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Entries in cake history (57)

Tuesday
Feb192008

Happy Cakes: Cakespy Offers Sweet Prozac Alternatives for Dull Winter Days

The chocolate boxes are empty; the red roses are wilting. Without a doubt, post-Valentine's Day can be a bummer time of year, with not much other than the chance green-dyed pastry and Irish Soda bread between now and Easter Candy. Happily for you, Cakespy has put together a list of some confectionery Prozac alternatives: happy desserts, perfect for the dark winter days still ahead.


Topping off the list is the Basque Cake (or, if you're feeling authentic and/or fancy, the Gâteau Basque). Really, the Basque cake is probably the embodiment of sunshine in a cake; not a bread, not a pie, not a cake, but some delightful amalgamation of all three, with all sorts of variations depending on where your recipe comes from geographically. As its name would imply, it hails from the Basque region, a magical area that straddles the border between Southern France and Spain, and is traditionally served in June when cherries are plentiful (there's even a cherry festival each June in the town of Itxassou). Just a taste of this cake, with a fruit complement, is like tasting the sun itself, transporting your tastebuds to a warmer climate, surrounded by trees bowed with the weight of their own fruit. Basque in the sun, indeed. Recipe listed below.

Still not happy? What can we say: when life's a drag, get dragées! San Francisco-based Miette Patisserie has just revamped their site and added an online store, so these Frenchie treats can be delivered right to your home. While dragées may also refer to the crunchy-silver ball bearing-esque cake toppings that have been banned in California, the type we're referring to here are what may also be known as Jordan Almonds; entire almonds coated with a sugary shell and finished in lovely pastel colors which the French have been serving up since the 13th century. The contrast of the tender almond with the crunchy, ever-so-slightly vanilla-y sugar coating never fails to bring a smile to our faces; you too can have this joy for just $5 plus shipping by visiting miettecakes.com.

 

Frown not upside down yet? While personally we've begun to suspect that you might be soulless, nonetheless we've got one more fail-safe happy idea, provided by Cake Gumshoe Karen (who also works at a very cool company, Mailbox Tees): an over-the-top Rainbow Layer Cake! While some may say (shun the non-believers) that simply adding food coloring doesn't change a cake's taste and character, we suggest that you hold off on making judgements til you taste this rainbow; we think you'll find that yes, magic does add a little something to the mix. Recipe listed here.


Gâteau Basque (Basque Cake)

Servings: 8
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 6 oz (12 Tbs) butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup black cherry jam
  • 1/2 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs flour to prepare the mold
  • 1 yolk for decorating the cake
Directions:

 

Pre-heat the oven to 400 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Using 1/2 Tb, butter a round 7" pan. Coat the pan with flour.
In a bowl, mix flour, sugar and baking powder together and then add eggs and soft butter.
Split the dough into 2 parts, roll one out and place it in the pan, rising up the side of the pan by 1/2”.
Pour the jam on top of the dough.
Roll the second part of the dough on the table (after sprinkling some flour on the table) to form a round crust the same size as the pan.
Put it on top of the jam and stick the edges with the bottom dough. It is important to keep the jam inside the crust.
Mix an egg yolk with a few drops of water. Paint it on top of the crust.
Place in the oven for 25 minutes.

Recipe thanks to France Monthly.

Want to learn more about all things Basque? Check out The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation by Mark Kurlansky. Planning a visit to la belle France? We suggest trying to fit in a visit to the Gâteau Basque Museum (it exists!); find out more at legateaubasque.com

 

 


 

Tuesday
Jan082008

Vive le Roi: The Story of the King Cake of New Orleans

Photo above used with great thanks to Bobby_emm; photo below left used with great thanks to flicka23.
This week, January 6th marked the end of Christmas, and to many, the beginning of that dull season known as "just winter"; no holidays to look forward to, justdark days and cold nights. Right? Well, not if you're in New Orleans, because over in the land of voodoo and jazz, January 6th marked not only the Epiphany but also the countown to Mardi Gras, and to cake lovers, the beginning of King Cake Season. King Cakes are a cake so garish (decked out in gold, purple and green frosting and garnished with a paper crown) that you can't help but smile; but what is the story behind this rich, vibrant treat? We recently got in a New Orleans state of mind and did some research into the "Brave cake" that has inspirations dating back to Ancient Rome; here's what we discovered:

 

