Monday, March 28, 2016

Cheesy Flaky Biscuits of Deliciousness!: or, We accidentally made our own puff paste

Easter has come upon us here at A Book of Cookrye! Because, unlike most years, there wasn't a gathering of most of our extended family, we didn't take over the kitchen and make three pies, two cakes, and a smattering of other recipes we've wanted to try. We made just one pie. However, we accidentally made crust for two of them. Once we got the pie in the oven, we thought about what to do with the big lump of flour and butter that remained.

We used to use shortening for pie crusts, but after making one with butter and hoping for the best, we found it seems to work so fricken much better. Everyone's always said shortening works better than anything else, but we've never been able to just lay pie crust on the pan in a single, tear-free piece when we used it. Shortening-made pie crusts always broke and crumbled.

Seriously, look at that. It stretched when we needed it too, held decorative crimping (which we're admittedly terrible at since we've never had this happen before), and in general was, finally, after years of patch-job pies, as good as if not better than purchased pie crust. We wondered what to do with the extra we had from doubling the pie crust recipe by accident. And so, we made these!
Cheese Biscuits
½ c butter, unsoftened
1½ c flour
1 tsp salt
Cold water
Shredded cheese
1 egg (optional)
Paprika (optional)

Stir together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter, then add enough cold water (unless it's been really hot out for a few days, you can probably just use it from the tap without ice) so that it all holds together in one piece, with no little dough pebbles on the side of the bowl. It may be a little sticky. Wrap or put in a container and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 400°. Grease a cookie sheet.
Make a pile of flour about the size of your fist onto a completely dry counter (the dough will stick to any wet spots and tear as you roll it). Drop the dough on the flour, pick it up, then drop an uncoated part of it onto the flour until the dough is thoroughly coated. Set it on the flour to begin rolling.
Roll the dough out about ¼" thick, then sprinkle half of it with enough cheese to thoroughly cover it. Fold the dough over and roll it out again. Every time you reroll it, get it about ¼"-½" thick. When rolling it out, always roll away from you. For some reason, rolling back and forth or pulling the rolling pin towards you seems to make the layers tear too easily. Also, avoid touching it with your hands as much as possible- the warmth might soften the dough too much.
Repeat this two or three times, or until you can see that the layers are getting so thin the cheese is poking through them. (If you overdo the folding and rerolling, the layers will get so thin that the cheese pierces them and they stop being separate layers. You will just have regular pie dough with cheese mixed in. While you'll still get some really good cheese straws out of it, won't be the same.)
Cut the dough into small squares. If you want to make a shiny brown crust on top, beat an egg and brush or fingerpaint it on top. (Brushing is easier, but fingerpainting it means you won't have to wash a brush.) You can also beat paprika into the egg to add some nice extra flavor.
Transfer to the cookie sheet on a spatula- the layers might fall apart if you try to just lift them up. Bake until nicely browned on top.

For the record, after trying multiple pie crust recipes, we hit on this in the random old cookbook we got as a present and it's worked better than anything else:
A Book of Selected Recipes, Mrs. George O Thurn, 1934

We interpret shortening in this book to mean "any solid fat" since they used to use it in that way before using it to mean Crisco. And, once again, shortening crusts did this on a good day:
Unusually for us, this particular example landed in nearly one piece.

For perhaps the first time, we had a pie crust that did this on our first attempt to get it into the pan:
For all I know, this will never happen again.

I don't know why I seized on pie crust as a sign of being able to cook, but for some reason I did. I saw other people's pies at potlucks with the perfect hand-pinching and got so jealous at my ragged (but homemade!) crusts. I (don't judge me) read through directions for making your own puff paste, thinking they were utterly insane. How can anyone try to repeatedly fold pie crust back on itself when mine fell apart before I even got it to work once? And now, finally, it worked! I thought to myself, "Well, why not try the puff paste? You never know..."

In theory, we would end up with these flaky, cheese-impregnated biscuits of deliciousness. Or so we hoped.

This is more or less the same way people who are actually good at pies make puff paste. You somehow produce pie crust that doesn't crumble or tear on contact with a rolling pin. You then take advantage of this to repeatedly butter the dough, fold it up on itself, and roll it flat again. There's a Wikipedia page on puff paste, but I don't recommend it reading it because (like most Wikipedia articles on cooking) half of it's in French and (because it's Wikipedia in general) there are math formulas.
It looks like plain pie crust, but it now has cheesy goodness inside it.

