Sugar High Fridays #53 ~ The Test of Time Round-Up

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Sugar High Fridays is a monthly dessert blogging event created by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess.  Each month we get our sugar high on in keeping with a theme. This month, as the hostess of SHF #53, I chose “The Test of Time – Desserts over a century old” and bloggers from all corners of the sugar high world reached back through the ages with their spoons and mixing bowls, to grandparents and ancestors and beyond, to bring some time-tested sweet treats of yore onto our plates.

Join me now for a trip backwards through time, beginning with the recent past and nibbling our way all the way back to antiquity. And be sure to check out the individual posts for family memories, cooking adventures, old recipes in their original curious formats, and fascinating, well-researched culinary history!

130 years ago ~

Great Grandma Kelly’s Jam Cake

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Laura of The Spiced Life recreates her grandmother’s great-grandmother’s jam cake, starting with figuring out how to actually make the cake! The long line of matriarchs passed down the ingredients through the years, but figured their descendants should be smart enough to figure out the rest of the directions. Luckily Laura was more than up to the challenge, as her moist, elegant creation attests!

140 years ago ~

Speculaas

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Friedl of Kitchen Fun gets daring with speculaas, bringing this traditional autumn and winter cookie into the spring air and trying her hand at a gluten-free version. Happily for Friedl (and for the rest of us who can’t eat wheat) gluten-free speculaas is delicious speculaas. And something tells me they taste every bit as tasty shaped into a sweet heart as they do molded into a windmill!

150 years ago ~

Tilslørte bondepiker

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Janne of The Bitesize makes a traditional Norwegian dessert passed down to her from her great-grandmother. She points out perceptively that old recipes are more likely to feature natural and local ingredients, and this dessert makes mouth-watering use of things like breadcrumbs, apples, and cream that would have been commonly available in a 19th century Norwegian household. The name translates to “veiled, rural girls” but, as Janne asks, which layer is the veil and which is the girl?

160 years ago ~

Strawberry Shortcake

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NAOmni of Not Another Omnivore grew up eating strawberry shortcake on her grandparents’ farm and once she started researching its history realized it was well over a century old. Her post explores all the different options for the dessert’s “carbohydrate” component, from biscuit to pound cake to angel food cake. But looking at NAOmni’s photo I’m wondering, does the carb even matter when you’ve got that tantalizing strawberry topping?

200 years ago ~

Far Aux Pruneaux (Far Breton)

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Inspired by a bottle of milk that needed using up, Pamela of The Cooking Ninja tries something new to her but quite old on this earth: Far Aux Pruneaux, a traditional dessert from Brittany, France with a dense flan filling flecked with sweet prunes. Dating back to the 18th century, this dish has evolved through the years from a savory buckwheat flan to the incredibly delicious sweet version we know today. (Can you tell this is one of my favorite desserts of all time? I am practically drooling on my keyboard…)

250 years ago ~

Madeleines

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Elodie of yummyaourt gives Proust a run for his money with her charming “Once upon a time” tale of the origin of the Madeleine. She calls them “little pieces of pleasure,” and, looking at her luscious photos, I couldn’t agree more, especially when she advises flavoring them with orange blossom water or Earl Grey tea!

Magdalenas

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Karolcia of For the Body and Soul makes the Spanish version of Madeleines, called Magdalenas. Instead of a shell shape, these are made in a mini-muffin pan and use olive oil rather than butter. Karolcia is a baker after my own heart with some kitchen experimentation – she bakes half her magdalenas with baking powder and half without, to see if it really makes a difference. I feel quite willing to devour these moist and crunchy lemony treats under any experimental conditions!

350 years ago ~

Tourte de Beurre

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Carolyn of 18thC Cuisine was the first person I thought of after I picked our theme, since everything in her fascinating blog is well over a century old. For Sugar High Friday she brings us a rich sugar cream pie flavored with almonds, baked on a piece of paper on the floor of the oven, using one of the oldest cooking techniques around!

Linzer Torte

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My own contribution to our test of time was a literal test – a test of four different recipes for what is believed to be the oldest known cake or torte in the world! (Although I’m not really sure how they reckon that since there are cake- and torte-like desserts in this round-up that are clearly as old or older…) I compared the original 17th century recipe with three gluten-free varieties to see if this famous Austrian treat not only held up to through the ages but could change with the times as well.

