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Entries in history (40)


What is Allspice?

Have you ever wondered what, exactly, allspice is? Well, I found myself wondering recently, and I thought I would pass on my newfound wisdom on the ways of allspice. Enjoy!

What is Allspice?

Photo: Pixabay

Botanically speaking, this spice is known as Pimenta officinalis, and it comes from the Jamaican Pepper Tree. While it is said to be native to south and central America, it was most famously shared with the world after its discovery in Jamaica in the West Indies: this is where Columbus discovered the stuff. Per the Farmers Almanac, a physician on the ship declared the tree had the "finest smell of cloves" he had ever encountered.

Allspice comes from the dried berry of the pimento tree, a tropical tree which can range in size from 20-40 feet, which is related to the myrtle and features thick, elliptical-shaped leaves. In the spring and summer, the tree produces white blooms, which are followed by the pea-sized berries in the fall. These berries are dried and ground to produce the allspice we know. 

What about the name? 

As I discovered on About Food,

Allspice comes by its name for a very good reason. The berries have a combined flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves with a hint of juniper and peppercorn. Some enterprising spice companies sell a mixture of spices as allspice, so be sure and check the ingredients on the label to be sure you are getting the real thing. Allspice is often called pimento, not to be confused with the capsicum pepper pimiento, which is a vegetable, not a spice.

How to use it

  • Since it tastes like a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, it is a frequent component of baked goods, especially in the fall. It is notably part of pumpkin pie spice. 
  • It can be used in Jamaican (savory) cookery. Known as Jamaican pepper, it is part of jerk spice mixes. 
  • In Polish cooking, it is called kubaba and adds a certain je ne sais quoi to pot roasts and stuffings. 

8 tasty recipes featuring allspice

I think these ones sound like winners, don't you?

Substituting allspice in recipes

If you don't have allspice on hand, this spice substitution guide suggests cinnamon; cassia; dash of nutmeg or mace; or dash of cloves. Or, follow the example of The Humbled Homemaker and mix equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Interesting facts

  • Once upon a time, flowers were given as symbolic gestures. Bright yellow allspice buds were seen as a symbol of compassion. (find more flower symbolism here)
  • Allspice is a curative, and is considered a remedy for health issues as wide ranging as muscle aches, indigestion, and fever. 
  • Allspice was named due to its scent, which is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Pimento was given its name by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, who thought the dried berries looked like peppercorns, and called them “pimenta”, or pepper. (source)

How do you use allspice in your baking or cooking?


Sweet Tarte: The Story of Tarte Tatin

Image via CraftsyI know, sweet readers, that you probably love a sweet story as much as me, so I thought I would tell you the tale of Tarte Tatin.

To the uninitiated, Tarte Tatin is an upside-down apple tart which is famous in France. It's upside down because it's baked with a slurry of apples, butter, sugar and some spices in a pan, with the pastry bottom on top. After it's baked, you flip the pan, and the yummy gooey stuff drips down on top of the apples to form a caramelly, buttery awesome apple topping on a pastry crust. It's easy and good eating, for sure. 

Among its many fine points, it's also largely viewed as a precursor to America's beloved pineapple upside-down cake. 

So how did the tart get its start? Well, one thing is for certain: the ones who made it famous in the 1880s were the Tatin sisters, Stephanie and Caroline, proprietresses of the Hotel Tatin, located about 100 miles south of Paris. 

How, exactly, the tart was developed depends on who you ask. There are several stories; I'll share a few with you.

Some say that it was a flub where sister Stephanie was cooking some apples on the stovetop and misjudged how quickly they were cooking. To try to chill out the fast-cooking pommes, she tossed a pastry crust on top and tossed the whole thing in the oven to slow the cooking. When she extracted it, the inverted tarte was well-received, and a new classic was born. In another similar variation, she simply forgets to put the crust below the apples so decides to put it on top and bake.

Other versions of the story make out Stephanie as a kitchen novice, accidentally assembling the tart in the wrong order before baking but deciding to go with it. Yet others include an unfortunate incident in which a tart is assembled and soon before baking, is accidentally flipped upside down, but she decides to go with it anyway.

If you've heard another variation of the story, or a slightly different version of any of the above, I'm not surprised. As I found out while writing my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Dessertsmany of the stories behind popular baked goods are like playing a game of telephone: they're slightly different depending on who tells the story. 