Honestly, it's really not that hard to do if your dough is up to being folded up without breaking or crumbling. However, since even that so rarely happens in my attempts at pies, I can see why most people just buy frozen puff paste instead.
We even did the egg wash because we've never been able to do this before.

Please, take a good look at all the layers of (theoretically) soon-to-be-flaky dough and cheese. This may never happen again.

All right, let's see what came out of the oven!

Holy shit those are pretty! You know what? Our Mom of Cookrye got out the good tablecloth for the Easter family gathering, so for the first time, we at A Book of Cookrye are going full food-porn with these things.
Perhaps I should have cleared the table first.

And if you're wondering how they taste... they're cheese-filled flaky bread. That should tell you all you need to know. So, if you're better at doing your own pie crust than we are, you owe it to yourself to make these.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Last-Century Blackberry Pudding: or, Using your own clothes as kitchen equipment

Today, for the Historical Food Fortnightly, we at A Book of Cookrye are looking at modernized versions of the food of yore!
Anyone who's interested in the Fortnightly will now be a bit annoyed at this. The whole point is to make things as close as possible to the original time, right? But even in days of yore, people longed to taste the food from days of even further yore. Recipes with "Old-Fashioned" or "Grandmother's" or similar in their names have been around since well before today's old-fashioned foods were daring innovations. And so, we at A Book of Cookrye found this.
The Woman Suffrage Cook Book, 1886 via Feeding America: the Historic American Cookbook Project

This fortnight's challenge is fruit. We're actually kind of surprised that the fruit challenge is this early in the spring rather than later in summer when all the fruits are in season. But, since fruits are scheduled for this fortnight, we are making this!

Last Century Blackberry Pudding*
2 c molasses
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg (can be omitted)
1½ pints blackberries

Set a very large pot of water to boil.
Mix the molasses, spices, salt, and baking powder. Beat in the egg. Add flour until your stirring spoon will stand up in the bowl. Lastly, stir in the blackberries.
Now you get to boil it in a pudding bag. You'll need a good-sized cloth that has no synthetic fiber in it (do you want melted plastic in your pudding?). You'll also need a lot of open counterspace. Wet the cloth in boiling water, wring out any excess, and scatter and rub in flour all over it before it cools off. Take the pudding and mound it in the center. Tie the rag around the pudding (you can knot the cloth or use string), putting a lump of flour where you close it. Leave room in the bag for the pudding to expand.
Put the pudding in the pot. The water should completely immerse it. Make sure the pudding doesn't rest on the bottom of the pot or else it might burn. Some people attach a hook to it to suspend it in the water, others put an upside-down pan or something similar under it to make a little platform for it. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, keeping it just hot enough to gently boil.
Boil for 2-3 hours.
When it's done, take it up, set it on a plate, and let it sit out for a few minutes unopened. Then open the cloth, lay whatever plate you plan to serve it in on top of the pudding, get a good grip on the whole thing, and flip it over. Take off the cloth and it's ready.

*For the sake of record, this recipe is halved from the original.
Or you can forget about period-correctness and use a small tube pan instead. Grease it before putting in the pudding and have something in the pot to keep the pan from touching the bottom. The water should come halfway up the sides.

The Woman Suffrage Cook Book, 1886 (contributor: Mrs. Lillie Devereux Blake)

These days, especially since so many old books are getting digitized, it's so easy to compare a recipe from a recent cookbook for Old-Fashioned Whatever to recipes from when Whatever was new. And of course, you'll see the ingredients and the directions changed to adapt to current tastes- or updated simply because in order to do the original, one would have to find now-obscure kitchen implements in the back corners of antique shops.
I mistakenly thought this cookbook was from the 1920's, and that the "Last Century" in the recipe name referred to the 1800's. But when I checked the date, I found that we're actually looking at someone in the late 1800's looking back at recipes from the 1700's. Someone from when electricity was just beginning to move from science experiments to public use is looking back to when most Americans had been born British subjects and kitchens had fireplaces with kettles hanging over them instead of stoves.
When you have to pour out a whole pint of the stuff, you find the existence of the expression "as slow as molasses" justified.

