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Mom Hunt, my dad’s mother, stood almost 5 feet high in heels. A staunch member of the “English Catholic” (Anglican) Church, she ascribed literal truth to everything in the Bible. Angels were as real as devils (in her faith and in her cakes) and neither would have dared cross her in fear of the purgatory only she could create.
Mom Hunt hoped every day to hear the angel Gabriel blow his horn, signaling the Lord’s return to Earth, but her favorite angel was Michael, the archangel who vanquished Satan and his horde from heaven.
“Michael will lead the righteous against evil again at the end of days,” she insisted, crossing herself.
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Years later, I marveled at how she could maintain such childlike faith all her life, but as a child I simply accepted what she told me: Angels helped light our path to God, while devils, skulking in darkness, waited to lead us to ruin.
At Christmas, darkness and light merged, and devils sat alongside angels at our table, literally and figuratively. In literal terms, the devils — my boy cousins, relentless in their trouble making — sat next to angels like my mother, who never surrendered her belief that there was good in everyone. Most of us, though, were somewhere between the two, rarely angelic but not often a devil, either.
In the figurative sense, angels and devils appeared as Angel Food and Devil’s Food cakes when the turkey and stuffing, dishes of vegetables and boats of gravy were cleared away. The white frosting on the Angel Food Cakes billowed like clouds, while the rich chocolate on the Devil’s Food Cakes made me drool.
The cakes had been in the refrigerator in Mom Hunt’s summer kitchen for a day and a half before being brought to the table. The nearby back door was locked, and we were forced to use the front like visitors because one particularly devilish boy cousin ran off with a cake a few Christmases earlier. Although Mom Hunt ran after him, her apron flapping like wings, he managed to escape. Still, I doubt having his fill of chocolate was worth the tongue lashing he later received. After that, as soon as the cakes went into the refrigerator, the back door was locked, and my grandfather was posted as a sentinel to stop all of us grandchildren plotting a way around him. We never tried very hard at this because he was so mild and sweet we couldn’t torment him.
Angel Food Cake
Angel Food is a sponge cake that originated in the United States in the 1800s. Its light, ethereal nature most likely gave rise to its name.
In “American Food: The Gastronomic Story,” Evan Jones writes that the cake may have “evolved as the result of numerous egg whites left over after the making of noodles, [and] may or may not be the brainchild of thrifty Pennsylvania cooks who considered it sinful to waste anything.”
Traditionally, Angel Food Cakes have been offered to mourners at African-American funerals, although sometimes they have been called by other names. “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book, and Companion for Frugal and Economical Housekeepers,” published in 1871, has a recipe for a Snow-Drift Cake. A decade later, Abby Fisher, a former slave from Alabama, includes a similar recipe in “What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.,” calling hers a “Silver Cake.”
Snow-Drift, Silver or Angel Food, this cake can be frosted, served with a sauce or eaten plain. Mom Hunt made a boiled icing for her Christmas ones, but served them with fruit and custard in the summer.
When I make Angel Food Cake for Christmas — a tradition I continue now — I frost it with a white chocolate ganache, then add a few strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.
Devil’s Food Cake
While Angel Food Cakes were the product of the 19th century, Devil’s Food Cakes appeared in the 20th century.
The biggest difference between a regular chocolate cake, and a Devil’s Food Cake is the amount of chocolate used. Devil’s Food usually contains more chocolate (often twice as much), which gives it a darker color and richer flavor.
The first Devil’s Food Cake recipe appeared in 1900, and by 1913 this cake was so popular that the “Modern Women of America Cookbook,” (published that same year) had more than 20 recipes for it.
Red Devil’s Cake recipes began appearing during the 1930s. The Red Devil achieved its distinctive color by a chemical reaction. In Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” McGee writes that such a chemical reaction takes place when an alkaline (like baking soda) combines with an acid (such as cocoa or vinegar), resulting in chocolate turning “reddish.”
