Brownies

Fannie Farmer's 1906 brownies

Fannie Farmer’s 1906 brownies

The origins of the brownie are somewhat mysterious and controversial. Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, cookbook author Fannie Farmer, and an unknown housewife in Bangor, Maine, all have some claim on its creation.

I’ll start with the Palmer House story, which is that its kitchen invented little chocolate cake bars glazed with apricot preserves and decorated with nuts for the 1893 Columbian exposition, and named these treats brownies. They were made to put in boxed lunches for ladies attending the exposition. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, this legend may be true, and the hotel served brownies like these later on — and still does — but there is unfortunately no documentation for the 1893 date.

Fannie Farmer was the first to actually publish a recipe for brownies, in 1896. Her creation was different from the modern brownie (and Palmer House’s), as it had no chocolate and wasn’t cut into bars. But the texture was brownie-like, and she followed it up a decade later with a recipe more like the brownie as we know it today.

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Cottage Pudding

cottage pudding

I became interested in cottage pudding largely because of its name. Why was it called a pudding, since it seemed to be a cake, and why a cottage pudding?

“Pudding” was once a general term for dessert (and still is in Great Britain), but there were plenty of recipes in old cookbooks for “cake,” so why wasn’t this one of them? The answer seems to be that although it was a cake, this dish was served with a sauce that was poured over the top, resulting in a slightly mushy, pudding-like dessert. The cake itself was also very moist.

As for the term “cottage,” it probably identified this dish as simple and affordable — suitable for farmers or laborers who lived in modest cottages. (It is similar in that sense to cottage pie, an early name for shepherd’s pie.) Continue reading

Sand Tarts

sand tarts“Why are they called sand tarts?” asked my daughter. I told her that I think it’s because these delicate sugar cookies crumble like sand when you eat them.

Growing up, I looked forward to eating sand tarts every Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania. They are common in Pennsylvania Dutch country and throughout the state. My grandmother baked a lot of good cookies during the holidays, but this one was my favorite. She made them so thin you could practically see through them, and they were a sugary, buttery delight.

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