The King Cake is a direct US descendant of the French gateau des rois (not to be confused with the gallette des rois, which has a puff pastry base and frangipane filling, as opposed to the filled-brioche style of what became the King Cake) from France, part of the feast of the Epiphany. Why the royal name? Well, it takes its name from the three kings of biblical lore, going along with the idea that the twelfth day of Christmas, when the three kings arrived bearing gifts for the young Christ, there was much celebration and merrymaking to be made. Afterward, part of the tradition became to crown a "mock" king of celebrations, the king being whoever came across a trinket (originally a bean) in the cake at the festivities. The bean custom seems to have been borrowed / inspired by the Saturnalia festival of the Roman Empire. The Epiphany celebration became a celebration of the new year, a fruitful harvest, and healthy year ahead; it is also a forefather of the modern Mardi Gras, a necessary bit of excess and evil before the solemn days of Lent. 


Really, the New Orleans version of the cake embodies the celebration and excess that is Mardi Gras: the twisted-bread / brioche style cake is frequently filled (and in our opinion, at its best!) with rich cream cheese or praline, and topped with sugar icing in traditional purple, green and gold carnival colors which represent justice, faith and power (respectively) . The finished product is extremely colorful, rich, and extremely sweet. These days, the treat is so popular that some people in the New Orleans area have "king cake" parties every week (an excellent tradition!). But back to that little figurine: why is it a baby now, rather than a bean? Some say is to represent the young Christ of the epiphany; however, we like this explanation so much better: "a local bakery chain got a large shipment of such plastic dolls from Hong Kong very cheaply in the 1950's and had to use them up and there is no more signifigance than that." Who knows the real truth, but hey, it makes a good story.

 

But regardless of the meaning of the baby, they're still highly covetable little miracles: just as with the older versions of the cake, whoever finds it in their piece is declared the king or queen of the party, and gets to wear the crown with which the cake is often served. And while it's good to be king or queen--royal duties will include leading the drinking and merriment, and the ability to command others to act upon your whim--don't despair if you don't get the coveted bean or baby. Aside from saving precious tooth enamel, the king or queen is frequently appointed to either pay for the night's drinking, or  buy the cake and host the party the next time.

Long live the king, indeed.

Want to try making your own King Cake? Well, it seems like a serious undertaking, but we spied an authentic recipe at nolacuisine.comVegans need not despair; Melisser the Urban Housewife suggested a vegan recipe too, which can be found at pakupaku.info. Thanks Melisser!

Still want more? Why not check out Cakespy's King Cake painting (complete with mini baby!), now available at jessieoleson.etsy.com!

 

Sunday
Dec232007

Twinkie, Twinkie, Little Star: The Story of a Lunchbox Icon

We'd say that once it has made a cameo in a Weird Al movie, been spoofed on The Family Guy and been the subject of an entire cookbook, a baked good has pretty much carved out its place as a cultural icon.

We are talking, of course, about the Twinkie.

What is it about Twinkies? Quite literally, they’re a strange, vaguely neon-toned yellow oblong cream-filled sponge cake with a very long list of ingredients...and yet, they've had a place in our lunchboxes and our hearts since as long as we can remember.

But how did this all happen? The Cakespy crew did some sleuthing:

We’ll begin our story in the early 1930s, in Illinois, at the site of the Continental Baking Company (owners of Hostess and Wonder Bread, which we think you’ve heard of). It was here, in the post-depression era, that industrious bakery manager James (“Jimmy”) Dewar noticed that a machine used for strawberry shortcakes (Hostess Little Shortbread Fingers...seen them around lately?) was going unused during the non-strawberry season, and so repurposed the pans to make a sponge cake filled with a banana cream filling. As lore would have it, he got the idea for the name when driving by a billboard advertising “Twinkle toe shoes”, which he shortened to “Twinkies”. In later years during WW2, due to banana shortages, the cream was changed to vanilla.

It wasn't till the 60's and 70's though, that they secured their place as a lunchbox legend. During this time two major things happened: first, their recipe changed. The original (preservative-free)Twinkies’ shelf life was a mere 2 days, and as much as they tried to replenish, it proved much cheaper to replace the natural fats in the pastry with longer shelf-life chemical ones. Contrary to popular belief though, Twinkies don’t last forever; the suggested shelf life these days is 25 days, although recently one 30 year-old one was recently found in Maine (that one was described as intact but “brittle"). The second thing was that they came up with the character Twinkie the Kid, based on a character from Howdy Doody. So how did these two seemingly unrelated things prove pivotal to the Twinkie? Well, the new recipe allowed them to be the perfect lunch box treat, and the Twinkie the Kid character made Twinkies something that kids wanted in their lunchboxes.