For my childhood Christmases, regular Devil’s Food went along with Angel Food and by the end of a long day of eating, not a crumb of either remained. All of us, even Mom Hunt, felt equally blessed and sinful.
Mom Hunt’s Angel Food Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake
1 cup all-purpose white flour
1⅓ cups granulated sugar, divided
10 egg whites (room temperature)
1¼ teaspoons cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a small bowl, blend together flour and ⅓ cup sugar and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat egg whites for 1 minute until frothy.
4. Add cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract to egg whites and beat on medium speed until egg whites form soft peaks.
5. Gradually beat 1 cup sugar into egg whites, beating until stiff and glossy.
6. Sift flour and sugar mixture over the egg whites in three portions, folding gently until incorporated into the egg whites.
7. Pour the batter into an ungreased 9-inch tube pan.
8. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
9. Invert and cool the cake in the pan before removing (to ensure the cake does not fall in on itself).
White Chocolate Ganache Frosting
2 cups good-quality white chocolate, chopped finely
1 cup 18% table cream
1. Combine chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.
2. Stir occasionally until chocolate is melted and blended smoothly with cream.
3. Refrigerate until firm.
4. Frost Angel Food Cake.
Mom Hunt’s Devil’s Food Cake
Makes one 8-inch double-layer cake
1½ cups all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup good-quality cocoa
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups whole milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease and lightly flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa and set aside.
4. In a large bowl cream butter and add sugar gradually, beating until mixture is light and fluffy (about five minutes).
5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6. Add vanilla extract and beat well.
7. Add sifted dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with milk (two dry and two wet additions), beating until well blended.
8. Pour into cake pans and smooth the batter.
9. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of each cake comes out clean.
10. Cool the cakes 10 minutes and then remove from pan to cool completely.
4 cups icing sugar
6 tablespoons good-quality cocoa
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons whipping cream
1. In a medium bowl, sift icing sugar and cocoa together and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter; add vanilla and salt and beat well.
3. Gradually beat sugar mixture into butter mixture, alternately with cream.
4. Beat until well combined and easy to spread. If frosting is too stiff, add more cream (½ teaspoon at a time).
5. Fill and frost the Devil’s Food Cake.
Top photo: An Angel Food Cake with White Chocolate Ganache Frosting. Credit: Sharon Hunt
As with everything in life, there are truths with cooking. Andrew Schloss, the author of “Cooking Slow: Recipes for Slowing Down and Cooking More,” hits upon one when he writes in his introduction that “cooking is a balance between time and temperature. Raise the heat and everything speeds up; flames jump, pots sizzle, grease spits. Lower the heat, however, and the turmoil subsides.”
Lowering the heat is what “Cooking Slow” is all about, and while doing this is particularly enticing with Christmas fast approaching, it is a great idea to lower a little of the cooking heat any time you can. What a welcome change to have something cooking slowly in the oven or on top of the stove instead of frantically whipping up another quick meal to satiate our hungry, hectic lives.
Schloss also is the author of the “Art of the Slow Cooker,” a cooking teacher and former president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Like many people, I grew up with slow meals, especially in winter. Arriving home from school, pink-cheeked and famished, the aroma of a hearty soup or stew that had been simmering for hours or a roasting chicken was a comfort unlike many others. It is this sense of comfort, above all, that permeates “Cooking Slow.”
By Andrew Schloss
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After a corporate life with too many takeout meals eaten at my desk, I was reborn to slow cooking a decade ago, after I left the corporate world and went to work at a restaurant, surrounded by people who lived and breathed delicious food. My boss was a sophisticated and urbane Irishman who loved quality — and its accompanying price tag — above all. When he decided to invest in new cocottes — cooking pots with sloping sides that weighed a ton and cost the moon — for the restaurant kitchen, I joined him on his mad quest and bought one for myself, spending an obscene amount of money for a dull cast-iron affair that paled in prettiness next to the aubergine- , cherry- and saffron-colored pots on the market. I have never regretted the purchase, carrying my magic pot (as I quickly nicknamed it) to the east coast of Canada where I thought I belonged and then back again to my Ontario home. It was the first thing I unpacked when I settled into a new kitchen. Even the most inexpensive cuts of meat become tender and succulent when cooked slowly in it.
