Monthly Archive for April, 2010

History Dish Mondays: A Very Fine Charlotte Russe

This very fine dessert is the second in my series of experiments with early chemical additives and my second attempt at a Charlotte Russe. Let’s kick off with the epic recipe I followed to make this thing:

A Very Fine Charlotte Russe

From The Lady’s Receipt Book by Eliza Leslie, 1847


I’m not going to provide you with a modern version of this recipe, because I discourage you from making it.  It didn’t taste bad, but the effort just wasn’t worth it.  However, I will walk you through the steps I took to recreate this “elegant” dessert.

First, I baked a cake.  I googled around for an almong sponge cake recipe (thank you, Martha Stewart).  I baked the cake in a glass bowl, so that it would begin to take the shape of a domed mold.  When it came out of the oven, I hollowed out the middle and saved the resulting cake scraps.  While still warm, I pressed the cake into a smaller bowl to create a deep well to recieve to all the very fine custard I was about to make.

I boiled one cup  of whole milk with a vanilla bean and a few blades of mace.  After about ten minutes, I removed the milk from the heat and plucked out the bean and mace, and whisked in one cup of heavy whipping cream.  I set this mixture aside to cool.  In the meantime, I beat three large eggs  in an electric mixer until aerated and light in color.  When the milk mixture was room temperature, I added the eggs in a slow drizzle, whisking constantly.  I returned it to a medium heat on my stove top and cooked it for about ten minutes, stirring constantly.  The resulting custard went into the refrigerator to cool.

In the meantime, I busted out my Isinglass, and dissolved it in a cup of boiling water.  Here’s where things went a little wrong:  I think the isinglass needed to be boiled in the water for a longer time.  After it cooled, and I mixed it with my custard, it left tapioca-like beads in the pudding.  It was an unpleasant texture that I think could have been avoided.  Lesson leaned: cook that isinglass long and hard.

I added four tablespoons of sugar to the custard and isinglass mixture, and set it aside.  I measured out a cup of white sugar into a bowl, and rubbed it on the skins of two lemons.  This is a trick also used in punch making; it releases the flavorful oils contained in the lemon’s skin.  I juiced the lemons and added the juice to the sugar, then added one cup sherry and half a cup brandy.  I stirred the mixture until the sugar was dissolved.  I added four cups of heavy whipping cream, and again used my mixer to beat the heck out of it.  The resulting boozey whipped cream was folded into the custard, and this mixture went straight into my almond-cake-mold.  I covered the bottom with the cake scraps I had set aside.  I put it in the refrigerator to set.

An “icing made in the usual manner” meant a royal icing: a basic recipe of egg whites, powdered sugar, and egg whites.  After about half an hour, the almond cake and custard was set.  I flipped it out of the mold, iced it, and decorated it with fresh raspberries.

Jebus. This is a fussy recipe to say the least.  The luxury of an electric mixer was an incredible time saver; note that to prepare this recipe in 1847 you had to make two meringues and one whipped cream BY HAND.  Not to mention I had the modern conveince of a refrigerator to set the custard.  The entire process still took me well over an hour to complete.  The end result?  Underwhelming.  Edible, sweet, and boozy; but somehow not worth all the effort that went into it.

I think the point of this recipe was not the taste; but rather all the work that went into it.  I find it hard to believe that the average housewife was preparing a Very Fine Charlotte Russe, even for the most special occasions.  However, most middle and upper class households had servants.  Time consuming and labor intensive, the job of the cook was the first to be relinquished by the lady of the house to hired help.

After the turn of the 20th century, when the servant trade began to fade, the lady of the house instead turned to new convenience foods.  Canned, pre-packaged, and easy to prepare, she would use these products to cut down on cooking time, so she could use her day for other pursuits (and when I say she, I mean you and me).

So I believe a Very Fine Charlotte Russe was a recipe desgined to show off the skill of one’s servants and the wealth of one’s household.  At any rate, stay away from it, unless you’ve got a few servants of your own.

Video: Me on Japanese TV!

I was recently featured in a Japanese TV show about New York culture called “New York Wave.” We shot for five days: we ate some bear and we ate some turtle; we cooked 19th century pancakes on an open hearth; we had so many adventures. All in Japanese. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.


Snapshot: 1964 Belgium Waffles

A Brussels waffle with spekuloos spread from Waffles & Dinges.

New York has a proliferation of tasty and affordable food trucks that go above and beyond your average street meat.  I stumbled upon the Waffles & Dinges truck the other night, which features (among other) the Brussels Waffle:  “Light and Crispy, this is the ‘Mother of all Waffles’ and first came to New York for the 1964 World’s Fair.  Now it’s back, better than ever.”

