Plum Perfect for Fall: A Joy-Filled Dessert Recipe from 1964

Over on Instagram the other day, I posted this photo above of the first Fall-themed dessert to come out of the Vintage Kitchen oven. It’s called Plum Cake Cockaigne and is from the 1964 edition of one of the most popular cookbooks in American history – Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer.

Also over on Instagram, I learned something new recently about cooking blogs and recipe finders. It seems not everyone wants to scroll through a whole entire story in order to get a recipe, so I’m trying something new with this post – recipe at the top,  story at the bottom. You guys let me know how you prefer this new layout.  Time always seems to be so short during these last few months of the year, so if this makes your life (and your cooking experience!) easier please let me know by comment or message and I’ll adjust as you prefer.

Plum Cake Cockaigne

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown sugar)

1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons butter (I used 3)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Milk

3-4 cups thinly sliced plums, skin-on (about 5 plums)

1 cup sugar (I used brown sugar)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour. Add the baking powder, salt, and sugar to the flour and re-sift.

Add the butter (Note: The juicer your plums, the less butter you need to add. My plums weren’t excessively juicy so I used the full 3 tablespoons of butter), mashing it up in the flour mixture with a fork, until the entire mixture looks crumb-like.

In a measuring cup, add the egg, vanilla, and enough milk to equal a 1/2 cup of liquid (this was about 1/4 cup milk in my case). Whisk together until these three ingredients are combined.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until a stiff dough forms. Spread the dough mixture evenly on the bottom of your pan or baking dish and then set aside. (Note: Irma recommended a 9×9 x 2 1/2 inch pan but I used a round 10″ inch x 2″ inch baking dish and that worked great as well).

Next, thinly slice your plums so that you will have enough to overlap each one in your pan – tart style and then arrange them on top of the dough. This is the fun, creative part! You can make many different types of designs with your plums if you like.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and melted butter and then sprinkle the mixture on top of the plums.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown.

Our plum cake was so bubbly I couldn’t help but take a little video of it as it was coming out of the oven!

I recommend letting the whole thing cool before slicing and serving it if you prefer to plate it in wedge-shaped slices.  Since the top layer carmelizes it is easier to slice when it is in a  cooler, more solidified state.  If you’d rather eat it warm, right out of the oven,  simply scoop it into a bowl and enjoy. Serve it on its own, with a dollop of whip cream or a bit of vanilla ice cream and taste the season unfold in all its cinnamon sugar splendor.

What is really fun about this dessert is that it is like two sweet treats combined into one – half tart and half cake. Because there is only one cup of flour and one egg, the cake part is very thin and the fruit arrangement on top is very much like a tart, so this turns out to be a light and less filling alternative to two traditional desserts yet retains all the lovely flavor of both. Plums don’t get as much attention in the Fall as apples and pumpkins in the baking department, but they are still in season until the end of October, so they make a lovely unexpected seasonal dessert.

That’s Irma on the left and her daughter, Marion on the right. 

Plum Cake Cockaigne (pronounced caw-cane) was a favorite recipe in the Rombauer household. The word cockaigne was a term of endearment in the cookbook and was tacked onto various recipes throughout the Joy of Cooking as a way to signify the absolute personal favorite recipes of the Rombauer clan. Derived from old French, cockaigne literally refers to a mythical land of plentiful luxury, comfort, and peace. Such a dreamy notion of an ideal paradise was so charming to the Rombauers it was also the name they chose for their country estate.  How fun!

The 1964 edition of the Joy of Cooking came out two years after Irma died, the first edition to be edited, revised and enhanced by Irma’s daughter, Marion and Marion’s husband, John. Not without its own dramas, this edition needed all the cockaigne it could get. The first printing of the 1964 edition was published without Marion’s final approval, which meant that various inconsistencies and typos were present. This drove Marion crazy, as she wanted to really honor her mother’s work and keep up with the trusted reputation that the Joy brand had accumulated over 30 years since its debut in 1931. So the 1964 edition went through several reprints in order to right all the wrongs that Marion doggedly corrected herself. You get a sense of the enormous responsibility and weight of the legacy that Marion felt surrounding the whole Joy endeavor from her dedication at the beginning of the book…

The edition that is available in the shop is the 1967 printing of the 1964 edition, the one that Marion was finally satisfied with. All of this devising and revising is a real testament to the dedication of the Rombauer family. One that started with Irma way back in the 1930’s and still continues through present family generations today.

