Articles in Recipe

Bottles of maple syrup from Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christine B. Rudalevige

Crown Maple at Madava Farms is physically located in Duchess County, New York, about 90 minutes north of Manhattan. But philosophically, it sits squarely at the intersection of the food world’s obsession with artisanal products, an engineer’s love of precision technology, and high-end marketing prowess.

The romance of foraging sap from trees rooted in an organic (certified organic, in fact) snow-packed setting just as winter thinks about turning into spring still holds at Crown Maple. Yet, this outfit has upped the ante for its locally sourced sweetener with a multimillion-dollar operation that maintains quality control and traceability from tap to table and an extensive chefy clientele ready and willing to use it across their New York City menus.

“Maple syrup is basically a forage crop,” said Crown Maple CEO Compton Chase-Lansdale.

It’s a popular product, certainly, but there is no brand in the maple industry that is akin to Coke in the soda realm or Kleenex in the facial tissue market. Chase-Lansdale talks of myriad partnerships (almond milk and maple syrup, spice mixes and maple sugar, chocolate and maple syrup, for example) that he hopes will propel the Crown Maple brand up from the breakfast table into the wider world of savory and sweet foods.

Back to the farm

Knowing little more about maple syrup than its affiliation with pancakes back in 2007, Robb Turner purchased more than 800 acres of pretty, pristine land in Dover Plains with a small log cabin as a family retreat. Turner, who runs a private equity firm in New York within the energy sector, grew up on a farm northern Illinois and wanted his daughters to get more exposure to the great outdoors than their suburban New Jersey lifestyle was offering.

What Turner and his wife, Lydia, hadn’t realized at the time was they had purchased part of the Taconic Hardwood Forest, a unique terroir that extends from the eastern edge of New York’s mid-Hudson Valley up into central western Vermont. It was chock full of mature sugar and red maple trees. Turner was schooled about the sugar bush while walking the property, which hadn’t been farmed or even cleared since the Civil War era, with neighbors whose families had used the land for recreational purposes, like trout fishing, for generations.

In 2010, after Turner spent three years methodically researching time-honored traditional practices of the maple syrup industry in northeastern United States and in Canada and newfangled technology that could be applied to the process of converting 43 gallons of raw sap into 1 gallon of syrup, Crown Maple at Madava Farms was born. The name of the farm is a mashup of Robb and Lydia’s two daughters’ names – Madeline and Ava.

20,000 trees

The Crown Maple syrup operation itself, developed with the help of foresters, scientists and engineers, includes 20,000 trees, 50,000 taps and 200 miles of plastic tubing that carries sap to three pump houses with the help of a vacuum system. A field team of eight men maintain that vacuum at 27 inches mercury with the help of sensors that establish a Bluetooth connection to monitoring applications on their handheld Android devices. At a rate comparable to the flow of five bathtub spigots going full bore, the sap flows down the hill from the pump houses into four, 9,300-gallon tanks. Once inside the 27,000-square-foot sugar house that resembles a Napa Valley winery facility in terms of function and style, the sap gets purified with the help of a Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) machine, the only one of its kind in operation in the U.S. maple industry. This apparatus shoots microbubbles into the sap to which impurities attach themselves, get floated to the top and are scraped off via a mechanical arm.

The purified sap then courses into a reverse osmosis machine, which pulls out about half of the sap’s water content, a necessary step when working with this scale, explains Tyge Rugenstein, Crown Maple’s chief operating officer who also holds a Ph.D. in decision sciences and engineering systems/operations research from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The evaporator then boils the sap at 217 F until the sugar content of the syrup rests at 68 Brix. Then it’s pumped into 55 -gallon barrels — some of those lent to Crown Maple from bourbon and rum makers in order to impart those flavors into the syrup for specialty products. The barrels get tapped one at a time in the bottling room where they are divided into custom-made Italian glass bottles that resemble small batch whiskey flagons as opposed to run of the mill plastic jugs.

Crown Maple sugar house

The sugar house at Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Credit: Copyright 2014, courtesy of Crown Maple

The 12-ounce bottles — marked under the newly adopted national maple grades of Light Amber, Medium Amber, Dark Amber and Extra Dark — are sold for between $16.95 and $30.95 online and in specialty grocers mostly east of the Mississippi River; used in the kitchens and cocktail shakers at Eleven Madison Park, Left Bank, Le Bernardin and Per Se, to name a few; sold in the cafe on the front of the sugar house; and doled out in the tasting room, the walls of which are lined with glossy maple wood, some of it showing the holes of taps of the past.