450 years ago ~

A Tarte of Strawberryes

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Digigirl of Don’t Forget Delicious! brings her highly applicable experience in Medieval re-creation to this event. The only trouble being, it turns out the Middle Ages weren’t exactly the golden age of dessert. But after combing through ancient cookbooks in Middle English and French, she finally turned to the internet for aid, and came up with this incredibly appetizing sweet and juicy tart featuring wine-soaked strawberries – or strawberryes as they called them back in the day!

500 years ago ~

Hyderabadi Almond-Semolina Halva

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Muneeba of An Edible Symphony gives props to her heritage with a fragrant, saffron-infused dessert. Even though her beloved Cuisinart met its end trying to prepare this dish, Muneeba soldiered on valiantly and the delectable results were clearly worth the effort! The hour it ending up taking to blend the mixture by hand gives me great sympathy and respect for the Hyderabadi princesses who first enjoyed almond-semolina halva. (Or great sympathy for their cooks, rather!)

1500 years ago ~

Hot Cross Buns

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Anna at Life’s Too Short For Mediocre Chocolate is a history buff, and puts her expertise to work sharing the history and symbolism of Hot Cross Buns. Adopted as an Easter sweet, these buns have their origins pre-Christian England where they once (and still do, for some) honored the Saxon Spring goddess Eostre. Whatever they stand for, cranberry walnut hot cross buns with cream cheese frosting sound like sweet, sweet symbolism to me!

2000 years ago ~

Daktyla

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Even Ivy, of Kopiaste… to Greek Hospitality, isn’t sure how old the recipe is for daktyla, one of the best-known pastries of Cyprus, only that is has been passed down in her family from generation to generation. I did some research on similar pastries, however, and it seems daktyla may have been around for two thousand years! Clearly these heavenly phyllo “fingers” stuffed with almonds and orange blossom water have had the staying power needed to make it through the ages.

Payasam/Kheer

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Sra of When My Soup Came Alive puts a new spin on a very old formula by making an ancient Indian rice pudding from couscous. The results look positively ambrosial – I think you may start a trend here, Sra! What magic can come from expediency – in this case a years-old packet of couscous that needs to be used up becomes a reworked classic that will probably get made again and again.

Back to the present day ~

Well, friends, there’s the round-up! Thank you for joining me on this excellent adventure through time and place. I truly enjoyed all your marvelous creations and I learned so much! I feel ready for my pop quiz on dessert history now…

I’ll meet you next month for another sweet, sweet Friday!

Linzer Tortztravaganza!

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I picked the Sugar High Fridays theme “Test of Time – Desserts over a century old” because I thought it would be cool and something we hadn’t done before. I didn’t have any particular dessert in mind to make myself, but then in a flash I realized what it would have to be.

Laurie Stern, the perfumer for the marvelous Velvet and Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery, is a client of mine and a very dear friend, and back in February I put together a Valentine’s Day newsletter for the Purrfumery featuring her famous Linzer Tortes. Every year Laurie and a friend make huge batches of Linzer Torte dough which they shape into hearts, fill with raspberry jam, decorate with fanciful flowers and leaves made from dough, and give out to all their friends. Now that I can’t eat wheat I have to pass, sadly, on my annual torte treat, and I’ve been wondering if there isn’t a way to turn this nut-and-wheat flour dough into something deliciously gluten-free.

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The research I did while working on the newsletter turned up a surprising fact: Linzer Torte is the oldest known cake or torte in the world. This made it a perfect sweet for my Sugar High Friday – not just old, but the oldest cake in the world! A recipe dating back to 1653 was found in a monastery archive in a collection called “Book of All Kinds of Home-Made Things, Such as Sweet Dishes, Spices, Cakes and also Every Kind of Fruit and Other Good and Useful Things, etc.”

It’s funny though – I know 1653 means Linzer Torte has been around for a long time (over 350 years!) but when I see 1653 as the date of the oldest known cake, what I think about is how long humanity didn’t have cake (over 10,000 years!). What a shame!