Irma’s launch into cooking stardom is a fabulous story, one that we’ll discuss later on in the month as we celebrate her birthday on October 30th. For a woman who wasn’t known for cooking skills when she first started writing a cookbook, she certainly has proven her abilities time and again over the past 80 years. Stay tuned on that front.

In the meantime, there are a couple of weeks left to enjoy plum season. Hope you “fall” in love with this recipe as much we did!

Find the cookbook in the shop here and a link to our Instagram account here if you’d like to keep up with daily doses from the Vintage Kitchen.

Cheers and happy baking!

Bacon, Montana & The Family Pie Crust: It’s Tradition Time!

If you are looking for a fun dessert to make for Easter dinner or you are heading out to someone else’s house for the holiday and want to bring something new (but old) along, we recommend the little known but amazingly delicious Rhubarb Custard Pie.  It has been an Easter tradition in my family since the 1960’s when my mom first started making it with the help of her husband’s grandfather’s homemade pie crust recipe and Betty Crocker’s 1950 Picture Cookbook.

Rhubarb in its natural state.

Rhubarb is one of those quirky vegetables. Some people call it pink celery. Understandably, it really does resemble the green hued variety with its long stalks and tufted green leaves. But rhubarb is actually part of the buckwheat family and celery is part of the parsnip family so their similarities end at face value.  Unlike the subtle soapy taste of celery, rhubarb is tart like a Granny Smith apple and more spongey in texture than a crisp stalk of celery. It’s ideal baking consistency is soft like a ripe pear with a bright white interior and a pale pink exterior. The general rule of thumb when it comes to selecting rhubarb for purchase is the firmer and redder the stalk the tarter the taste.  Ideally, you want something in-between – slightly spongy to the touch and a 40/60 ratio of stalks ranging from deep red to pale pink for dynamic flavor.

Two important factors go into making this pie a repeat favorite year after year – the filling and the pie crust.  Most people (and pie recipes) pair rhubarb with fresh strawberries, which is a good Spring combo since both are usually in season at the same time.  Sometimes though, these two put together can result in a watery pie which makes the crust soggy and each bite extra drippy. The secret addition to the rhubarb custard pie is the eggs. They act like a binder holding everything in place, so that you get all the sweet-tart taste of the filling without the thin and liquidy consistency. Betty Crocker’s 1950’s version is easy to prepare and always delicious.

The second important factor to this pie (and to all pies, really) is the homemade pie crust. It only takes about 10 minutes and four ingredients to make no-fail pie dough and it cooks beautifully and consistently every time.  Passed down through the generations, this recipe is so good it has been in active use in my family for almost 100 years thanks to this guy who taught everyone how to make it in the very beginning…

Bacon & Dolly Day in Montana circa 1950’s/1960’s

Meet Bacon Day and his wife Dolly. Bacon (yes, that’s his real name!) first moved to Montana in the 1920’s where he married his bride, Dolly, in Missoula and went straight to work in the rural mining town of Gold Creek, as the train depot clerk for Northern Pacific Railroad. The railroad was so eager to have Bacon join the team, that they gave he and Dolly two railcars to live in and set up homekeeping. Bacon was originally from St. Paul and Dolly from Seattle, so this railroad life was a whole new and exciting adventure for the newlyweds.

1930’s Northern Railroad travel poster

We don’t have any pictures of Dolly and Bacon in their rail car housing but we can imagine that it looked something like these two (now serving as luxury hotel accommodations in Montana)…

Or maybe it looked something like the rail car library built in 1926 that serviced the reading needs of Montana’s lumberjack and logging communities…

Library rail car built in 1926 to serve the literature names of logging camps in early 20th century Montana. Read more about the library car here.

Either way, it must have been a pretty unusual first home for Bacon and Dolly, and a pretty unusual life for two people new to a state that was not quite yet developed. 1920’s Montana wasn’t for the timid or the faint of heart.  Interesting but also tumultuous, it was stunning in topography, erratic in business opportunity, progressive in gender equality and rebellious when it came to law and decorum. Especially when it came to train life.

Northern Pacfic Railroad Advertising 1910-1920’s

When the railroad companies first started building tracks out west with the ultimate goal of connecting the East coast to the West coast, Montana was marketed to new settlers as a land of stunning beauty and abundant farming opportunities. Homesteaders came from the East coast with intentions of building farms, raising livestock and growing food for commerce. But when these newcomers arrived they experienced a climate far different then what they knew back home. The winters were longer, the temperatures were colder, the open prairies were vast and resources were scarce forcing everyone to be immediately self-reliant. By the early 1900’s, livestock brought in from the East (mostly cows) had arrived in such excess they depleted the natural prairie grasses and upset the delicate balance of the natural eco-system, basically reducing the landscape to bare patches. Add-in an almost decade-long drought that occurred in the 1920’s, and the typography of Montana came to look more like a dessert of death than a lush and verdant valley of promise that all the postcards had been promoting..