Mother Nature’s in charge

Watching the syrup being transformed — a process that is open to the public on weekends when the sap flows through early April — at this level is a study in nature meeting technology. Rugenstein argues that meeting only affects the taste of the end product in a beneficial way.

“We control the quality of the product at every step in the process,” said Rugenstein, explaining their process is much like small artisans who take the sap, make the syrup themselves, and sell it directly to the customer. But much of the pure maple syrup sold on a wider scale is packed and distributed by consolidators who blend syrups of varying quality from many producers into a single product.

What even this well-funded operation can’t control, though, is Mother Nature: The sap needs warm days and freezing nights to keep flowing. It is the trees that decide how much of each grade of syrup in which quantities each year. And once the trees start to bud, the season is over.

“In that regard, we are in the same boat as everyone else,” Rugenstein said.

The jury is still out on whether or not the 2015 sugaring season will be a boom or bust, but Crown Maple is technologically ready to make the most of whatever comes.

Maple potato leek soup

Maple Potato Leek Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christine B. Rudalevige

Maple Potato Leek Soup

Crown Maple at Madava Farms in upstate New York employs two chefs to develop recipes that use maple syrup in a variety of savory ways. This soup is one of them.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks, white parts and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped
6 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 1/2 pounds peeled and chopped russet potatoes (about 3 large)
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
Salt and white pepper to taste
Chopped chives and crispy bacon for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Melt butter in an 8-quart pot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook gently until they are tender but not browned (about 5 to 7 minutes).

2. Add chicken stock and potatoes to pot. Bring to a simmer and cook potatoes until they are tender (about 20 minutes).

3. Add syrup and milk. Warm the mixture, but do not let it boil. Use a stick blender to puree the soup. Stir in cream.

4. Season with salt and white pepper. Serve hot with garnishes, if using.

Main photo: Bottles of maple syrup from Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christine B. Rudalevige

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Just because it's seafood, it doesn't mean it's difficult. You can cook up a delicious seafood stew in less than a half hour. Credit: Copyright 2015 Cheryl D. Lee

When the usually benign words sea and food are put together, they suddenly become something that brings fear to the hearts of even the most experienced cooks. Seafood has the reputation of being hard to work with because it is easy to overcook.

A stew made with seafood is a fast and easy way to cook all manner of fish and shellfish. Gently simmering the seafood in a richly seasoned broth brings out the delicate flavor of the fish.

Simple Seafood Stew

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 large white onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, lightly chopped

1 (28-ounce) can of cut tomatoes with basil

16 ounces clam juice

1 cup white wine

3 pounds fish filets (I used yellowtail, black cod and Pacific red snapper), cut into 2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions

1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame.

2. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened.

3. Add garlic, thyme and oregano and cook 1 minute while stirring.

4. Add tomatoes with their juice, clam juice and wine.

5. Gently stir in the pieces of fish.

6. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

7. Simmer the stew 15 minutes, or until fish is just cooked through.

8. Add salt, adjust seasoning as needed.

9. Serve immediately.

More  from Zester Daily:

» Un Día de los Muertos to raise your spirits

» Black-eyed peas salad for summer? Lucky you

» Fear of canning? Try a quick pickle recipe

» A 90-year tradition of tamales on Christmas Eve

Main photo: Just because it’s seafood, it doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. You can cook up this delicious seafood stew in half an hour. Credit: Copyright 2015 Cheryl D. Lee

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Tuna, white bean and green bean salad. Credit: Copyright Martha Rose Shulman

I have a repertoire of quick, easy dinners that I make when there is no produce in the house. It does happen; after I return from a trip, in particular, but also there are times when I just haven’t gotten to the market. My favorite pantry dishes are the ones I picked up long ago from an Italian friend who was able to produce the most marvelous simple dinners every evening when he returned from his office, though he hadn’t stopped at the market. He’d whip up a delicious tuna and bean salad, or pasta e fagiole, or pasta with tuna and tomato sauce or penne a l’arabiata, because he always had three canned items in his small cupboard: tuna, beans and tomatoes.