Since one can nowadays look up recipes from when puddings like this weren't yet considered old-fashioned, it's interesting to compare what's changed in the recipe since before it became old-fashioned and what stayed the same. Since Mrs. Devereux Blake just says "boil in a bag 4 to 5 hours," it looks like English-style boiled puddings still appeared a lot on American tables and women still knew how to make them. Otherwise, the recipe would have had a paragraph or two detailing just how to use a pudding bag instead of just directing that you use one. 
The most obvious change: There's no fat in this at all. Puddings like this used to have an ungodly amount of fat (usually beef suet) added. People who make recipes truer to the original than this one inevitably mention the fat coating the inside of their mouths when they eat it. I was glad  to see it omitted because it meant I didn't have to track down someone who still sells the stuff.
Now, one might think that maybe by the 1880's, suet was already getting hard to come by. But if that were the reason for taking suet out of the recipe, Mrs. Lillie Devereux Blake would have put in a substitute (people usually use butter and mutter how it's not the same but it's the closest you'll get). Instead, she just took it right out of the recipe altogether. Maybe people in the 1880's were starting to get suspicious of such gratuitously fatty cooking (after all, a lot more people lived in the city and therefore didn't spend all day doing farm work). Or maybe using gratuitous amounts of suet (or a substitute) was considered too passé- even for a recipe billed as being old-fashioned.
If you don't like molasses, this recipe may not be for you.

The other recipe change, visible at about 12:30 in the above picture, is baking powder. While the first cookbook written in America is also the first to use what would later evolve into baking powder, the refined wood ash and other things people were using in the time period this recipe tries to emulate either didn't work reliably or left unnerving aftertastes. Since puddings like this involve such a long time working on them (usually), I doubt anyone in the 1700's would have risked all that time and ingredients on a baking powder failure.
I just thought this looked pretty.

Actually, this recipe was going pretty well. I'd always thought one of the reasons boiled puddings went out of style was that they were so hard to make. We were just dumping things into a bowl and stirring. Aside from waiting for all the molasses to pour out of the bottle, all we did was dump things into a bowl and stir. Before we knew it, the spoon was standing up.

...or, nearly so. We realized we'd forgotten one thing:

Granted, the recipe says we don't really need eggs, but we're already well out of familiar territory in making this. Even if Mrs. Lillie Devereux Blake who contributed this recipe says it'll work without them, we didn't want to risk serving up a boiled lump of molasses-flour paste.
All right, we've only got one more thing to add here:
Yes, they're frozen. It's not period-correct, but have you seen the price of fresh blackberries this time of year?

And this brings us to the last thing changed in the recipe. Puddings like this usually call for five or six different kinds of dried and candied fruits, as well as multiple kinds of nuts. Nope, we're just using one type of fruit, and it's neither candied nor dried.
This may pass for pudding in England, but this is America.

At this point, we were pleasantly surprised at how easy this recipe was. All we had to do was dump things into a bowl and stir them together.  In a way, it was kind of a bummer because it mean that not fifteen minutes after starting this endeavor, we had to bring out our pudding cloth. But what could we use? We don't have any large rags around the house. We refused to go to a fabric store and buy cloth for something we're not likely to make again. We needed something made of all-natural fibers so it wouldn't melt in cooking. Something big enough to wrap around an entire... whatever this thing was.
Hopefully we don't dye the pudding blue.

The irony of making a pudding in a shirt that says I BEAT ANOREXIA BUT I LOST 30 POUNDS FIRST is not lost on me.
Be sure you don't use a shirt with silkscreening on it- you might end up with melted plastic in your pudding.

All right, we've got us a pudding. Let's just... oh God. Am I really doing this?

You know, the idea of cooking things in a cloth sack doesn't bother me. What I really don't get is how this isn't going to be a waterlogged mess when it's allegedly done. It's claimed that if you wet it with boiling water and coat it before it has time to cool down, water won't get in and ruin it. I've got no idea if that's true, but I do know my love of very long, scalding-hot showers finally paid off when I had to wring out a shirt dipped in boiling water and then smear flour all over it.