So back to our culinary history lesson. Linzer Torte is very old, and appears to have been named for Linz, Austria, although there were some spurious rumours floating about in the early 20th century that it was a Viennese baker named Linzer who actually created the cake. Those Viennese – as if it weren’t enough to have invented psychoanalysis, modern philosophy, quantum mechanics, and Sachertorte, now they have to try to take Linzer Torte away from poor Linz.

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The original Linzer Torte recipes, the ones from 1653, were based on almonds, with the popular hazelnut variation coming later. Spices were not specified, clarified butter was kneaded into the dough, and the torte was baked like a pie in a “silver dish.” The latticed top and the jam or jelly filling (originally red currant jelly) have been around since the beginning. Eventually the dish evolved to become the beloved treat it is today, featuring a free-standing crust made from ground almonds, hazelnuts, or both, combined with wheat flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and a mixture of lemon, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and vanilla.

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In deciding what to make, I combed the web and my cookbooks for Linzer Torte inspiration. I knew I wanted to follow one of these very old recipes, since that’s part of the fun for me of this month’s theme. But I also wanted to see if I could find a successful gluten-free version to add to my own baking repertoire. And I had the notion that Linzer Torte could be a delicious breakfast treat if it weren’t so full of sugar and butter, so when I found a recipe using agave nectar and grapeseed oil, I decided to try that as well.

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The great Linzer Torte Experiment (or Linzer Tortztravaganza! as I like to call it) was about to begin.

linzer_originalIn the first corner: the “Original Linzer Torte,” straight from the Linz tourism website and the nearest bet I could find for a translation of the 17th century recipes. Made with wheat, this torte is not about to become a regular addition to my life, but I wanted to start with the original.

lonzer_bostonIn the next corner: the Boston Globe Gluten-Free Linzer Torte. This torte uses garbanzo bean flour and cornstarch in place of the wheat flour. I decided to use the spices called for in this recipe, with the addition of freshly grated nutmeg, in all the tortes. I wanted to compare the substrate, not the flavoring, of each one.

linzer_agave1Holding down the healthy corner: Linzer Hearts from the blog Elana’s Pantry. These are made using only almond flour, with grapeseed oil in place of butter and agave nectar instead of sugar. This recipe is vegan as well, no eggs. The original recipe was for cookies, but I decided to see how it worked as a torte.

linzer_betteRounding out the quartet: I looked through my Bette Hagman dessert book (Bette was the grand doyenne of gluten-free baking) to see if she had a recipe for Linzer Torte and found one for Nut Crust Supreme that seemed along similar lines. I decided to follow my friend Laurie’s Valentine’s torte recipe, the one that originally sparked my Linzer lust, but with Bette’s GF Flour Mix (1 part rice flour, 2/3 part tapioca flour, 1/3 part potato starch) in place of the wheat flour.

To see the four recipes I used with my own tweaks, notes, and ultimate reviews, please check out my detailed Linzer Torte page. (Coming soon!)

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Things I learned while researching and making quarter-scaled versions of FOUR different Linzer Torte recipes:

~ Linzer Torte lattice should form a diamond pattern, not a perpendicular, or square, pattern as you often see on American pies.

~ There is a reason the high art of pastry is founded on wheat flour. Dough containing wheat gluten looks better, cooks better, and weaves better than other doughs.

~ I really am allergic to wheat. So please someone remind me to stop eating it, even in the interest of science and sexy lattices.

~ My oven thermostat seems to be around 75 degrees off.

~ There is an awesome website called Gourmet Sleuth that converts weights of specific foods into volume measurements. This was invaluable since between my four recipes I was dealing with amounts given in both grams and ounces, and I don’t have a kitchen scale.

~ Trader Joe’s has discontinued their Ground Hazelnut Meal and now carries only Ground Almond Meal. I had been counting on finding both there, and had to make a decision between using only almonds for the experiment or driving across town to get whole hazelnuts to grind in the food processor. I thought about what SHF blogger Janne wrote about old recipes being ones that, of course, will tend to use natural and locally available ingredients. I decided that since I am in California and not in Austria, almonds would do just fine.

~ Three words: Meyer. Lemon. Zest. (They may be out of season but I had some in my freezer – there’s no excuse not to use it where it will really shine!)

