Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Apple Charlotte

About Charlottes
A Charlotte is a moulded dessert that consists of a vessel of buttered bread with a fruit filling.  The earliest reference to an English Charlotte is 1796 as referenced by the Oxford English Dictionary.  The name probably comes from Queen Charlotte who was the wife of King George III.  She was said to be a patron of apple growers.  Antonin Careme, chef de cuisine to King George IV, is said to have made a version of this dessert with a cream filling instead of a stewed fruit filling in the early 19th century; he called it Charlotte Russe.

The Recipe: Charlotte
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife. 1824 edition.
Stew any kind of fruit, and season it in any way you like best; fry some slices of bread in butter, put them while hot, in the bottom and round the sides of a dish which has been rubbed with butter, put in your fruit, and lay slices of bread on top; bake it a few minutes, turn it carefully into another dish, sprinkle on some powdered sugar, and glaze it with a salamander.

Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 5 Large Apples (peeled, cored, and cut in chunks)
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar (or to taste, depending on sweetness of apples)
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter, Divided
  • 9-10 Slices of Bread Cut with Thin to Medium Thickness (you can use white bread, challah, cinnamon bread, or whatever you have on hand)
  • Powdered Sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 400º F.
  2. Place the apples, water, sugar, and spices in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  
  3. Cover and simmer the apples (stirring occasionally) for 12-15 minutes, or until they can be pierced easily with a knife.
  4. While the apples are simmering prepare your pan.  Choose a 6 cup capacity oven-safe bowl that has high sides.  Use two tablespoons of the butter to grease all inside surfaces of the baking pan.  It is a lot of butter, but it works best to use such an amount for both flavor and to allow the Charlotte to be released easily from the bowl.
  5. Fry the slices of bread in the remaining butter until golden.  Be sure to keep adding butter to the pan and keep the heat low-to-medium to prevent burning the bread.
  6. Line the baking pan with the fried bread slices.  You will need to cut the bread slices to fit the shape of the pan. (See pictures below)
  7. When the apples are done cooking, drain them of any excess water.
  8. Pour the drained apples into the prepared baking pan.  Place fried bread on the top of the apples to cover them completely.
  9. Place the Charlotte in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Then, turn out the Charlotte onto an oven-safe plate.
  11. Sprinkle the Charlotte with powdered sugar.
  12. Return the Charlotte to the oven and broil it for 1-2 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
  13. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.  Use a serrated knife to cut the Charlotte.  It can come apart easily, so be careful!
  14. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Frying the Bread

Line the bowl with the bread;
cut and fit as needed.
Fill the center with the stewed apples.

Cover the top with more bread.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pumpkin Bread, 19th Century Style

Pumpkin Cakes, c. 1839 Recipe

As it is the fall season, my daughters and their friends often request that I make their favorite Pumpkin Bread.  The recipe I use is from a modern edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer that I embellish by adding chocolate chips.  It is always a big hit.  

Of course, the food historian in me was curious to know if Pumpkin Bread was "a thing" in the 19th century, when Ms. Farmer's Cook book was first printed. What I found from the recipes I have on hand is that, not unsurprisingly, Pumpkin Breads and Cakes were different back in the 19th century.  19th century pumpkin breads seem often to have been made with cornmeal as opposed to wheat flour, yeast instead of chemical leavening agents, and they have little to no sugar. The recipes I found are mostly for batter cakes (pancakes), biscuits, and hoecakes rather than for a sweet quick bread, such as the one I make every fall season.  Indeed, 19th century Pumpkin Breads were actually breads, not sweet cakes like they are today.

Here is selection of 19th century recipes with a recipe adaptation for the first one from The Kentucky Housewife, 1839:

Pumpkin Cakes
Lettice Byan, The Kentucky Housewife. 1839

Having stewed a fine sweet pumpkin, mash a pint of it very fine, pass it through a sieve, and mix with it one quart of Indian meal.  Add a small dessert-spoonful of salt, two large spoonfuls of butter, two beaten eggs, and enough sweet milk to make it a thick batter.  Drop it by large spoonfuls on buttered tin sheets, and bake them a nice brown in a brisk oven.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
1 Cup Pumpkin Puree (canned is fine)
2 Cups of Stone-Ground Cornmeal (use a good stone-ground cornmeal; click here to read why and where to get it)
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter, Melted
1 Egg (no larger than large)
1/2 Cup Milk 


  1. Preheat the oven to 400º F.
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix together the pumpkin and the cornmeal.
  4. Add the salt, butter, egg and milk.  Mix together until well-blended.
  5. Drop the batter in 2 heaping tablespoon-sized rounds onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and serve promptly as these are best hot.   Serve with butter, maple syrup, jam, apple butter, or molasses. 