It's also probable that it wasn't an accident at all, but a matter of the baker following baking trends, since it's probable that the concept of upside-down desserts actually preceded the sisters Tatin. In his Le Pâtissier royal parisien, published in 1841, the famed pastry chef Marie-Antoine Carême had already referenced "gâteaux renversées" , or "reversed cakes", made with various fruits.

But to me, this is the most interesting part of the story: it wasn't even the sisters Tatin who made the tarte famous. In fact, it was a matter of word of mouth. 

Maurice Curonsky, a French author and gourmand, adorably nicknamed "the Prince of Gastronomy"was the first to famously revere the tart, referring to it in his writing as "tarte des desmoiselles Tatin". To the best of my high school French knowledge, "desmoiselles" is a more kind term than "old maids", but it does refer to their unmarried status. Word of the "tarte Tatin" spread, and this became its nickname--it had not previously been referred to by name like this.

Sealing the tarte's fame was the love of Louis Vaudable, an influential foodie and owner of Parisian restaurant Maxim's. According to the official Tarte Tatin website, Vaudable is said to have written "I used to hunt around Lamotte-Beuvron in my youth, and had discovered in a very small hotel run by elderly ladies a marvelous dessert listed on the menu under tarte solognote. I questioned the kitchen staff about its recipe, but was sternly rebuffed. Undaunted, I got myself hired as a gardener. Three days later, I was fired when it became clear that I could hardly plant a cabbage. But this was long enough to pierce the secrets of the kitchen. I brought the recipe back, and put it on my own menu under "Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin".

As the website continues, however, "Unfortunately, Mr. Vaudable was born in 1902, and the sisters retired in 1906. They died in 1911 and 1917, while Maxim's was purchased by the Vaudable family in 1932." So while it's a cute story, it doesn't quite line up. 

Nonetheless, the tarte did appear on the Maxim's menu, and became a popular favorite.

Today, you might not see tarte tatin on restaurant menus with great regularity, but it's a delicious and worthwhile experience to make your own. It's fairly simple--if you've ever made an apple pie, and if you've ever flipped a Pineapple upside-down cake, you're well equipped with all the skills you need. 

Happy Apples

Regarding apples: The French Calville apple is the specimen of choice for this recipe; however, if you can't find those, try Pippin, Cortland, or Gala apples. Interestingly, some older recipes call for unpeeled apples, though the recipe I suggest calls for Granny smith apples, cored and peeled. I have used Gala when I have made this recipe, but you choose your own bliss. You're not going to be wrong if you use Granny smith.

Regarding pans: You know, there actually exists a tarte tatin pan. But if you don't want to make the investment...go ahead and use an oven-safe skillet.

Regarding serving: Although old versions call for serving the tarte warm, by itself, go ahead and serve it with ice cream if you wanna (you probably do, right?). You won't regret it. 

Want a recipe? I will tell you, I have used the New York Times recipe pretty exactly, so I won't even try to adapt it here--rather, I will give you a link.

Find a recipe for Tarte Tatin here.

Have you ever tried Tarte tatin?


A Historical Look at the Mexican Wedding Cake Cookie

Mexican wedding cakes

Ah, Mexican Wedding Cakes: one of my favorite cakes that is not a cake at all, but a cookie!

And oh, what a cookie. These rich cookies rolled in confectioners' sugar to resemble sweet little snowballs crumble in your mouth in the most delightful way: basically butter and (usually) finely chopped nuts held together by flour and sugar, they begin to shatter and disintegrate the moment they hit your tongue. You may know them as Mexican Wedding Cakes. Or you might know them, with slight variations, under another name: Snowballs, Moldy Mice, Bullets, Russian Teacakes, Melting Moments, Mandulás kifli, Polvorones, Sand Tarts, Sandies, Butterballs, Almond Crescents, Finska kakor, Napoleon Hats (whew!). Mexican wedding cakes

These cookies hail from as many countries as they have names: talk about a universal cookie.

Mexican wedding cakes

Considering the many variations, is it possible to connect the cookie to a particular place? Well, you might first look back to sugar-rich medieval Arab cuisine. Sweetmeats, candies, and confections containing nuts (usually almonds) and spices were served at special occasions. Next, you spread it to Europe, a sweet tradition quickly adopted by Moors and taken to Spain. From then on it’s like playing Telephone: the concept of the cookie traveled far and wide, with each region taking on their own variations based on ingredients available at the time. This sweet cookie concept was then introduced to the New World by early explorers. Fast forward, and you've got a cookie tradition that has persisted due to the cookie's relative ease in preparation and simple but ultimately satisfying tastiness. 