Butte, Montana postcard from the 1920’s

The rail companies wanted to keep tourism and homesteading moving through the state though, so they would pay local homesteaders $1000 to grow the most attractive crop they could manage from the poor soil and then took those displays back East to show people how wonderful the agriculture was in Montana.

Montana Homestead Poster

This unscrupulous marketing ploy worked, and new settlers came by the train-full to start a fresh life in green and growing Montana. Only when they got they got off the train, they could see the landscape was devasted and the dry soil virtually unmanageable.  Bacon, in his train depot office, would have been witness to all the excitement and disappointment that came through his station, especially when he worked in Gold Creek which was known for its gold mining potential.

Eventually, all this agriculture business got sorted out once the rains came and residents were properly educated on how and what to grow in this new environment. Montana began to thrive once again. Leaving Gold Creek, Dolly and Bacon moved on to settle into another rural rail town, Phillipsburg, where Bacon worked as a train conductor on a transportation line for livestock and mining equipment.

Now an abandoned track, these are recent photos of the train line running through Phillipsburg with views that Dolly and Bacon would have seen on a daily basis.  Photos courtesy of D & D Travel.

From their wedding forward, Bacon and Dolly lived in Montana and loved it. Dolly often wrote poems about the natural beauty of her surroundings. They both mastered baking – Bacon with his pies and Dolly with her bread. Stories have been passed down that tell of breakfast at their house – often fresh caught trout and a homemade loaf of bread, served possibly with a slice of pie. For over 55 years, these two watched the growth and evolution of their marriage,  their state, their family and their landscape all from the vantage point of the railroad tracks that ran through their lives and their hearts.

In some future posts, there will be more stories about Dolly and Bacon and their wild Montana life, but in the meantime, we have a holiday to celebrate and a pie to bake so it’s back to the rhubarb custard.

I recommend preparing the filling first. It can sit off to the side for a little bit while you make your pie crust.

Betty Crocker’s Rhubarb Custard Pie Filling

Makes enough filling for one 9″ inch pie

3 eggs

2 2/3 tablespoons milk

2 cups sugar  (I use cane sugar)

4 tablespoons flour

3/4 tsp. nutmeg

4 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (about 8-10 long stalks)

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash, dry and cut the rhubarb into small bite-size pieces.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat 3 eggs slightly. Add the milk and then mix again before adding the sugar, flour and nutmeg.

Toss in the rhubarb and mix thoroughly. Then set aside while you make the pie crust.

Great-Grandpa Bacon’s Fool-Proof Pie Crust

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup butter or shortening ( I always use butter)

1/2 cup ice cold water

1/8 cup milk (reserved until the end)

In a bowl, mix the flour and salt. Roughly chop the butter and add to the flour mixture. With a fork press the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles course meal. If its easier, you can also do this quickly using your hands – jus don’t crumble the butter so much that it starts to melt from your body heat.

Once the butter is mixed in, add the ice-cold water (the colder the water the better). Mix until the dough clumps together and you can easily form a crumbly yet cohesive ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured pastry cloth, board or marble slab and cut in half with a sharp knife. Place one half of the dough ball off to the side. Roll out the remaining half of the dough with a wooden roller that has been dusted with flour. If you don’t have a wooden rolling pin you can use a wine bottle, or a cylindrical jar or vase (if you use either make sure to dust it with flour). Roll the dough out as much as possible without tearing it. Makes sure it is big enough to accommodate your pie dish. Once the dough is the right size, gently fold the dough in half on the cloth.

Line the crease of the fold line up with the center of your pie dish and gently lay the crust (still folded) down so that it covers just one side of your dish, then unfold the other half to cover the other half of the dish.  There should be excess dough hanging off the sides of the dish. It should like this…

Pour the rhubarb mixture into the pie dish and set aside.

Next, in the same fashion as before, roll out the other half of the dough ball. In order to make a basket weave design for the top crust, you’ll need a sharp knife to cut strips of dough.

Place the first strip of dough vertically on the pie and the second strip of dough horizontally so that it forms a cross. Next weave the remaining strips in an over-under pattern, alternating each slice as you go.