From him I learned that I must always have these three foods on hand. They don’t have to be fancy and I’m not stuck on any particular type of bean. Right now I have supermarket brand chickpeas, white beans and pintos on my shelf. I have one can of tuna packed in water and another can of tuna packed in olive oil, and I’ve got 28- and 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes in juice, which is what I prefer (less work), but whole tomatoes will do.

Tuna and bean salad is a meal I make often when I’m on my own. If I have some produce on hand — green beans or cauliflower or some of those beautiful spring onions I’m beginning to see in the farmers markets — I’ll make variations on this simple theme, which requires little more than the tuna and the beans, vinegar, olive oil and whatever seasonings you like. Red onion is standard, parsley is always nice for color. But I never get too elaborate; it’s not a salade Niçoise, after all.

Simple Tuna and Bean Salad

Prep time: 10 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

1 small or 1/2 medium red onion or spring onion, peeled and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

2 5 1/2-ounce cans tuna, packed in water or olive oil, drained

1 15-ounce can cannelini beans, white beans, chickpeas or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small or medium garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 Japanese cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and sliced, for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Place the onion in a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the vinegar and cold water to cover. Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then dry on paper towels.

2. In a medium bowl or salad bowl, combine the tuna, beans, onions and parsley.

3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the remaining vinegar, salt to taste, freshly ground pepper, garlic and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil. Toss with the tuna and beans and serve, garnishing each plate with cucumber slices.

Advance preparation: This will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Two-Bean and Tuna Salad

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients

3/4 pound green beans, trimmed

1 small red onion, cut in half and sliced in half-moons

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

2 5-ounce cans tuna (packed in water or olive oil), drained

1 15-ounce can white beans, cannellinis, chickpeas, or borlottis, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or sage

Salt to taste

1 garlic clove, minced or puréed

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. Bring a medium-size pot of water to a boil, add salt to taste and green beans. Cook for 4 minutes (5 minutes if the beans are thick), until just tender. Transfer to a bowl of cold water and drain. (Alternatively, steam the beans for 4 to 5 minutes.) Cut or break the beans in half if very long.

2. Meanwhile, place sliced onion, if using, in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon vinegar and soak 5 minutes. Drain, rinse and drain again on paper towels.

3. Drain tuna and place in a salad bowl. Break up with a fork. Add canned beans, green beans, onion and herbs. Toss together.

4. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together remaining vinegar, salt, garlic and mustard. Whisk in olive oil. Toss with tuna and bean mixture, and serve.

Advance preparation: This will keep for a day in the refrigerator; however, you should keep the green beans separate and toss with the other ingredients just before serving so they retain their bright green color.

Main photo: Two-Bean and Tuna Salad. Credit: Copyright Martha Rose Shulman

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P is for Passover Cake can be adapted for use at other times of the year, too. Change the P to E, and you have a lovely Easter treat! Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

When it comes to the science of baking as opposed to the art of cooking, it doesn’t do to have clumsy, chubby fingers. Chemistry needs cool palms and a sweat-free brow.

A dear friend of mine, the late Zena Swerling, was a naturally gifted cook, but it was in the realm of baking that she truly shone. “Here’s another can’t-go-wrong recipe,” she’d offer breezily, and although they always worked, they were never quite the same as when served by Zena herself.

Zena started baking when she was “just tall enough to get my chin over my Russian mummy’s kitchen table.” She was a good, old-fashioned cook with a generous hand and heart, but it was not always easy to interpret and annotate her recipes unless you were by her side in the kitchen. Even then, it was difficult because she’d always insist you sit down instead for a light five-course snack with a good helping of juicy gossip.

With Passover here, I’m pleased to share her recipe for ingber, also known as ingberlach (also sometimes called pletzlach), an old-fashioned Ashkenazi carrot-and-ginger festive candy that too few have the patience to make anymore.

Zena, I hope you’re kvelling with pride.

Zena’s Ingber

Add more or less ginger as preferred, but this sweet confection of carrots and ginger should smolder in the mouth.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: About 18 pieces

Ingredients

5 large carrots, peeled

2 cups superfine sugar

1 cup chopped almonds

3 teaspoons ground ginger

Directions

1. Finely grate the carrots in the processor and put them in a large pan.

2. Add the sugar; stir over low heat until it dissolves. Cook very slowly, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick (test by dropping a little onto a plate to see if it sets, like jam). This will take 45 to 50 minutes. For chewy, syrupy candy cook until the soft-crack stage or 270 F on a thermometer; for a more brittle candy, cook until it reaches the hard-crack stage or 300 F.

