Friday, April 11, 2014

94. Cookies, No. 2

After my last post's disaster, I decided to try something that I am well versed at making: cookies.  Of course, until my last post I thought I was a pretty mean cake maker, so... although, this recipe seemed pretty easy and straightforward:

94. Cookies, No. 2.  "One cup of butter, well mixed with two and a half cups of sugar, three eggs, one cup of milk, one tea-spoonful of saleratus, salt and spices to your taste, flour enough to mould it."

Okay.  Deep breath.  I can do this.
"One cup of butter, well mixed with two and a half cups of sugar--"
I softened the butter ahead of time so that it was really easy to combine with the sugar.  I decreased the amount of sugar because it just seemed like too much (again).
It was easy to combine the sugar and butter together with the wooden spoon. 
"three eggs,"--One thing I realized, and that might have affected the last recipe I made, is that our commercial eggs available at the grocery store today are likely a good deal larger than farm fresh chicken eggs that would have been used back when this recipe was printed, so I reduced the amount of eggs that I used in this recipe. 

"one cup of milk,"--
"one tea-spoonful of saleratus, salt and spices to your taste, flour enough to mould it."

I mixed all of these together in a separate bowl, to ensure that the spices were evenly mixed together.  In thinking of common spices found in pantries during the 1800s, I used cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.  In my head, I could hear Homer Simpson: "Mmmmmm, spice cookies".

I added the flour mixture, a little at a time, since I was stirring this all together by hand.  All measured, "enough flour to mould it" turned out to be 2 1/4 cups.
This time, along with changing the amount of eggs used, I made tweaks to the recipe as I went along, and I cut the recipe in half, since I didn't know how many cookies this would actually make.  I'd have hated to end up with four dozen cookies that I couldn't eat.  Not that I should eat four dozen good cookies, but...

I tasted the dough and it seemed promising.  With a mix of apprehension and anticipation, I scooped tablespoon-sized blobs of batter onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and baked them for 12 minutes at 375 degrees.  And...
They turned out to be quite tasty!  Mild, no one flavor overpowering the cookie, but light and fluffy.  And, I made them all without the help of an electric mixer.  All by hand, baby.  Biceps of steel.

Mmmmm, redemption tastes so good!!

Since I'm pleased with this receipt, I'm sharing my adapted receipt for you below:

1/2 C butter (one stick, softened)
1 C sugar
1 large egg
1/2 C milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.  Add eggs, vanilla and milk and mix well.  In a separate bowl, mix the baking soda, salt, flour, and spices together well, then slowly add to the wet mixture; mix well.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until set and slightly brown on top.

This yields 18-24 cookies, depending on the size.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

86. Temperance Cake, No. 1.

I was flipping through my little cookbook to find my next receipt for testing, and I came across this recipe for a temperance cake.  There was more than one recipe for temperance cake, but this one seemed to make the smallest cake, thus making it perfect for my test.  Why is it called a temperance cake?  Well, to be honest, I'm not sure.  I suspect that this might be a cake served during temperance meetings that were usually held by women in their homes during the temperance movement of the mid-1800s.  In doing a search online, I came up with no technical definition of a temperance cake, but at temperance meetings I've seen reenacted, it usually involved a group of women talking about temperance while drinking tea or coffee and eating baked goods, which is why I suspect that it's a common recipe to serve during said meetings.

In the 1830s and 1840s, temperance was a social movement here in the United States aimed at steering men away from drinking.  Alcohol was a common drink in households, because it was easy to make and keep, didn't need special storage, and really was one of the better beverage options of the time--water was iffy and easily contaminated, milk didn't keep very long, fruit juices were not used for drinking (with the exception of apple juice, because apple trees can grow almost everywhere), and pop/soda did not exist.   However, then, as today, alcoholism was a big problem in society.  Here's a common illustration that circulated around 1845:

This image, a lithograph by Nathanial Currier, later of the Currier & Ives fame, depicts the stages of alcoholism that young men could eventually experience.  You can see how the young man starts out as a seemingly innocent participant in a common social activity (far left), and works his way through the steps to eventually blowing out his brains (far right), leaving his wife and child, depicted virtuously under the bridge, to manage on their own in disgrace.  So very sad.