Next, cut away the excess dough along the sides, leaving a collar of about 1 inch of extra dough all the way around the rim.  Pinch the edges of the top and bottom crust together.

When finished dot the exposed holes with the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush the top crust lightly with milk.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the rhubarb custard is bubbling. Let cool on a wire rack before serving. This pie is very versatile in the presentation department –  serve it warm, cold or at room temperature.

Like pecan pie it is pretty sweet as it is, so you don’t need to add whipped cream or ice cream. Its ideal companion is a hot cup of coffee. And no one would look twice if you wanted to enjoy a slice for breakfast. Sometimes that’s the best time of day for a little decadence. If he was still alive, Bacon would be right there with you, enjoying a plate of breakfast trout.

If you get a chance to try this recipe, please let us know how you liked it. And if you have any questions on how to make your pie crust please comment below and we’ll get right back to you.

In the meantime, cheers to all the recipes that turn into traditions and cheers to Bacon and Dolly for always being a part of our most delicious holiday celebrations.

Whimsical Winter Baking: Russian Tea Cake Snowmen

Russian Tea Cakes… those dense little snowy bundles of sweet confectionary sugar, butter, flour, and nuts is a classic Christmas cookie that has been a staple in our holiday baking since I was a little kid. One of the most simple of cookies to make, it has other aliases as well…Mexican Wedding Cakes, Rolling in the Snow, Holy Rollers and the plain Jane, practical name… Pecan Balls.

The history behind these guys is muddy but a popular theory is that they originated in Europe as a tea time snack (hence their name Russian Tea Cakes) and migrated to Mexico with European nuns where they became a popular cookie served at weddings (Mexican Wedding Cakes!).  A friend who grew up in Canada knew them as Rolling in the Snow cookies (how very fun!) and at a church-sponsored flea market in the South, I once saw them advertised as Holy Rollers on the food and beverage table. That could have been someone’s clever name made up just for that day, so I’m not sure if this one has actual traction, but it does pay homage to the nun theory anyway.  And of course, for all the literal lovers out there, the Pecan Ball needs no explanation as to how that name came about since indeed these cookies are ball-shaped and can contain pecans.

Traditionally they look something like this…

and can contain any nuts you like – pecans, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, macademia, etc. My mom always used walnuts and favored the recipe from the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book printed in 1950…

so that became my family tradition as an adult too. Some other recipes include additional ingredients of cinnamon or loose tea, lavender or lemon zest but Betty Crocker’s version is the one we like best.

Russian Tea Cakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar (plus additional following baking)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups sifted flour (Betty recommended Gold Medal flour back in the day)

1/4 tsp. sal

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Mix butter sugar and vanilla together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Sift flour and salt together and mix into butter. Stir in nuts and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and roll into 1″ inch balls* using your hands. Place 2.5 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until set but not brown (between 10-12 minutes).**  While still warm roll in confectioner’s sugar. Cool and then roll in sugar once again.

* To make snowmen: You will need to form three balls per snowman ranging in size from big (base) medium (middle) small (head). Roll each ball in your hand to shape it into a typical snowball shape and then flatten the big and medium balls on the top and bottom with your hand so that that they will sit on top of each other without rolling off. The smallest ball (the head) should only be flattened on the bottom (so that your snowman will have a round head on top). The snowmen pictured here are three inches in height, so use your judgment when shaping as far as ball sizing. If you want to make bigger snowmen, baking times will need to be extended.

** If you are making snowmen –  Bake all the big bottom base snowballs together on one sheet and then the medium and small balls on another sheet since the smaller balls usually take 1-2 minutes less baking time then the big balls. Your snowball sizes will look something like this…

After you’ve baked and sugared all your cookies, now you are ready for the fun part of decorating. This is what I had on hand in the “props” department…

Orange rinds for the scarf and nose, black peppercorns for the eyes and rosemary branches for the arms. To make the scarf and nose just take a vegetable peeler and peel about 3 inches of rind in one long continues piece. Trim with a sharp paring knife to your desired scarf thickness and curl the rind around your fingers to shape it like a scarf (once the rind dries out it will hold the shape perfectly). Wedge the scarf into the section where the head meets the body.

Press the peppercorns into the head gently. They will stick on their own (this step might take a couple of attempts!).

Cut a thin long triangle out of your excess orange rind (to mimic the shape of a carrot)  and gently press into the head where the nose should be. The orange rind will stick to the cookie on its own but might take a couple of attempts too.

Cut rosemary branches to size and poke into each side of the middle ball.