The rest, as they say, is history. While changes have come around (bringing back the original banana flavor; attempts at new flavors), it is still that basic cream-filled Twinkie that remains. While the Cakespy crew rarely eats Twinkies from the package anymore--that whole preservative thing--we do love the combination of flavors in Twinkies, and so are loving the new crop of Twinkie-flavored cupcakes and freshly baked gourmet desserts inspired by the classic treats. If like us you'd like a fresher and better-for-your-body alternative (hey, it's all relative), you may find that Vegan or homemade Twinkies are a much more palatable choice.

 

Here are some resources:

-For a great Vegan Twinkies Recipe, visit shmooedfood.blogspot.com.
-For a homemade Twinkie recipe, visit recipezaar.com.
-For a gourmet Twinkie cupcake recipe, check out reinsrecipes.blogspot.com.

-For a Twinkie Cake recipe from the Twinkie Cookbook, visit cookiemadness.net.

 

 

Cakespy Note: this history would not have been possible without the help of some wonderful resources, including: Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettinger, kitchenproject.com, wikipedia.org and howstuffworks.com.

 

Sunday
Dec162007

It's So Cold In Alaska: A History of Baked Alaska

 

Baked Alaska at Papa Haydn

How many of you know what Baked Alaska is?

 

An article in Cooks Illustrated puts it nicely: "Baked Alaska is what the French call a bombe, or a layered assemblage of ice cream and cake. Instead of being served cold, it is slathered with a thick layer of sweet meringue and baked until golden. In a bit of kitchen wizardry, the fluffy whipped egg whites insulate the ice cream and protect it from melting despite the oven's withering heat."

At Cakespy, we'd always had a vague romantic notion of this dessert without actually knowing what it was. But after recently trying it for the first time at Papa Haydn, in Portland, OR, we were hooked; we wanted to know everything about this unusual dessert. So we put on our sleuthing clothes, and here's what we found out:

Turns out, the lineage of this lovely dessert does not begin in France as we had originally thought, but in China, where the idea of cooking a cold dessert encased with pastry seems to have originated. The concept came to France when Chinese delegates made a visit to Paris and the concept was passed off to a pastry chef. the addition of the meringue layer in the early 1800s is credited to Benjamin Thompson, an American physicist living in Europe, who realized that while pastry would conduct much of the heat and protect the cold core, a layer of meringue would do so to even greater a degree. Due to its snowy appearance and chilly core, it was dubbed the "omelette á la norvégienne". Its popularity caught on during the Victorian era, and these elaborate confections were made in various fancy shapes and were frequently called "Bombes".

In 1876 it made its stateside debut via Delmonico's Restaurant in NYC, where Charles Ranhofer made the dessert in celebration of the newly acquired Alaska Territory. Originally called "Alaska-Florida" (the whole hot-cold thing, we think) it was eventually shortened to "Baked Alaska". Now, this recipe is not only ingredient but time intensive; it doesn't really have a "downmarket" version, which seems to have been a big factor in its popularity. It became known as a dessert for the privileged, and was served and popularized by chefs like Jean Giroix of the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo. It was undoubtedly this fancy-dessert status which led the confection to be featured in several important American cookbooks of the era, perhaps most notably the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which ultimately sealed its place in American culture.

It grew to be a popular hostess dessert and piece de resistance during 60's and 70's, but went the way of bell bottoms and disco clothes in the 80's and was absent from the dessert scene for many years. And on one level we can see why; of course, other than tastes changing, it is a draining dessert to make and rather daunting a project to take on.

Nonetheless, like so many things that must be worked for, once you've tasted a good Baked Alaska, you'll know it can be worth the journey.

Cakespy Note: This post would not have been possible without references from What's Cooking America, Wikipedia, Foodreference.com, Cooks Illustrated, Hub-uk.com,

A note on Recipes: in our journeys, we found several recipes for Baked Alaska; we found the most user-friendly one to be in this year's special holiday baking issue of Cooks Illustrated, in the article entitled "Demystifying Baked Alaska". We also found this cute one online at the Food Network.

Baked Alaska Trivia (Sources: Wikipedia, What's Cooking America)

A variation called Bombe Alaska calls for some dark rum to be splashed over the Baked Alaska. Lights are then turned down and the whole dessert is flambéed while being served.