Now, with that cheerful, uplifting background, I present to you: Temperance Cake, No. 1.  

The recipe:
"Three eggs, two cups of sugar, one cup of milk, one tea-spoonful of saleratus, nutmeg, flour enough to make it pour into the pan, bake it about twenty minutes.  Allspice and raisins, instead of nutmeg, make a good plum cake."

Wow, that seems like a lot of sugar.

I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees, a common temp for baking cakes, and buttering a 9 x 9 baking dish.
Then, I mixed the wet ingredients (the eggs and milk) together.

Next, I added the sugar and baking soda to a large mixing bowl, and I decided to use nutmeg and allspice as my spices.  I did use the whole two cups of sugar, even though it seemed like a large amount.  I'm not a huge fan of raisins in baked goods and omitted them.  I whisked these ingredients together.

I added the liquid to the dry.
At this point, I remember thinking, 'Aah, finally!  Enough liquid in this recipe!'

Then, starting with half a cup of flour, I added a little at a time until I got a batter-type consistency.  It took about 1-1/4 cups to get it to a batter consistency.  At this point I tasted the batter.

Holy sugar, Batman!  It was incredibly sweet.  So sweet that I added two teaspoons of salt and it didn't seem to make any dent in the sweetness!

I just shrugged it off, poured it into my prepared pan and popped it into the oven, setting my timer to check it in 15 minutes.  All total, it took 50 minutes for a toothpick to come out clean.  And, after I cut into it, I still don't think it was quite done.  It had the consistency of a bread pudding, and an unbearable sweetness with all of the sugar.  I admit, this recipe won, and I lost.
I think part of the issue was the amount of sugar--two cups of white sugar would have been a bit pricey back then, and it was just too overwhelming.  It created a sugary crust in the center (the part that looks like the Elephant Man), and I think I developed two cavities just by sampling a piece.  The cake around the center was spongy, and the bottom was almost slimy in consistency, like a jelly. 
Possibly I didn't add enough flour, but I was thinking of the consistency of cake batters today when I was adding the flour.  I could have probably added another half a cup and still been okay, in retrospect.  Possibly the oven temp was too high or too low.  I really don't know.

My opinion?  Pretty bad.  I can't even come up with a modern-day recipe for this that I would feel comfortable offering to the public.  I hate when a recipe doesn't turn out and I've used up good ingredients, so I can't say that I'm feeling brave enough at the moment to try and convert it to modern-day. 

So very sad.  I think I need a drink.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sorry For The Delay...

I'm sorry for not getting back to this blog until now!  It's been a busy three months.  I'll be back to trying these old recipes again soon, including cakes, cookies, breads and rolls.  While I was leafing through the cookbook, I discovered a couple of recipes for homemade yeast.  How neat is that??  I thought I'd share it with you, so here's a little history lesson on making yeast back in the 1840s!

Just a little background: 
Commercially-produced yeast became readily available during the 1860s, according to various sources.  Dates vary, but in general, before this time women had to make their own yeast for baking purposes.  Yeast is actually in the air we breathe every day, but capturing it and creating a useable form of yeast is another matter entirely.  It would take several days to try and capture the yeast, and sometimes it didn't work.  However, when it was captured, it was used over and over again (think Amish friendship bread starter).  To make it keep for longer amounts of time, people started to form the captured yeast into cakes that could be shaved off and measured.   There are a few websites that I've come across that give a little more information on capturing yeast, and some instructions on trying to capture it today.  Their methods are not much different from those of the past:
Chickens in the Road
The Fresh Loaf
Backyard Renaissance

Now, here are the recipes from my 1845 book:

30.  Yeast.
Boil one pound of good flour, a quarter of a pound of brown sugar, and a little salt, in two gallons of water, for one hour.  When milk-warm, bottle it and cork it close, and it will be fit for use in twenty-four hours.  One pint of the yeast will make eighteen lbs. of bread.