And now your snowman has come to life! Just like the ones you make in your yard, each one will have his own little personality depending on how you style it. The sky is the limit when it comes to decorating your guy so feel free to get creative if you want to make a hat, a jacket or a corncob pipe. Additional mounds of powdered sugar help set the stage for a little wintertime scene, day or night…

Hope this project adds a little fun to your day! Cheers to a winter wonderland from the sweetest little snowmen in the Vintage Kitchen!

Katharine Hepburn’s Lace Cookies

 

Red meat, big salads, tea, butterscotch pudding, ice cream, meatloaf, homemade cookies… those were some of Katharine Hepburn’s most favorite foods. Whether she was staying at her Turtle Bay residence in mid-town Manhattan or at her family’s compound in Old Saybrook,  Connecticut, Katharine liked most entertaining people at home with a homecooked meal.

Kate in her natural element… cleaning up the kitchen of her Connecticut waterfront home, Fenwick,  and dining outdoors in the courtyard of her Manhattan townhouse.

If you were lucky enough to be invited to dinner at either of Katharine Hepburn’s houses, you’d arrive promptly at 6:00pm and leave by 8:00pm so that she could be in bed by 8:15pm. A notorious early riser, Katharine lived by her own clock, bustling through the hours of her day with an admirable endurance that lasted her entire life.

But needless to say, even the most energetic of crusaders experiences a point in each day when blood sugar runs low and a brief rest is welcomed. For Lady Kate that small break in her schedule came at tea-time, her most favorite part of the afternoon, which she’d serve in antique teacups collected from her travels around the world. The saucers hardly ever matched the cups, the handles were sometimes repaired in one or two spots and there might be a chip in the rim, but none of that mattered. They were perfectly lovely serving pieces for a perfectly lovely time of day.

These are some of Katharine Hepburn’s serving pieces that she collected throughout her ninety-six years of life. In 2010 they were up for auction at Sotheby’s.

“Nice things are meant to be used,” said Kate when it came to living with antiques. The older the item the better it seemed. And because she was sentimental and somewhat thrifty she saw no harm in repairing a broken dish so that it could return to its previously useful state.

Along with a strong batch of freshly brewed tea, she would also always serve a homemade sweet treat believing that dessert tasted better in the afternoon than it did at night after a full meal. One of the dessert recipes she was most well-known for was her Lace Cookies which take their name from their paper-thin constitution and delicate web-like appearance.

This past week, the Vintage Kitchen moved to a new space and like Kate our energy was running on high as we packed and unpacked in a dizzy array of busyness. But now finally that we are settled and the moving boxes have been emptied, our own tea-time has come calling. We don’t get the luxury of having Katharine Hepburn come join us, but at least we have her recipe and a good imagination to make up the rest.  Tracy Lord (The Philadelphia Story), Ethel Thayer (On Golden Pond), Tess Harding (Woman of the Year) … if we could somehow magically invite these Hepburn characters along with Kate this surely would be a tea-time of legend. If you are unfamiliar with Kate’s movies here is a little clip from our most favorite, The Philadelphia Story, where she plays a bride-to-be whose dealing with cold feet and a complicated heart.

When Katharine was on set or on stage she was known to give helpful training and technique suggestions to less-experienced cast members who were struggling with a scene or a role. She was careful never to tell them exactly step-by-step how to get from point A to point B because she thought that would just yield a copycat performance. What she did offer instead was advice and recommendations that would help shape the parameters of a character or the foundations of a scene so that actors could confidently put their own personality into the performance. In essence, she offered helpful broad strokes and left the details up to the individual to interpret. The same can be said for her recipe sharing.

The first thing you’ll notice about her cookie recipe is how simple it is.  But we all know simple things can sometimes turn out to be most complicated. Kate’s approach to acting was often described as enigmatic, precise, contagious, controlling, all-consuming, accommodating and effortless. Her lace cookies share all those same attributes. They were absolutely delicious but they can be a little finicky, so before you whip up your own batch please note the following bits of advice from the Vintage Kitchen.

  •  Do not use anything bigger than a teaspoon to drop your dough onto the cookie sheet. (We first made tablespoon sized cookies, thinking the bigger the better,  and once heated up in the oven each separate cookie  spread out to meet up with the others and form one giant cookie that covered the entire baking sheet and never fully cooked.)
  • A disposable foil cookie sheet works better than a metal non-stick cookie sheet because of the raised perforations in the disposable sheet design.
  • Don”t forget to grease your cookie sheet in-between each batch or the cookies will stick like glue to the pan.
  • It’s best to serve these within 30 minutes after they’ve come out of the oven.  That’s when they are crispy like a potato chip. Over an extended amount of time, they relax to a more limp and chewy state (although still delicious!)

