Archive for the 'cookies' Category

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Snaphot: Pinons

Pine nuts.

My friend Cecile is visiting from Belgium, and she brought me a little gift: pine nuts, collected during a hike in the south of France.  I’ve never even seen a pine nut in it’s shell before!  I’m going to make something really special with these; perhaps some Pignoli Cookies.

History Dish Mondays: The Original Christmas Cookie

cookies_1The original Christmas Cookie, flavored with coriander.

This recipe comes from Amelia Simmons’ book American Cookery, the first cookbook of American authorship, published in 1796.  It’s one of the earliest printed uses of the word cookie or “cookey,” an Americanism derived from the Dutch word koekje, a little cake that was offered as a treat to New Year’s day visitors in New York City.

It was published at a time when Christmas was not uniformly celebrated.  Santa Claus wasn’t invented for another thirty years, and the domestic, gift giving Christmas we’re familiar with today did not exist.  There was a great debate as to whether Christmas should be celebrated piously, in quiet prayer and devotion; or in a more traditional Solstice celebration, with a focus on drinking and mischief.  “The Antics” were roaming the streets of Boston, a rowdy gang who burst into the houses of the wealthy, and acted out bawdy plays for a reward of money or alcohol.  “Callathumpian bands” paraded around the streets of New York, their purpose to make as much noise and cause as much chaos as possible.

For more on the origins of modern Christmas, read Stephen Nissenbaum’s amazing book, The Battle for Christmas.  I don’t know more about this recipe in particular, but I was intrigued to taste the earliest American Christmas cookie recipe that I know of.

This recipe is essentially a sugar cookie flavored with coriander, which is the dried seeds of cilantro (and technically, cilantro is fresh coriander). Simmons’ receipt is vague, so I searched for a modern recipe I could retronovate, and found the perfect solution in Martha Stewart’s Old Fashioned Sugar Cookie.  This recipe appealed to me because it uses an interesting modern technique of applying a double layer of sanding sugar, which gives the cookie a sweet glaze.  I altered the batter so it would be closer to Simmons’ original recipe.  For a slightly more authentic Christmas Cookey, I recommend using a recipe for Springerle cookies, a traditional Dutch treat, and replace the anise flavor with 1-2 tsp. of ground coriander.

Christmas Cookeys

From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796).
Modern recipe derived from Martha Stewart’s Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tsp ground coriander
Zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened
2 large eggs
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

1. Whisk flour, baking soda, coriander and salt into a bowl; set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat sugars, lemon zest and butter at a medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then lemon juice, mixing between each addition. Scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula.

3. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

4. Scoop dough into a ziploc bag or sheet of plastic wrap. Form into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break off a 1/4 of the dough ball. On a generously floured surface, roll out dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. “Cut or stamp in shape and size you please (Simmons),” and place on a baking sheet. “Sprinkle tops with sanding sugar, then lightly brush with a wet pastry brush; sprinkle with more sanding sugar (Stewart).”

6. Bake for 7 minutes, turning half way through.

I really like these cookies; they’re a simple sugar cookie, with a kick of fresh citrusy flavor form the coriander. I’ve boxed them up with some Chocolet Puffs and Cayenne Gingerbread, and they’ll make a lovely Christmas gift.

Events: 1865 Funeral Reenactment

The Merchant’s House funeral reenactment processes down The Bowery.

I’m attending an interesting event this week at the
Merchant’s House Museum called From Parlor to Grave: 1865 Funeral Reenactment.

The parlors will be draped in black crape as we recreate the 1865 funeral of Seabury Tredwell. After the service, mourners are invited to follow the coffin to nearby New York City Marble Cemetery – rarely open to the public – for a tour. 19th-century mourning attire encouraged; black crape armbands will be provided. $15, MHM Members $10.

I went several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed myself: there is a fake corpse of Mr Seabury Tredwell; visitors are asked to participate in the period appropriate funeral ceremony; and then (my favorite part) the casket is carried from the from door of the museum, down the Bowery to the cemetery. The juxtaposition of the 1860s funeral processionand the hustle and bustle of modern day New York is mind-blowing.

Thinking about the funeral got me interested in doing some research on Funeral Cakes. Also known as Doed Kokes, funeral cakes were a large, hard cookie that was given out as a memento of a funeral (Zanger, 45). The cookies were molded much like a
Springerle cookie and were flavored with caraway seeds. Although they were largely a Colonial Dutch tradition (Zanger, 45), their recipe appears under the name “seed cakes” in many 19th century cookbooks.