3. Add the almonds and ginger and remove immediately from the heat. Pour the mixture into a baking tray lined with silicone paper.

4. As it cools, score the top into squares or diamonds, then cut into pieces when cold.

P is for Passover Cake

This is a good recipe either to make before Passover, when the cupboard is crammed with ingredients bought in a frenzy of last-minute panic buying, or when you’re on the homeward stretch and your stocks are running low. Bags of nuts, in particular, seem to get into the spirit of the thing and go forth and multiply under their own volition.

The cake can be made with almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts. Ground hazelnuts are widely available in Jewish stores at this time of the year and are much appreciated by the home baker as they save the tedious business of toasting the nuts, and rubbing their skins off with a tea towel before you pulverize them in a grinder … who needs it? Isn’t this the festival of freedom?

Note to self: Next year must buy nut futures.

And, I’d just like to share with you my favorite Passover joke:

Q: What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the bread of affliction?

A: A matzochist.

OK, let’s get to the cake.

Passover Cake

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup ground nuts, plus a little extra for dusting

4 large eggs

1/4 cup superfine sugar

2/3 cup, plus 1 cup dark chocolate

Salt

2/3 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

3 tablespoons apricot jam

Whole nuts, for decoration (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 355 F (180 C).

2. Grease two 6-inch sandwich tins and line the base of each with a disc of oiled paper. Dust with some ground nuts.

3. Whisk the eggs and sugar until thick.

4. Melt 2/3 cup chocolate with a teaspoon of water.

5. Beat a little into the egg mixture along with a pinch of salt. Fold in the rest of the melted chocolate along with the 1/2 cup of ground nuts.

6. Pour into the tins and bake for 40 minutes or until springy to the touch.

7. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then turn out of the tin.

8. To make the frosting, melt the cup of chocolate and stir in the sour cream. Add a little sugar, if you wish, and allow to cool a little.

9. For the filling, spread the apricot jam and about half of the chocolate mixture over the top of one of the cakes. Place the other cake on top, and smear the remainder of the chocolate sauce over the top. Decorate, if preferred, with whole nuts in shape of a “P.”

Main photo: P is for Passover Cake can be adapted for use at other times of the year, too. Change the P to E, and you have a lovely Easter treat! Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

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Quarter-sized deviled eggs made with Italian parsley, anchovies and capers. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What’s Easter without Easter eggs? Hide them. Roll them. And, best of all, eat them. Of the many dishes associated with Easter, deviled eggs have always been high on the list. Traditional deviled eggs are delicious but with some adventuresome spices, hardboiled Easter eggs become devilishly delicious.

Our fingers stained blue, red and yellow, my sister and I loved dyeing and decorating Easter eggs. Ultimately our mother turned our colored eggs into deviled eggs with a simple recipe: peel and slice open the eggs, chop up the yolks, add a bit of mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper, then spoon the mixture back onto the egg white halves.

When we were kids that seemed good enough. But for my adult palate, deviled eggs needed spicing up. With experimentation, I discovered that hard-boiled eggs are a great flavor delivery system because they provide a solid, neutral base of flavor to which exciting flavors can be added.

Doing something as simple as adding cayenne or Mexican chili ancho powder gives the mild-mannered eggs a mouth-pleasing heat. Sweeten the flavor up a notch by stirring in finely chopped currants or borrow from Indian cuisine and mix in curry powder that has first been dry roasted in a sauté pan.

Turn the eggs into an entrée by mixing in freshly cooked shellfish. Grill shrimp or steam a few Dungeness crab legs, finely chop the savory meat and add to the yolk mixture. The result is elegantly flavorful.

This year I’m using a Mediterranean approach. Capers add saltiness and Italian parsley adds freshness. Finely chopped and sautéed anchovy filets are the secret ingredient that takes deviled eggs to another level.

Plating the eggs adds more fun

Cut into quarters or halves, the deviled eggs make a visually arresting presentation. The eggs can also be served whole, the savory filling added to two halves, which are then put back together. Plate the reconstituted whole eggs on a bed of Italian parsley or arugula and they reference the Easter eggs my parents used to hide for us to find when we were kids.