~ In my research I came across one Linzer Torte recipe from 1822. I did not recreate this one (it calls for 12 eggs!), but I used it as a reference as I made my other recipes. I now wholeheartedly agree with the direction to include “the fine cutted peel of one lemon and a little of its juice.” The Linzer doughs I made with juice and zest were head and shoulders in terms of aroma and subtle flavor over those made with zest alone.

~ There is also another nugget of essential Linzer wisdom in the 1822 recipe. Linzer Torte is not actually that good right after you bake it. On the other hand, “Please let it rest one or two days, the taste will win enormously!”

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Announcing Sugar High Fridays #53: The Test of Time

I am delighted and honored to be hosting the March edition of Sugar High Fridays, the lick-your-plate delicious, incredibly long-running blog event created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. Each month a new theme brings bakers and other treat-makers together from all over the web to show off their sweet, sweet talent and creativity.

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I’m super excited about the theme I picked for us this month:
The Test of  Time – Desserts over a century old.
From Eve’s apple to Alinea‘s “transparency of raspberry and rose petal,” we humans have always had a sweet tooth and always will. What methods of satisfying our cravings have stood the test of time, getting passed on through the years? And what treasures from the past are languishing somewhere out there, waiting to be rediscovered?

Here’s a chance to show off your great-grandmother’s recipe, handed down since the old country and faithfully reproduced from a faded index card. Or to recreate some strange and long-forgotten ancient dish from medieval Europe, feudal Japan, or indigenous America and see how it pleases the modern palate. You’re also welcome to put your own fresh spin on an old dessert, as long as you include in your post a recipe or a description for the dish as it was in its original time period. Bonus points (in the form of SHF glory, of course!) for making a dessert that’s reeeeally old and/or using an ingredient or piece of cookware that is itself actually over a century old.

The fine print, etc…

  • Make a dessert that is over a century old, then write a post about it on your blog. As mentioned above, if you are doing a “new spin on an old classic,” include in your post a recipe or description for the dish from its original time period. If you have the energy and interest, it would definitely be fun to hear some of your dessert’s history, but at the minimum tell us what era your dish is from.
  • In your post, please link to this post as well as to the SHF page at The Domestic Goddess. You are welcome to use the SHF #53 logo above or this smaller version:shf_small_logo
  • Write and post your entry by Monday, March 23rd. Then send me an email with the following information:
  • - Your name
    - Your blog name and URL
    - Your post’s title and URL
    - One photo (if applicable), sized to no larger than 200 x 200 pixels (does not need to be square, but the largest dimension should be no bigger     than  200px), with your blog name in the filename
    - If you aren’t a blogger and would like to participate, please email your well-edited entry and photo (if you have one) to me and I will post it here

puddingsIllustration from The New York Cook Book by Marie Martinelo, published in 1892
From American Treasures of the Library of Congress

Sweet! (I’m back, with pomelo!)

Hey, internet! I’m back. Didja miss me? I missed you!

All kinds of life things plus mega-tiredness and being away from home for a week have kept me from updating my box here. But now I’m home again and with delicious news – Duck and I will soon be nesting together! I am as yet unsure how sharing will affect my box, but hopefully two appetites will help keep the backlog down. Duck is vegan (although he will occasionally eat eggs from well-cared-for chickens like Eatwell’s) and though I mostly don’t cook with dairy, my big-production items often do contain cheese and the like, so there may be changes in that realm as well.

One of the lovelier parts of my busy week was Mother’s Day. My mom and I had a great afternoon of noshingCandied Pomelo Rind with Castor Sugar and poking around stores and generally hanging out. I brought her a huge sculptural bouquet of gladiolas, cala lilies, pussy willow, and eucalyptus, and prepared a special Mother’s Day treat from my box.

When I was little my mom and I used to walk downtown together and sometimes stop at our local sweet shop. I would get frozen yogurt and ogle the candy cigarettes, and my mom would always get chocolate-dipped orange peels. So recently, inspired in part by her affinity and in part by my desire to use every bit of what comes in my box, I’ve been experimenting with making my own varieties of citrus peel candy.

At Chanukah-time I made chocolate-dipped candied satsuma peels, which I ended up preparing too close to the time I needed to give them away (no time for a photo shoot!) so they were enjoyed thoroughly but passed undocumented. The only problem was that the thin satsuma peels were very floppy and fragile and even a bit mushy – they tasted great but lacked the sturdy texture of those chocolate-dipped orange peels from my childhood.

