Looking Back

“Looking Back: Improve upon (or try an alternate version of) a previous challenge, or a recipe you are already comfortable with.”

I. Love. Chocolate.

Like seriously, I think chocolate is the Food of the Gods. Imagine my dismay when a historical recipe I was making for one of the last round’s challenges went horribly wrong. So horribly wrong that I didn’t take more than one bite and threw the entire batch away. The challenge was Sweets for the Sweet and I decided to make a chocolate caramel candy recipe. I took the time to do it just as written. The ingredients included Baker’s chocolate, brown sugar, butter, and milk. The resulting candy tasted like bitter molasses. It was awful.

Creole cover

When I saw this challenge, I decided I would try to make historical candy again, but with a different recipe. I chose my recipe from La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine, a cookbook I found on online at Michigan State University’s Feeding America website. This website is an invaluable source for historical cookbooks that have been scanned in and are available free of charge. You can find the digital copy here: Feeding America  La Cuisine Creole was anonymously printed in 1885, but its authorship is generally accepted to be attributed to Lafcadio Hearn. While the majority of the receipts are for Creole cookery, I did find a recipe for chocolate caramels that sounded similar to the recipe I had used with just a little difference in sugar.

Along with chocolate, I can use this entry to extol the virtues of something else I love – Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. My mom and dad brought my brother and I to Williamsburg when I was a child, then again in my early teens. As an adult, I have been there with my own family another six times. One of my favorite activities there is to sit in the middle of the Governor’s Palace Green and soak in the atmosphere. The colonial area is closed to motor traffic during the day, so all that can be heard is the slow clopping of horses’ hooves as they pull various types of carriages and wagons full of tourists from stop to stop. The smell in the air is that of boxwood in the spring and summer, a pungent spicy greenery that forms many of the garden hedges. My dream job is to be a historical cooking interpreter at the Governor’s Palace kitchen. It is located in a separate building on the edge of the courtyard and contains two rooms. One is a still room where all manners of confections and culinary delights can be found as well as various copper kettles, forms and implements for cooking. The other room is the kitchen proper with a large colonial style fireplace and adjacent oven. Foods are prepared using vegetables from the garden behind the building as well as fruit, milk, and other ingredients produced right there in the colonial area with historically accurate recipes and skills. The food is not available for tourists to eat, as it would not be able to pass quality tests, but for them to see the types of meals that were made for the British governor and his family to eat.

The last time we went to Colonial Williamsburg, the kitchen staff were making chocolate. They started with roasting the nut to rolling the chopped nuts, allowing the emollients within the nut to bring it to a semi-liquid form. The chocolate was then scraped off the chocolate stone, a special rolling stone that was heated to also help with the liquefying of the chocolate, and dropped into discs on parchment paper.  After they hardened, the discs would be stored for use as flavoring in hot water, as drinking chocolate was the only way it was consumed. The smell of chocolate in the kitchen that day was almost overwhelming. I spent a couple of hours there observing how the chocolate was made and trying to soak in as much information as possible.

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While I do not have a chocolate stone, I was able to purchase American Heritage Chocolate. If you have not heard about this chocolate, you can learn more here: American Heritage Chocolate  Basically, it was developed by Mars Wrigley, the company that brought us M&Ms.  Forrest E. Mars, Jr. worked with a team of historians with research by more than 115 global experts to create American Heritage Chocolate.

The Recipe:

Chocolate Caramels

Since my last try with chocolate caramels went so horribly wrong, I approached this time with extreme trepidation.  The recipe looked easy enough, but it did last time too!

2 C milk

4 oz grated chocolate

1 ½ C white sugar

Butter

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I prepared my block of chocolate by hand grating it. Once it was grated, I coated my cooking pan with butter, based from a different recipe I had read as well as preparing the dish I would pour it in when it was time.

I mixed my ingredients together and placed the mixture on a medium heat. I brought it to a rolling boil, all the while watching it carefully that it did not burn. I’m not a candy expert, so I decided to use my thermometer in order to be accurate with the temperature. “Stiff enough to pull” appeared to be soft ball stage via my research, which was 235 degrees Fahrenheit. As the mixture boiled and began to reduce, it became a rich, dark brown. The steam smelled amazing. As I watched my thermometer, I could only get it to 230 degrees, where it stayed for 10 minutes. It just would not go higher. I inched the stove knob slightly higher and immediately smelled it starting to burn. I decided to remove it from the heat, hot enough or not.

I poured it into my pan and waited patiently for it to cool.

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Since it did not get hard enough to cut or pull into pieces, I poured the thick, heavy sauce into a container. It tasted just as amazing as it smelled. There was no way I’m letting this go to waste! Now I just slip into the refrigerator and sneak a spoonful of it!

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The Date/Year and Region: 1885, New Orleans, Louisiana

Time to Complete: The whole process was 45 minutes, including the grating of the chocolate block.

Total Cost: I had all the ingredients, so $0 for me.

How Successful Was It?: While I couldn’t get the firmness needed, the resulting sauce is amazing.

How Accurate Is It?: I used an electric oven and candy thermometer.

Next up – Soup!

I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Amber

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New Year’s!

“New Year’s! – A new year, a new era, a new receipt, or a food intended for New Year’s.”