A final cooking tip: Either get one of those pots that is more of a galvanized bucket with handles (go to the nearest Mexican grocery and ask for a tamale pot), or give up and just put a bucket right on the stove, or be sure no one in the kitchen minds that no matter what you do, the water will spill over the rim every few minutes. Given how much the pot boiled over (even though we had the burner nearly as low as it went), we had no idea how the waterline remained right at the rim. We then noticed that the pudding had outgrown the pot.

To anyone who thinks we should have pushed the lid back into place: We tried. Whatever sort of pudding thing this is, it resisted getting downsized unnervingly well.
On the bright side, once it was in the pot, it really didn't need any more fussing from us. Yes, the cooking time is multiple hours, but we didn't have to do any basting, stirring, or anything else. Once we put some rags in the path of the water boiling out of the pot to absorb it before it got everywhere, we could just leave it and mind our own business until it was done. Seriously, once it was on the stove, it was like a Crock-Pot. We just ignored it. Heck, if you had a lot of things to make on the stovetop, you could just set this on the back burner, ignore it, and it will be fine while you do everything else.
When eventually the alleged pudding was done (or so we hoped- we had no idea how we're supposed to tell), we lifted it out of the pot.

Uh... well... at least it looks like those old British Christmas specials they air on PBS- so it must be going right. But in those shows, they typically remove it from the rag. Eager to see how this thing qualified as a pudding, we unfurled the shirt to reveal...

We'll let Ethel Mertz speak on our behalf.

They never look like that on those TV shows. Those British people in their 70's clothes don't bring in a poopy flower, they bring in this ball-shaped thing with a random piece of plant stuck in the top! It became ever more apparent that we had to somehow take this fragile, scalding-hot thing we had just made and turn it over without letting it fall apart and without giving ourselves some historic burns in the name of historic food. We clapped a plate onto it, flipped it over, and hoped for the best.
Well, at least we can get the rag out from under it now.

At this point we had uncertainty. Since we weren't going to serve it immediately, were we supposed to leave it under a wet rag until we were ready? Or would our friends come over and realize they were about to eat out of one of our shirts?
I think some of the blue dye got on the pudding.

So, eager to cut this thing open, we found... it's a cake.

As for the results: Everyone who tried this thing liked it. Seriously. I'm very surprised. It tastes like a spice cake. I was expecting something really soggy and tasting like cotton since it spent the entire time bagged up in it. I asked my (camera-shy) friends who came over to try it with me what they thought.

First person's answer: "It's good." He stopped there because he was too busy eating it.
Second person's answer: "It's interesting, taste-wise. Kind of like a cross between cake and pudding."

There was only one problem with this recipe, really. We'd invited five people over to try this. The randomly-placed obligations of adulthood being what they are, only two could make it. So, despite cutting this recipe in half, there were a lot of leftovers which were unnervingly getting darker on the plate.

However, this thing refused to go stale. It went the other way somehow- the center went runny (well, goopy) after a few days. The leftovers aren't so bad, though this has got to be one of the heaviest desserts ever featured on A Book of Cookrye. Unless you're making this for a lot of people, expect it to be with you for a while.

All right, here's our Historical Food Fortnightly homework!
The Recipe: Last Century Blackberry Pudding
The Date/Year and Region: 1886, America. Since the book has a list of all who contributed a recipe and where she's from, this specific recipe comes from New York City.
How Did You Make It: Dump molasses and spices into a bowl, stir. Add lots of flour, stir. Add an egg, stir. Add blackberries, stir. Somehow get it into a T-shirt dragged into service as a pudding bag. Boil and hope for the best.
Time to Complete: About 20 minutes of prep, followed by 3 hours of leaving it on the stove.
Total Cost: About $15ish.
How Successful Was It? A lot better than I thought! It was really good. It looked weird and wasn't like any pudding I've ever had, but everyone who tried it liked it.
How Accurate Is It? Pretty accurate. However, in the name of not spending nearly $10 on blackberries, we got frozen instead of fresh. It may be that the berries were supposed to break up as you stirred them into the really stiff pudding mixture, which obviously didn't happen since they were still frozen solid. Also, I did cut the recipe in half, but since people have been halving and doubling recipes since forever I don't think that counts as a mark against period accuracy.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hump-Day Quickie: Orange Custard! or, We're not wasting half of six eggs

As aforementioned, we at A Book of Cookrye recently gave Our Grandmother of Cookrye the gift of bringing homemade things to a bake sale without having to do any of that pesky baking. Because it's for family (and because for some perverse reason we like doing so), we ended up hand-beating half a dozen egg whites into a meringue. We had these sitting unused from having baked it.