29.  Yeast Cakes.
    To have good yeast in summer is a desirable object with every housewife.  She may have such, by the following simple process: ---
    Boil a single handful of hops (which every farmer can and ought to raise, to the extent of household wants) in two or three quarts of water; strain and thicken the liquor, when hot, with rye flour; then add two or three small yeast cakes, to set the mass.  If this is done at evening, it will be fit for use early next morning.  Reserve a pint of this yeast, which thicken with Indian meal, make into small cakes the size of crackers, and dry them in the shade for future use.  In this way the yeast is always fresh and active.  Yeast cakes kept a long time are apt to become rancid, and lose their virtues.  The fresher the cakes, the better the yeast.

While I don't plan to try to make the yeast or cakes from scratch at this time, I might attempt it in the future.  If anyone out there tries this and has success, I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Due to the busyness of the holiday season, I'm going to be taking a short break from my blogs.  I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas, and happy baking!

Friday, October 18, 2013

1845 Roll Recipe

My next attempt at a historic recipe comes from my book. 

This recipe is called "15.  Rolls.
Pretty simple.  From the recipe, it sounds like a basic dinner roll.  How hard can that be?  A few weeks ago, I made a great potato sweet dinner roll over a cast-iron cook stove with great success.  I'm pretty confident that I can make this with modern-day methods.
Six burner stove at the McKinnis House

Famous last words.

Actually, the receipt turned out to be pretty good, but with some rather major changes.  For some reason, this recipe, along with the cider cake recipe, was seriously lacking liquid.  I don't know why, although my husband posed this answer with a chuckle: "More liquid means more trips to the well or the stream!"  I suppose that could be partially true, but I also wonder if perhaps their measurements were somehow off compared to today, because everything we measure with is standardized, whereas back then, there were likely differences in some sizes of a cup or spoonful of an ingredient.  I really can't say for sure, but as I was making this recipe, I realized just how dry and tooth-chipping these would be if made exactly to the original instructions.  Hence, the reason for the changes that I made. 

I began where everyone should begin, at the beginning.
"Warm an ounce of butter in half a pint of milk,"--let's stop there.  I measured out the butter and milk, and (cheatingly) microwaved the mixture until the butter was melted into the milk, and the liquid was warm enough to activate the yeast.  I thought about doing it in a saucepan on the stove, but I had some other things going on, so I opted to use the microwave instead.  It took about 1:15 in the microwave on high.

"then add a spoonful and a half of yeast, and a little salt."
I used a teaspoon (the kind we eat with) to measure out a spoonful and a half into a measuring glass, then added "a little salt".  Here is where I made the first change to the recipe: I added a little bit of ginger.  I'd read recently that yeast back at this time was made at home, and would have had some other flavorings or spices added to it to help with the fermentation for making the yeast cakes.  Because of this, the yeast that we purchase at the store today tastes different than that of the home-made variety, and I did find a recipe online for making yeast the old way that included things like potato, peach leaves and ginger.  I didn't have any cooked potatoes, and I don't usually (okay, ever) have peach leaves on hand, but I sure had ginger!  So into the measuring glass it went.  I also added a small amount of sugar to help feed the yeast.

"Put two pounds of flour in a pan, and mix in the above ingredients."
Here we go with the pounds of flour again...flour was sold by the pound, and ground by the pound, so I understand the reasoning, but like I found out in the cider cake recipe, a pound of flour for me equals right around three cups.  Two pounds of flour is therefore six cups.  Six cups of flour mixed with one cup of liquid.  Do you see the problem?  Here is where I made the next major change: I stopped at three cups.  Even with three cups of flour, I still needed to add another quarter-cup of warm water to the mix to achieve a bread-doughy consistency.

"Let rise an hour--or overnight, in a cool place;"--I had turned on my oven to 400 degrees to give the kitchen a little more heat.  We do have our furnace on now, but we have no fireplace or hearth for me to leave this dough to rise near, so I set the bowl next to the vent on my oven, with the towel open to the heat coming out of the stove vent.  Worked great!  Within an hour, the dough had doubled in size.