Pumpkin Cakes Batter

Pumpkin Cakes Ready for the Oven

Enjoying Pumpkin Cakes with Butter

Pumpkin Hoe Cakes
Lettice Byan, The Kentucky Housewife. 1839

Mix one pint of stewed pumpkin with a quart of fine Indian meal., make it into rather a thin dough with sweet milk, and work it well with a spoon.  Heat your griddle rather brisk, place it over a bed of clear coals, grease it well with lard or butter, put on your dough in small thin cakes and bake them hastily turning them over once. As soon as both sides have a thin crust, and are of a light brown, send them to table, that they may be split and buttered while warm. 

Pumpkin Bread
Catherine Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book. New York: 1850

Stew and strain some pumpkin, stiffen it with Indian meal, add salt and yeast, and it makes a most excellent kind of bread.

Pumpkin Bread
Angelina Maria Collins, The Great Western Cook Book.  New York: 1857

Take two quarts of sweet pumpkin, stewed dry; two quarts of fine Indian meal, two tea-spoonsful of salt, a table-spoon heaping full of lard, and mix them up with sufficient hot water to make it of the consistence of common corn-meal dough. Set it in a warm place, two hours, to rise, and bake it in a pan, in a moderate oven. It will take an hour and a half to bake.

Squash Biscuits

Fannie Merritt Farmer. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Boston, 1896.

1/2 cup squash (steamed and sifted).
1/4 cup sugar.
1/2 teaspoon salt.
1/2 cup scalded milk.
1/4 yeast cake dissolved in
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup butter.
2 1/2 cups flour.

Add squash, sugar, salt, and butter to milk; when lukewarm, add dissolved yeast cake and flour; cover, and let rise over night. In morning shape into biscuits, let rise and bake.

Pumpkin Bread: (Pioneer.)
Martha McCullough-Williams, Dishes and Beverage of the Old South. New York, McBride, Nast & Company 1913.

Sift a pint of meal, add salt to season fully, then rub through a large cupful of stewed pumpkin, made very smooth. Add half a cup melted lard, then mix with sweet milk to a fairly stiff dough, make pones, and bake crisp. Mashed sweet potato can be used instead of pumpkin, and cracklings, rubbed very fine in place of lard. Folks curious as to older cookery, can even make persimmon bread, using the pulp of ripe persimmons to mix with the meal--but they will need the patience of Job to free the pulp properly from skin and seed.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What Do Calves Feet, Fish Air Bladders, a Hot Air Balloon, and a Racehorse All Have in Common?

Gelatin!  Here is a Short History of Gelatin with a 19th Century Recipe for Chocolate Jelly:

Chocolate Jelly (Gelatin), c. 1839

Calves Feet Jelly and Isinglass
Gelatin, in one form or another, has been used for culinary purposes for centuries.  One of the earliest forms of making gelatins was to extract the protein-rich collagen from calves feet.  The process for doing this took at least six hours and was a stinky, messy affair.  By the way, sick people were often given calves feet jelly as a curative--our 21st century selves would probably think that was adding insult to injury.  However, it was probably a good way to get nutrients into a person whose illness may have prevented them from proper nutrition.

Another method of gelling foods was to use isinglass. Isinglass is an almost pure form of gelatin that is obtained from the sounds or air bladders of some fresh-water fish, particularly Russian sturgeon.[1]  It can also come from catfish, hake, and cod.[2] It has been used in cookery  for making jellies and clarifying liquors.[3]  It would be just as good as modern forms of gelatin but the high cost of isinglass has probably made it obsolete for most modern cooks.[4]


Early Patent Gelatins
The first English patent for the manufacture of gelatin was granted in 1754, but there is no proof of this and no evidence anything was ever done with it. The first type of "instant" unflavored dried gelatin hit the market in 1842.  It was offered by the J and G Company of Edinburgh, Scotland and was known as Cox's Gelatin[5].  Cox's Gelatin was exported to the US in that same year.[6]

Cox's Gelatin, probably c. 1950s

American instant dried gelatin was first introduced by Peter Cooper (inventor of the steam locomotive and apparent fan of gelatin) in 1845.  He marketed this product as "Portable Gelatin."  As an aside, there are many recipes for demi-glace veal stocks in the 18th-19th centuries that are cooked down to a gelatine and called "Portable Soups."  There were other gelatin manufacturing attempts such as Nelson's Desiccated Gelatin (which seems was first introduced for use in photography [7]and Phosphated Gelatin made by the Plymouth Rock Gelatin Company of Boston in 1889. None of these products did well commercially.  