‘Cooking Slow’ requires patience, a few kitchen essentials
Schloss recommends such a pot, along with a cast-iron skillet, slow cooker and soufflé dish, among other things, to help transform your kitchen into a slow-cooking haven.
The transformation to slow cooking begins with Chapter 1 – “Slow Roasting” — and the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who knew a thing or two about food. Here is his quote on the skill of roasting: “A man may be taught how to cook, but he must be born knowing how to roast.” Schloss then adds, “Get ready to be reborn.”
For me, two recipes in particular in the first chapter help with that rebirth, Slow-Roasted Chicken With Potatoes & Herbs, and Balsamic-Glazed Duckling. Although duck “has a fat problem; there’s a lot of it on these buoyant birds,” turning down the oven temperature allows enough time for the fat to melt, resulting in a moist and flavorful meat.
Chapter 2, “Slow Baking,” offers a welcoming dinner meal of One-Pot Mac and Cheese that has a nice tang with the addition of brown mustard. Slow-Baked Beets With Orange Gremolata (the Gremolata reimagined with hazelnuts and orange juice) is one of my favorite recipes in this chapter, but even it is eclipsed by Parsnips Baked In Spiced Yogurt.
“Neglected and maligned, parsnips have a PR problem,” he writes, and I agree. This recipe, with its wonderfully spiced yogurt (with, among others, coriander and cumin), might make a few reluctant parsnip eaters into parsnip lovers.
The recipes throughout the book are clear and easy to follow, with accompanying photographs of finished dishes that are not only mouthwatering but also inspiring.
Follow the chapters, including the ‘Slow Sweets’ favorite
Other chapters explore slow simmering, steaming, grilling, frying, using a slow cooker and dabbling in sous vide cooking — that very long and low-temperature cooking method that has taken hold in many restaurants.
The last chapter in “Cooking Slow” is my favorite. In “Slow Sweets,” a Steamed Cornmeal Pudding with Olives and Candied Orange offers a delicious melding of saltiness from the olives and sweetness from the orange. Ever the chocoholic, though, I bow in gratitude to Schloss for including a cake called Triple Chocolate Bypass, which bakes for four hours in an oven heated to 175 F. This silken and rich thing has now gone to the head of my holiday baking list, but I will have to make sure not to make it too early or it will never survive until Christmas Day, (although it’s so easy to make that I could always make another one).
Top photo: Andrew Schloss is the author of “Cooking Slow: Recipes for Slowing Down and Cooking More.”
First, a confession: I am not always a confident pastry maker. Yes, I make pastry, and sometimes it is good, occasionally very good, but I still approach each pastry-making session with some anxiety.
Because of this, I approached “Pastry” by Chef Richard Bertinet with a little trepidation. Quickly, though, I fell in love with the book, and now it’s becoming an old friend. I am not suddenly a great pastry maker because of this book, but, more important to me, I am no longer a nervous pastry maker.
“Pastry” has a lovely chattiness to it. This is not a book meant to intimidate, although the subject matter can be intimidating. Early in “Pastry,” Bertinet tells the nervous among us that, “There is an idea that some people are just naturally good pastry makers, or that you can only make great pastry if you have cold hands. I don’t believe that.”
By Richard Bertinet
Chronicle Books, 2013, 224 pages
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That is good to learn about someone who began training as a baker in Brittany, France, when he was 14. He moved to Britain in the 1980s, and after many years as a chef, he opened the Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath, England, in 2005. The school now draws students from around the world, eager to learn the skills he has perfected and detailed in four books to date.
“Pastry” is his latest. His first book, “Dough,” received many awards, including the Julia Child First Book Award and the James Beard Foundation Award for Baking and Desserts. It was followed by “Crust,” which earned a Gourmand World Cookbook award. “Cook,” his third book, focuses on dishes taught at his school.
