Friday, June 17, 2016

Mayonnaise Biscuits & Strawberry Shortcake

Spring is synonymous with strawberry shortcake, and it's super easy to prepare, especially with farm market stands filled with fresh berries and these VERY easy and tasty three-ingredient biscuits.  The secret ingredient is mayonnaise, which is simply a combination of egg yolks, oil, lemon juice and vinegar. It yields a very moist muffin. This vintage recipe is from a collection of Amish recipes I purchased a few years ago.

I love three ingredient recipes, but unfortunately I had none of the three in my house. While I could have made mayonnaise, I was lazy so ran to the corner bodega. They didn't have self-rising flour so I made my own (by adding 1 1/2 t. baking powder and 1/2 t. salt to the all-purpose flour) and didn't want to get a large container of milk for just a half cup (so I just added some water to half and half).

The naked biscuits below. Delicious on their own, they're even better as a base for macerated strawberries.

Mix up the batter, which takes literally minutes and requires only low tech equipment -- a bowl and whisk (or spoon or fork).

Spoon into greased muffin tins.

Bake for about ten minutes. (I baked for about 14 minutes, until the tops turned golden brown.

Inside, the biscuits are light and fluffy.

To prepare the strawberries, just slice and add some sugar to coat. Let stand until the sugar crystals melt and then mash about half of the berries with a fork to release their juices.

Split the muffins and spoon the berry mixture on top.  You can add whipped cream (if you happen to have any).

I followed this recipe exactly (after adjusting for the missing ingredients), and my batter yielded seven (not eight) biscuits.
Be generous with the sugar over the berries.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Little Brown Koko's Lightbread

This recipe card really piqued my curiosity; its title had two mysteries. What is "lightbread" and who is Little Brown Koko?

Luckily we have the world wide web to provide instant answers! Little Brown Koko is a character from a 1940s series of children's books that are now considered racist, much like the Little Black Sambo books that preceded these. And according to one site, there were also gay subtexts in the books. I nor anyone I queried had ever heard of Little Brown Koko, but apparently he was a child that just messed up every task he was given by his grandmother.

"Lightbread" is not at all exotic, but simply a slightly richer-than-normal white yeast bread. I doubt this recipe actually appeared in the the books, but is probably a home cook's adaption of one that was referenced. (There's a chocolate cake on the interweb that's an adaption of one too, created by a housewife at the behest of her child.)

The bread is pretty good and, like most yeast recipes, is pretty versatile. The instructions are not the clearest.

A page from one of the books.

Begin by soaking the yeast in a bowl (or if a teacup, as specified in the recipe.)

Add in the flour.

Don't use all the flour specified -- it's way too much!

Knead the dough and let rise.

When it's had it's rise, divide in half. Make one into a regular loaf of bread and the other roll out and fill with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Roll and cut into pieces.

Place in a greased cake pan.

When it's had its second raise, bake.

Remove from pan and make a frosting of confectioner's sugar and milk.

Don't try this version -- just make a regular loaf of bread.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Brownies (yet again)

I often consider brownies the lowest common denominator of American desserts. There's no challenge, no joy of victory (and also rarely the agony of defeat).

But they have a lot going for them. Brownies are simple enough for a child to make, require no advance preparation (softening butter, letting dough rise, etc.), need only the most basic of tools (heat source, bowl, pan and spoon), and use ingredients available at the corner bodega.

They are perfect in any season -- summer for picnics, winter for an after school or lunch box snack. And they are also very quick to make and are sturdy travelers. So quick, in fact, that I began a batch just hours before a flight, intending to take them as a gift for my mother who loves all things chocolate.

Plus, who doesn't love a good brownie! I have literally dozens of vintage brownie recipes (like this one, probably from the 1950s), so it has been a longtime favorite in the American kitchen. This one is quite good, not the knock-yer-socks off brownie, but simple, direct, flavorful and rather addicting.

Get started by creating a double boiler -- just a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Place the butter and chocolate in the bowl and heat until they melt.

While that mixture is cooling, beat the eggs and sugar well, then add the chocolate and vanilla.

Sprinkle on the flour and baking powder and mix to combine. Add the nuts.

Pour the batter into a greased (or parchment lined) 8 x 8 inch pan.  You can also line the pan with foil -- lining makes it easy to lift the brownies in a single cake from the pan. I also sprinkled some sea salt on the top before baking. I'd recommend this -- salt really enhances the flavor.

Slice and enjoy!

Production notes: I halved this recipe, and have written out the instructions below.


Preheat oven to 375F
2 eggs
1.5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 c. + 2 tbs. sugar
4 tbs. butter
6 tbs. flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
Sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Place chocolate and butter in a bowl, and place the bowl atop a saucepan with a couple of inches of water in it. Heat mixture until it is melted. Remove from heat.
In a bowl, beat eggs, add sugar in thirds, beating well after each addition.
Add cooled chocolate and butter.
Add vanilla.
Add sifted flour and baking soda and stir combined.  Add nuts.
Pour into greased 8 x 8 cake pan. Sprinkle some sea salt on the top if using.
Bake about 15 minutes.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Rhubarb Meringue Pie

Just when I was thinking that there was nothing new under the spring sun for rhubarb desserts, I encountered this wonderful vintage recipe. Unlike most rhubarb pie recipes, where the rhubarb remains chunky, this creates a smooth filling (think applesauce, only with rhubarb). The filling is cooked first, then poured into a baked pie crust.

