Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Viola Keele's Potato Chip Cookies


Even though I have a sweet tooth, I adore potato chips and was especially excited when I uncovered this gem of a recipe, buried deep inside a c. 1960s recipe box.   What could be better than the sweet and salty combination promised by these unusual cookies?


The recipe called for butterscotch chips, but having none on hand at 11 p.m.when I made these, I substituted chocolate chips.  I also bought some sort of yuppie gourmet potato chips, which I wouldn't recommend for this.  Stick with something basic.  


These couldn't be easier to make, especially if you start with room temperature butter.  It's fun to crush the potato chips; just put them in a plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin or wine bottle.


Using a small ice cream scoop makes quick work of the most boring part of cookie making -- forming the cookies.  And placing a sheet of parchment on the cookie tin eliminates the need to wash the pan.  You can reuse the parchment for the entire batch. 

The verdict?  These cookies are not overly sweet (or salty, for that matter) and if I make them again, I'll use butterscotch chips, which are sweeter than semi-sweet chocolate. I was somewhat disappointed with these, i.e., I thought they'd be sooooo much better, that the unusual combination would create some new taste sensation.  However, my tasters loved them and they disappeared pretty quickly.    Proving once again that if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, taste is in the mouth of the eater.



Monday, June 27, 2011

Blueberry Pie


A Father's Day request by DH (a terrific dad to our children) and beautiful blueberries at the farmer's market meant just one thing -- a homemade blueberry pie for dessert last Sunday.


Determined to find a recipe on a hand-written card, I went through hundreds in my collection and turned up NONE!  I came to realize that blueberry pies are so simple, that no one bothered to record the recipe; to those housewives in the first half of the 20th century, it would be akin  writing instructions for boiling water. So I did what any self-respecting c. 1940s housewife would do -- I used common sense and put together a delicious pie.


I used my go-to crust (2.5 c. flour, one tsp. each salt and sugar, one stick of butter and 6 tbsp. of leaf lard, and about five tbsp. ice water) and rolled out the dough for an eight-inch pie.  I rinsed the blueberries, put them in a bowl and coated them with a bit of flour.  I added some sugar, maybe 3/4 cup, some tapioca for good measure (perhaps about 2 tbsp.), squeezed a lemon over the berries and placed in the unbaked pie crust.  For good measure, I dotted the pie with a generous amount of unsalted butter.



Let's just say that this was so good, that in some ways I'd wished I'd recorded the recipe exactly.  However, I do like being part of the tradition that embraces the notion that making pie is as easy as pie and baking is indeed an art sometimes (and not a science).  And the good news for my readers is, if I can do it, you can too!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Double Fudge Disappointment


Sometimes, the most promising things in life turn out to be the most disappointing.  And so it was with this Double Fudge.


The recipe looked amazing -- a two-layer bar candy whose ingredients are chocolate, heavy cream, sugar, butter and nuts.  And all cooked in a single saucepan. What could be better?  My mouth was watering as I prepared the bottom layer, even though I could sense not all was going well.  The mixture seemed a bit too grainy and the instructions to cook for seven minutes were a bit cryptic.  Should I stir the entire time, do I start timing after the butter melts, how high should I make the flame were just some of my unanswered questions.



 I especially wanted to make this because I'm reading a fascinating new book, The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins, which chronicles the rivalry between William Randolph Heart's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. The Double Fudge recipe is from The New York Evening Telegram Cook Book published in 1908.


The bottom layer was ok.  But the top layer was a disaster -- it somehow seized in the pan, turning into a sandy mess instead of the smooth caramel topping I was expecting.  Still, in the face of disappointment, I continued on hoping for the best.  But it was not to be.


I let the candy cool after I somehow managed (using an offset spatula and a lot of force) to spread the top layer.


But when I tried to cut it into squares, it mostly crumbled and fell apart; the two layers had an almost reverse magnetic force and seemed to repel one another.  Plus, between the odd texture and the EXTREME sweetness (and I like sweet), it was unpleasant to eat.  Luckily I had another dessert to serve for Father's Day dinner, a blueberry pie, the subject of a future post.

But never one to let disappointment have the final word, I plan to research and apply more modern-day candy making techniques to this diamond-in-the-rough recipe.  Sometimes, when things don't work out as we plan, we're reluctant to throw good sugar after bad and walking away seems the easiest path.  But, with attention and nurture and compromise, almost every problem (in baking and in life) can be solved. And the reward is perfectly sweet and rich. And sometimes, with luck, the best ever.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake


 It's June, and I should be making all sorts of desserts with local strawberries and rhubarb, but I found myself with a very ripe pineapple -- and an intriguing c. 1950s recipe for upside down cake.  


Fresh pineapple makes this dessert exceptionally delicious.  I used a biscuit cutter to remove the core after I cut the fruit into 1/2 inch slices.  And, as you can see in the picture at top, I used the extra pieces of pineapple in place of the maraschino cherries which, while colorful, are full of quite undesirable chemicals.  (Full disclosure:  I was actually saving my cherries for ice cream sundaes.)


Although the recipe (below) called for a cast iron skillet, I don't have one at the moment.  I've had many, many in my life, but no matter what I do, they end up rusting, even after I follow all the seasoning directions.  I didn't even have luck with one of the new-fangled pre-seasoned cast iron skillets. So, I just used a regular old frying pan, and the cake worked beautifully.


Unlike many recipes for upside down cake, this one called for separating the eggs and beating the egg whites with sugar into a meringue.  This is an extra step and one that requires using another bowl and set of beaters, but the results are worth it.


The cake puffed up a lot (by the time I took this photo, it had settled a bit) in the oven, but it slipped out of the pan beautifully.  Just put the serving plate upside down atop the cake and flip.  And, in the picture at top, you can see that, despite not using cast iron, the top was caramelized.

You may notice that there's some liquid on the plate and I attribute that to the fact that I removed the cake from the oven ten minutes early because I wanted to get to a protest rally against the recent staff cuts and closings at the South Street Seaport Museum.   So even though I thought I was sacrificing my cake for a higher cause (read about the Museum's struggles here), it turned out quite well.  I only pray for the Museum to enjoy the same good fortune.



Friday, June 3, 2011

Dessert for the Rest of Us

On Sunday, after a lively visit with DH's mother at "the institution" as she calls the assisted living residence where she lives, we stopped for dinner at Don Pepe II, a restaurant in New Jersey we'd passed many times.

This Spanish restaurant specializes in seafood (always a challenge for DH who is deathly allergic to shellfish), and everything was delicious.

I was quite looking forward to dessert, as always, but my heart sank when the waiter brought the menu.  Listed at the top was a cliche of mediocre desserts, the kind I suspect were made in an Iowa factory six months earlier and shipped frozen to restaurants throughout the country.  But then -- much to my delight  -- below that list was one that said "Home Made Desserts."  Bingo!


After a lengthy discussion with our waiter, I ordered the cherries jubilee (pictured above) and it was so fabulous, that even though I'd promised myself I'd just have a taste, I devoured the whole thing.  (I did *allow* DH a few bites, however.)