Mexican wedding cakes In the 1950s, they started to appear in American cookbooks as Mexican Wedding Cakes, but it seems that it's really just a new name for an old cookie. They're nearly identical to Russian Teacakes, which were a popular dish at noble Russian tea ceremonies in the 1800s. A popular book in Russia from this era, entitled A Gift to Young Housewives, contains several morsels that are constructed similarly; it’s not hard to see how these treats came to be called Russian teacakes. So what's with the name's cultural makeover? I'm wondering if perhaps the name change was a Freedom Fries-esque name change in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Soviet Union and the United States were at odds with one another? It does seem to have coincided with a period during which TexMex cuisine made its entry into American culture in a big way.

But no matter what you'd like to call them, one thing remains true across cultures: these simple cookies are easy to make, and absolutely delightful to eat. Mexican wedding cakes

Mexican Wedding Cakes (Printable version here!)

Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch cookies

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Confectioners' sugar, for rolling


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour gradually, beating well after each addition; pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Add the nuts and vanilla; beat just until evenly mixed in.
  5. Shape the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter and place on the cookie sheets.
  6. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the position of the pans halfway through baking; the cookies are finished when they are lightly browned on the bottom and have a dull finish on top.
  7. Let the cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. While the cookies are still warm, gently roll them in a bowl of confectioners' sugar. Tap off the excess, and allow them to cool completely. When cool, roll them in the confectioners' sugar a second time before serving; the first coat tends to slightly melt into the cookie, and the second coat will ensure a pretty, snowy appearance.
  8. Store in a single layer in an airtight container for up to four days.

Yippee: Discover the Apee Cookie


Have you ever heard of an Apee, or AP? 

Although I respect the organizations, it has nothing to do with the grocery store A&P, or the Associated Press (AP). 

Nope: the Apee is a cookie I recently discovered. 


Curious, I hit the web, and the books. Here's what I discovered.

First, the The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: 2-Volume Set, which notes: 

"A recipe for apees, a rolled cutout cookie made with caraway seeds, sometimes called "seed cakes," first appeared in Eliza Leslie's Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828). Another version, known as "apeas," was based on German Anis Platchen (anise cookies), and Philadelphia bakers commonly sold them on the streets. Apeas became associated with Ann Page, a popular baker who stamped her initials, A.P., on the cookies. Anise is still a common flavoring used in a variety of cookies, ranging from old recipes for apeas to simple cutout cookies and ethnic specialties like German Springerles..."

Encyclopedia of Food and Drink by John Mariani, describes it like this: "Apee. Also "apea" and, in the plural "eepies." A spiced butter cookie or form of gingerbread. Legend has it that the word derives from the name of Ann Page, a Philadelphia cook who carved her initials into the tops of the confection. This was first noted in print in J.F. Watson's Annals of Philadelphia (1830) to the effect that Ann Page, then still alive, "first made [the cookies] many years ago, under the common name of cakes.'" 

Oddly though, the recipe I found for Apees does not include caraway seeds or spices. Nor did it call for stamping the letters (although I guess it wouldn't if that was one person's signature move). Nor did it include standardized measurements.

"Apees (Ice Cream and Cakes) 1 pound of butter 1 1/2 pounds of flour 1 pound of sugar 1 gill of milk Cream the butter and sugar; sift in the flour, then the milk, and stir it to a dough; turn it out on the moulding-board, and work to a fine dough again. Roll into sheets, as thick as a dollar piece, cut into small cakes, lay them on tins, and bake in a cool oven." --- Mrs. Rorer's Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886

Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try. So I evolved the old recipe into this recipe. Here's another that looks like they probably hit the mark more accurately, though!

Not Necessarily Historically Acurate Apees


  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon milk


Cream the butter and sugar; sift in the flour and mix, bit by bit, until incorporated. Roll into sheets, and cut into small cakes (I just dropped rounded teaspoons-ful onto a baking sheet). Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until crispy on the sides and bottom.

