Refrigerate while you prepare the marzipan.

Lightly dust your work space and a rolling pin with confectioner’s sugar. Roll your marzipan out to approximately an 8×12-inch rectangle. Brush the remaining raspberry jam across the surface of the marzipan.

Place the cake lengthwise on the longer side of the marzipan. Carefully pull the marzipan up closely around the cake, pressing the two ends together. Trim the excess off, and carefully rub the seam to smooth it. At this point, you’ll probably have some excess marzipan hanging from each end. This is fine. Refrigerate the cake for another 10 minutes. Then, cut about a 1/2-inch from each end. Score the top of the marzipan with a knife, and sprinkle with crushed freeze-dried raspberries, if you’d like.

Enjoy immediately with tea.

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So, folks, if you’re… I don’t know… planning a British-themed party to celebrate the impending birth of a half-American movie star, half-British prince, member of the royal family… maybe you should consider this cake. Just saying. Happy caking!

Purim + Ginger Pear Hamantaschen

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Yay! It’s the first day of spring. Finally! We’ve had several days of sun and 40-plus degree weather. I think the warm weather is finally on its way and I’m ready for it.

In addition to Spring springing, Purim also begins this evening. Purim is a Jewish holiday, celebrated from sunset to nightfall of the next day. The celebration of Purim dates back to the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (likely the king now known as Xerxes I, or Artaxerxes I). The Jewish holiday celebrates the delivery of the Jewish people from genocide by the hand of the King’s royal vizier, Haman, as well as the bravery of Queen Esther.

According to the book of Esther in the Jewish Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the Christian Old Testament, King Ahasuerus chose a beautiful young woman named Esther as his second wife, after his first wife, Vashti, disobeyed him at a festival. Esther, therefore, became Queen of Persia. However, Ahasuerus did not know that the woman he had chosen as his bride was a Jewish orphan, living with her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, in exile.

After the marriage of Esther and Ahasuerus, Mordecai discovered a plot by two of the King’s eunuchs, who were plotting the King’s death. Mordecai, through Esther, exposed their plan, and was rewarded by the King.

But tensions rose in the court when Mordecai refused to bow to the King’s vizier, Haman. The King had decreed that everyone should bow before the vizier and, when Mordecai refused, Haman the vizier was enraged. Subsequently, the vizier discovered that Mordecai and Esther were Jewish, and he began plotting the extermination of all the exiled Jews in the kingdom. Haman even went so far as to have gallows erected specifically for executing Mordecai. But Mordecai discovered Haman’s plot in time, and used Esther’s favor with her husband to sway the King. Esther was hesitant to approach the King without him summoning her, as the act was punishable by death. Realizing that she may die if she went to the King, but that she might save the rest of her people, she went to Ahasuerus, unsummoned. The King did not kill her, and instead granted her request of attending a dinner party, along with Haman. At the dinner party, Esther invited them to a second party, set to take place the following day. It was at this second dinner that Esther, realizing that she had the favor of the King, exposed Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people, as well as her own identity as a Jewish woman. The King, realizing that his wife would be killed as part of Haman’s plan, and also remembering Esther and Mordecai’s involvement in exposing the plot of his assassination earlier, instead decided to execute Haman on the same gallows that he had erected for Mordecai.

Purim takes place on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, said to be celebrated after the 13th day, which Haman chose as the Jews’ execution day. Purim takes its name from the purims, or lots, that Haman drew to determine which day to massacre the Jews.

Jews celebrate their victory over Haman by holding festivals and large meals, wearing costumes, and reciting the Megilah, or the Book of Esther, and sharing food.

For today’s recipe, I made a traditional pastry associated with the holiday of Purim: hamantaschen, which is translated literally to “Haman’s ears.” However, tasche also means pocket or pouch in German, and it is commonly thought that this refers to the money that Haman offered the King to exterminate the Jewish people. In Hebrew, tash means “weaken,” which may reference the celebration of the weakening of Haman. Traditionally filled with poppy seeds, these cookies have been eaten in association with Purim since at least the 1500s.

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Ginger Pear Hamantaschen
Makes 20-24 hamantaschen.