Enter Knox
It wasn't until 1894 that instant gelatin truly became a staple pantry item in home kitchens. Charles Knox introduced his form of granulated gelatin which became much more popular than any of the other attempts that came before to get gelatin in every home kitchen. 

Was his product so much better than the ones that came before?  Probably not.  What was different was that Knox was great at marketing his gelatin.  He marketed it by innovative advertising for the time, he named a motorized air balloon the "Gelatin" and flew it in air shows around the country, and he also bought a prize-winning racehorse and named it "Gelatin King." Furthermore, when Knox died in 1908 his widow took the reigns of the company and further promoted the gelatin by establishing a test kitchen that created numerous gelatin-based recipes which were printed in cookbooks, newspapers, and leaflets that were widely distributed.[8]

Enter Jell-O
Jell-O emerged in 1895 in LeRoy, New York when Pearl B. Wait (a cough syrup maker) and his wife, May, experimented with adding fruit syrups (strawberry, raspberry, orange, and lemon) and lots of sugar to gelatin.  They called it "Jell-O" and history was made.  Unfortunately, the Waits never really benefitted financially from Jell-O because they had problems marketing it (perhaps if they had followed the lead of the Knox company and purchased a prize-winning motorized horseless carriage they named Jell-O Speed Demon they would have been more successful).    Instead, in 1899 they sold it to their neighbor for $450.  It took a few years of, you guessed it, creative advertising and marketing, but under the new ownership Jell-O certainly did take off and the brand name is now synonymous with gelatin.[9]  

And, by the way, today's commercial gelatins are still made with animal collagen from cows and pigs so it is not a vegetarian food!  However, vegetarians can find seaweed (carrageen) based gelatins on the market.

Chocolate Gelatin
Interestingly, in 1927, Jell-O marketed a Chocolate Gelatin but it must not have done very well because it was discontinued in the very same year.  The Jell-O company had good reason for attempting to market a chocolate flavored gelatin product because lots of recipes for them did exist in the 19th century.[10]

Here is one recipe for a chocolate gelatin dessert from 1839 that uses isinglass as the gelling agent:

Chocolate Jelly
Lettice Bryan, The Kentucky Housewife, 1839

Having scraped very fine six ounces of chocolate, dissolve it in half a pint of boiling water.  Break up and dissolve one ounce of Russian gum isinglass in just enough boiling water to make it a thick jelly; then strain it, and mix it with the dissolved chocolate; add six ounces of powdered white sugar, put it in a skillet or kettle, give it one boil up, and put it in a mould to congeal.

Modern Recipe Adaptation Using Knox Gelatin
1 1/2 Cups Boiling Water, Divided
1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Grated Chocolate
1 Ounce Knox Gelatin (4 packets)
1 1/2 Cups Powdered/Confectioner's Sugar

  1. Have a gelatin mould that can hold about 4 cups ready for use; decorative ones make the jelly look special.
  2. In a medium saucepan, pour 1 cup boiling water over the chocolate.  Whisk together and set aside.
  3. In a separate small bowl, empty the packets of gelatin into a medium bowl. Cover the gelatin with the remaining half cup of boiling water.  Whisk together and let sit for about five minutes.
  4. Sieve the gelatin mixture into the saucepan with the chocolate/water mixture.
  5. Whisk the gelatin into the chocolate and then add the sugar.  Whisk until everything is well-blended and no sugar is visible.
  6. Place the saucepan on the stovetop and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  7. While boiling whisk the chocolate about five times and then remove from the heat.
  8. Pour the chocolate gelatin mixture into your mould.  Set aside until it cools.  Then put it in the refrigerator for at least three hours, or until it sets firmly.
  9. To remove the chocolate gelatin from the mould, place boiling water in a bowl that is large enough to fit the bottom of the mould.  Insert just the bottom and sides of the mould into the water hot water bath, being careful not to allow any of the water to collect on top of the gelatin (see picture below).  Keep the gelatin inserted for about 30 seconds or until you see it starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Invert on a plate--it should fall into the plate.  If it doesn't fall out, repeat the process until it does.
  10. In removing the jelly, you may see that the sides of it may melt a bit.  That's normal.  Just stick it back in the fridge and let the melted bits congeal.  Then, remove it from the fridge and use a knife to cut around the perimeter of the mould.  Then lift the jelly off that plate; it will be perfect (see pictures below)!  Just place it on a serving dish and decorate with whipped cream, fruit, or anything you desire!
Jelly in Hot Water Bath

Removing the Melted Mess!

Jelly All Cleaned Up!