I have a soft spot for food introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair, so I ordered a waffle, topped with  spekuloos spread.  Although the spread was recommended to me (and beat Bobby Flay), it was a little too sweet for my liking.  But the waffle was perfect: crisp on the outside, moist and almost creamy in the middle.  Next time, I’m just going to get a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or a few sliced strawberries, so I can really enjoy the taste and texture of the waffle.

Events: The Boston 19th Century Pub Crawl Wrap Up!

A Gentleman strolls through Boston on the 19th Century Pub Crawl.

Over the weekend, the 19th Century Pub Crawl went on the road for one wild night in Boston, home to some of America’s oldest bars and most notorious dens of vice.

The crawl met at Eastern Standard, a new bar that focuses on the revival of classic cocktails. The capable bartenders put together a custom drink list  featuring authentic 19th century imbibements.  I had myself the “19th Century,” a drink previously known as the Old-Fashioned, and originally known at the Cock-tail.  A mix of rye, bitters, and a twist of lemon, this delightful and refreshing drink was the first cocktail, and is the origin point from whence all other cocktails were birthed.  I also had the Japanese Cocktail, invented by Jerry Thomas–surprisingly delicious, and perhaps my favorite drink of the evening.

The custom 19th Century cocktail list at Eastern Standard.

If you are ever in Boston, I highly recommend dinner and a drink at Eastern Standard; their hospitality was touching, their bar-craft unparalleled.

The “19th Century” at Eastern Standard.

The crawl participants met and mingled; and, lubricated with a few fine cocktails, became fast friends.  By the time we left Eastern Standard, we had 40 crawlers in tow.

An admittedly blurry photo of the crawl making its way to the Red Hat.

We traveled via subway to the Red Hat, a bar founded in 1906 in Boston’s old Theater district (later a neighborhood known for its burlesque shows).  We settled in upstairs, next to the antique bar, and surrounded by a charming mural of old Boston.  The ambiance was lovely.

I was won over by a small advertisement on my table and ordered a Kraken and Coke.  Kraken is a new brand of “Black Spiced Rum,” which comes in an amazing jug-like bottle adorned with an angry sea monster.  Ever since spotting it at Astor Wine & Spirits last month, I’ve been meaning to try it out.  I was very pleasantly surprised–Kraken is sweet and spicy, and an incredibly pleasant companion to Coke.  I recommend it.

Kraken & Coke.  Release the Kraken!

Next, we trotted down the street to Union Bar at the Union Oyster House.  The UOH is the oldest continually operating restaurant in the U.S., having been founded in 1826.  It was the first bar to pass out wooden toothpicks in the 1860s.  Despite my track record at previous pub crawls, I did not slurp up any oysters.  Instead, I was bought a whiskey on the rocks by a woman in a dashing hat.  Perfect.

We ended up skipping the Bell in Hand Tavern after sizing up the line in front of the door that extended around the block, and discovering there was a $10 cover.  Boo.  The next time I’m in Boston, I’m going to stop in for a burger and a beer; it is one of the oldest bars in America, after all.

Left: The discreet, nondescript hallway that leads to Drink.

Instead, we headed across the river to Drink, another new establishment known for exploring the history of cocktails.  After six hours of drinking, I still had a party of twelve ready for more.  When we got to Drink’s front stair, we were met by the doorman who (to quote a fellow pub crawler) had “the most amazing Chester A. Arthur mutton chops.”  He sized us up, nodded and said:  “I heard you guys might be headed our way.  Let me see what I can do.”   He disappeared inside, and I addressed my loyal troupe of 19th century gentleman and ladies: “He says there’s at least a 45 minutes wait; last call is in 90 minutes.  I’m read to wait them out; who’s with me?”  Everyone agreed we were in it to win it.

Ten minutes later, the door opened.  Chester A. smiled: “Welcome to Drink,” and he swept us inside.

Drink is a magical place; if you can get in, go.  There is no menu, which at first strikes you as annoying.  But in fact, it allows you the opportunity to chat with your adorable server/bartender who will say things like “I’ve got the perfect drink for you!”  He started me off with another Cock-Tail, then an updated old-fashioned.  Some of my companions asked for egg drinks, which are unrivaled at Drink.  I think that’s what opened the gates for what happened next.

We were suddenly presented with a “special cocktail,” I didn’t catch it’s name.  It has specific instructions for consumption: first, you smelled it.  A big long whiff.  Second, you sipped off the meringue-like egg white that sat on the drink’s surface.  Last, you threw the drink back like a shot, imbibing the alcohol and the egg yolk which sits at the bottom of the glass.  The egg yolk bursts in your mouth.  As mine ruptured, I thought to myself:  did I really just eat that raw egg?