Ingredients:

For filling:
3 3/4 cups pear, peeled, seeded, and chopped finely
1 1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsps freshly zested ginger root

For cookie:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg white, beaten and mixed with a splash of water to make an egg wash

Instructions:

For filling: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the pear, sugar lemon zest, lemon juice, and ginger root.

Place over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, about 30-45 minutes. You can mash the fruit with the back of a spoon as it begins to soften.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into a sanitized jar and refrigerate.

For cookie: 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 into a ball. It may look a bit dry at first, but should come together. There may be some crumbs and that is OK.

Wrap the ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Once refrigerated, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8-inch thick.

Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using a 2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter, punch out as many circles as you can. Feel free to re-roll the scraps to punch out more circles.

Beat together egg white and water.

Using a pastry brush, cover the top of each circle with egg wash. Add about 1 1/2 – 2 tsp of ginger pear filling to each cookie. Fold three sides of the circle up to form a triangle. Place on cookie sheet at least 1-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown at the edges.

Remove from oven to a cooling rack and cool.

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Food is an excellent way to celebrate ritual and tradition over many generations, and this humble cookie is one such recipe. I hope you love it. Chag Purim Sameach!

Katie Lowman + Kitchen Possible

Katie Lowman

I am so excited to welcome my guest Katie Lowman to the blog today! Katie is the founder of Kitchen Possible, a non-profit that builds empowered mindsets in kids through cooking. Kitchen Possible offers weekly cooking classes to kids (aged 8-12) in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. Over an 8-week session, kids use cooking to experience the benefits of patience, setting goals, following a plan, asking for help, and course correcting when things don’t go as planned.

Katie started Kitchen Possible in 2017, but it had been on her mind for several years before that. She realized that, for herself, cooking was a way to feel capable and in control. This led to the initial idea for Kitchen Possible. She discovered that kids in underserved communities are “less likely to believe that they have control over what happens in their life.” Katie thought that these children might be able to benefit from the the accomplishment and power that she felt from completing recipes as a kid. She tells me, “The idea behind Kitchen Possible is that we could use cooking to show kids how powerful they are–that when they set a goal, follow a plan, and follow it through (what we do every time we cook something), they can make amazing things happen.”

Katie’s exposure to a variety of foods started when she was young, in an unexpected way. “Growing up, I was a really competitive BMX racer, which gave me some interesting opportunities to travel the country and eat lots of different regional foods as a kid,” she tells me. “My parents always tried their best to expose me to lots of interesting foods. They insisted I at least TRY everything, and I’m really thankful for that today.” On top of her national travels, her dad began teaching her to cook when she was only 5 or 6.

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One recipe that she often made with her dad, and now teaches the kids at Kitchen Possible, is a simple barbecue sauce. “It’s actually the first food I learned to really make on my own, and it’s the thing that made me fall in love with cooking,” she says. “It made me feel so powerful at that age, being able to combine a handful of ingredients and turn them into something delicious,” and this is exactly the feeling she hopes her organization will stir up in a new generation of youngsters. She wants them not only to make something, but to make something that’s really theirs, which makes this recipe ideal. “It’s such a good recipe for them to start to learn to own their flavor preferences. It’s super adjustable, and they can really turn it into something they love, no matter what kind of flavors they like best.” That kind of flexibility is good for adults too, as Katie herself can vouch. “I usually start here, and depending what I’m using the sauce for, or what I’m feeling that day, I might add something else. You can add a couple of chipotle peppers or some cayenne pepper, some fresh or frozen fruit, or more mustard for extra tang. I’ve even added some instant espresso for something a bit more complex.”

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Simple Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans tomato sauce, 28 oz. total
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
Several pinches of black pepper
1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp yellow mustard
1/4 tsp celery seed

Instructions: 

Heat large pot over medium-high heat, adding a bit of olive oil to your pot. Sauté onion until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add all ingredients to the pot. Simmer on medium heat for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is thick and flavorful.

If the sauce gets too thick, thin with a bit of water. Adjust sweetness and spice as it simmers.

Blend with immersion blender until smooth.