Making pastry not just about cold hands
In “Pastry,” Bertinet hopes that “by keeping things simple and starting from just four key recipes, you can relax, enjoy yourself, bake with confidence, and perhaps even show off a little bit.” This may be a tall order for some, but, with the exception of the showing off (which I’m working on), I have relaxed and begun to enjoy myself more when making pastry.
The first chapter focuses on how to make the four basic pastries: salted, sweet, puff and choux. Dispelling a long-held belief that you need cold hands to make good pastry, he nevertheless reinforces a truth of bad pastry: that “squeezing and overworking … heats up pastry and makes it greasy and sticky.”
The step-by-step photographs throughout the book, but especially in this first chapter, are excellent, clearly illustrating his instructions and showing you how the pastry should look at each step.
Chapter 2 is devoted to salted pastry, so named not because this type of pastry contains a lot of salt but because it is the name for savory pastry he learned as an apprentice. The chapter includes a number of hearty recipes clearly laid out and easy to follow, with hot and cold variations. Bertinet includes recipes for Onion Tartlets and a rich Chicken and Tarragon Tart, but a great quick lunch is his Cornish Pasties filled with rutabaga, potato and beef (not a poor man’s food anymore).
Amandine for the holidays
Next, sweets take center stage, such as Lemon Meringue Tartlets with their wild meringue swirls resembling chimney stacks. One of my favorite recipes in Chapter 3 is for Amandine, a classic almond tart made with frangipane (almond cream). Not only is this tart delicious, it freezes well, making it a great make-ahead dessert for holiday meals. The Prune and Rum Tarts — rum-soaked prunes and almond cream — are also delicious; make plenty because they will be a great success with friends if mine were any indication.
Also in Chapter 3 is a segment called “A Boxful of Sweet Cookies,” with varieties such as Orange & Chocolate Cookies that can be made from a sweet pastry base. While the Orange & Chocolate Cookies have a winning combination of flavors, the crisp Langues de Chat have a whimsical shape — that of cats’ tongues — and make great use of leftover egg whites.
Chapter 4 made me more nervous than previous chapters because its focus is puff pastry. I usually buy mine at the grocery store and appreciated when he wrote, “I hope that you will enjoy making your own puff pastry, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination, choose a good ready-made all-butter one.” Still, following his instructions, my first attempt at puff pastry turned out well. I used it to make sausage rolls, which, with their lovely herb and spice seasoning, turned an often dry and flavorless thing into a delicious snack.
A perfect ‘how to’ on Croustillants
Another great use for puff pastry is in making Croustillants. These thin slices of puff pastry are coated in sugar, nuts or seeds and baked until crunchy, making a terrific and decidedly upscale substitute for potato chips at parties.
Chapter 5 is about choux pastry, the base for treats such as cream puffs and éclairs. In addition to these recipes, Bertinet includes a recipe for deep-fried Cheese Puffs containing either Cheddar or Gruyère. With a sprinkling of smoked paprika, these hors d’oeuvres will disappear quickly.
The last chapter is devoted to “Finishing Touches” and includes techniques such as how to finish fruit tarts so they are beautiful and delicious. This has much to do with how the fruit is cut and arranged and with the addition of warmed apricot jam as a glaze. Bertinet also offers recipes for fillings such as Chocolate Crème Patissiere and Crème Anglaise. If you can make the latter, he assures the reader, “you are halfway to making vanilla ice cream.” (And what vanilla ice cream it is.)
“Pastry” offers up many treats, but the best treat of all may be the book itself. It is great for building confidence in the pastry-shy baker and a further challenge for the pastry-secure baker. If you can’t get to Bertinet’s school in Bath, this book is the next best thing. It is indeed “A Master Class for Everyone.”