We could have thrown them away, but we've been broke for so long that the idea of wasting so much egg provoked in us this reaction:

And so, we did this instead.

Orange Custard
3 small oranges
⅔ c sugar
1 tsp flour
6 egg yolks

Juice the oranges, saving the large pieces of peel. Mix the flour and sugar in the top of a double boiler. Thoroughly beat in the egg. Stir in the orange juice. When all is thoroughly mixed, drop in the peels. Put over simmering water and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove the peels and press a layer of plastic wrap on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming.

Our Grandparents of Cookrye had this big bag of oranges sitting out, looking like more orange than anyone can eat before they expire.

And so, rather than waste half a dozen egg yolks, we did this!

Now, a lot of cookbooks say to squeeze oranges and lemons rather than using an expensive juicer; in theory, you get more of the rind oils in your juice which will give a better kick to whatever you were going to add the juice to. We at A Book of Cookrye asked ourselves: if this is true, can we get even more of these mysterious rind oils out?

It was hard to tell whether the peels made any difference in taste while it cooked, but at least it smelled nice.

We don't know what color we were hoping for, but it came out so pretty! It's so lovely it almost looks fake. Like the "artificially flavored orange beverage" you see at the back end of the juice shelves.
Serves two if you have restraint.

In conclusion, this was utterly delicious. Cooking it with the peels added a really good sharp kick- it worked better than we expected. We're so glad we didn't want to waste all that egg, otherwise we wouldn't have made this.
Heck, even the plastic wrap we pressed on top makes it look more festive.

Backwards Cake: or, In which a bake sale gets outsourced to us: or, In which we encounter our first Dover egg beater

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye salute forgotten presidents! Unless you just finished your American history class, you may have forgotten we had a president named Rutherford Hayes. We at A Book of Cookrye had forgotten all about him too, but that's not stopping us from making one of his wife's cake recipes!
We recently visited Our Grandparents of Cookrye, and during this time we once again did Our Grandmother of Cookrye's homework. Previously we've read her book club novels and done the take-home questions for her that she could have scintillating discussion points at the next meetings. Now, we're doing bake sale duty! Yes, that's right, some unsuspecting churchgoers got to eat things made by us at A Book of Cookrye!
Per request, we produced two different cakes. This meant that perhaps for the first time, we actually made a full 1234 cake instead of half-size.
It's very odd seeing this much cake batter.

Now, we could have made two of these and had everything in the oven in about 10 minutes. But she asked we provide two different cakes. Did you know you can find a list of all our presidents' favorite foods here? It's amazing what working a desk job with a patron shortage will lead you to online. We decided to make this recipe for the bake sale because when we made it previously, it was pretty good.

Backwards White Cake
6 egg whites
Scant ¾ c butter, softened
1¼ c sugar
2 c flour
Juice of half a lemon
¼ tsp baking soda*

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9"x13" or two small layer cake pans.
Mix the flour and baking soda. Using your fingertips, work in the butter until all is evenly mixed. Believe it or not, it's easier to do this with your fingertips than with a spoon- just use only the tips of your fingers rather than plunging your whole hand into it.
Beat the egg whites stiff. Then mix them gradually with the sugar, scattering a spoonful or so at a time over the surface and beating it in thoroughly.
Stir two or three large spoonfuls of the meringue into the flour mixture one at a time, adding also the lemon juice, so that it's softened enough that you can fold in the remainder without deflating it.
Pour the batter into the pans and bake until done.

*As stated in the original: instead of baking soda and lemon juice, you can use 1 tsp baking powder and a little lemon extract. For what it's worth, we got mixed up and used baking powder and juice with no resulting catastrophe.

Note: The original recipe says do not try to cut this in half. We have found that halving it works just fine, but be sure to use a small pan like an 8" round or else the cake will be too thin.