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Katie tells me that the most fulfilling part of her work is the way the kids respond to their adventures in the kitchen. “I love watching them cook with such focus and intensity, and then seeing their faces light up when their food starts to come together. You can literally watch a kid go from thinking they might not be able to do something to realizing they totally can. It is so cool to see them experience the same sense of confidence and control that I felt, and still feel, when cooking,” she says.

The students show their confidence not only by their demeanor but by their desire to share their work. There’s an “amazing thing that happens at the end of each class,” says Katie. “While the kids are gobbling down their food excitedly, many of them intentionally save a very small portion, even just a few forkfuls. They love to bring a few bites home for mom or dad to try. It fills me with so much joy to see them so proud of what they’ve made that they want to share it with someone else. Last week, a kid brought a tiny portion of chicken stir-fry to me and asked if I could wrap it up for him. He said he’d be visiting his cousins the next day and really wanted them to try it. My heart just explodes over this stuff!”

Katie’s organization also checks in with the parents to track the kids’ behavior outside of class. “Ninety-one percent of KP parents have seen an increase in their child’s confidence since beginning the program. And 86% say their child is more willing to take on new challenges,” she reports. “I’m so proud of the results we’ve seen.”

In the coming year, Kitchen Possible has some exciting things on the horizon. Right now, the program is operating in East Garfield Park and Pilsen. However, Katie and her team are working to bring the program to a third (as of now, secret) neighborhood this summer! Eventually, Katie hopes to expand the program even further. She tells me, “With our new location this summer, we’ll have the opportunity to really expand our impact, but we’re not stopping there!”

Kitchen Possible is also gearing up for their May Menu Fundraiser, which partners KP “with some of Chicago’s best restaurants to raise money for our upcoming summer classes. Each participating restaurant will donate a portion of proceeds from a popular menu item to KP. It’s a really cool opportunity for Chicago’s food lovers to come out and support an important cause, while enjoying a delicious meal.” Stay tuned to find out where you can get a bite of this yourself!

If you’re interested, you can learn more about Kitchen Possible at their website, or follow them on Instagram

Thanks to Katie for sharing Kitchen Possible’s story and her family recipe! Keep up the great work!

First two photographs provided by Katie Lowman.

Anna Pavlova + Mini Chocolate Pavlovas

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If you’re like me, you may have recently noticed pavlovas popping up around the internet. They’re a lovely, delicate, meringue confection, often topped with cream and fruit. Also, if you’re like me, always on the lookout for the story behind the dessert, you may have also wondered to yourself, “Why are they called that?” Well, here is the history of Anna Pavlova, the great Russian ballerina and choreographer, in whose honor the pavlova was created.

Anna Pavlova was born on this day, February 12, 1881, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her parents were not wed at the time of her birth, and Pavlova was later adopted by her mother’s husband after her birth father died, and took his surname.

As a young child, her mother took her to a ballet performance of The Sleeping Beauty, which sparked her interest in ballet. At the age of 10, Pavlova was accepted into the prestigious Imperial Ballet School, but not before at first being rejected for her slight and “sickly” appearance. Pavlova’s body was atypical of the classic ballerina of the time. She was short and slender, with very arched feet. This made it difficult for her to dance en pointe. Eventually, she would compensate for this by inserting leather soles into her shoes, as well as hardening the toe and shaping it into a box. Some criticized this as “cheating,” but her invention led to the modern-day pointe shoe, which allows dancers to remain en pointe for extended periods of time.

It is said that she had bad turnout and often performed with bent knees. But her determination was great. In addition to her classes at the ballet school, she would take extra lessons from noted ballet teachers of the time, and practice for hours and days on end. She never shied away from the hard work required of a great dancer. She once said, “God gives talent. Work transforms talent into genius.”

At the age of 18, Pavlova graduated from the Imperial Ballet School. While her style was unconventional, she became an increasingly popular dancer, and a favorite of Marius Petipa, one of the most influential ballet choreographers ever. In 1905, she, along with choreographer Mikhail Fokine, created the solo dance of The Dying Swan, a four-minute act that follows the last moments of a swan’s life. At the age of 25, she finally earned the title of prima ballerina, after a performance of Giselle, which was known as a notoriously difficult ballet for dancers to perform.