Apees Apees Apees Apees Apees

I made the cookies as drop cookies, but perhaps I should have done them as rolled or bar cookies. Who knows, dude. But either way, even though they weren't quite evenly crispy on the sides and middle, they still tasted good. Basic, but plenty buttery, they actually glistened with butter when taken out from the oven, and there may or may not have been the most tantalizing slight butter-sizzle as they were removed from heat. They became crisp as they cooled; when I garnished a nice bowl (not cup; bowl) of ice cream with a couple of these crispy cookies, I had absolutely no complaints. No complaints whatsoever. 

Either way, I think it's always fun to discover a "lost" recipe!


The Story of Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake

CakeSpy Note: Serious thanks to Sandy's Chatter and writer Joe Hart for sharing their stories and research with me!

If there was ever a cake to have a rags to riches, Lana Turner-type Hollywood discovery, it was chiffon cake, a light cake with a delicate crumb that physically resembles angel food cake, but with a far richer flavor. But even before being famously debuted and promoted as the “first new cake in 100 years” on its grand release to the public in 1948, the tale of the chiffon cake was unfolding glamorously in Hollywood . . . 

It all started with Harry Baker, who went to Hollywood in 1923, needing a fresh start. Exactly why isn't quite known, but some suspect it's because he was outed as homosexual in his hometown (sadly, not as OK then as it is today). He found work as an insurance salesman, but moonlighted as a caterer; it was during this time that he began to experiment with cake recipes. To describe Harry Baker as a “hobby cook” is an understatement--this cake was more like his Moby Dick. He later revealed that he tested over 400 recipes, seeking what he hoped would be a moister, more substantial version of the then-popular angel food cake. Was the recipe that finally worked a fluke, or a stroke of masterful baking? Perhaps a bit of both.

What finally ended up working, in 1927, is seemingly quite simple: he used vegetable oil (sometimes referred to as "salad oil") instead of solid shortening or butter in his recipe. The cake employs egg whites for lift, and the resulting cake is tantalizingly light, like angel food, but with a far richer flavor. Later, he would tell a Minneapolis Tribune reporter that the addition of the vegetable oil was "a sixth sense, something cosmic."

Chiffon cake

He approached the nearby Brown Derby restaurant (famous as the place where the Cobb Salad was invented) with this cake, and they agreed to sell it—it was the first (and for a time) the only dessert they offered.

As the Derby gained fame, so did the chiffon cake, and requests began to pour in from the likes of Barbara Stanwyck.

Chiffon Cake

By the 1930s, he was having to turn away orders. (Wisely, Baker kept his methods and ingredients a secret; it was this mystery that made it a highly sought-out sweet treat for the elite.) He remained a one-man operation, mixing each cake to order; at the height of production, Baker was producing 42 cakes in an 18-hour day, which yielded him the equivalent of nearly $1,000 in today’s money.

How was it done, people (especially copycats) wanted to know? For two decades, Harry Baker wouldn't tell. Finally, in 1947, he approached General Mills, the food manufacturing giant, to see if they might have an interest in acquiring the recipe. (Even they had been unable to figure out the secret.) They eventually paid up with what is still an undisclosed price for the recipe. They unveiled it to the public a year later, making a huge to-do about it, calling it "The first new cake in 100 years" in a big article in Better Homes and Gardens. The first published recipe was for Orange Chiffon Cake, ;and it rose to stardom as quick as you can say "Lana Turner."

Chiffon Cake

Later, an ad for Sperry Drifted Snow flour called it “The baking sensation of the century!," touting its richness yet simplicity to make--so easy that you could even "have your husband bake one."

Chiffon Cake

This version of Harry Baker's famous cake, inspired by a Brown Derby recipe, is said to have been favored by a fat gossip columnist who considered the grapefruit cake acceptable diet food! It's a study in pleasant contrasts: light yet rich, sweet yet tart, simple yet layered in flavor.