1. Oxford English Dictionary online
2. Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002
3. Oxford English Dictionary online
4. Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Original Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie

Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies, c. 1941 Recipe

Ever heard the story of the discovery of the first chocolate chip cookie?

Ruth Graves Wakefield is considered to be the mother of the chocolate chip cookie. When I began looking into the history of the chocolate chip cookie, I thought it would be an easy history to find considering it is a product of the 2oth century, a time period when documentation should be more reliable. However, how this cookie came to be is definitely a matter of debate. 

Here are some of the theories and my interpretations of them:
  • Some say Ms. Wakefield created the recipe while experimenting with a recipe for Butter Drop do. cookies.  I've read that this recipe is a "Colonial" recipe, and I've also read that it dates to 1796. Another source says she based her recipe on an old sugar cookie recipe, not a butter cookie recipe at all.  
    • Here is What I Think: 
      • It is possible she adapted an old recipe she liked and added the chocolate to make the cookies more modern and unique; but I'd like to see the original recipe to judge it for myself. You see, the recipe name "Butter Drop do" is  incomplete.  Let me explain . . .when the word "do" is in a recipe, it was a pre-modern way of writing "ditto."  For example, in a recipe the ingredients might be listed as 1 pound flour, 1/2 do sugar (meaning 1/2 pound sugar).  As for a recipe title, there might be a recipe for Apple Pie followed by a recipe for Peach Pie (but it could be written as "Peach do").  Therefore, "Butter Drop do" in and of itself is an incomplete title; we need to know what came before it to know what should be placed in the word for "do."
      • Oh, and there was no culinary baking soda in the colonial days, nor were they accustomed to eating chocolate in a candy form in those days--key ingredients in Toll House Chocolate Chips.
  • Another story has Ms. Graves  substituting Nestle's chocolate for Baker's Chocolate in her cookie recipe.  According to this story, she would put chopped Baker's brand chocolate into her dough and it would melt while cooking thus permeating the cookie dough evenly with chocolate.  However, when she used Nestle's Chocolate instead the chocolate "chips" stayed intact during the baking process yielding a new type of chocolate cookie. 
    • Here is What I Think:
      • This theory is wrong because neither chocolate would have melted in such a way as to permeate the dough enough to make it evenly chocolate in flavor and appearance; as an experienced cook, Ms. Graves would have known that fact
  • Another story claims that the Nestle chocolate bars fell into her dough and were broken up into chips by the electric mixer. 
    • Here is What I Think:
      • Wouldn't this batch have been ruined because the chocolate paper wrappers would have also been chopped up into the dough? 
      • Also, couldn't she have turned off the mixer and removed the chocolate bars?
  • The date of the invention of the cookies is also debatable. Some sources claim she invented it in 1930 and published it in the 1936 edition of her cookbook.  Other sources say it was invented in 1936 and first printed in the cookbook in 1938.  Others say it first entered her cookbook in 1940.
    • I'm still looking into figuring out this one . . . you'd think this would be easy to document!  
  • Oh, and the Toll House Inn was allegedly never a toll house.  In addition, I've seen dates of its construction as early as the early 1700s but other sources date it to the very late 1800s. Yikes, this just keeps getting harder and harder to figure out!

What is the likely story?

  • What is known for sure is that nobody really knows the true story.
  • According to an interview Ms. Wakefield gave to the Boston Herald-American in 1974, she is quoted as saying, “We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream. Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different."
    • Therefore, Ms. Wakefield, an inn owner/operator and experienced cook, was looking for new recipes and experimented until she found a good one. And, boy did she find a good one?  
  • As far as dating the recipe, I haven't been able to locate an edition of her book Toll House Tried and True Recipes that dates to earlier than 1941.  I am still looking for earlier editions, so let me know if you find one!
  • The 1941 recipe makes 100 cookies (only 1/2 teaspoon of dough is used per cookie).  They are baked for 10-12 minutes which means they come out quite crispy, hence the "crunch" in the original name!

Here is the recipe (formatted almost exactly as it was printed) from the 1941 edition of her cookbook:

Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies
Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Tried and True Recipes, 1941

1 cup butter, add
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar and
2 eggs beaten whole. Dissolve
1 tsp. soda in hot water, and mix
alternately with
2 1/4 cups flour sifted with
1 tsp. salt. Lastly add
1 cup chopped nuts and
2 bars (7-0z) Nestles yellow label chocolate, semi-sweet, which has been cut in pieces the size of a pea. [Note:  The modern recipe uses a 12 ounce bag of chips.]
Flavor with
1 tsp. vanilla and drop half teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes in 375º oven.

Makes 100 cookies. [For a frame of reference, there are 20  cookies on a tea saucer in the picture above.]