Caper and Anchovy Deviled Eggs

Always worth mentioning, using quality ingredients improves any dish. Nowhere is that more true than with deviled eggs. Use farmers market fresh eggs, quality capers preserved in brine and good anchovy filets.

The easiest way to fill the egg white sections is with a disposable pastry bag. If one is not available, use a spoon to scoop up filling and a fork to distribute it into each egg white half.

The eggs and filling can be prepared the day before or in the morning. To keep them fresh, the eggs should not be filled until just before serving.

If desired, add a touch of heat with a pinch of cayenne.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Assembly time: 15 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

6 farm fresh eggs, large or extra large, washed

4 anchovy filets, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, finely chopped

1 teaspoon capers, finely chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

1. Submerge the eggs in an uncovered saucepan of cold water. Heat the uncovered pot on a medium-high flame. Bring to a simmer and boil five minutes. Turn off the flame, cover and leave the eggs in the hot water 10 minutes. Drain the hot water. Add cold water to cool the eggs.

2. While the eggs are cooking, heat a small sauté or nonstick frying pan over a medium flame. No need to add oil. Sauté the anchovy filets until lightly brown. Set aside.

3. Peel the eggs. Discard the shells. Wash and dry the eggs to remove any bits of shell. Using a sharp paring knife, carefully slice the eggs in half, lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place into a bowl. Set aside the egg white halves.

4. Using a fork, finely crumble the yolks. Add the Italian parsley, capers and sautéed anchovy bits. Stir together all the ingredients. Add mayonnaise and mix well until creamy.

5. Spoon the filling into a disposable pastry bag. If serving the next day or later in the morning, place the egg white halves into an air-tight container and the filled pastry bag into the refrigerator.

6. Prepare a serving dish. The deviled eggs can be served as quarters, halves or reformed as whole. If quarters, cut each halve in two lengthwise. Just before serving the eggs, cut off the tip of the pastry bag. Have a paring knife or folk in hand. Carefully squeeze a generous amount of the filling into each egg white piece. If needed, use the knife or folk to tidy up the filling on each egg. Any leftover filling should be eaten on crackers as a chef’s treat.

7. As the eggs are filled, place them on the serving dish and garnish with Italian parsley or arugula. Serve cold.

Note: If the eggs are to be served whole, place the two filled halves together. Either avoid showing any of the filling along the cut edge to create a surprise or make the decorative choice to have a thin line of filling visible around the middle.

Main photo: Quarter-sized deviled eggs made with Italian parsley, anchovies and capers. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Hot cross buns can be eaten as soon as they're out of the oven, or toasted and buttered later. Share one with a friend or two: Tradition says that doing so will ensure long-lasting friendship. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

In Victorian London there was no sleeping in on Good Friday. Brothel keepers and late rising gentry alike were awakened by a cry repeated by vendors across the foggy metropolis: “Hot cross buns!” Some would sing the centuries-old ditty:

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.

One a penny two a penny, hot cross buns!

The freshly made buns were essential for Good Friday breakfast, as they were for Good Friday tea. The vendors got a brief respite while their customers were at church, but then they were back at it: “Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!”

The hot yeasty buns were peddled by boys carrying large baskets and by young women carrying wicker containers the size of clothes hampers. Even old men got into the act, pushing wheelbarrows full of the sweet treats, all covered with blankets and linen cloths to keep them piping hot in the spring morning’s chill.

Just how far back does this English tradition go? The buns were certainly around in the early 1700s when, according to tradition, they were kept from one year to the next. Supposedly they never molded and could serve as medicine, especially as a cure for diarrhea. The prescription was to grate a little of the preserved bun into water.

Sharing a fresh bun with another person was a sign of friendship and insurance against future disagreement. They were certainly eaten at tea time, often toasted and buttered since they were no longer hot from the oven. Incidentally, in an age when a laborer was paid 10 pennies a day, the buns were a special occasion treat.

Festive holiday breads are not unique to England, of course. You find them across Europe, whether in the braided rings studded with eggs of Greece and southern Italy or the paska or babka of eastern Europe. After all, Easter celebrates rebirth, which is why eggs and chicks and prolific bunnies are symbols of the season.