It is a very, very delicious pie, with the sweet and tart flavors characteristic of rhubarb. It's not hard to prepare, but not super easy, either. But so worth it, especially for its novelty. Even though I ruined the meringue, it still worked. (Hint: Don't try to wing this, and use a recipe instead, If you follow a recipe and don't overbeat the meringue as I did, you will have a much better looking pie.)

Let's get started. The rhubarb I used was purchased at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market (couldn't resist the ruby red stalks) and flown back in my carry on luggage.

Cut the rhubarb into small pieces. You'll only need two cups, which was about three very large stalks.

Place the rhubarb in a two-quart (or medium size) saucepan, add sugar and butter. Cover and cook for about ten minutes, until the rhubarb chunks disappear.

Mix up the filling sauce -- egg yolks (reserve the white for the meringue), cornstarch, sugar, salt and heavy cream. Temper it (warm it up) by adding some of the hot rhubarb liquid to it before pouring it in the saucepan to prevent scrambled eggs.

Cook this mixture until it's thick.

Before you start all of this, prepare and blind bake an eight- or nine-inch pie crust. (Recipe below.)

Pour the filling in the pie crust. It was not a super generous amount, typical of mid-20th century recipes, but with the meringue, it will fill out nicely.

Make the meringue (the right way!) with the reserved egg whites and add on top of the filling.

Bake about ten minutes in a 350 F oven to brown the top.


Production notes: I followed the recipe exactly, but have written it out since the card is a bit confusing.

Rhubarb Meringue Pie

2 c. chopped rhubarb
1 c. sugar + 1/4 c. sugar + sugar for meringue
2 T unsalted butter
2 eggs (separated)
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 t. salt
2 T cornstarch

1 baked pie crust (recipe below)

Place rhubarb, 1 c. sugar and butter in saucepan. Cover and cook until soft. The rhubarb will break down.
In a small bowl, combine egg yolks, 1/4 c. sugar, salt, cornstarch and heavy cream.  Whip to combine.
Add a few tablespoons of the hot rhubarb mixture to the cream mixture, and stir to combine.
Add the cream mixture to the saucepan while stirring.
Cook until thickened.
Pour into the pie crust.

Make meringue with reserved egg whites. I screwed up the meringue, making it from memory, rushing as our dinner guest was ringing the doorbell! Look up a recipe to find a good one. One way to prevent overbeating the whites is to add a bit of cream of tartar to the mixture at the beginning, a step I skipped. Just be sure to seal the edges of the pie with the meringue to prevent weeping.

Bake the pie for ten to 12 minutes in a 350F oven, just to brown the meringue.

My favorite pie crust recipe (makes two crusts)

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 stick of cold butter, cut into small pieces
6 T. cold Crisco, cut into pieces
2 t. sugar
1 t. salt
3 - 6 T. cold water

Place dry ingredients in a food processor and whirl to blend.  Add butter and Crisco and process until it resembles cornmeal. Add the water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, through the feed tube, mixing just a second or two after each addition. Remove from the bowl directly into a plastic bag and smoosh it all together. 
To blind bake it, roll out about half the dough into a circle and transfer into a pie plate. Crimp the edges.  (Reserve the other half for your next pie) I roll the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Keep the top layer of plastic wrap on the pie (I do this with Costco wrap) or line it with aluminum foil. Fill the center with pie weights of dry beans and bake in a 425 F oven for ten minutes.  Remove the lining and weights, prick the bottom with the tines of a fork and return to the oven for about ten minutes until it is lightly browned.
Note: If you have time, refrigerate the crust before baking for at least an hour to help retain the crimping on the edge.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Rhubarb Torte

I've made (and blogged about) a lot of rhubarb desserts over the past five years. You can find them here (custard pie) and here (steamed) and here (muffins) and here (bread) and here (pie) and here (cake) and here (crunch) and here (pudding).

It's one of the first local vegetables to appear in early spring at the farmer's market, and there are a lot of vintage recipes for rhubarb in my collection. I'm figuring that mid-20th century housewives felt the same excitement -- something fresh! -- and that it was relatively inexpensive and extremely versatile.

Rhubarb Torte was a bit of a failure, and hardly blog-worthy or so I thought -- until the DD came for a visit and couldn't stop eating it (see below), all the time insisting that she doesn't like rhubarb. Go figure. This rhubarb torte (like most rhubarb desserts) is a delightful combination of sweet and tart. The batter forms an almost meringue-like topping and the combination of walnuts and rhubarb is really, really good.

I'm bringing you this recipe with some caveats. Mostly, the crust has the taste and mouth feel of cardboard and you need to "sling" the pan (line it with parchment or aluminum foil overhanging the sides so you can lift the torte out of the pan before cutting). Otherwise, base cements itself to the pan and you'll practically need a chisel to remove it. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

The first rhubarb of the season is green; a bit later the stalks are red. So this looks like celery, but trust me, you don't want to eat it without first cooking it with sugar.

Mix up the batter...

And add in the nuts and rhubarb.

Pour the mixture over the base (see more on that below) and using an offset spatula or butter knife, smooth until it reaches the edges of the pan.

Bake about 40 minutes.  The fruit will be bubbling at the edges and the top will be a light golden brown.

The rhubarb hater, below.

Production notes: Replace the base with a pie crust dough and bake with pie weights (or dry beans) for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Otherwise, follow the recipe exactly as below.