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!