By the age of 30, Pavlova had founded her own dance company to tour the world. Striking out on her own in this way, she performed for millions of people throughout the world, introducing many to ballet for the first time. She also never stopped learning her craft. She was known, during her travels, to take classes from local teachers, learning traditional dances of Mexico, India, and Japan.

Pavlova continued touring until her death in 1931. Before a tour through the Hague, her train was in an accident, and the dancer was left waiting on the platform in the cold for 12 hours, in only a thin coat and pajamas. Shortly after, she developed pneumonia and was told that she needed surgery to save her life, but was also told that the surgery would likely prevent her from ever dancing again. She declined the surgery and, as a result, died just before her 50th birthday. Her love of dance was so powerful that she is said to have uttered, just before her death, “Get my ‘swan’ costume ready,” though this may have been a romantic embellishment.

It is said that Pavlova’s “swan” costume is the basis for the pillowy pavlova, and it is hard to look at the fluffy design of the pavlova and not imagine a resemblance. In the 1920s, Pavlova’s tours were very popular in the United States, as well as New Zealand and Australia. And it is the latter two countries who are responsible for the popularity of the pavlova pastry, which was named in honor of the dancer’s tour. Since the 20s, in fact, Australia and New Zealand have been in a friendly disagreement about which country is actually the birthplace of the pavlova. But to this day, neither country has been able to prove their case beyond a doubt. (In fact, in 2008, a book was published that definitively stated that the first recipe appeared in New Zealand. However, more recently, the dessert has been traced back to a similar German torte that came to the United States and evolved from there.)

Wherever the pavlova was first created, it has become an important cultural fixture in both Australia and New Zealand, where it is often served around Christmas and is usually topped with cream, strawberries, and kiwi.

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Mini Chocolate Pavlovas
Makes two 4-inch pavlovas.

Ingredients:
1 large egg white
1 small pinch of table salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup heavy cream, very cold
Raspberries, as desired
Chocolate shavings, as desired

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Place a piece of parchment paper onto a cookie sheet. Using a bowl, trace two 3-inch circles onto the parchment paper, then flip the parchment over on the cookie sheet. You should be able to see the circles through the parchment. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg white with salt until smooth, adding sugar one tablespoon at a time and beating in completely until it has doubled in size, and is smooth and glossy. Then, beat in the vanilla.

Sift the cocoa powder over the top, and use a plastic spatula to fold the cocoa in completely. Spoon the mixture into the two circles on the parchment paper (pile them as high as possible, as they will deflate as they bake and cool.) Bake for 30 minutes. Turn off the oven, leaving the door closed, and allow to cool for 15 minutes. They should be crisp on the edges, but squishy in the middle.

Top with whipped cream, raspberries, and chocolate shavings, and serve immediately.

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This delicate dessert is not unlike its namesake, the sensational Anna Pavlova. It’s light, not too rich, and honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on anything. I love them, and I hope Ms. Pavlova would, too! Happy Birthday, Anna!

Rosa Parks + “Featherlite” Peanut Butter Pancakes

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Today marks what would have been Rosa Parks’ 106th birthday. This being a food history blog, you might not expect her to make an appearance here, and you might not expect any particular recipe to be associated with this iconic figure of American history. However, in 2015, Rosa Parks’ personal papers were released by the Library of Congress, and found among her papers was a recipe, written in her own hand on the back of a Detroit bank envelope, for “featherlite” peanut butter pancakes. This was alongside notes from Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks’ own journals from the time of the famous Montgomery bus boycott, but this tiny slice of her story gives a glimpse of the real person behind the historic figure we all know today, who had to work hard and feed her family.

She was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, the daughter of Leona and James McCauley, a teacher and a carpenter, respectively. As a child, Parks was constantly confronted with racism: She was bullied by white children; the Ku Klux Klan marched through her town, while her grandfather stood watch at their front door with a shotgun; and, at one point, she was left standing in the rain by the same bus driver who would later have her arrested years later.