Also, Kate made her cookies with finely chopped walnuts, but we used roughly chopped peanuts because we thought the cookies would stack in a more whimsical way for the photograph. We were right – rough chopping adds a little more volume to the stack. So depending on your preference, nuts and chopping style these cookies call for a little of your own creativity as well, just like Kate would have encouraged.

 

Katharine Hepburn’s Lace Cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 egg, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup raw sugar

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 1/3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup finely chopped walnuts (or roughly chopped peanuts or any nut of your preference)

Beat butter, egg, and vanilla together until smooth. Add sugars and flor to egg mixture, mix thoroughly. Stir in nuts. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Cool on baking sheet. Makes about 30 cookies.

With a consistency like very thin peanut brittle and a taste like toffee, these cookies are delicate coasters of caramelized sweetness. And because they contain so little flour, they are a crisp and light dessert alternative to something dense and gooey. Keep in mind, they don’t travel well because of their fragile nature, so these treats are best enjoyed at home with friends and family and a late afternoon pot of tea just like Kate would’ve have done.

Cheers to Kate for her delicious recipe and to finding a little sweet respite in your busy schedule!

* This post was originally intended to appear as part of the Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Unfortunately, our move interrupted our ability to participate, but you can still catch up on all the fun posts featuring the great Kate here.

 

The Not So Easy Adventure of the Very Pale Petit Fours

It just came to my realization that we haven’t done many dessert style recipes here on the blog, even though our instagram feed is full of vintage sweet treats that we have baked over the past two years. Today we are remedying that with a three piece recipe adventure just in time for Easter. I call it an adventure because I’d never charted these waters before, the journey wasn’t quite what I anticipated and surprise situations popped up right and left.

It all began with a 1960’s recipe that my grandmother had clipped from some unknown source and tucked inside her recipe box. When she passed away at the marvelous age of 97, I inherited her box and carefully preserved all the recipes in her own handwriting, while also pulling out all the collected newspaper/magazine/packaging recipes that sounded interesting. While looking through these the other day this one caught my eye…

Easy petit fours! A fun colorful dessert for the Easter holiday. Perfect! I know I’ve eaten petit fours before – in France when I was young and most probably at a wedding or two since, but I don’t actually recall the details of those desserts except of course they were made of tidy little packages and came in an array of Easter egg colors.  My grandmother, Dorothy, never considered herself a confident cook (although everything she made was delicious) so the fact that this recipe was in her box and that it was labeled easy seemed the perfect foray into this age old French confection. With that in mind, I set off to make my very first batch.

You’ll notice in the recipe above that the first ingredient is sponge cake – so I first started there, making a sponge cake from a recipe in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book circa 1950.

Next I went on to make the buttercream frosting from the 1960’s-era Easy Petit Four recipe, which with its five ingredients was super quick to whip up. So far so good!

The Easy Petits Four recipe used food coloring to make the pretty pastel shades of this elegant, lady-like dessert. But not really a fan of the ingredients used to make food coloring (a mixture of mostly artificial and synthetic materials) I opted to create my own dyes using natural fruit juices.  In my head pastel pink and orange seemed like a pretty arrangement so in the blender I finely chopped cherries for the pink and then manderin oranges for the orange and strained each into separate bowls using cheesecloth.  As a just-in-case, I also, at the last minute, chopped and strained a batch of blackberries and blueberries for a purple shade if one of the other two colors didn’t work out.

This was where things started to get a little tricky. When I divided the buttercream into four separate bowls, and added a few teaspoonfuls of natural juice dye as the Easy Petite Four recipe suggested, the buttercream barely changed color. I added more juice dye and the color brightened but then the buttercream became too liquidy.  So then I added more powdered sugar to bulk it back up again, which brought the buttercream color closer back to white again. You can see I had a situation on my hands. Setting these four batches of whites off to the side for a minute, I cut up the sponge cake into petite parcels and thought about some solutions to a bolder burst of color.