Bread is too, especially when enriched with lots of eggs, butter and sugar, and yeast-leavened dough has long been associated with fecundity — rising and expanding like a pregnant belly. Many of the season’s breads are hardly subtle in their reference to the female form, circular and often braided like a woman’s hair. Traditionally, hot cross buns are made by slitting the risen dough into a cross pattern that opens as the bun rises in the oven. The result may not be explicit, but it is suggestive.

In the United States, immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds imported their holiday traditions and the English were no exception. We know that New York had its own hawkers selling buns for the holiday and there’s no reason to think that other American cities didn’t have them as well. Mostly, though the buns were made at home, closely following the English model.

Divide the dough into a dozen even pieces and roll into smooth rounds. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Divide the dough into a dozen even pieces and roll into smooth rounds. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

But the relatively plain bun wasn’t good enough for the creative spirits behind the Boston Cooking School. The doyenne of that famed institution, Fannie Farmer, may have started messing with the age-old recipe. In her famed 1896 “Boston Cooking School Cookbook,” Farmer not only did away with the suggestive split open bun, she replaced it with a sweet cross of virginal white. Like so many of her innovations, it stuck, so it’s her version, rather than the original, that you inevitably see in fancy pastry shops and supermarkets.

Slit each bun in the pan with a cross. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Slit each bun in the pan with a cross. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Yet a fundamental problem remains with these iced crossed buns: How do you serve them hot? You can’t toast them and if heated in the oven, the frosting melts. Give me the original Victorian hot cross buns. I know just the friend to split them with.

Hot Cross Buns

Approximate prep time: 1/2 hour

Approximate rising time: 1 1/4 hours

The recipe is adapted from a Victorian-era British cookbook, “A Year’s Cookery.” Author Phillis Browne notes that hot cross buns “may be ordered of the baker, or they may be made at home.” Like the purchased variety, the homemade buns are best served hot, however Browne also notes: “The buns can be toasted and buttered, or made hot in the oven, like teacakes, before serving.” Recipes of the time usually suggest using dried currants or raisins, or occasionally both, so feel free to improvise. Allspice is also often substituted for nutmeg.

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk, lukewarm

3 ounces (6 tablespoons) granulated sugar

1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

1 large egg, separated

13 ounces (a scant 3 cups) all-purpose flour, or more as needed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, diced into 1/2-inch pieces

2 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) dry currants or raisins

Directions

1. In a measuring cup, stir together the milk with 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) sugar. Stir in the yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the egg yolk.

2. Sift together the flour, 2 ounces (4 tablespoons sugar), salt and nutmeg. In a small bowl whisk together the remaining ½ ounce (1 tablespoon sugar) with the egg white.  Set aside to glaze the buns once they are baked.

3. Using a large food processor or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour mixture with the butter in the bowl of the device. Process until the butter is finely chopped. If using a food processor, add the milk mixture and process until the dough forms into a smooth ball, about 2 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time — it should be very soft but smooth and elastic. If using a stand mixer, switch to a dough hook and knead on medium for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and set it on a floured surface. Knead briefly to turn it into a ball. Set the ball in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes. On a lightly floured board, knead in the currants or raisins. Let it rest five minutes then divide it into 12 even pieces. Form each into a ball. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch pan. Arrange the balls about 1 inch apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1/2 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375 F.

6. Remove plastic wrap and slash each bun in a cross shape. The best tool for this is a single-edge razor blade lightly sprayed with vegetable spray. Make sure to make the slash at least 1/2-inch deep so it will be visible later. Set the pan on the center rack of the oven and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Brush with the egg white and sugar mixture, then place into the oven for about 1 minute to set the egg wash. Cool the buns on a rack until they can be comfortably handled. Serve warm.

Main photo: Hot cross buns can eaten as soon as they’re out of the oven, or toasted and buttered later. Share one with a friend or two: Tradition says that doing so will ensure long-lasting friendship. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl 

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Abby Fisher's 1881 cookbook was long known as the first African-American cookbook until Malinda Russell’s book was discovered in 2001. Credit: Copyright Sylvia Wong Lewis

I was born in Harlem, a child of Southern migrants and Caribbean immigrants. I witnessed what the women in my family could do with food.

Rarely is our history taught through the lens of food. Yet, it was over the hearth and in kitchens large and small that they impacted our nation’s culture and created economic, political and social independence through ingenious culinary skills.