In 1932, McCauley married Raymond Parks, who was involved with the NAACP. She finished her high school studies (at the time, only 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma), and began working a variety of jobs to make ends meet. By 1943, Parks herself became involved with the NAACP and, being the only woman present, was asked to become the secretary to Edgar Nixon, the Montgomery chapter’s leader. Just a year into her time as secretary, she investigated the kidnapping and brutal gang-rape of Recy Taylor, a black woman from Alabama, who was attacked as she was leaving church. Parks and others organized The Committee for Equal Justice after Taylor identified her rapists, but an all-white jury dismissed her case. In addition to bringing national attention to Ms. Taylor’s case, the group helped to shine a light on the prevalence of sexual assault against black women, as well as help them report any abuse directly to the NAACP.

Throughout the 40’s and into the 50’s, Parks continued her work with the NAACP to end segregation and help register black voters. In 1955, Parks attended the Highlander Folk School, an education center dedicated to training emerging leaders in social justice and labor and civil rights. The same year, Emmett Till was murdered while visiting family in Mississippi. Till’s murder was discussed during Mass at Parks’ church. The white men accused of Till’s brutal murder had been acquitted, and this deeply upset Parks. Four days later, Parks changed history by refusing to stand up and move to the back of a public bus when a white man boarded. The act was not violent (and technically not illegal; Parks had been sitting in the “colored” section of the bus, but was expected to stand if white people boarded and there was no room for them to sit), but the driver of the bus notified the authorities and Parks was arrested. Contrary to the common belief that Parks was simply tired after a hard day’s work, she was not a meek seamstress. Explaining the act herself, she once said, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” It was a deliberate peaceful protest of an unjust system. In response to her arrest, Parks later said, “I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long.”

Parks was bailed out of jail that evening by her former boss Edgar Nixon, now the leader of the NAACP in Alabama and the President of the Pullman Porters Union. Nixon, along with Jo Ann Robinson, a professor at Alabama State College and a member of the Women’s Political Council, came up with the idea of a bus boycott as a way of using the publicity of Parks’ arrest. Three days after Parks was arrested, the Montgomery bus boycott was announced. Four days later, the boycott began. Pamphlets asked African Americans to avoid taking buses, and find another means of transportation, if possible. The call was heard and, as the Montgomery public transportation network consisted primarily of African American riders, the system was crippled. The boycott continued for an astounding 381 days, until on December 21, 1956, Montgomery public transportation was integrated.

While this was a triumph, Parks did not escape unscathed. Shortly after refusing to give up her seat, she was fired from her job as a seamstress. Her husband eventually lost his job as well, and her family regularly received death threats. In 1957, they left Alabama for Virginia, in hopes of finding work. Shortly afterward, the Parks family moved again, this time to Detroit, where Rosa lived the rest of her life. She died in 2005, at the age of 92. She received many honors in the last years of her life, including the Presidential Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal. She also became the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol rotunda after her death.

In honor of Parks’ birthday, and her contributions to our country–and also as a reminder that she was a regular person, who needed to feed herself and her family–I made her recipe for “featherlite” peanut butter pancakes.

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“Featherlite” Peanut Butter Pancakes
Makes approximately 12 4-inch pancakes.

Ingredients: 
1 cup flour
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tbsp shortening or oil

Instructions:

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and peanut butter. (The peanut butter will take some time to combine. You want to eliminate large clumps, but small ribbons are fine.)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir together, just until flour disappears. Stop stirring when you see no more ribbons of flour. The mixture will still be lumpy.

Melt shortening or oil in a large flat skillet or griddle. Heat until a drop of water sizzles when added to pan.

Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup, not quite filled to the top, to scoop batter. Drop into the hot skillet and flip after about 1 minute. Continue until batter is gone. Serve warm.

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Obviously this pancake recipe is a tiny part of Rosa Parks’ story, but the neat thing about history is that it was all created by real people. Parks’ contribution to the civil rights movement was monumental, but while her name is now a by-word for the successful boycott and a type of heroism rarely seen, we can perhaps appreciate that heroism even more by remembering how she and her family privately suffered for years as a result of the stand that she took. I hope that this small piece of her personal history, a humble pancake recipe, can shine a light on the real life of an American icon.

(Photo of Rosa Parks from Wikimedia Commons)

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.