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon Cake

 Grapefruit Chiffon Cake

Makes one 10-inch tube cake (12 servings)

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 7 large eggs, separated, plus 2 additional egg whites (7 yolks and 9 whites)
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from 3 large grapefruits)
  • 2 tablespoons grapefruit zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the filling:

  • 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons light rum (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons grapefruit zest
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Have ready an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, 4 inches deep, with a removable bottom.
  2. To make the cake, in a large bowl sift the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice and zest, and vanilla until lightly frothy. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, whisking until the batter is smooth.
  4. In the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and on medium-high speed, beat the whites until they hold stiff peaks. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar a little at a time, and on medium speed, beat the whites until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.
  5. Stir one third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it; fold in the rest of the remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
  6. Spoon the batter into the tube pan, and bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Run a long, thin knife around the outer and inner edges of the pan. Invert the pan onto a rack and let the cake cool completely in the pan, upside down on the rack. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally.
  8. To make the filling, chill a large bowl in the refrigerator. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream, rum, grapefruit zest, sugar, and the pinch of salt until the mixture holds firm peaks. Cover the cream tightly and keep it chilled until you're ready to frost the cake.
  9. To assemble the cake, transfer the bottom (wider) layer of the cake to a platter and spread about half of the frosting on it. Set the remaining cake half on top, and top it with the remaining cream. If desired, garnish with additional grapefruit zest or thin slices of grapefruit.
  10. Serve immediately after assembling. This cake is best served the same day; store, loosely covered, in the refrigerator.



Dessert Recipes from the Titanic


Erma Bombeck famously said, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the 'Titanic' who waved off the dessert cart.” 

Which begs the question--what was on the Titanic's dessert cart? 

 Recently, I had an opportunity to find out. I was contacted by a promotions company connected to Las Vegas's Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, inquiring if I'd like to post some Titanic recipes for Thanksgiving. Well, the recipes they sent were all savory, not quite right for me, but when I gently noted that I only post dessert recipes on this site, I got a most excellent series of recipes in response, from the fantastic book Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Legendary Liner.

Below you'll find updated versions of sweets served in First, Second, and Third class on the Titanic; each recipe also features a picture of the actual dishware used in each class. Just to make it completely clear: the cupcake illustrations are not meant to trivialize the tragedy which occurred on the boat, but are more meant to celebrate the lifestyle on the boat before it hit the iceberg. 

Titanic themed cupcakes

First Class (image of dishware at the top of post). As the headnote reads, "Of the many authentic Edwardian recipes we researched for this book, Waldorf pudding was one that eluded us. The recipe here is a modern invention based on three of the essential ingredients in the famous Waldorf salad--walnuts, raisins, and apples." 

Waldorf Pudding

  • 2 large tart apples, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sultana (golden) raisins
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, halved


  1. Thinly slice the apples. Stir in raisins, lemon juice, and ginger. In skillet, melt butter over high heat; add apple mixture and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes or until apples are lightly caramelized. Scrape apple mixture and syrup into 10-inch round glass baking dish. Reserve.
  2. Meanwhile, in a saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk just until bubbles form around edges. Whisking constantly, add some of the milk to the eggs; mix until well incorporated. Add remaining milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and remaining sugar; mix well. Pour over apple mixture.
  3. Set baking dish inside a large roasting pan; pour enough boiling water in roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Place in 325 F degree oven for 45-50 minutes or until custard is set, but still jiggly in the middle. Carefully remove baking dish to cooling rack; sprinkle with walnuts. Cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. 



Second Class was still pretty fancy, just not as tricked-out. One of the things at their table at dessert-time? American-Style Ice Cream! "At the time of the Titanic's maiden voyage, ice cream was extremely popular in both France and the United States. In France, egg yolks were added to make the mixture both richer and smoother. The American style, without any eggs, was popularized by Dolly Madison after her husband became president in 1809."

American-Style Ice Cream

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup whipping cream


  1. In a small pot or microwave-proof dish, combine sugar, lemon juice, and salt; heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine light cream with lemon zest; heat over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until small bubbles start to form around the edges of the pot. Remove from heat. 
  2. Whisk sugar mixture and whipping cream into lemon zest mixture until smooth. Place in refrigerator uncovered; cool completely, stirring often.
  3. Pour mixture into ice-cream maker and proceed following manufacturer's instructions. Or, pour mixture into a chilled, shallow metal pan; cover and freeze for about 3 hours until firm. Break up into pieces and transfer to food processor; puree until smooth. Pour into chilled airtight container; freeze for 1 hour, or until firm. Soften in refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving. Makes 3 cups; serves 6.



Currant Buns:

"A staple of English Tea, these buns would have pleased the palates of the many british emigrants traveling in third class."