In 1969, the recently invented microwave oven enabled Hungarian physicist and molecular gastronomist Nicholas Kurti to produce a "reverse Baked Alaska", aka Frozen Florida (hot on the inside and cold on the outside).

Thomas Jefferson was a fan of the dish, and served it at his dinner parties: from the web site The Home of Thomas Jefferson, one visitor reportedly commented: "Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material enclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven."

Thursday
Dec062007

What a Fruitcake: The Story of a Holiday Icon

 

Fruitcake 2

Fruitcakes are kind of like Yoda: tiny, full of substance, and totally heavy.

 

However, unlike Yoda, the poor fruitcake is a much lauded rather than beloved icon of pop culture. But why? After all, it has the ingredients for greatness: sugar, fruit, sugar, nuts, sugar. So what gives? Lucky for you, we've taken the time to not only find out more about this holiday treat, but to taste it and give our educated opinion as well.

As it turns out, fruitcakes have a rather-er, rich history, the earliest ones dating back to Roman times, when a dense mixture of nuts, barley mash and various preserved fruits served as long-term sustenance that did not spoil quickly--perfect for crusaders and hunters out on long voyages. When the dried fruits of the Mediterranean traveled to other parts of Europe, the cake evolved into a tradition during nut harvests: each year, a fruitcake would be made with
the nuts of the harvest, which would be then saved and eaten the following year, to kick of the next harvest. Unfortunately the popularity dwindled a bit when fruitcakes were deemed "sinfully rich" by the government in the early 18th century in Europe, and they were relegated to a special-occasion only cake (this is how it became associated with holidays); luckily, these laws became a little more lax later on in the century, and it became a staple of high tea in England.

While it's pretty clear that the fruitcake is rich in tradition, we did not fail to notice that there weren't many stories of it being beloved for its actual taste. In fact there is even evidence to the contrary: Queen Victoria is said to have waited a year to eat a fruitcake she received for her birthday because she felt it showed restraint, moderation and good taste. (Source: What's Cooking America). Hmm, or perhaps it just wasn't yummy?

Although we didn't trace a single incident that brought the cake to America (although we think that it probably had something to do with how well it traveled), we were able to cement the moment it secured its place in culture: in 1913, fruitcake became available for mail order in the USA. And really, it's the ideal type of cake to send: it keeps well, is impervious to most jostling, and stays fresh. In fact, the only drawback would be its weight. The most famous joke about fruitcakes is attributed to Johnny Carson, who joked that there was really only one fruitcake in the world, which was passed from family to family. Although clearly fruitcakes were a lauded item before this point, this seems to be the moment that cemented its status as a ridiculed dessert. 

But really, is that all? The Cakespy crew felt unsatisfied; had we really discovered the secret of the fruitcake? Not yet. So to complete our mission, we invested in one ($12) by Trappist Abbey, a monastery that has been making fruitcakes in Oregon (hey, they say fact is stranger than fiction) for years. The tiny box (approx. The size of a large grapefuit) weighed a pound, and listed its contents as containing 16 servings; this was an incredibly dense little morsel.

As for the taste? Not bad. Head Spy Jessie had never actually tried fruitcake before (!) and so found it to be dense, but pleasing. Mr. Cakespy Danny found it to be amongst the better fruitcakes he'd tried. Both plates were cleaned.

But then something funny happened. No, the cake hadn't been bad. But unlike when there might be say, a chocolate layer cake in the house, there were no idle nibblings at the fruitcake. In fact, even when the house was devoid of all other sugary snacks, the fruitcake sat alone, uneaten.  Even a full week later, not another crumb has been touched; and somehow, we feel that it won't be.

So then...what is it about the fruitcake? Is it too dense? Is it the fact that it is just too sweet...while at the same time as tasting vaguely healthy? Or is it just that in modern times, crusades aside, gingerbread men and yule logs are just too good to pass up in lieu of this traditional, overlooked little fruit-studded gem of history?

We may have to wait longer to find out the secret of the fruitcake; luckily, we think they'll last through it.

Interested in the Trappist Abbey Fruitcake? Check them out online at trappistabbey.org.

This post would not have been possible without the reference of What's Cooking America, Wikipedia, and Hungry Monster.


Bonus: Fruitcake Trivia!

In the early 18th century, fruitcake (called plum cakes) was outlawed entirely throughout Continental Europe. These cakes were considered as "sinfully rich." By the end of the 18th century there were laws restricting the use of plum cake. Source: What's Cooking America.