That is why I honor African-American women cooks for Women’s History Month this March.

The women in my family created and passed down masterful meals from ancient, unwritten recipes. They built communities and paved my way with proceeds from selling sweet potato pies, fried chicken dinners and roti lunches: a Trinidad flatbread cooked on a griddle and wrapped around curried vegetables or meats. My mom made these popular rotis and sold them in box lunches to employees at the hospital where she worked.

Whether they were free or formerly enslaved, the women I descended from cooked their way to freedom and wealth in America.

In their honor, I have chosen to feature two vintage recipes from two of the oldest cookbooks written by African-American women.

Cookbook pioneers

Malinda Russell wrote “A Domestic Cook Book” in 1866. Abby Fisher wrote “What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking” in 1881.

Malinda Russell's "A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen" is believed to be the first published cookbook by an African-American author. Credit: University of Michigan/Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive

Malinda Russell’s “A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen” is believed to be the first published cookbook by an African-American author. Credit: University of Michigan/Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive

Mrs. Fisher’s cookbook was long known as the first African-American cookbook until Mrs. Russell’s book was discovered in 2001. Both women wrote their books at the behest of friends, fans and patrons.

Mrs. Russell, a free woman from Tennessee and an owner of a local bakery, was known for her pastries. Most of her recipes are European-inspired. Her cookbook also includes remedies and full-course meals. It was published after she moved to Paw Paw, Michigan.

Mrs. Fisher, a formerly enslaved person, won cooking medals for a wide range of dishes, including preserves and condiments in California. She moved out West from Alabama after the Civil War.

Below are their original recipes and my interpretation.

Mrs. Russell’s Jumbles Cookies

Jumbles were cake-like cookies popular from the 1700s. Mrs. Russell’s recipe was exceedingly spare on details, like all of her recipes:

“One lb. flour, 3/4 lb. sugar, one half lb. butter, five eggs, mace, rose water, and caraway, to your taste.”

The popular vintage cookies have been adapted through the ages — even by modern food bloggers. I personally sampled a reimagined version of a Jumbles recipe at a culinary event that Anne Hampton Northup was said to have made when she cooked at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Northrup was a chef and the wife of Solomon Northup, whose life was depicted in the Oscar-winning picture “12 Years a Slave”.

Here is a more detailed recipe so you can make Mrs. Russell’s Jumbles Cookies, using her ingredients. Since she suggested using mace, rosewater and caraway to taste, feel free to alter the suggested amounts of those ingredients:

Jumbles Cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspons mace

2 tablespoons caraway seeds

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

8 ounces salted butter (2 sticks, at room temperature)

5 eggs (small- or medium-sized)

4 tablespoons rosewater

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, mace and caraway seeds.

3. In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter together.

4. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat in eggs to the butter and sugar mixture.

5. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.

6. Add the rosewater and mix until combined.

7. Using a tablespoon measure, spoon tablespoon-full size drops of the batter on your baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

8. Bake for about 10 minutes, just until the edges turn golden.

9. Cool the cookies for two minutes on wire racks. Serve, and store the remainder quickly in a sealed container or bag.

Mrs. Abby Fisher’s Blackberry Brandy

This old recipe holds up very well today. Many of Mrs. Fisher’s recipes called for huge amounts of each ingredient:

“To five gallons of berries add one gallon of the best brandy; put on the fire in a porcelain kettle and let it just come to a boil, then take it off the fire and make a syrup of granulated sugar; ten pounds of sugar to one quart of water. Let the syrup cook till thick as honey, skimming off the foam while boiling; then pour it upon the brandy and berries and let it stand for eight weeks; then put in a bottle or demijohn. This blackberry brandy took a diploma at the state Fair of 1879. Let the berries, brandy and syrup stand in a stone jar or brandy keg for eight weeks when you take it off the fire.”

The basic ingredients for Mrs. Fisher's Blackberry Brandy: blackberries, sugar and cognac. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

The basic ingredients for Mrs. Fisher’s Blackberry Brandy: blackberries, sugar and cognac. Credit: Copyright Sylvia Wong Lewis

I was so inspired by Mrs. Fisher’s recipe that I made my own version — which is now in the middle of the eight-week fermentation process. I used the same ingredients, but reduced the amounts, and poured them into a glass jug instead of a brandy keg. And I used cognac, because Mrs. Fisher’s recipe called for the “best brandy.”