I had one of these cookies at a funeral reenactment in Ohio and remember it tasting awful. The caraway seeds gave it a taste distinctly reminiscent of pepperoni. Then again, the cookies probably weren’t ever intended to be eaten, but rather preserved for years as a testament to the memory of a loved one.

On a similar note, I wanted to share with you a little treasure my Mom found at a flea market over the summer: a collection of funeral cards for the 1850s and 60s. They were a memento distributed in the same way as a doed koke. I’ve scanned these cards and made them available on Flickr. Take the time to browse them: each one is unique and different, and several of them are truly beautiful in their level of detail and intricacy.

UPDATE 10/25/2009: I took a bunch of photos at the reenactment today, take a look!

Retronovated Recipes: Chocolet Puffs

A few weekends ago, I was awarded Best in Show at the Havemeyer Sugar Sweets Festival, a fundraiser for the City Reliquary. I was especially proud of my prize because the recipe that won, Chocolate Puffs, is one of my favorite creations.

I first came across the recipe for Chocolate Puffs in The American History Cookbook, an excellent resource by Mark H. Zanger that uses food to teach cultural history. That’s right up my alley.

The recipe, which is from a 1750s manuscript, is fascinating because it is “one of the first recipes in English for any use of chocolate other than drinking.”

Take a pound of Loaf Sugar, beat and Sifted very fine, 2 Ounce of Almonds blancht and beat very fine with a little Orange Flower water or any other, to keep them from Oyling, but not to make the same too thin, take 2 ounces of Chocolet and grate it, then mix it well together, the take the wfite of an Egg and beat it to a froth, if one be not Enough take a little more, then beat it well to a paste & Squert it, and do it on Slight paper and Set the same in an oven after Bread, of Chocolett Ditt it up a while but not for White ones, for fear of making them brown.

I realized this recipe was the perfect vehicle to try out the block of American Heritage baking chocolateI had picked up on my recent trip to Washington DC. American Heritage is chocolate produced by the Historic Division of Mars, Inc.

“The Historic Division of Mars was established in 2006, with the vision of becoming the undisputed leader in chocolate history. Our mission is to relentlessly pursue and share chocolate’s rich past, by creating authentically historic chocolate experiences that allow our consumers to enjoy the fusion of chocolate history and Mars Chocolate excellence.

It’s “Handcrafted chocolate made from an authentic colonial recipe…available during the 17th century.” I’m a huge nerd, so when I discovered that there was an authentic historic chocolate being produced, I was beside myself with excitement.

Early chocolate was produced sweetened cakes and sold as a spice. Until the later half of the 19th century, it was primary served as what we know of as hot chocolate. My block of American Heritage chocolate is about 5 oz of pressed cocoa, delicately spiced with anise, red pepper, nutmeg, orange and cinnamon. It seemed only fitting to feature the unique taste of this chunk of chocolate history in my recipe for Chocolet Puffs.

If I’m reading the Chocolet Puffs recipe correctly, it gives you an option of melting the chocolate before adding it to the whipped egg whites, but primarily advises you to simply grate it and stir it in to the meringue, much like you would use a spice. I searched for a comparable modern recipe to use as a jumping point for my baking process: I came across a wonderful recipe for Chocolate Meringues in Martha Stewart’s Cookies that stirred shaved chocolate into a Swiss meringue; a concept incredibly similar to my 18th century recipe.

Chocolate Puffs (1750s)
From a manuscript housed at Tyron Place, as published in the American History Cookbook.

Modern recipe inspired by “Chocolate Meringues” from
Martha Stewart’s Cookie Book.
4 large eggs whites
1 cup sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of Salt
1/2 tablespoon Orange Flower Water*
1/4 cup grated American Heritage chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, salt and orange flower water in a heat proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set in a double boiler. Cook on a low heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.

2. Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment; beat starting on low speed and gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes.
3. Gently fold in chocolate, taking care not to crush the meringue.

4. Transfer meringue to a pastry bag, or (like I did) a Ziploc bag with one corner cut off. Pipe quarter sized, “kiss” shaped cookies onto a non-stick cookie sheet, or parchment lined cookie sheet.

5. Bake cookies for two hours.

*Orange Flower Water can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores; I live in an ethic neighborhood, so my local grocery store carries it, along with three different brands of Rose Water. It is a historic gastronomist’s paradise.


And that’s all there is to it. The process is time consuming, but simple. The results: a depth and intensity of flavor I would not have thought possible from these crispy, sweet little puffs.

Events: Havemeyer Sugar Sweets Sale Wrap Up!

Jumbles, stacked and ready to eat!