When the beautiful pomelo arrived back in April, I knew immediately that I wanted to candy the peel. Candied Pomelo Rinds Dipped in Bittersweet ChocolateI had never eaten it, but had been hearing for a while now about how great pomelo rind is for candying. I saved the peel but life took me in other directions until finally last weekend I dragged the box of peel of from the recesses of the fridge. I swear I have a magic fridge with magic powers of food-freshness preservation (I keep it really cold, which probably helps). My pomelo rind was still fresh and pithy and ready to go.

I had removed the peel following a New York Magazine recipe, keeping as much of the pith on as possible. (Although I really went back and forth on this one: the instructions read: “Peel pomelo, taking care to remove as much of the pith as possible.” Do they mean remove the pith from the fruit, keeping it on the peel? Or remove the pith from the peel? VAGUE! I went with keeping the pith on the peel, and, tasting the finished product, I do not regret it.)

I did the requisite thrice-boiled blanching to get the bitterness out. I then simmered all my little strips in a pot with sugar and water, but then when it was time to put them on a rack to dry, it was also time for me to leave the house to go to a potluck and do a little weekend visiting over in the East Bay. My kitchen receives an occasional rodent visitor (and not the sanctioned kind!) so it would be insane to leave a big tray of sugared fruit just sitting out over the weekend. So I put them on some parchment on a cookie sheet, covered them with a clean dishtowel, and settled my sugared strips in the passenger seat of my car.

These pomelo pieces ended up traveling all over with me. They spent a few days at my mom’s house on her kitchen table, covered by the towel so as not to ruin the surprise. They went up and down the steep Berkeley hills as I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other clutching the tray to keep it from sliding off the seat. Candied Pomelo Rind with Castor SugarThey ended up back at my house in an airtight container, waiting, waiting until their moment arrived.

Finally, Mother’s Day morning arrived, and it was pomelo-peel game time. After all their adventures, the rinds had dried to a wonderful consistency – firm and substantial, but still yielding and, not gooey, but… I don’t even know the word to describe it but if you’ve ever had great candied fruit you know what I’m talking about. Half of them I rolled in castor sugar, which is superfine sugar and which I think is perfection for coating candied peel. (You can make your own castor sugar by putting sugar in the food processor, but I just went out and bought a bag because I never seem to get around to making it and I’m always low on sugar anyways.) The other half I dipped in bittersweet chocolate melted over a double boiler and laid on some foil (having somehow gone through all my wax paper and all my parchment!) to harden.

I brought them up to my mom along with the sculptural flowers and she went crazy for them! They are like mom-catnip! It’s awesome! I think she loves them even more than orange peels, because I don’t remember her being this wild about them back in the day. And I have to agree, they are fantastic. They are like everything that is great about candied peel, to the most magnified degree. The large amount of pith means more of that indescribable (jelly-like? I keep eating them as I write this to try to come up with a word) texture. Candied Pomelo Rinds Dipped in Bittersweet ChocolateThey are tarter than orange peels, which is a great foil for the castor sugar or chocolate. And they look, in my opinion, gorgeous – they have beautiful color and their length and stiffness make them wonderful for dipping in the chocolate.

So I returned home today from my long sojourn, ready to write about my latest box-related adventure in candyland. As I sat down to write I thought suddenly, “I should check what the topic is this month for Sugar High Fridays.” Sugar High Fridays is an especially yummy blog event created by Jennifer at Domestic Goddess, where every month (for a long time now) food bloggers post about a decadent dessert that fits the theme of the month. I love reading the SHF round-ups, but I have never participated. I rarely post about desserts here, because my posts are mainly about what I make with my box, and my desserts are usually interested more in incorporating mountains of chocolate than bunches of radishes. But as luck would have it, I popped over to this month’s SHF topic at Tartelette and the theme is (yes! yes! yes!) citrus!

So it may have been a long week, and a tiring one, but I wouldn’t trade it in for any other week. We have ducks building a nest, the invention of mom-catnip, and a blog event entry to cap it all off and mark my return to the wider world. Sweet!