Top photo composite: The cover of “Pastry” and chef and author Richard Bertinet. Chef photo credit: Jenny Zarins
Marshmallows were a staple in our house when I was growing up. Not a staple like potatoes and carrots, which showed up in one form or another on the table for most dinners, but marshmallows were always in the cupboard, waiting to float in hot chocolate or be skewered and toasted over a campfire. Other times, they got all gooey, sandwiched with chocolate between graham crackers; was there ever a better name for a treat than s’mores?
We even made our own marshmallows, from my grandmother’s recipe. Sometimes we left them as marshmallows, cubes rolled in confectioner’s sugar, while other times we added a short crust and a dusting of sweet coconut and transformed them into marshmallow squares (still one of my favorite cookies).
We had marshmallow love, just like people have had for centuries.
Marshmallows have a surprisingly long history, dating to ancient times. They were first made from the pulp of the marsh mallow plant root, which was boiled with sugar or another sweetener like honey, then strained and cooled. The ancient Egyptians used to make this candy for their pharaohs and gods.
Mere and poor mortals in ancient Greece and Rome ate the marsh mallow plant because it was abundant and fed their hunger. Lucian, a satirist of the day, thought it should be eaten like lettuce.
Marsh mallow was also used medicinally. It helped to treat wounds, and when mixed with wine, it calmed coughs. Marsh mallow water treated catarrhs (inflammations of mucus membranes), among other things.
Marshmallows similar to what we know today were first made in France around 1850 in small sweet shops. Candy makers extracted the sap from the plant’s root, whipped and sweetened it. Although very popular, the resulting marshmallows took a lot of time and effort to make.
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In the late 19th century, French manufacturers incorporated egg whites or gelatin and corn starch into their marshmallows (also known as pâte de guimauve). This eliminated the sap but required new ways to combine the gelatin and corn starch.
By the turn of the last century, marshmallows were sold alongside licorice whips and peppermint drops, but they became even more popular when some smart marketers suggested that marshmallows went well with other popular items such as Jell-O. Jellied salads with fruit and miniature marshmallows are still a staple at family celebrations, especially in summer.
In the 1950s, the United States had more than 30 marshmallow manufacturers. Around this time, Alex Doumak patented the extrusion process which allowed marshmallows to be cheaply and quickly produced. This process forced the marshmallow mixture through a tube; it was then cut into pieces and rolled in cornstarch and confectioner’s sugar.
Marshmallow Fluff and creme
Where would a banana split be without a scoop of Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme to go along with the chocolate or strawberry sauce?
The earliest mention of marshmallow creme in an American cookbook is in Fannie Farmer’s “Boston School Cook Book” from 1896. She advises the home baker to, “Put Marshmallow Cream between the layers and on the top” of a cake for a splendid result.
The first marshmallow creme manufactured and marketed in America was Marshmallow Fluff. Although Fluff and creme are similar, Fluff is made using a more expensive batch-whipping process, while creme is made with a continuous mixing process.
Marshmallow Fluff was first made in 1917 by Archibald Query in Somerville, Mass. He turned out batches of the stuff in his kitchen and sold it door to door to housewives, but food shortages during the war caused him to stop production. When the war was over, he was no longer interested in Marshmallow Fluff, so he sold the recipe to H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower for $500.
These World War I veterans continued to sell their product door to door, and soon it became so popular it was stocked on grocers’ shelves. As their business grew more successful, Durkee and Mower advertised in Boston newspapers and on radio. In 1930, they began sponsoring a weekly radio show called “Flufferettes.” It aired Sunday evenings before Jack Benny, and with its live music and comedy skits, the “Flufferettes” remained popular throughout the 1940s.
Today, sophisticated marshmallow flavors such as chai, champagne and dark chocolate are popular and delicious, but when I want a comforting and easy-to-make treat, I make my grandmother’s marshmallows.
They were sure sellers at her Anglican Church Women’s teas and bake sales. When she made Marshmallow Squares for these socials, her Kenmore mixer practically vibrated as it whipped gelatin, water and vanilla into bowl after bowl of fluffy delight. I sneaked spoon after spoon of the pale pink or yellow-colored marshmallow and later, she would let me roll the top and sides of the marshmallows in coconut. She saved the edges, sliced away first so it was easier to remove the squares from the pan, and set them aside. Later, when the plates of squares were wrapped, waiting to go to the church hall, she and I sat in the mud room and ate what she’d saved for us, marshmallow first and then the crust. That’s still how I eat them.