We’ll have our own taste test — at my next family reunion.

Main photo: Abby Fisher’s 1881 cookbook was long believed to be the first African-American cookbook until Malinda Russell’s 1866 book was discovered in 2001. Credit: Copyright Sylvia Wong Lewis

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Allioli, a Catalan-style garlic mayonnaise. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

When you make your own homemade mayonnaise, it is one of those magical moments for a cook that both surprises and empowers. That mayonnaise is an emulsion and that the process of emulsion works will always amaze you. Once you’ve done it yourself you will feel very competent. Homemade mayonnaise became even easier with the invention of the food processor.

Mayonnaise is simply an emulsion of oil and eggs. An emulsion means, in this case, that egg yolks are forced to absorb oil and to maintain it in a creamy suspension. The first step is to thicken the egg yolks, which you do by running them in the food processor alone. Then you process the oil a very little at a time to start the emulsion. If you add the oil too fast, it won’t happen. There is a limit to how much that egg yolk can absorb and it’s about 2/3 cup of oil. It’s also advisable to make sure the eggs and the oil are at room temperature and that the eggs are fresh.

Because your own homemade mayonnaise will taste better than store-bought, and even better, it will not have preservatives, it’s best to make batches you can finish in about two weeks. For me this is about 1 1/4 cups.

So how do you begin and what oil do you use? First, you need a food processor although you can use a blender, too. You can also whip it in a bowl, but that takes longer and is tiring. Start by procuring the freshest “large” eggs you can, preferably from a farmers market. For a light tasting mayonnaise use a mixture that is two-thirds peanut or vegetable oil and one-third olive oil. For a stronger, even more flavorful mayonnaise one can use all olive oil.

Place an egg and an egg yolk in the food processor and run for 30 seconds. Next, through the feed tube, slowly pour one cup of oil in a very thin, steady stream. You can pour slowly and continuously with the machine running the whole time and it will take about five minutes to empty one cup of oil. If it takes less than that, you are pouring too fast and it may not emulsify. The stream should be constant and very thin.

Once the oil is incorporated, in other words, once you’ve made mayonnaise, incorporate two teaspoons of white wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a little freshly ground white pepper, with a short burst of the food processor. Remove from the processor and store in the refrigerator for an hour before using.

Creative variations

There are three mayonnaise variations I love to make. The first is garlic mayonnaise, sometimes called aioli or allioli, the Occitan and Catalan words, respectively. Take two large cloves of garlic and mash them in a mortar until mushy with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place them in the food processor and blend with the eggs before you add oil. Use only olive oil.

The second is mustard-flavored mayonnaise that is excellent with chicken, pork and rabbit, or for making sandwiches. Add 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard to the prepared mayonnaise and blend in a few short pulses.

The third variation I quite like, although I don’t make it often, is oyster mayonnaise. The recipe comes from chef Paul Prudhomme. Combine a small bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, a pinch of thyme and a pinch of oregano.

In a saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter over medium heat and cook 3 tablespoons finely chopped onions and 1 tablespoon chopped celery for 1 minute. Add the seasoning and 3 shucked oysters and reduce the heat to low and cook 5 minutes. Let cook another 15 minutes at medium, remove the bay leaf. Place in a food processor at the same time as the eggs along with 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce.

Fixing mayo mistakes

Two methods can rescue a mayonnaise that didn’t emulsify, or repair a “broken” mayonnaise, a mayonnaise that separated.

In the first, place 1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard in a bowl. Remove the liquidy mayonnaise from the food processor and transfer to a large measuring cup. Stir it to mix it up and add 1 tablespoon of it to the mustard, whisking with a wire whisk to make it creamy. Now, drizzle the liquid mayonnaise into this a little at a time, whisking vigorously until you have about 1/2 cup of restored mayonnaise. You must go slowly at first.

In the second method, beat an egg yolk in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of the broken mayonnaise. It will shortly emulsify and then you can whisk in the remaining broken mayonnaise slowly.

The only limit to mayonnaise is your imagination, so go ahead and make anything that appeals to you.

Main photo: Allioli, a Catalan-style garlic mayonnaise. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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