Saturday, December 20, 2014

Opera Creams

Candy making is a lost art, but that wasn't the case in the early 1900s when candy (think fudge, divinity, toffee) was commonly made in home kitchens. This is another recipe from the collection of Mrs. W.L. Honsinger who lived in rural Vermont at the turn of the 20th century, and probably found that making candy at home was easier than getting to a store that sold it. Plus, homemade candy then, as now, is much more economical.

This candy is pretty good, and very, very sweet. The centers are very temperamental, and I may have overcooked the sugar syrup so they were less creamy than desired. Still, I had no complaints from my tasters.

Start by boiling the milk, sugar and cream of tarter until the mixture reaches 235 degrees.

Let it cool for 20 minutes and add the vanilla.

For ease of beating, I transferred the mixture to a bowl.

Forming the candy was easy, even though it was a bit too crumbly from overcooking the syrup.

You can get fancy with the chocolate coating (tempering the chocolate, etc.) but I just melted a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips in a double boiler.

The recipe is below, and below that I wrote out clearer instructions. If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can test the syrup in a glass of cold water (it should form a soft ball when a small spoonful is placed there, but I never found that method reliable).

Opera Creams

2 c sugar
2/3 c milk
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1 t. vanilla

Semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate

Combine sugar, milk and cream of tarter in a two-quart saucepan. Boil gently, stirring frequently until it reaches 235 to 240 on a candy thermometer.
Set aside for 20 minutes and add vanilla.
Beat until soft and creamy. (You can transfer the mixture into a round bowl for this step.)
Form small balls (using your hands) and chill.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler.
Using a fork, dip the candy, coating completely.
Set aside until the chocolate hardens.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ginger Cream Cookies with Glossy Orange Frosting

I had high hopes for this cookie recipe and was a bit disappointed with the finished product (and wasn't going to blog about them). But then I got a hyper-enthusiastic text from my SIL (omg that cookie was so good!!!), so decided to share. These soft cake-like cookies pack a nice spice punch, but it's really the frosting that makes them shine.

The instructions call for rolling out the dough and cutting shapes with cookie cutters, but it was way too soft for that. Instead, I formed balls and baked them that way.

Below are most of the ingredients needed.

The beginning of the batter.

The middle -- don't worry if it seems to "separate" and isn't smooth.

After the flour is added, it will all come together.

Form into balls a little smaller than golf balls.  The dough is sticky; I wore non-latex gloves for this task.



These recipe cards were victims (along with some others) of an unfortunate orange extract spill, so I've written the recipes out below. I did not use the seven minute icing on the recipe card because it was stormy outside, and it wouldn't have worked. Instead, I used glossy orange frosting that was on another recipe card with a ginger cream cookie recipe.

Production notes: I made half of this recipe and used about three cups of flour. The amount of flour isn't specified, and I didn't add enough to make it stiff enough to roll out.
The amount of frosting is enough to frost about 1/4 of the cookies from the full recipe.

Ginger Cream Cookies (Myrtle's from Mary)

Preheat oven to 350 F

1 1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. unsalted butter (two sticks)
2 eggs
1 c. molasses
1 c. buttermilk
4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. ginger
1 tbsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
flour to make a soft dough

Combine butter and sugar and mix well.
Add eggs, molasses, and buttermilk. Combine.
Mix the dry ingredients together and add to batter.
Form into balls and bake at 350 for about 11 minutes.
Cool and frost.

Glossy Orange Frosting

1 egg white slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter
1/8 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. orange extract

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. Add more sugar if frosting is too thin.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Home-made Bread

Instead of complaining about the relentless rainy downpour in New York yesterday, I decided to use the weather to my advantage and bake bread. For while humidity will torpedo many a kitchen endeavor (meringues, most candy and nearly anything involving egg whites), low pressure days are perfect to use yeast, the theory being that it works better (i.e., rises more easily) without the competition of high pressure air pushing it down.

Bread baking is easy, requires time (but not much of the cook's time), fills the house with a marvelous aroma -- and then allows you and your guests to enjoy the freshest bread imaginable.

The vintage recipe I chose called for heating milk, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan and letting it cool to lukewarm.

Meantime, pour one cup of warm water in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir to blend. (The water should be between 105 and 110 F.  If the water is too cold, the yeast won't bloom; if it's too hot, the yeast may die.) You can use a candy thermometer or just sprinkle some drops on your wrist -- it should feel warm, not hot. I also add a tiny bit of sugar to hasten the yeast's bloom.

After five or ten minutes, the mixture should look like this and you know the yeast is working. If it doesn't, check the date on your yeast package (might it have expired?) and try again with a fresher yeast, warm water and a bit of sugar.

Combine the yeast and the milk mixture in a large bowl. Mix in three cups of flour and stir until nearly smooth. Add in the rest of the flour and combine.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a cloth and let it rise in a warm spot until double, about one hour.