This post is belated, but I wanted to share the results of the Sugar Sweets Festival last weekend.

I made about 300 cookies, wrapped in snazzy packages of three, and 90% of them sold! I was thrilled, not only to make a little money for the Reliquary, but because I was afraid the recipes I selected would be too strange for the modern pallet. On the contrary, they were a big hit.

I worked on a simple, professional package design.
I made four kinds in total. The Cayenne Gingerbread was the best seller. In Mrs. Beeton’s Book Of Household Management, she says: “…a great

authority in culinary matters suggests the addition of a little cayenne pepper in gingerbread. Whether it be advisable to use this latter ingredient or not, we leave to our readers to decide.” I say YES, Mrs. Beeton! The gingerbread cookies I baked from her recipe were familiar, yet spicy and complex, with a little kick to the aftertaste. They received rave reviews at the bake sale.
I also baked up a batch of Jumbles, a mid-19th century butter cookie, that are rolled in a loop and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The recipe comes in endless variations; I decided upon a batch flavored with lemon and mace.
I attempted a few dozen Almond-Rosewater Macaroons as well. Although I thought they were the tastiest, the cookie was too delicate to survive transport to the bake sale. Most of them crumbled upon arrival, and did not look as fetching as they could have. The recipe needs work, but I think it still has potential.

The most pleasant surprise of the day was finding out the my Chocolet Puffs, an 18th century meringue cookie, won Best in Show in the baking contest!


My prize was a $25 gift certificate to Whisk, a cooking supply store in Brooklyn. I think I might use it to invest in a pair of cookie sheets; I’ve been baking on borrowed sheets!
I was delighted to be a part of the Sugar Sweets Festival. It allowed me to work the kinks out of my recipes and to develop sensible packaging for my product. Most importantly, I discovered that people actually liked these cookies and were interested in their story. I don’t know where these lessons will take me next, but I’m willing to keep going.
Next: The story behind my award-winning Chocolet Puffs.

The Best Laid Cookie Plans

I’ve been kicking around the idea of selling baked good inspired by historic recipes, but I yet to find an appropriate venue. In the meantime, I need to test some recipes. Here’s a list of cookies I’m going to attempt:

Almond and Rosewater Macaroons

Mexican Chocolate Macaroons – Based off of the earliest known recipe for chocolate used in baking.
Kisses– Lemon meringue filled with cranberry jelly.
Jumbles – A spiced cookie made with mace and lemon.
Caraway cakes – Flavored with ground caraway seeds.
Cream Short Bread – A rich cookie, good for tea, made with sweet cream
Cayenne Ginger Bread
And if these sell alright, I’ll experiment with more recipes. Keep an eye out for my recipe tests in the coming weeks, and I’ll let you know when and where I’ll be selling my wares!

History Dish Mondays: Cooking with Schmaltz, Part One

Chicken cookies triumphant.

I’m embarking on a new project with my friend Ilana. While at her bubbe‘s for Passover, Ilana came across a Manischewitz Matzo Meal cookbook from 1930. It was printed both in Yiddish and in English, and the recipes were in a similar vein, featuring Kosher preparations for America classics such as Boston Cream Pie.

I had remembered reading about these duel-language cookbooks in Laura Schenone’s book 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove. Schenone writes:
“As the 20th century marched on, many Jewish women felt comfortable assimilating through the table, partaking in the fruits of American technology and convenience and all its symbols of progress. It was possible to do this, they proved, and still remain Jewish in identity, soul, and even according to religious law, if they wished.”
The assimilation of Jewish immigrants through food seemed to be happening largely from 1900-1935 and it resulted in an unique cuisine that was simultaneously traditionally Jewish and modern American. Product cook books, like the one printed by Manischewitz, seemed especially intent on creating this modern, hybrid woman.
So we got curious what these recipes tasted like. Ilana and I perused Tempting Kosher Dishes, and selected a few recipes that seemed like the best examples of the hybrid cuisine. This week, I’m cooking up a batch of Mock Oatmeal Cookies:

Yes, these cookies are made with “melted chicken fat.” Chicken cookies.
Mock Oatmeal Cookies
From Tempting Kosher Dishes, B. Manischewitz Co., 1930
2 cups matzo meal
2 cups matzo farfel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup walnuts
2/3 cup schmaltz
4 eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together the schmaltz and the sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together cinnamon and matzo meal. With the mixer on low, slowly add the matzo meal. Mix until combined.
4. Stir in the walnuts and matzo farfel. Drop teaspoon sized lumps onto a greased or silicon cookie sheet.
5. Bake 15 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. Cool and enjoy.
**note: I would recommend doubling the amount of walnuts (or raisins) and adding 3/4 salt to the matzo meal.
My lips had never touched schmaltz until I moved to New York. Traditionally Jewish, it’s chicken fat, used to replace butter when necessary according to Kosher laws. It’s commercially available, but traditionally skimmed off the top of stock. I was having a hard time getting my hands on it in my largely Greek and Hispanic neighborhood. But fortune smiled, and while out on a video shoot, I brought up my search for schmaltz to food journalist (and schmaltz advocate) Josh Ozersky and chef Marco Canora of Hearth and Insieme. We were on our way to Insieme, when Marco mentioned he had just cooked up a pot of chicken stock, and would be more than happy to skim me some schmaltz from the top. I was beyond thrilled–looks like I owe Marco some Mock Oatmeal Cookies.
Marco skims for schmaltz. What a great guy.

Matzo Meal is ground Matzo; while Matzo Farfel is crushed or crumble Matzo. It’s worth it buying it in canisters as opposed to breaking up Matzo crackers. It’s cheaper and saves time.
I mixed this recipe as I would a normal cookie dough, although this batter was definitely thinner. By mixing in the Matzo Farfel at the very end, it stayed crispier, and added more texture. I left out the raisins, because I hate fruit in my cookies. I sampled some of the dough before popping it in the oven: It had a disturbing chicken aftertaste.
Left: Matzo farfel. Right: Mock Oatmeal Dough.

A half hour was far too long a bake time for these cookies, and I burned my first batch. The second batch I baked 15 minutes, and they came out perfectly brown on the bottom. I offered one to my roommate without telling him what was in it.
The verdict? Well, we both ate two. The chicken aftertaste had somehow baked away. They had a great texture, similar to a scone: crisp on the outside, and surprising soft and cake like on the inside, despite the lack of leavening. The matzo farfel really crunched and popped in you mouth. It would be a good cookie with a cup of coffee.
I did find the cookies needed a bit of salt; I would probably add 3/4 tsp the next time I made them. Adding more walnuts wouldn’t have hurt either.
In fact, I would make these cookies again. I think they’re made even more appealing because of their unique origins. Not bad for a cookie that started off smelling like chicken soup.
Next week, Featherballs: a matzo ball seasoned with ginger or nutmeg, fried in schmaltz.

"Seal brains…I would consider one of the delicacies and luxuries of the Antarctic…"

A 1950’s recipe book guides cooks in the Antarctic, providing instructions on how to prepare the local wildlife.

“In a chapter on seal brains, he listed recipes for fried seal brains, seal brains au gratin, brain fritters, seal brain omelette and savoury seal brains on toast. The cook must be a man — there were no British women in Antarctica at the time.”

Antarctica was declared a nature preserve in 1959. Presently, researches depend on deliveries of frozen and canned foods.

On a different note, E.A.U over at New York, circa 1850 makes an 1845 gingerbread cookie recipe using blackstrap molasses.

New York, New Year Cakes

My friend over at New York, Circa 1850 has made some rather pretty New York Cakes, which are traditionally served to New Year’s Day callers.

Here’s what she has to say about the finished product:
“The flavors (nutmeg, cinnamon, rosewater, and caraway seeds) are a bit jarring to the modern palate and the cakes are barely sweet; it has taken me a day or so to find them rather pleasant after all.”

The Fruit Drop Cake Debate

Photo by Sarah T.

me: Friday i’m going to bake christmas cookies with Kyle.

Sarah T: that’ll be fun…period appropriate or modern?

me: modern; but what a delightful question. I hate period appropriate cookies.
they’ve all got crap in them. ugh.

Sarah T: I lOVE them. In fact I just made a batch of fruit drop cakes not too long ago. mmmm currents.

me: uuuuuuuulllgh
i actually made that noise out loud, here in new york

Sarah T: I want to give fruit drop cakes a fighting chance, and exhibit their true deliciousness.

FRUIT DROP CAKES (photos pending)
from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1846 (click here for the original recipe)

1 batch yields about 36 cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp lemon abstract
1 tbsp brandy (or peach brandy)
4 cups flour
1 cup dried currents (or you can play it safe with raisins, or be adventuress with any other variety of dried fruit)

This recipe can be made in an electric mixer, or by hand.

Preheat oven to 375. Cream together butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add eggs to butter and sugar and mix until combined. Add brandy and lemon extract. Gradually add flour, with the mixer on a low speed, and mix until combined. Stir in currants. Drop by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet and sprinkle a little sugar on top. bake about 10 minutes, checking halfway through.