Friday, November 30, 2012

Grape-Nuts Crunchies



I was especially attracted to this vintage recipe card because of the handwritten notation at the top: tested 5/19/55 very good.

So, more than a half century later, I tested these myself and found that they have withstood the test of time; they are still very good.  Grape-Nuts Crunchies -- basically oatmeal cookies but with Grape-Nuts instead -- probably were developed in a Post Cereal test kitchen sometime in the 1940s or 1950s.  Grape-Nuts themselves have been around since 1897!  Checking "official" recipes on their website today shows that three of them are low-fat and one involves tabbouleh! 

So if you want something different than the usual oatmeal cookie, one with a slightly maltier flavor, I recommend these twice tested treats.





As always, I used butter as the shortening (instead of Spry or Crisco) in the recipe.  And I don't sift the flour or other dry ingredients, just mix them together with a whisk.  Much quicker with an excellent result.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Red Velvet Bakery Death by Rent Increase


The New York Daily News reports today that Brooklyn's most famous red velvet cake bakery, Cake Man Raven in Fort Greene, is closing after 12 years due to a rent hike.  The good news is owner Raven Dennis, above, plans to open two smaller bakeries, one in downtown Brooklyn and the other in Harlem, much to the relief of New Yorkers now addicted to the southern style cake.

If you don't want to wait (or don't live in New York), you can make your own delicious red velvet cake.  The recipe is here.





Monday, November 26, 2012

Noodles from Scratch


If you're like me and spent approximately $750* on a heritage turkey to feed 15 relatives, then you certainly made full use of the bird, including transforming the carcass into a big batch of stock. And having done this, the only logical next step would be to make some homemade egg noodles to serve with it.

This old recipe card appealed to me for two reasons: One, I love homemade egg noodles (which I've only had once, purchased from a roadside stand in Pennsylvania en route to take my son to a rural skateboard camp years ago), and Two, I love creating something from nothing, i.e., common ingredients.  And there's a third reason, as well, and that's the idea of recapturing the secrets of the past, the elemental lowest-common-denominator of skills needed to make something we normally buy without a second thought.  (What if egg noodles disappeared from the selves? Or your local store was wiped out in a hurricane?  What then?)

All you need are three ingredients:  Flour, eggs and salt.  Mix them all together.  Knead the mixture well on a floured board and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.


Roll the dough out at thin as possible.  You do not need any special pasta machine to accomplish this, just a flat surface and a rolling pin (or, in a pinch, a wine bottle).


Place the dough on a cloth and let it dry out a bit. Don't worry if you've got a hole in it.


With a very sharp knife, cut the dough into strips.


You can drop these directly into stock and let boil for five to ten minutes, or boil these in salted water, drain and top with a pat of butter.  And then enjoy the best egg noodles of your life.



*That $750 is a slight exaggeration.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lemon Crunch



Do you like traditional lemon bars? Then you'll fall head-over-heels in love with Lemon Crunch, a vintage version of the lemon bar that -- for reasons unknown -- fell out of favor or never caught on.  And that is not a good thing, because these hyped-up lemon bars (the "crunch" is from toasted coconut) are simply amazing.  Even colleagues who typically have just a taste of the treat du jour, came back again and again until there were none.

The original recipe card, written in pencil, is bit difficult to follow (and lacks some basic instructions), so I've modernized the recipe so home cooks today can follow it, as they did in the 1940s or 50s when this brilliant idea was probably conceived.

Get started by combining the ingredients for the crust (and topping).


Add a stick of melted butter and combine.


Press half the mixture into the bottom of an 8 x 8 pan which you've lined with parchment (two pieces, criss-crossed), or foil.  Or you can simply grease the pan and keep your fingers crossed.


Prepare the lemon custard filling.  Before you add the cold egg and lemon juice to the hot custard, "temper" the egg mixture by mixing in a bit of the hot liquid to raise its temperature. This will prevent the egg from "cooking" in the hot mixture.  (But if this does happen, as it did to me, you can just strain out the bits of cooked whites by pressing the custard through a strainer.)


Adding extra lemon zest only improves the finished product.


Spread the custard atop the crust.  Use an offset spatula or knife so it completely covers the base.


Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture atop the custard. Bake and enjoy!







LEMON CRUNCH
Preheat oven to 400.  Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with parchment or foil.

Prepare the base (and topping)
1 1/4 cup coconut
3/4 cup fine soda cracker crumbs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl.  Pour melted butter in and combine well.  Press 1/2 the mixture into an 8 x 8 pan.

Filling
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 T cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
1 beaten egg
1 1/3 cup milk
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 t. grated lemon peel*
1 T butter
few drops of vanilla

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan.  Stir in milk and cook until thick.  In a separate bowl, mix together egg and lemon juice and then add to the saucepan.  Cook about two minutes and then add lemon peel, butter and vanilla.
*Using more lemon peel creates a more lemony flavor.

Pour filling into pan.  Take reserved topping and sprinkle over the filling.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  Chill before serving, but it can be served cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins


I must have writer's blogger's block.   I made these muffins exactly one year ago, and am only now sharing these perfect Thanksgiving weekend gems with you.

Of course, there's a story. It started (last year) when, shopping at the New Amsterdam Market, I found myself next to New York City Council Member Margaret Chin at the stand of a cranberry farmer. Chin asked the farmer if these berries could be eaten out of hand. Cranberries -- an essential and ubiquitous Thanksgiving ingredient --  are clearly not part of the vast Chinese cuisine.  (Chin was born in Hong Kong and moved to Manhattan's Chinatown when she was nine.)