Marshmallow love truly is forever.
Mom Skanes’ Marshmallow Squares
Makes 16 to 20, depending upon size.
For the marshmallow:
2 packages of gelatin
½ cup cold water
2 cups white sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few drops of red food coloring (optional)
Sifted confectioner’s sugar for rolling
For the crust:
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
1½ cups white flour
For the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Cream butter and sugar together.
3. Mix in flour (only until combined).
4. Turn mixture into a 9-by-9-inch pan and press into a uniform thickness of crust.
5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Note: The crust should still be a little warm when you add the marshmallow mixture.
For the marshmallow:
1. Soften the gelatin in the cold water for 5 minutes.
2. Place the softened gelatin, sugar, boiling water and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mixer.
3. Start on low speed, gradually moving to high speed, beating the ingredients until you have a thick marshmallow (about 10 minutes).
4. Pour the marshmallow onto the still-warm crust.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set (about three hours).
6. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. (This will make the crust easier to cut.)
7. Cut into squares.
8. Roll the marshmallow (top and sides) in sweet coconut.
Top photo: Marshmallow squares. Credit: Sharon Hunt
Summer Sundays, my mother, who hated the kitchen, would take down a box of Jell-O from the cupboard and declare “Jell-O time,” to the delight of my sister and me. We loved Jell-O. It wiggled and it wobbled, sometimes falling off the spoon but always making us smile. Mom loved Jell-O too, but more because it was convenient and let her make quick desserts. This was especially important when the weather was warm; less time in the kitchen meant more time for the three of us at the beach or camping out under the maple in the back garden and reading (while Dad happily made supper).
Mom had two favorite ways of “preparing” Jell-O for dessert: with canned fruit suspended in it or with canned milk beaten into the Jell-O when it was almost set. She also had two favorite ways of topping it: with a spoonful of Cool Whip (yum) or with a layer of custard made by adding milk to a few teaspoons of orange-colored powder that came from a can (less yum to me, as I never ceased to annoy her by excavating the shimmering layer and abandoning the custard).
Jellied desserts have always been popular, but in recent years they have experienced a renaissance. Yet despite different tastes and presentations, the enduring qualities of gelatin remain; it wiggles and it wobbles, and it makes you smile.
History of jellied desserts
Jellied desserts have long had their allure.
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Sweet jellies were important in Tudor and Stewart feasts. When not dispatching wives and involved in other nefarious things, Henry VIII delighted guests with gilded rosewater jelly at Garter Banquets (the Order of the Garter was the highest order of chivalry in England, dedicated to England’s patron saint, St. George). Such jellies were status symbols because sugar was so expensive and only available to the wealthy.
Renaissance chefs created molded masterpieces such as castles and fortresses for their wealthy patrons, and later, in the 19th century, molded jellies were all the rage again. Making them, like making any jelly before commercialized gelatin was invented, was time-consuming because bones had to be boiled and the liquid clarified and cooled to make the gelatin.
Fruit jellies that focused on the flavor of the fruit became popular in the 20th century. In her book “Kitchen Essays” (1922), a compilation of the essays she wrote for the London Times newspaper, Lady Agnes Jekyll writes, “For sweets, nothing is nicer than this specially good Orange Jelly … soft and shapeless, of the color of a blood orange, and really tasting of the fruit.”
Commercialization of gelatin
The first commercial gelatin came in sheets that required a long soaking before use, but in 1889, Charles B. Knox of Johnstown, N.Y., developed a method of granulating gelatin. In doing so, he turned gelatin into an easy-to-use ingredient that the home cook (not my mom) could turn to for fancy desserts.