"Knead it well, make into seven rolls, and bake them in a quick oven.  Add half a tea-spoonful of saleratus, just as you put the rolls into the baker."
I floured my countertop and turned out the dough.  I sprinkled a half teaspoon of baking soda on top of the dough before I began kneading, because these instructions seemed out of order in terms of adding the baking soda to the rolls right before putting them into the baker.  I kneaded the dough until it was smooth and elastic, a little sticky, but certainly sticking together and not leaving any tacky dough on the counter.  It was really easy to knead it to that texture, really, and then I began forming my rolls.

If I made only seven rolls with this recipe, they would be huge rolls--the size of a softball or larger.  I opted for smaller balls of dough, more the size of between a golf ball and a baseball.  They were still substantial in size, and I ended up with seventeen rolls from this recipe.

I buttered a 9" x 12" baking sheet, and placed six rolls on the pan.  I baked the rolls at 400 degrees (the high end of a "quick oven") for 10 minutes.  When I checked them at that point, they sounded hollow when tapped, so I took them out.   

Now was the deciding time--the time to taste my creation.  I sliced open a hot roll and spread a little bit of butter and raw honey on top.  I took a bite, and was really impressed!  The inside was soft and chewy, and the butter/honey combo on top was absolutely perfect on these. 

Without any condiments, I think these rolls are a little bland, but perfect for absorbing a soup or stew broth.  Perfect to go with the beef stew I made for dinner!

So now, here is the modern-day recipe for these rolls.  I would recommend giving them a try!

1 C milk, warmed to around 110 degrees F
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp sugar (you can add more for a sweeter roll)
1/4 C warm water
3 C white whole-wheat flour (white flour or bread flour can be subbed)
1/2 tsp baking soda

Combine the milk and butter (the butter will float to the top).  In a small bowl, mix the yeast, salt, ginger, and sugar, then add to the milk mixture.  Stir to wet the yeast. 

In a large bowl, add your flour, then add your yeast/milk mixture.  Add water.  Mix together until the dough sticks together and there are no dry ingredients.  Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise for one to two hours.

Flour your kneading surface, then turn the dough out.  Sprinkle baking soda over top of the dough before kneading, then begin to knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, about four or five minutes.  Add more flour to your surface as needed.  Form dough into a ball, and pull off pieces a little larger than a golf ball size, and roll into balls. 

Butter the bottom of your 9" x 12" baking sheet, then bake six at a time at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Rolls are done when they sound hollow when tapped.  Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly.  Best eaten fresh from the oven!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cider Cake--1836 Reciept

Well, I hope you don't get mad at me, but my first test recipe is not out of my book.  It's from another well-known receipt book, though, so I hope that will redeem me to you.  I had to make a period-appropriate, season-appropriate cake for the living history program I'm  participating in this weekend, and found this recipe on The Henry Ford website.  It's from The New England Cookbook, first published in 1836.  They scanned the recipe into their online collection.  You can find a link to every entry in the book here. 
Scan from The Henry Ford Museum website.

As you can see from the recipe, it's a bit vague.  Notice the author doesn't even mention the baking temperature?  Back when receipts were written like this, there were certain "givens" to cooking and baking.  Young women were taught what to do by the older women before them, and therefore, it wasn't necessary to put that information in the receipt because it was already known.  Plus, there was the added complication of having a variety of baking methods available, from a hearth fireplace bake-oven to a cast-iron wood-burning cookstove oven.  The cook/baker would have a good idea of how to bake in their specific oven, so adding a baking temperature to the instructions might have caused more harm than good when writing out the receipt.  

Also, what is saleratus??  After a quick Internet search, I found that it was a fancy term for sodium bicarbonate (or sometimes potassium bicarbonate).  That means either baking soda or baking powder.  To the pantry!  

When I compared the components of my box of baking soda and my container of baking powder, baking soda lists sodium bicarbonate as the only ingredient, but the baking powder has sodium bicarbonate listed as third on the list of ingredients, so for this recipe, I'll be using baking soda.  Is it just me, or does two teaspoons of baking soda seem like a large amount? 