Trying to Find Inspiration

My family does not any New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day traditional foods. Typically, it was a day to hang out with family and friends, watch some football, eat some snacks. As a result, I needed to do a little wandering on the internet. My journey brought me to the website for Townsend’s. I love to watch their cooking videos and dream about working in their 1700s kitchen set. One of the videos I watched was for a Twelfth Night Cake. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/B5FzKB5TW0Y

Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night is the celebration of the Epiphany, the day the wise men were to have arrived after the birth of Jesus. The Smithsonian Institute describes a Twelfth Night party as this:  “According to the 1923 Dennison’s Christmas Book, “there should be a King and a Queen, chosen by cutting a cake…”  The Twelfth Night Cake has a bean and a pea baked into it.  The man who finds the bean in his slice of cake becomes King for the night while the lady who finds a pea in her slice of cake becomes Queen for the night.  The new King and Queen sit on a throne and “paper crowns, a scepter and, if possible, full regalia are given them.”  The party continues with games such as charades as well as eating, dancing, and singing carols.” Other sources suggest decorating the cake with either a crown or feather plumes. I decided to use the recipe suggested in the Townsend’s video, taken from The English Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice (1788) by Richard Briggs, however I was going to use 1/3 recipe.

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I assembled all my ingredients together and dove into the baking.

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I needed to use multiple bowls and multiple mixers. Luckily, I have plenty of both! I set the KitchenAid to whisking the egg whites while I beat the butter and sugar after mixing the dry ingredients together and the fruit and almonds soaked in the brandy. As I began adding the contents of the various bowls together, I really started to wonder if it would all fit in the bowl of the KitchenAid! With the last bowl of ingredients added, I carefully turned on the mixer. A few ingredients fell out, but the majority remained in the bowl! Great Success! I spooned the mixture into my prepared springform pan that was lined with parchment paper and buttered.

Next, it went into the oven for two hours! It actually took that long to bake and be done when I tested it.

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After it cooled, I began mixing the icing together. The icing recipe also came from Briggs’ The English Art of Cookery. I used the written recipe cut in half. I also did NOT beat the icing for three hours (!) as was written in the original recipe.

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Once the icing was at the thick, creamy consistency I needed, I covered the top and sides of the cake and set it in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. The icing became a hard crusted glaze as it dried.

 

Sources had mentioned using fondant to fashion a crown to place on the top or to insert a plume of feathers. I decided to go with the feathers, as well as additional decoration in the form of blue tinted chocolate discs in the place of non-pareils.

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I thought it turned out beautifully! It was definitely a very impressive cake, and I hadn’t even used a full recipe! The texture was dense and the flavor was very much like fruitcake. The icing was very fragile, cracking easily, making it a little difficult to eat. My husband and I can’t eat an entire cake, so I gave it to anyone who was willing to try it. Some people loved it, some people did not. My daughter told me that she and her boyfriend “wouldn’t look forward to eating it, but if we were hungry we would.”

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The Recipe:  This is the modified recipe I used.

Ingredients:

1 Lb. Butter

1/2 Lb. Sugar

8 Eggs (yolks & whites separated)

3 C. Flour

1 t Ground Mace

1 t Ground Nutmeg

1/2 c. Brandy

1/4 c. Candied Citron Rind

1/4 c. Candied Orange Rind

1/4 c. Candied Lemon Rind

1 C. Slivered Almonds

1 Lb. Zante Currants

Directions: Mix currants, citron rind, orange rind, lemon rind and slivered almonds, soaking them with the brandy once mixed. In a separate bowl, mix flour, mace and nutmeg. In another bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form; whip egg yolks in a separate bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter until it looks like whipped cream; then add the sugar until smooth and fluffy. Gently fold whipped egg whites and eggs yolks together; quickly and gently fold flour mixture into the egg mixture. Finally, gently fold the flour and egg mixture into the dried fruit mixture, being sure to not over stir. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 approximately hours.

This is the modified icing recipe:

6 egg whites

2 C. sugar

Take the egg whites and sugar, mix together and beat it well for 10 minutes until it looks white and thick. Then with a thin paste knife spread it all over the top and sides of your cake, and ornament it with sweet non-pareils, or fruit paste, or sugar images, and put it in a cool oven to harden for one hour, or set it at a distance from the fire and keep turning till it is hard.

The Date/Year and Region:  1788, England.

How I Made It: See above.

Time to Complete: Approximately five hours. This included three hours of baking time alone.

Total cost: I had to order the candied rind, the currents and I didn’t have brandy. Those ingredients alone cost $30. With the other ingredients that I did have, I would estimate the total cost to be approximately $38 – $40, plus the cost of feathers, which were another $10. That is the monetary cost and doesn’t include the time it took to make the cake. I feel this must have been for the rich to splurge with due to the amount of time it took and the amount of very rich ingredients. The average shopkeeper’s wife, farmer’s wife or dressmaker did not have the 7-8 hours it would have taken to bake and decorate this cake as written.

How Successful Was It? I would say moderate success. I feel the cake was sort of like fruit cake: you either like it or you don’t.

How Accurate Is It? I used two mixers and it was baked in an electric oven. For what it’s worth, I also used eight bowls while making this cake. I also did not put a coin or a bean in the cake. I was concerned about putting a modern coin in the mixture and while I have a reproduction silver pudding charm set, I’m pretty sure the last time I used it my grandpa ate the button without knowing it…

Next up – Looking Back

I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Amber

What Happened?

Well, life. Life happened. New demanding job, wedding of my son, beginning of the long goodbye with my father, another new job….

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My son and his beautiful bride
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Simply beautiful…
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My parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. My father had Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. He was an amazing man.

Just as I was beginning to restart my cooking challenges, they were updated with new challenges for this year. I will return to the previous Round 2 challenges eventually, mostly because I have all the recipes planned out! For now, however, I will be cooking the challenges for Round 3, 2019.

Next up – New Years! (And yes, I did my cooking within the fortnight, just need to find time to get them posted!)

I’ll be cooking for you soon!