While I was cutting and the buttercream was resting, the colors in the bowl turned a little darker, so I trimmed up the little cakes into as even square shapes as possible (not the easiest of feats!)…

and set to work on frosting them to see what these buttercream versions would look like…

As you can see, there is slight (the slightest!) variation between all three frostings. Not exactly the dramatic shades I had in mind but at least they didn’t contain unnatural ingredients. By this point in the whole dessert endeavor I should have been ready to frost the rest of the batch, call this recipe done and serve them on a plate. The Easy Petit Four recipe suggested styling them with colored sugar or chocolate pieces or candied flowers.  But because my frosting was a little mild on the color spectrum, I opted for a different topper – a mixed berry reduction and fresh sprigs of mint which would lend a spirited dose of revelry to this celebration. To the stovetop I went…

The colorful mixed berry reduction (a combination of red grapes, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and raspberries) helped bring out the color in all the little petit fours and the flavors between fruit and cake were fresh and balanced. They definitely weren’t traditional but they were delicious. In the end these little bite-sized bundles turned out to be quite curious all on their own even though they didn’t wind up as originally intended.

Which goes to show you that you can still learn new things from old recipes! It also means the easiest route is not necessarily the most healthy route. And even though it took about a half day to work through the process of this vintage recipe, I came up with two other ideas in relation to other meals – one for an appetizer and one for an hors d’oeuvres (more on those latter this spring).

Like any travel adventure I started out on this journey thinking that I’d already know what my final destination would look like but somewhere along the way this kitchen trip side-stepped my plans and led me down another path from which I ended up returning wiser and more curious. Petits fours are part of French cuisine defined as small cakes baked in small ovens. Which means any cake-like dessert has a chance to be a petit four. What I thought of as a fairly traditional dessert with a singular style really has no boundaries – nut butter, chocolate, jam, fruit, honey, whip cream, herbs, vegetables all have the opportunity to be whirled up into a petite confection. So in this sense petite fours are very easy, very accommodating. The natural fruit dyes on the other hand are still a work-in-progress! If you have any recommendations or helpful hints, please share!

Below are the three recipes needed to make up the Vintage Kitchen’s version of a petit four. The 1960’s Easy Petit Four Recipe below has been adadpted to suit this new minty fruit-topped version. If you’d like to make the original mid-century version please consult the recipe photo near the top of the this post.

Betty Crocker’s Glorious Sponge Cake circa 1950

6 eggs

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour or 1 cup sifted cake flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease the bottom of a 13″x 9″ inch pan.
  2. Separate the egg whites from eggs in two different bowls.
  3. In a large mixing bowl beat the six yolks together until thick (at least 5 minutes).
  4. Beat in gradually the sugar, then the flour and then the water, lemon extract and lemon rind.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl combine the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar and beat until stiff.
  6. Gradually and gently cut and fold the egg yolk mixture into the beaten whites. Pour into prepared pan and bake 30 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (depending on your oven this may take more or less time).
  7. When cake tests done, invert and let hang until cold.

Easy Petits Fours circa 1960’s

1 sponge cake

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 egg whites, unbeaten

1 lb. confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Few grains (one pinch) salt

Cut 24 petit fours from one sponge cake. Cream butter until light and fluffy; add egg whites, beat in. Add sugar and salt slowly while continuing to beat. Add vanilla. Divide frosting into 4 portions, leaving one white. With food coloring (or natural dye)  tint the other portions pink, green and yellow respectively. Hold top and bottom of each cake between thumb and finger. Frost sides. Place cake on flat-surface and frost the top. Decorate with your choice of embellishments.

Mixed Berry Reduction

8 oz. of assorted fresh berries (the smaller in size the better!)

2 teaspoons butter

1/8 cup cane sugar

1/8 cup water

Fresh mint for garnish (the smaller the leaves the better)

Pinch of salt

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water and berries and bring to a simmer.
  2. Add the butter, sugar and salt and toss to combine. Cover and reduce heat to medium low, stirring occasionally until some of the berries breakdown and form a thin sauce.
  3. Remove the lid and stir until almost all the liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat, let cool completely before topping petit fours.
  4. Garnish with fresh mint.

Wednesday Night in the Kitchen: Wonderful Whoopie Pies

Last night  Ms. Jeannie had a craving for a little dessert. So she pulled out her recipe books and flipped through the pages to see what jumped out at her. As luck would have it, she discovered she had all the ingredients on hand to make Whoopie Pies, one of Mr. Jeannie Ology’s favorites.

If you’ve never had a Whoopie Pie, it is kind of like a cross between a homemade oreo cookie, an ice cream sandwich and cake. Here’s a picture of one from Ms. Jeannie’s batch…

Ms. Jeannie’s Homemade Whoopie Pies

It is essentially a whipped peanut butter cream filling sandwiched between two chocolate cake mounds.  You can use all sorts of different types of filling (sweet cream, mint, maple cream, etc) but Mr. Jeannie Ology is such a nut for peanut butter, she decided to surprise him with a little sweet treat.