Althought we all commented how sober we were on the walk to Drink, by the time we piled in cabs around 1:30 am, we were 3-5 sheets to the wind.  Total Eclipse of the Heart came on the radio, and I sang it all the way back to my brother’s apartment in Cambridge, where I met a few friends for just one more drink.

They’re pointing to the “Gentlemen’s Room.”

I’m now safely entrenched back in New York city, still basking from the warm glow of a night of fine drinks, and even finer friends.  I met such lovely people.  And if you missed the Boston 19th Century Pub Crawl this year, worry not.  There’s already plans for a repeat performance next spring.  And for those of you in New York, and those of you willing to hop a Fung Wah to get here, the New York 19th Century Pub Crawl is right around the corner on May 15th.  Check out our proposed route, and I hope to see you there!

Check out more photos from the evening below, or on the Flickr 19th Century Pub Crawl Pool.

I’m Off to Boston!

See you there!!

The Gallery: Cover Me in Corn Syrup!

Karo corn syrup promotional cookbook, c. 1940.

Video: History Tastes Like Bear Meat

I was just featured in a lovely video by Van Tieu of the Brooklyn Ink! Watch it to see some of my experiments cooking bear meat, and the craziness of the Pancakes Aplenty Event.

History Tastes Like Bear Meat In Brooklyn from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.

Culinary Historian, Sarah Lohman, discovers bear meat in historical American cuisine, and flips pancakes from 1842 at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Cocktail Hour: The Jack Rose

After my post about applejack last week, my brother (a Bostonian and classic cocktail enthusiast) suggested I post the recipe for the Jack Rose, the iconic applejack cocktail.

This recipe comes from Sloppy Joe’s Bar Book (1932), and I mixed it up as part of my pre-prohibition themed birthday party in January.  It was Hemingway’s favorite drink to sip while at Sloppy Joe’s, a prohibition era bar in Havana, Cuba.

I didn’t like it; the combination of the applejack and the lemon juice tasted like heartburn in the making.  I had a fancier version of this drink over the weekend at Death & Company, a swank and beautiful bar in the East Village.  They are known for their neo-gothic interior and classic-cocktail inspired drinks.  Their Jack Rose contains both apple jack and calvados (a French apple brandy) paired with lemon and lime juice and house made grenadine.

My brother has his own take on the recipe; he recommends “1.5 oz apple jack; juice of 1/2 lemon (1 oz); 1 bar spoon (say 1/2 to 1 tsp) grenadine.”  To make your own grenadine, use equal volumes unsweetened pomegranate juice and sugar, boiled as you would a simple syrup.

Illustration by Peter Van Hyning.

p.s. – if you’re a Bostonian and classic cocktail enthusiast, don’t forget about the Boston 19th Century Pub Crawl on April 10th!

Snapshot: A Weekend of Eating

Bloody Mary, made completely from scratch, with a lil’ dill pickle floating in the middle.

Last weekend, I really consumed some comestibles.  Allow me to share:

On Friday night, I organized a “Safari Party,” or as it’s known in America, a “Progressive Dinner.”  A Progressive is a meal where each course is eaten at a different house; our five courses led us on a pathway all through Astoria, Queens.  When I organized the party, I had no idea there was an historic precedent.  Then I came across a Betty Crocker WWII-era pamphlet entitled  “Hospitality in War-Time”

We didn’t make any of the dishes that Ms. Crocker suggested.  I’m not sure if  “Avacado Halves with Lemon Sherbert and Lemon Mayonaise” would be as horrfying as it sounds, or a revelation in flavor.  We did have dishes that celebrated Astoria’s ethnic diversity, like fried haloumi cheese; corned beef and cabbage; and tres-leches cake.  We also included a cocktail with each course, like the “acropolis,” a drink made with Sprite, Rose’s Grenadine, and Ouzo; and bloody marys, with home-made bloody mary mix.

It was an amazing evening–not only was the food great, but the spectacular weather made traveling around Queens an unrivaled pleasure.  We really don’t give our home burrough enough props.

Left: Sunday Brunch; savory crepe fillings

On Sunday morning, I was invited over to my friend Cecile’s apartment for brunch.  While not historic, it was delicious.  A vegetarian-crepe-feast, it was a good balance for our dinner plans later that evening: the Brooklyn Beefsteak. The Beefsteak is a revival of a 19th century event that a requires copious amount of beer drinking, and a constant consumption of perfectly grilled, butter-drizzled slices of beef tenderloin.  Done and done.

You can view more photos from my weekend of eating here.