It was the custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of cake, traditionally a dark fruitcake, under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry. Source: What's Cooking America.

Some well-known American bakers of fruitcake include the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and the Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia. Both Collin Street and Claxton are southern companies with access to cheap nuts, for which the expression "nutty as a fruitcake" was derived in 1935. Commercial fruitcakes are often sold from catalogs by charities as a fundraiser. Source: Wikipedia.

Thursday
Nov292007

Pop-Quiz: The Lore (and Lure) of the Pop-Tart

Pop Tarts. Whether you love or hate them, you really can't deny their presence: from those memorable toaster strudel commercials of yore to their ubiquity in office vending machines, they're nothing if not constant in our everyday lives.

But how did these little toaster treats worm their way into our lives? For those of you have ever wondered (surely there must be some of you), Cakespy has done some serious sleuthing on the story of the Pop-Tart. We would have been sunk without wonderful reference guides such as Whole Pop Magazine's "True History of Pop-Tarts", Dave Barry's informative article "Tarts Afire", and James Prichard's article on the treats in the Detroit News from 2003.

Pop-tarts were invented in the post-World War II era, when Post (not Kellogg!) was developing new products. There was an emphasis at this time on foods that were convenient and had a long shelf life, and the now-familiar foil packaging was originally used as a way of preserving a type of moist dog food; they altered it slightly to accommodate a new people-food addition meant to supplement their cereal offerings, which they called "Country Squares". Unfortunately, loose-lipped employees revealed the nature of the product in development before it was released, thus giving arch rival Kellogg a chance to come up with a competitor product--and obviously to think of a better name. The fate of Country Squares? Well, all we can say is, when is the last time you saw one at your local grocery store? Pop-Tarts, on the other hand, were a runaway success.

The original Pop-Tarts were unfrosted; some fool thought that the frosting might melt and cause problems in the toaster. Happily they worked on the issue, developing a frosted and toaster-safe version in 1967. Since then, it's been a movie montage-esque development of new flavors and variations, from the most excellent S'more Pop-Tart to the bad-decision neon-colored Wild! Berry. Of course, Pop-Tarts haven't been without their fair share of controversy; but even in spite of the infamous UK toaster cloggings of the early 90's (turns out their toasters are different from ours) and the 1992 toaster fire debacle and even the ill-fated addition of "Go-Tarts" (slender Pop-Tart sticks meant for on-the-go consumption; we say, just eat a Pop-Tart), they've remained a beloved part of not only our lives but our culture.

And happily, Cake Gumshoe Kristin recently came across a wonderful recipe in a Martha Stewart holiday baking guide by Flour Bakery's owner / head baker Joanne Chang, which is reminiscent of the classic toaster treats, but made with more refined tastes in mind...kind of like Pop-Tarts, all growed up.

Tasty Toaster Tarts Recipe by Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery

Pastry

2 cups flour (they recommend King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 cup, 8 oz unsalted butter, cut into pats

Filling: 3/4 cup raspberry jam
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 1tbsp cold water
1 egg, to brush on dough

Topping

1 cup, 4 oz confectioner's sugar
3 to 4 tbsp water

----------

To make dough: Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Work in butter until mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a rough 3x5 inch rectangle, smoothing edges. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

To make filling: in a small saucepan, mix jam with cornstarch and water mix. Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

To assemble tarts: remove dough from the refrigerator, and if it's been chilling for longer than 1 hour, allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one pice on a lightly floured work surface,
and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick, large enough so that you can trim it to an even 9x12 inches. Set aside. Roll a second piece of dough as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you've
rolled, to gently score it in thirds lenghtwise and widthewise; you'll see nine 3x4 inch rectangles.

Beat egg, and brush it over entire surface of dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of jam into center of each marked rectangle. Place second sheet of dough atop first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each
pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides. Cut dough evenly in between jam pockets to make nine tarts. Gently place tarts on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, and refrigerate, covered, for 30
minutes, to relax and chill the dough.

Prick the top of each tart several times with ha fork. Bake tarts in a preheatd 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven, and allow to cool on pan.

For the topping: Combine confectioners sugar with 3 tablespoons of water, adding more if necessary to make a pourable glaze. Pour and spread glaze over cooled tarts. Yield: 9 toaster tarts.

Bonus Pop-Tart Trivia: For the 35th anniversary of the toaster pastry, Kellogg made the biggest Pop-Tart ever recorded: In total, it took more than 545 pounds of flour, 495 pounds of fruit filling, 800 pounds of icing and 150 pounds of colored sprinkles to create the giant-sized toaster pastry. The oversized snack was unveiled at a press conference in front of the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, where morning commuters were treated to tasting this record-breaking creation.