Originally made famous by the Pennsylvania Dutch, Ms. Jeannie first learned of whoopie pies when she visited Amish Country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania years ago.

While flipping through Martha Stewart Living magazine some years later, Ms. Jeannie came across the recipe. So that’s the one she uses. You’ll find that version of the recipe listed at the bottom of this blog post.

Ms. Jeannie’s platter of whoopie pies. There were a few more in the batch that got eaten before the photoshoot:) That Mr. Jeannie Ology – he just loves them!

Sources trace the first whoopie pie back to the early 1920’s.  Named from the sheer delight of discovering such a treat, eaters of the delicious dessert often said “whoopie” when they were offered one to enjoy.

Both Maine and Pennsylvania are the state leaders when it comes to the commercial production of the whoopie pie. Maine loves them so much they are considered the official state treat.

Labadie’s Bakery in Maine has been making whoopie pies in the same location since 1925!

Labadie’s Bakery – Lewiston, Maine

And every September in Pennsylvania, in the heart of Amish Country, occurs the Whoopie Pie Festival, where people participate in all sorts of challenging feats like the whoopie pie treasure hunt, the whoopie long shot, whoopie checkers, whoopie yell off, whoopie pie eating contest and more!

The Annual Whoopie Pie Festival in Strasburg, PA. This year scheduled for September 15th, 2012.

It’s an easy dessert to make and a fun project for little ones., since they can help spread the filling and make the “sandwiches”. Etsy has all the equipment you need to make your own batch of wonderfully delicious whoopie pies. All you need are the following…

Two mixing bowls:

Two Milk Glass Mixing Bowls from mothrasue

One hand held mixer or stand alone electric mixer (this one comes with both!)

Vintage Hamilton Beach Mixer from AttysVintage

One wire whisk:

Vintage Copper Wire Whisk from thebluebirdstudio

One large baking tray:

Vintage Bakery Tray from cheryl12108

One wire cooling rack:

Vintage French Wire Cooling Rack from stilllifestyle

One spatula:

Green Bakelite Vintage Spatula from efinegifts

Or for those that aren’t the baking sort, you can buy them already made in a variety of flavors!

From original…

3 Month Supply of Whoopie Pies from BundlesBakeShop

to red velvet…

Gourmet Red Velvet Whoopie Pies from CandyCakeTruffles

to vegan pumpkin cinnamon…

Vegan Pumpkin Cinnamon Whoopie Pies from LoveThyBaker

to lemon buttercream…

Lemon Whoopie Pies by radicalculinary

to tropical…

Tropical Whoopie Pies with Pineapple and Macadamia by VeganVille

Either way, whether you decide to make them yourself or by them already prepared you are in for a sweet treat!

Here’s the recipe that Ms. Jeannie used. Many thanks to Martha Stewart for incorporating the peanut butter:)

Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies –

Makes 18 Cookie Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Peanut Butter Buttercream
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Add butter, shortening, and sugars to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; cream on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add half the flour mixture, then the milk and vanilla; beat until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture. Beat together, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  3. Drop 12 slightly rounded tablespoons of batter 2 inches apart on each baking sheet. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of oven, 10 minutes; switch the positions of the baking sheets, and rotate each one. Continue baking until the cookies spring back to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes more.
  4. Remove from oven; let cookies cool on baking sheets, 10 minutes.Transfer with a metal spatula to a wire rack; let cool completely. Meanwhile, line a cooled baking sheet with a new piece of parchment; repeat process with remaining batter.
  5. Spread 1 scant tablespoon buttercream on flat sides of half the cookies.Top each with one of the remaining cookies, flat side down, and gently press together. Transfer pies to a tray.
  6. Melt half the chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat; add remaining chocolate, and stir until melted and smooth. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip (Ateco #2 or #3) or a small parchment cone. Pipe chocolate in a spiral pattern on top of each pie. Let chocolate set before serving, about 1 hour.

BLOG UPDATE! A lovely reader wrote in to say that Maine has its own Whoopie Festival too! This year, the  Maine Whoopie Pie Festival is held on June 23rd from 10:00am – 4:00pm in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.

Like the Pennsylvania Whoopie Pie Festival, there is a bevy of themed activities, but one of the most creative is the Whoopie Pie Trail which takes you on a tour of several bakeries in the Dover-Foxcroft area. This sounds like one delicious way to spend an afternoon!