  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast (1 tablespoon)
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water


  1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine warm water and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; sprinkle yeast over top. Let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, blend together remaining sugar, flour, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, and eggs. Stir in the yeast mixture until combined.
  3. Make a well in the dry ingredients; using a wooden spoon, stir in yeast mixture until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto lightly floured board. Knead for 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Transfer dough to a large, greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down; turn out onto floured surface; knead in currants. Shape into a 12 inch long log. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.
  5. Roll pieces of dough into smooth, seamless balls (I laughed when I read this part, btw). Place buns (I laughed again) on greased baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each bun. Cover loosely and let rest for 30 minutes. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Stir together icing sugar and water; brush over warm buns; let cool on rack. Makes 12 buns. 

Presidential Sweet: Desserts Named After Presidents

Presidential Sweet

Happy Election Day! To whet your appetite for both politics and pastry, why not avoid getting in a fistfight with your neighbor over who you should vote for, and instead enjoy this collection of stories about desserts named after Presidents and their first ladies? 

George Washington Cake: Washington Cakes have been popular up and down the East Coast for hundreds of years. Both the George and Martha versions come in several varieties. In the most traditional sense, Washington Cake is a dense, creamy fruitcake with white icing. Philadelphia-style Washington Cakes (pictured directly below) are completely unique, however—they’re more like gingerbread.

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Martha Washington Cake: George Washington’s wife is remembered for her fruitcake, or “great cake,” which required a big party: the original recipe calls for 40 eggs, 5 pounds of fruit, and similar quantities of other ingredients.

George thinks the cake is great

Apricots with Rice à la Jefferson: After the development of a new strain of rice called Jefferson Rice (to honor the President’s desire to improve rice culture in the United States), Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City developed this tricked-out rice pudding dessert.


Dolly Madison Baked Goods: While they dropped the “e” from Dolley Madison, the snack cake company’s onetime motto, “Cakes and pastries fine enough to serve at the White House,” makes it pretty clear that the company is named after the former First Lady. The company is now owned by Hostess, and makes mass-produced snack cakes and donuts.

President stuff

Madison's Gingerbread: While to many, the Madisons (namely, Dolley) are linked to ice cream, Dolley also had a much warmer, but equally delicious, favorite for the holidays--Soft Gingerbread. Apparently hers, adapted from a Jefferson recipe, got its unique and delicious flavor from beef drippings, but call me chicken, I decided to use butter instead and while we have no point of comparison, this one was very moist and delicious, so the butter seemed to have worked just fine. Recipe contained in this post.


Grant Cake: The Grant Cake appears to be a simpler variation of the later versions of the Election Cake which lack yeast, roughly the same in construction, sweeter, quick-bread version of the cake.

Robert E Lee Cake: This orange and lemon layer cake, topped with a citruscoconut topping, was traditionally believed to be a favorite of the Civil War general who led the confederate troops in the War Between the states.

James K Polk Cake: This is a fruitcake densely packed with nuts, candied fruits, and spices. Perhaps this cake, which weighs as much as a log, is to honor his nickname as “Napoleon of the Stump”?

Peach Pudding à la Cleveland: This sophisticated peach pudding, rich with brown sugar and Madeira sauce, was named with tongue firmly in cheek after our 22nd and 24th president by famed chef Charles Ranhofer, after Cleveland declared that he didn’t like French food.

Peaches a la Cleveland

Mamie Eisenhower Fudge: After she contributed this recipe to a White House cookbook, Mamie’s fudge (also called “Mamie’s Million Dollar Fudge”) became very popular. Considering that it is so easy to make (it takes just about 10 minutes) and that the addition of marshmallow cream makes the texture smooth and creamy, it’s no surprise that this is still considered a classic today.

Truman Pudding: Also called Bess Truman’s Ozark Pudding, this pudding, which is served warm, is made with fruit and nuts native to the Ozark region. It is said to have been one of Harry Truman’s favorite recipes from his wife’s baking repertoire.

United Cakes of America

Watergate Cake: Made with pistachio pudding mix, the invention of this cake recipe timed with the Watergate scandal of 1973, when all sorts of foods with the Watergate moniker proliferated. President Nixon was known to love pistachio nuts—hence the choice of flavor.

Hungry for more like this? These posts may also be of interest:




Carnival Knowledge: Sweet Foods invented at Fair

Treats at South Beach!