That same year, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, N.Y., sold his formula for Jell-O to Orator Frank Woodward. Two years earlier, Wait had come up with the fruit-flavored dessert, and his wife, May, gave it its now iconic name.
After Knox died in 1908, his wife, Rose, set up a test kitchen and developed recipes — printed on Knox gelatin packages and in cookbooks — for the home cook. The recipes also appeared in newspapers and magazines under the heading “Mrs. Knox Says.”
The marketers of Jell-O, also wanting to show how versatile their product was and created free recipe booklets; one booklet had a printing of 15 million copies.
Making jellied desserts
Although jellied desserts are not difficult to make, the wrong ingredient or misjudging the strength of the gelatin may leave you with a sweet, slightly thickened “drink.”
Avoid using fresh pineapple because it contains bromelain, a chemical with protein-digesting enzymes that break down the gelatin’s protein links, resulting in the gelatin not setting. Because heating the enzymes inactivates them, canned pineapple (heated during canning) won’t ruin a jellied dessert. (When Mom wanted to make a special dessert for company, she combined lemon Jell-O, whipped cream and canned pineapple; once, though, she substituted fresh pineapple and had to serve “lemon Jell-O soup” at the end of the meal, much to her chagrin.)
Alcohol can also affect gelatin’s setting properties, but experimenting with the amount of gelatin in a recipe that calls for alcohol can overcome this problem. If using alcohol, consider light and sparkling wines paired with seasonal fruit and present in lovely dishes or wine glasses.
Non-alcoholic jellies can be made in different colors and layered in molds that will delight children, or let each color of jelly set in a glass pan and then cut it into different shapes and arrange on plates.
Perhaps we are all children at heart when it comes to jellied desserts. They wiggle and they wobble and they still make us smile.
Sparkling White Wine Jelly With Blueberries and Strawberries
This beautiful and simple dessert has the added sweetness of fresh berries.
3 cups sparkling white wine
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
¾ cup white granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup fresh blueberries (wash, pat dry and leave whole)
½ cup washed and hulled strawberries (pat dry and slice thinly)
1. Pour 1 cup of wine into a small bowl and sprinkle the three envelopes of gelatin over it. Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes.
2. Place sugar in a small saucepan, add ½ cup water and bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 1 minute and then pour over the gelatin-wine mixture. Stir to dissolve the gelatin.
3. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat slowly until the liquid is clear. Remove from the heat and add the remaining wine.
4. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl, cover and refrigerate until it has thickened enough to add the berries (1½ to 2 hours).
5. Gently stir the berries into the thickened jelly and divide the mixture between 4 serving dishes. Chill until set.
6. Serve with whipped cream.
Rosé wine makes a lovely pink jelly in which to suspend jewel-toned fruit.
For a more tart dessert, substitute cranberries for the blueberries and strawberries. Add ½ cup fresh and washed cranberries to the sugar and water mixture. Dissolve the sugar slowly and when the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for 5 minutes, then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
For an opaque dessert, whip ⅓ cup whipping cream until stiff and fold into the thickened jelly when you add the berries, then pour into serving dishes and chill until set.
For a non-alcoholic dessert, substitute 3 cups of fruit punch for the wine and then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
Top photo: A gelatin fruit salad. Credit: iStockPhoto
Canadian bakers hold the butter tart in the same esteem as their American counterparts hold the apple pie. Both are icons of their respective nations. Although, admittedly, some may disagree with the belief that the butter tart is a Canadian classic, no less an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus: “noun – Canadian: a tart with a filling of butter, eggs, brown sugar, and, typically, raisins.”
Of course, we in the Colonies long ago dispensed with the need to have Mother England’s approval, but a vote of confidence from the Oxford is never a bad thing.
Neither is a butter tart.
Butter tarts a distinctly Canadian treat
It’s an English Canadian relative of the French Canadian sugar pie (tarte au sucre). For both, butter is a vital ingredient, although the tarte au sucre uses maple syrup instead of brown sugar.