Source: the recipes of Lucy Webb Hayes, originally from Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, Mary Newton Foote Henderson (attr. Eliza Brown), 1877

We at A Book of Cookrye have twice featured first lady recipes before (see here and here). However, this recipe predates the country's interest in what Mrs. The President was cooking. At the time, publishing first lady recipes all over magazines wasn't the reader draw it is today.
Comparing this recipe to others on the Rutherford Hayes site, we did not think it came from Mrs. Hayes herself. Unlike a lot of the recipes posted there, this one reads not like some quick notes but like an old cookbook. We copy-pasted the first sentence of the directions into a search engine and indeed, it comes from a cookbook published right as Hayes entered office. It doesn't bother us that the recipe doesn't come straight from the kitchen invention of a former Mrs. The President, but we do wish the Rutherford Hayes website people had cited the source material. Of all the times not to cite your source, it's particularly ironic when you fail to cite a cookbook whose writer named what friends and relations gave her what recipes instead of claiming full credit for herself.

We may have oversoftened the butter.

The original recipe starts off by saying "The cake is mixed contrary to the usual rules of making cake, but it is the best mode of making it fine-grained and delicate." We wondered just how contrary one can you get, and then we realized that we start off not by mixing a cake but making pie crust.

What sort of cake witchery is this? We'll have to set the pie crust aside for a moment because the next thing this recipe calls for beating egg whites into a meringue. This would have caused many an 1800's cook to cringe, but we at A Book of Cookrye have access to an electric mixer and therefore will make this happen with no effort whatsoever!
...or so we thought. You see, we could find the beaters but not the motor. However, what should turn up in a drawer but this!
I'm told it was my great-grandmother's.

Well, it beats attempting to beat them with a whisk. We've previously mentioned how housewives across the country had good reason to enthusiastically receive the rotary egg beater (you've got to read this lady in the 1800's praising its existence here). Well, now we're going to see if we've got what it takes to be a late 1800's cook armed with the very latest in time-saving devices.

Things were going pretty well at first, but it got really hard to turn that tiny little handle after a few minutes. The eggs put up a lot more resistance than we thought would make sense, and we kept having to take it out and crank it in the open air to make sure it wasn't stuck. Every time, the beaters turned quite freely, proving that we would be stupid to invent a time-travel machine for the purpose of challenging a woman from 1892 to an arm-wrestling match.
We had to take rest breaks. Judge someone else.

It's not that the egg beater was difficult or exhausting, to operate, but using it entails a long time holding a maddeningly tiny little handle. We had to periodically set it down to just open our hand.
Our efforts have paid off!

However, imagining ourselves in the place of someone who had to use either a whisk or a dinner fork, this indeed did save our cake-making selves from over an hour of work. We went from a few egg whites in the bottom of a bowl to this in twenty minutes. We'll grant that twenty minutes is a very long time to someone with an electric mixer, but from the perspective of someone who spent the duration of a Lord of the Rings movie having at a bowl of egg whites with a whisk it's nothing short of miraculous.
It's a thing of beauty and a highly perishable joy to treasure.

Please, behold the marvelous invention that saved our would-have-been-weary wrists.
Let's hear it for those things that lay forgotten in the back of kitchen drawers until you really need them.

Meanwhile, off to the side, we had what looked like the beginning of pie crust. Only, we're not making pie crust. We're putting these hand-beaten egg whites into it so it'll be cake.

And so, we somehow managed to take the top of a lemon meringue pie and the beginning of the crust to put it in, put them together, and produce cake batter. Not just normal cake batter, but really good cake batter.

Look at how gloriously light and foamy it is coming out of the oven! You don't even need to cut out a piece to see how good this is going to be!

Since this was for a bake sale, we couldn't get pictures of a slice. However, we did get a phone call from Our Grandmother of Cookrye saying "It was to die for!" She reports it sold out very quickly, and that she really liked the purportedly tiny piece she helped herself to.
We at A Book of Cookrye would like to salute Lucy Webb Hayes for saving this recipe out of a cookbook, Mary Newton Foote Henderson for writing the book from whence it came, Miss Eliza Brown for giving her the recipe for her book, and the inventors of the Dover egg beater, without whose marvelous creation we'd have never been able to make this delicious cake.