I'd like to make an important announcement. Me and my friend Rachel of Coconut & Lime have started a podcast. OMG! We are still taking it slow, but it's pretty exciting.

Our first topic was Fair Food. We think about nerdy food stuff a lot, and it was an appropriate subject to totally geek out about, I thought.

You can listen to the podcast here.

But I'd also like to share some interesting factoids I learned while doing internet research for the show. It mainly involves foods invented at state or other fairs. A lot of iconic sweets are included, and I thought you might be interested in hearing about some of the famous sweets that are said to have been invented at fairs. 

Cotton Candy: Apparently, this concoction which amounts to spun sugar and food coloring was originally fair fare. Some brilliant fellows named William Morrison and John C. Wharton are said to have introduced it to the world at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. It was called "fairy floss". 


Cracker Jacks: A snacking intersection of sweet, salty, and sticky, this stuff was not debuted at the ballpark, but instead at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The combination of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts was originally called "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts"--thankfully, they made the name a bit snappier before starting mass production.

Dr. Pepper: This soda, which is older than Coke or Pepsi, was debuted at the 1885 St. Louis World's fair. 

Ice Cream Cones: Neither ice cream nor waffles were invented at a fair, but they were both served at fairs, and the most famous documentation of them coming magically together occurred at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, when an ice cream vendor named Arnold Fornachou ran out of serving containers and formed a quick partnership with nearby vendor Ernest Hamwi, who rolled his zalabia (a waffle-like pastry) into a cornet shape, and the ice cream cone was born. 


The Story of Carrot Cake

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake from Hiroki

Although it would be a stretch to call this homespun favorite a fashion plate of a dessert, carrot cake--a lumpy and slightly frumpy but incredibly moist and flavorful carrot-flecked light brown-hued spice cake, frequently studded with either pineapple or plump raisins, nuts and finished with a thick coat of tangy cream cheese frosting--has enjoyed several moments of vogue over the years.

Believe it or not, the idea of using carrots in desserts actually dates back to Medieval times, when carrot pudding was enjoyed as a sweet at banquets. This was probably borne out of necessity, making use of the carrots’ natural sweetness; while a pudding would have been a steamed and vaguely cakelike affair, there was still much adaptation which would occur, because as much as you search for it, you're not going to find any mention of medieval cream cheese frosting.

Faceoff: Bunnies v. Carrot Cake

Carrots were imported to America by European settlers, and so was, apparently, the pudding; there are bushels of recipes for the stuff from this era on show at the Carrot Museum. The reason again is the carrot's natural sweetness: they contain more sugar than any other vegetable besides the sugar beet, and were much easier to come by during this time.

A big development in the world of carrot cake came in the early 1900s, when the pudding began to be baked in loaf pans, more like a quick bread. Carrots were used as an agent of moisture and sweetness in cakes, when luxury foods were rationed during the first and second world wars. It's possible, too, that the government became carrot-pushers: in England, recipes were distributed to promote the carrot as a nutrient-dense ingredient.

Carrot Cakes, Europa Cafe, Penn Station

By mid-century, the carrot cake had hopped over to America, where it would make dessert history. Most likely, the recipe was imported to the states following the second world war, where it caught on in cafeterias and restaurants. However, there is a delightful story which indicates that following WWII there was a glut of canned carrots in the U.S; an enterprising businessman named George C. Page hired bakers to find uses for the cans of carrots to create a demand for the product, and the solution was carrot cake, which he then sold through the company Mission Pak, a large purveyor gourmet foods.

At first a novelty, carrot cake nonetheless proved popular enough to stick around on menus. But it really caught on in a big way in the health-conscious 1970s, when carrot cake was perceived as being “healthy." And really, the idea isn't too far-flung: after all, carrots are vegetables, and raisins and nuts are pretty much health food, right?

Carrot Cakes

Of course, the thing that really separates carrot cake from being equivalent to eating a salad is the thick slather of cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar and cream that became the frosting of choice in the 1960s, a time during which Philadelphia Cream Cheese released many recipe pamphlets; possibly it is during this time that the carrot cake and cream cheese frosting really became a bonded pair.

Dangling a Carrot

And if we're truthful, what's ultimately kept the cake going isn't necessarily carrots, it's the full spectrum of flavors in the package. Those pretty little flecks of orange are not the dominant flavor of the cake: carrot cakes often taste like spice cake, with the sweetness of raisins or pineapple or even apples, paired with cream cheese frosting, is generally what we look for in a carrot cake. 