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One of the first recipes for butter tarts appeared in “The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook.” This fundraising cookbook was published in 1900 in Barrie, Ontario. It included a recipe for a “filling for tarts,” which was submitted by Mrs. Malcolm (Mary) MacLeod, according to Bruce Beacock, the archivist of the Simcoe County Archives, which houses a copy of the cookbook.
Later, in 1908, the “Vogue Cook Book,” published by the Toronto Daily News, included a butter tart recipe from Mrs. G.M.B. of Toronto, and three years after that, the “Canadian Farm Cook Book” included six recipes for butter tarts.
Today, serious Canadian bakers are bound to have their own butter tart recipe, handed down from their great-aunt or their mother or clipped from a magazine and tweaked to the baker’s own taste.
My butter tart recipe came from my father and needed no tweaking. Everyone who tried his butter tarts agreed they were the best they’d ever eaten.
Dad had been a baker since he was 10 years old, when he took over kitchen duties because his mother was confined to bed for a year. Since he was too easygoing to object, his siblings consigned him to the kitchen so they wouldn’t get stuck there themselves. Although at first he wasn’t any more enthusiastic about cooking and baking than they were, he quickly surprised himself by growing to love his new job, particularly baking, which became his passion.
The cakes and pies of his youth were eventually joined by French pastries rich with cream and fruit, chocolate tarts that looked (almost) too beautiful to slice and macarons (a Saturday afternoon adventure long before they became a food trend) that shone like jewels and tasted like ambrosia.
The truth is, a blasphemous thing to admit, for sure, I didn’t much care for butter tarts until my father started making his. There were so many other delights to choose from, and the butter tarts my aunts and grandmothers made, while nice, were nothing special; but with the first batch of Dad’s butter tarts, I changed my mind.
He hadn’t been interested in making them until a package of store-bought butter tarts, with pastry like cardboard and filling like glue, so embarrassed him — they had been eaten by friends who dropped over for coffee — that he headed into the kitchen, got out his yellow ware bowl and began measuring the ingredients for pastry: flour, salt, lard, vinegar and water.
After the pastry had rested for a while, he took the wooden rolling pin with its faded red handles (a shower gift my mother happily passed on to him), and gently rolled out the pastry, cut circles with a juice glass, and after fitting them into the tart pan, crimped the edges with his finger and thumb.
While the pastry chilled in the refrigerator, he turned to the filling — which any butter-tart baker or butter-tart eater will tell you is the most vital part of the whole thing — and assembled the requisite butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, raisins and pinch of salt.
The aroma of the baking tarts made me swoon. We crouched in front of the oven door and watched the liquid bubble while the crust turned golden.
After allowing the butter tarts to cool for as long as I could stand, I bit into my first perfect dessert. The filling was still a bit too warm; it slipped down my chin and onto my fingers. When I’d finished the tart — leaning over the counter and devouring it in four gooey bites — I licked the filling from my fingers. This is still the proper way to eat a butter tart (although it’s important to let it cool enough that you don’t burn your tongue, your chin or your fingers).
I smiled, he nodded, the French pastries were delegated to second choice and my love affair with a Canadian classic began.
Dad’s Butter Tarts
Makes 12 tarts
For the pastry:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold lard
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
For the filling:
⅓ cup melted unsalted butter
½ cup light corn syrup
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
¾ cup raisins
For the pastry:
1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut the lard into the flour until it is in pea-sized pieces.
2. In a measuring cup, stir together the water and vinegar. Using a fork, stir only enough liquid into the mixture to bind the ingredients. (Note: You might need more water, depending upon how the dough comes together and the time of year.) Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Have ready a 12-cup tart pan.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of about ⅛ inch. Using a 4-inch diameter round cutter (or a juice glass), cut out 12 circles. Fit each circle into a cup in the pan. Place the pan into the refrigerator.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
To assemble the tarts:
1. Divide the raisins among the 12 tart shells. Spoon the filling evenly into the shells.
2. Bake until the filling is browned on top and the pastry is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pan and eating.
Top photo: Butter tarts. Credit: Sharon Hunt