Punch it down (as satisfying as it sounds) form into two loaves and place in greased pans. Cover again and let rise until doubled.

When the loaves look like this, brush the top with butter or shortening and place in a preheated 400 F oven. After ten minutes, reduce the heat to 300F and let bake for another 45 minutes.

Production notes: I thought I followed this recipe exactly (before I spilled orange extract from another baking project all over the recipe card), but later realized I had used only one package of yeast instead of two -- and it still came out fine, because of the low pressure and/or the power of yeast. The moral here is: You can't screw this up, or even if you do, it still works and is delicious. I also used butter instead of shortening.  Full recipe typed out below.

Home-made Bread (from Ethel Hayes, Sunbury)

1 cup milk
3 T sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
6 T shortening
1 cup warm water
2 pkg. active dry yeast
6 cup all-purpose flour

Mix milk, sugar, salt and shortening (butter) in a saucepan and scald. Set aside and cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle two envelopes of yeast in one cup of warm (100 F) water and set aside.

Combine two mixtures and add three cups of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Add three more cups of flour and stir until combined.
Turn out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic.

Place in greased bowl, cover with a cloth and let rise until doubled (approximately one hour).
Divide dough and place in two greased bread pans. Brush top with melted butter or shortening.

Bake for ten minutes in a 400 F oven.
Lower heat to 300 F and bake for 45 minutes.
Remove to rack, cool slightly and turn out bread. Cool completely.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gingerbread Surprise

Everyone loved this c. 1930 gingerbread -- everyone except Jennie, the granddaughter of Mrs. W. L. Honsinger, the recipe's author. Jennie, my personal trainer (I swapped therapy for weight lifting two years ago, best decision ever), recently shared with me a charming book containing the handwritten recipes of her grandmother, a native of rural Vermont. Its pages are filled with old-fashioned treats like icebox cookies and rhubarb wine.

Jennie is a fantastic cook and loves to eat (though you wouldn't know it by looking at her), so I was surprised by her reaction to the gingerbread. She did concede that it had a nice aftertaste.

My other tasters -- the staff at Henry Street Settlement -- devoured the gingerbread in a matter of minutes, while asking, "What's the surprise?" The answer: There is none! (My friend Jay, however, said he was surprised that the piece I brought him was so small.)

This is an unusual gingerbread, dark and moist (dare I say toothsome?). It contains no sweetener other than molasses and is very easy to make.

I neglected to photograph the baking process; it's so simple to put together, requiring but two bowls. When the batter is mixed, pour it into a prepared pan.

Bake until done, and the edges come away from the pan slightly.  The center will sink a bit.

Let it cool a while, then turn out of the pan.  And have a taste, as I did. (Purely for quality control purposes, I assure you.)

Cut it into squares. A serrated knife is best for this task.

All that remained of the baking.

Here's a slice without confectioner's sugar.

Inside the book. I'll be making a few more recipes from this enchanting collection!

The handwritten recipe is below. And my easy-to-follow directions are below that.

Gingerbread Surprise

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease and flour an 8 x 8 inch square pan

1 cup molasses
1/2 cup boiling water
1 egg well beaten
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 t. salt
1/4 cup melted butter or shortening

In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.
Place molasses in a large bowl.
Add the boiling water.
Mix and add the well beaten egg and the dry ingredients.
Mix well.
(Add raisins or nuts if desired.)
Add the butter or shortening and blend well.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake about 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. (I confess that I didn't time this.)
Cool for about 10 minutes and turn out onto a rack.
Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

High Tea Blueberry Scones

At work last week, my colleague Allison (aka a Mennonite in Manhattan) was treated to a high tea birthday party in Henry Street Settlement's historic dining room. There was quite the spread -- fancy teas and finger sandwiches and small cakes. I was asked to bring scones. And so I did, even though they did not come out as lovely as I'd hoped.

The recipe for sour cream scones was in the collection I received recently from Arthur Schwartz. They were full of promise ("These scones are very moist," wrote the recipe's contributor.) I found that the dough was too moist to work with, though the end result was pretty good (if not very pretty). Despite competition from a lot of tempting buffet items, the scones were gone -- everyone liked them!

Start by combining the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.

Add cold butter and process until it's incorporated. The mixture should be crumbly.

Transfer it to a large bowl, and add in the nuts and blueberries (or dried apricots or raisins).

Meantime, mix the egg yolk with the sour cream.

Fold this into the batter.

Now, the "fun" begins. As you can see below, the batter is difficult to work with, i.e., simultaneously too wet and too crumbly.

But I persevered; it was late at night and I hadn't the time nor energy to start over.

I cut the rounds into wedges, brushed the tops with egg white and sprinkled on sugar, said a prayer and popped them in the oven.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly as written. This would work better with the apricots or raisins -- I think the blueberries added too much moisture to the batter.

Below is the high tea birthday party. The birthday girl is on the right, smiling at the camera.

Pinkies in the air!