As I have never eaten this cake before, I'm making it as it's written above; however, I'm making a half recipe because, hey, ingredients ain't cheap.  Here is the full-recipe conversion to modern-day measurements:

1 1/2 C granulated sugar (12 oz by weight)
2 sticks (1 C) butter, unsalted, at room temperature
2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 6 TBSP water
1 C apple cider
6 C white whole-wheat flour (for a more authentic texture)
1 whole grated nutmeg 

So, a step-by-step breakdown of the directions:
"Rub together three quarters of a pound of sugar, and half a pound of butter."
Rub together?  What an odd step.  Granted, they didn't have KitchenAid mixers back then, so maybe this was their method for creaming the butter and sugar.  I put my room-temp butter in a bowl with the sugar, and mashed it all together with a fork.  I smooshed and mashed until the butter and sugar were all combined.

Then, "Dissolve two teaspoonsful of saleratus in half a teacup of water, turn it into the cake, together with half a pint of cider, stir in two pounds of flour and a grated nutmeg."

I don't keep tea cups in the house.  We have coffee mugs, but that's really a different size, so to be authentic to the recipe, I got out one of my china teacups from my grandmother's set.  It's about a hundred years younger than this recipe, but that's okay--it worked great!
Two pounds of flour ends up being six cups.  Six cups!  There wasn't enough liquid in the recipe to absorb that amount of dry goods.  My arms got a really good workout.  After everything was worked together, I pressed it into a pan--there was no pouring this batter like today's cake.  It was really more of a stiff cookie-type dough.
"Bake it about a half an hour."
I had preheated my oven to 350.  I wasn't sure that this should be in the oven for a full half-hour, since I had halved the recipe.  I put it in for 12 minutes to start.  However, it needed probably another ten minutes or so, but this "cake" showed little signs of going from a dough to a baked good, so after 17 minutes total, I pulled it out to cool.  
You can tell a difference in the unbaked and baked cake, of course.  There really wasn't any browning, and the toothpick test showed no batter.  However, I think it would have come out clean if I stuck a toothpick in the batter before I baked it!

"This cake should be eaten in the course of two or three days after it is made, as it gets dry very quickly."
Um, yep, I can see that happening.

This cake would have been so dry if I had baked it completely.  As it was, the outer edges were pretty dried out.  It is possible that a 325 oven would have been better, but honestly, this is just not the type of cake in the sense that we know it to be today.  
I had an idea of what this cake might be like, based on previous experience with other baked goods.  I have to say, though, that this was one bland cake!  I could really taste the nutmeg, but there wasn't much else to the flavor.  There wasn't an overwhelming butter taste, or sweetness, or anything.  Just, kind of bland.  The texture was strange--my husband, whose facial reaction to the cake when I offered him a bite was priceless, described it as "like cornbread with nutmeg in it"--it was very mealy.  There just wasn't enough liquid to cause any sort of rise.  I also think that eggs could have greatly improved the texture of this cake.

Overall, not a great cake recipe by today's standards.  Food was just very different back then.  Families were often restricted by finances when it came to food and pantry items, and sugar was a pricier item, so women tried to make due with what they could afford.  Definitely not a cake recipe to take with me to our living history program on Sunday!  I found a modern recipe that I believe was based on this recipe on, and I'll be making that instead.  You can see that recipe here and compare the two!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Receipt Book

Here is the book that I'll start testing recipes from.  The title is "The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book."  It was published in Worchester, Massachusettes, in the 1840s, and cost twenty-five cents, according to the cover.  I purchased it on Ebay for little money, it has detached from the spine, and it's in pretty rough shape, but it attracted me for a few reasons: 
1. It was published in 1845.

2. It had a well-loved look to it.
These pages were carefully hand-stitched back together.

3. It had a great selection of recipes, as well as other domestic tips and advice.

4. It had hand-written recipes on the back pages.

5. It had a neat cover (or at least what is left of the cover).

6. It is very hard to come by old receipt books anymore.

I've had this book for several years now, but have never tried any of the receipts.  It just never occurred to me, despite the fact that I bought it for use at the living history farm.  At the time, I just enjoyed reading the old entries and (carefully) flipping through its 168-year-old pages.  Now, it's time to put it to the test!  This shouldn't be too hard, right?