Carrot Cake, Baker Boys, Asbury Park, NJ

Speaking of which, the additions can be the subject of some argument. While raisins are undoubtedly the oldest complement to carrots, many modern palates prefer pineapple, apples or applesauce; sometimes walnuts, sometimes pecans, sometimes no nuts at all. These add-ins are the choice of the baker and the preference of the eater. The cake's mild but distinct flavor have made the cake an enduring favorite: while few would think of it as fashionable, it's considered a timeless classic that never goes out of style.

Here's a carrot cake that would please palates from yesterday and today. Go ahead and think of it as health food as you like; I won't stop you.

Carrot Cake

 Makes 1 cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, plus 1/2 cup unchopped pecans, for garnish
  • 1 batch cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch pans, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, oil, two sugars, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, and then turn up the speed to medium for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until combined and lightly frothy.
  4. Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture in 2 to 3 increments, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula with each addition.
  5. Stir in carrots, mixing until combined. Fold in the pecans.
  6. Pour an even amount of batter into each of the prepared pans.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, and cool completely.
  8. Once cooled, place one cake layer, flat side up, on a serving platter, and spread [f]1/2 to [f]3/4 cup of frosting on top. Leave a half-inch margin all around, as the weight of the second cake layer will spread the frosting to the edges. Place the second cake layer, flat side up, on top of the frosted layer. Frost the top and sides. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed until the mixture has a very smooth consistency; pause to scrape the bowl as needed. Add the confectioners' sugar cup by cup, mixing after each addition, until it is smooth and spreadable.


Regional Sweets: Mom Blakeman's Creamed Pull Candy

Mom Blakeman's

How can I describe Mom Blakeman's Creamed Pull Candy in a way you'll understand?

Well, here goes. First, imagine taffy.

 But not sticky like taffy. Maybe the smoothness of taffy, but with the melty texture of a butter-mint.

...but even more butteriness. Like a dab of buttercream frosting in there, too. But not a fancy meringue buttercream...more like the grocery-store birthday cake frosting that you probably would never admit you like to your foodie friends.

Imagine all of these separate aspects, and now swirl them into a sort of nugget of candy. A deliciously rich nugget of creamy candy. Now you're getting the idea of the magic that is Mom Blakeman's.

Mom Blakeman's

I honestly forget where I first heard about this candy. Maybe my college roommate, who was from Kentucky? Or perhaps one of my awesome friends in KY like Brigitte or Stella? I don't know. But I definitely know how I first tasted it: a reader, Melanie, sent me a tub of the stuff. Related: I like Melanie.

Naturally, I got curious about this sweet treat's pedigree. Founded in 1961, the company was founded by Mom herself--here's what I learned:

The website told me a little more about the candy itself: "The candy is better-known in local community as "cream" or "pull" candy. Creamed Pull Candy is a team effort involving several people to cook, pour it on cold marble, pull, cut, cream, pack and seal the candy. Making creamed pull candy is an art passed from generation to generation."

And then it told me the fascinating story of how the company took off.

 Maxine "Mom" Blakeman started making her creamed pull candy in her home in Lancaster, KY in the 1940's. She had a restaurant on the public square and made her candy available to her patrons. She was known for her generosity. During World War II, she always served any armed service men who came into her restaurant a free meal.

Residents of Lancaster who knew Mom Blakeman still talk of how she always had some candy for any school children who stopped by. After her husband passed away, she sold her large house to a couple on the condition that she could live in and make her candy in the two story garage on the property.

Mom Blakeman's candy was well known throughout central Kentucky. Mom Blakeman was encouraged to market her candy in 1961 by her good friend, Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Upon her death in 1970, the business was passed down to a friend who worked with Mom. Changing owners only a few times, the company is family owned and operated with one focus...making great candy.

Sweet! I always love a good backstory with my delicious treat. And this is certainly a sweet one--I can understand why Mom Blakeman's is sought out from far and wide! It's exactly the type of treat you'd really miss if you moved away from a place where it was readily available.

Mom Blakeman's

Of course, happily, in the age of the internet, we can order online and get it delivered to our door. Should you want to do such a thing, hit up the Mom Blakeman's website here. I also found a creamed pull candy recipe here.

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