For more information on Pop-Tarts, visit poptarts.com.

 

Monday
Nov192007

Pie, But Why? The History of Pumpkin Pie as told by Cakespy

Pumpkin pie: as important a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey (perhaps more important to some!). But have you ever paused to wonder...why pie? And why pumpkin in particular?

Well, now you have yet one more thing to be thankful for: in the spirit of the fast-approaching day of consumption, Cakespy did a little sleuthing into the matter. Here’s what we learned, presented in an easy way that won’t hurt your brain (too much). We reviewed various sources for this writeup; some accounts will vary, and we'll be completely honest in telling you we based our writeup on the versions we liked best. Amongst our invaluable sources: The History Channel, Larry Sagers, the Pumpkin Nook, and What's Cooking America.

To consider the history of the pumpkin pie, we choose to look at it in a Sliding Doors, fate / destiny sort of way. First, we’ll go to Europe. Although the origins of the pie stretch way back to ancient Egypt, where an early version of the pastry was made with honey and nuts in bread dough, in our opinion they came into their own during medieval times. Pies (charmingly called “coffins” then) became popular for being both a food and a vessel—easy to transport, hearty and filling. Of course, being baked without a pan at the time, the crust was...well, pretty crusty and inedible. But, it did protect the (usually savory) contents on jousts and voyages to and from the castle. Over the years, the piemaking method improved, and the size of a typical pie increased—they had to be pretty big after all to fit four and twenty blackbirds.

Meanwhile, in what’s going to be the USA one day, pumpkins are a staple for the Native Americans. The outer parts were cut into strips, dried, and made into mats; the innards were roasted by the fire and eaten. A useful little gourd indeed.

But fireworks flew when the pilgrims came stateside; they learned pretty quick that they were going to have to adapt to the local produce, or...well, not eat. Not surprisingly, they didn’t find pumpkin puree by itself to be exceedingly delicious; and so they cleverly removed the seeds from the inside, and added mass amounts of sugar, milk, spices and honey. They would then bake the pumpkin whole in hot fire embers and eat the sweet insides. Yummy.

After that, it didn’t take too long for old-world customs to meet with the new-school produce, and the sweet pumpkin mixture was poured into pie crusts. And to speak to why pies don’t have a top crust? As some would have it (and we like this explanation) foremost to conserve ingredients; they would literally “cut corners” by cutting the crust before baking; this conserving of ingredients is also why pies traditionally became shallower than in the days of yore.

And it is this series of events that led up to the sweet treats served at the first Thanksgiving feasts; the pumpkin pie has been a symbol of not just Thanksgiving, but hearth, home and friendship ever since.

Make your own Thanksgiving joy with a recipe that's worked nicely for us (from Joy of Baking); for an alternate pie crust which sounds completely amazing (though we haven't had a chance to try it ourselves yet), visit the incredibly awesome Cookie Madness.

Cakespy Note: Head Spy Jessie took the header photo, which shows a particularly beautiful specimen of pie as seen at Seattle's Macrina Bakery.

 

Pate Brisee (Short Crust Pastry):

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.54 cm) pieces

1/8 to 1/4 cup (30 - 60 ml) ice water

Pate Brisee: In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/8 cup water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Cakespy Note: we did this all by hand and it was ok.

Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After the dough has chilled sufficiently, place on a lightly floured surface, and roll into a 13 inch (33 cm) circle. (To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards).) Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9 inch (23 cm) pie pan. Brush off any excess flour and tuck the overhanging pastry under itself. Use a fork to make a decorative border. Alternatively, you can trim the pastry to the edge of the pie pan. With the remaining pastry make decorative cut-outs (leaves, pumpkins, etc.) and with a little water, attach them around the lip of the pie pan. Refrigerate the pastry, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes before pouring in the filling.

Pumpkin Filling:

3 large eggs

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree or 1 - 15 ounce can (425 grams) pure pumpkin

1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup (110 grams) light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt


Make the Pumpkin Filling: In a large bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and place on a large baking pan to catch any spills. Bake the pie for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust has browned (the center will still look wet). (A knife inserted about 1 inch (2.54 cm) from side of pan will come out almost clean.)

Place the baked pie on a wire rack to cool. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Makes one 9 inch (23 cm) pie.

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