The farmer explained how to cook cranberries and Chin, who had clearly never encountered fresh cranberries before, took a chance and bought a bag.  Now, I've always been a fan of Margaret Chin -- she's the real deal; she worked as a community activist for years before becoming the first person of Chinese descent elected to represented Chinatown in the city council.  She's honest, smart and fair and a wonderful speaker.  But when I saw that she was adventurous and willing to take a risk to try something completely new, she totally won me over.  (There's  picture of her below, talking to youth at Henry Street Settlement.)


Now, on to the muffins.  These festive little cakes are really good and easy -- if you don't follow the recipe exactly. First, I don't think you need to engage in the tedious task of cutting each cranberry in half.  Used whole, they would work fine.  And even though the recipe says to use fresh pumpkin (and includes instructions to cook the squash), don't bother.  In fact, I the instruction is rather ingenuous -- the amount needed is exactly the amount in a can of pumpkin puree!!







I found this recipe in the collection of Olive Facey, where though it was originally published in a newspaper, was carefully taped to an index card in one of recipe boxes.  Olive hasn't steered me wrong yet.





Friday, November 16, 2012

Sad News on the Pastry Labor Front


A great first line in a New York Times story today says it all:
"While Twinkies have a reputation for an unlimited shelf life, the company that makes the junk food does not."

And so Hostess, to break a strike,  is shutting down all its plants,  a sad day for pastry and an even sadder one for the labor movement and workers in America.  (The company is even closing the Dolly Madison plant which employs 200 in Columbus, Indiana, where I spent 18 months as a newspaper reporter.)

Now the only way to get a Twinkies fix is to make them yourself.  Here's a link to a previous post in which I did just that.  You can also Google a recipe for Hostess cupcakes.  (Below are some I made a while back.)




Monday, November 12, 2012

Frozen Malted Milk Cookies


The recipe card clearly said Frozen Malted Milk Cookies.  Sounds good?  You bet.  But then I made them and learned three things.  

First, these are not cookies.  Second, they are not frozen (nor have they ever been).  Third, the first two don't matter because these "mistakes" are so incredibly good, you'll want to make them today.  

 My first error was buying the wrong kind of Ovaltine (original malt instead of chocolate malt), the recipe's not-so-secret signature ingredient.  Trust me, it doesn't matter.  My second was following the recipe exactly when I knew, halfway through, that it would fail.  But then I did something very right -- instead of discarding the batter (and pouring myself a drink), I decided to change my expectation from cookies to ?? I poured the batter into an 8 x 8 pan, popped it in the oven and crossed my fingers.

What emerged from the oven 25 minutes later was the most buttery, most delicious and most addicting dessert.  Was it a mild gingerbread?  A spicy coffee cake?  The perfect breakfast muffin (in a square form)? 

So, if you want to try one of my very best mistakes yet, please do.  You won't be sorry.   

Below, the liquid-y batter.  I knew I could never roll it into logs, refrigerate and then slice and bake the cookies, as the recipe indicated.


I lined an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, in lieu of greasing and flouring the pan.  It's the lazy way out, but the parchment can be used like a sling to lift the cake from the pan for easy slicing.  This batter would also make excellent muffins.






Just follow the recipe below, but after the flour is added pour into a cake pan or muffin tin and bake.  And then enjoy, because I know you will. 




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Peppernuts



I was intrigued by this vintage recipe card because of its color (pink), the handwriting (penned by a teenager, most likely), and the odd name of the baked good (peppernuts).  So, last week I set out to make these.  Little did I know (until a Google search) that peppernuts are Christmas cookies.  Reminds me of the time I made hot cross buns in January.

Further, these aren't quite the exotic undiscovered treats I imagined.  The day I made them, the talented free-ranging writer Lenore Skenazy interviewed me for a column on how everyone seemed to be baking during Hurricane Sandy week.  When I told her I was making peppernuts she replied, oh, you mean pfeffernusse.  No, I insisted, these were different.  Until another Google search revealed she was right after all.  Peppernuts are a derivative of that traditional German cookie. (Also, my witty quotes ended up on the journalism cutting room floor, for they weren't in the story, which is here and really good.)

So operating under the belief that all cookies are always in season (similar to it's 5 p.m. somewhere when justifying an early cocktail),  let's get started.  This version of peppernuts does not have pepper, but they do have plenty of spice, below.


And nuts.  I used pecans, chopped fine in the food processor.


This is a very simple recipe to put together.


The dough is easy to work with and these cookies do not spread at all, so you can place them quite close together on the baking sheet (which I neglected to photograph).  As the fabulous food writer Amanda Hesser noted in The Essential New York Times Cookbook, (and quoting from memory here), in the baking kitchen, it's cookies that are the real time suck.  And the reason is all that in and out with tray after tray of cookies, but you won't run into that issue with these peppernuts, as you can really pack so many on a single baking sheet.


The recipe didn't call for a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar, but Google told me that pfeffernusse were usually dusted with it.  It adds a nice touch, especially for Christmas.  Again, too bad I made these in November.

I baked a few of these cookies on Thursday and then stashed the dough in the fridge until Saturday.  In the middle of baking these off, our friends Allen and Racine stopped by en route from volunteering at a Hurricane Sandy relief station in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to their apartment in upper Manhattan. Perfect timing because I'm always looking for helpers to eat my baked goods and they were happy to comply.


I just made half the recipe and I still had plenty of cookies.