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Entries in history (39)

Friday
Mar052010

Neverending Stohrer: Coffee Eclairs and More at the Famous Patisserie Stohrer, Paris

So, let me start out by saying that if a pâtisserie has been around since the 1730s, clearly they are doing something right.

That having been said, it's time to talk about Stohrer, which, to the best of my research, is the oldest continually run pâtisserie in Paris. First, a bit of history (translated from their site):

When Mary Leszczynski, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland, married in 1725 King Louis XV's pastry Stohrer followed at the court of Versailles. Five years later, in 1730, Nicolas Stohrer opened his bakery in Paris at 51 rue Montorgueil. 

Nicolas Stohrer served his apprenticeship in Wissembourg in the kitchens of King Stanislas of Poland With a dry cake that the Polish King Stanislas had reported a trip, Nicolas Stohrer invented the Baba, made from enriched brioche dough which is basted with wine and finished with saffron and custard, raisins and fresh grapes. King Stanislas, when reading the tales of Thousand and One Nights, christened the new cake the ALI-BABA. 

(CakeSpy Note: You know what that last part means? This is the place that invented the baba au rhum. Glorious!)

I know, magical, right? You're probably already enchanted, and you haven't even walked into the shop. Staggeringly, the shop itself is just as storied:

The shop is a historical monument in its facade and interiors. The murals illustrate the reputation of the house with a woman wearing and Babas Savarin, made on canvas and protected by glass. These designs were created in 1860 by the painter Paul Baudry, who also executed the decorations of the grand foyer of the Opera de Paris. 

and it is beautiful. It has such beautiful detailing that it is hard to believe it is not an outpost of the opulent Versailles palace.

So it has history, and it has a beautiful interior. But what about the goods?

Let me first say that trying to decide what to get at Stohrer is sort of like trying to decide on a favorite child or sibling. 

On previous visits, I've tried the religieuse and the tarte au chocolat. They were both exceptional.

But on this visit, when I saw the magazine article outside proclaiming that Stohrer was the home of some of the best eclairs in town, that sealed the deal. Bucking tradition slightly, I chose a cafe flavored variation rather than the classic chocolate (perhaps feeling homesick for Seattle?).

So, I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but this eclair was, in a word, exquisite. The perfectly piped pastry shell contained the most creamy coffee-toned pastry cream I'd ever encountered, and the icing on top was the perfect sweet complement to that coffee-rich, not too-sweet filling. "Perfect" may not be the final word, but it does come to mind.

Of course, you'd be remiss if you didn't explore some of their other offerings--perhaps the signature Baba au Rhum, a treat which "has survived the centuries without modification, it is still very popular in many countries. At Stohrer, you can find four versions: the classic Baba Rhum; the Ali-Baba, which has pastry cream and raisins; the Baba Chantilly, sometimes served with red fruit; and the Saffron Ali Baba, original saffron, made to order for the holidays? Or perhaps the over-the top cake version of the religiuse, the Religiuse a L'ancienne, another traditional recipe, as it was made in the 19th century, a cake made of coffee and chocolate and topped with two balls of choux pastry which are said to be where the pastry takes its name, resembling a nun's habit.

But no matter what you choose, making Stohrer a stop on your Parisian adventure is absolutely as vital as visiting the Louvre or the Notre Dame!

Patisserie Stohrer, 51, rue Montorgueil, Paris 75002; online at stohrer.fr.

Tuesday
Mar022010

Bonjour, Delicious: The Praluline from Pralus, Paris

While walking around Paris, pretty much everything you see in shop windows is alluring.

But even amidst all of the beautiful objets d'art and tempting pastries showcased at the street level, there is still something that will stop you in your tracks: the Praluline at Auguste Pralus's shop, a signature brioche which is "Often imitated, but never matched!". 

Curious about this unusual-looking treat, I did a little sleuthing. Turns out it has a rather storied past:

One lovely morning Auguste Pralus places a brioche with pralines in his showcase. Since that special day in 1955, the Praluline has never lost its premier position in each of the showcases in the Pralus pastry shops. 

A rich brioche flavored with pieces of pralines made in-house: Valencia almonds and Piedmont hazelnuts coated in rose sugar and then cracked. The addition of these rosy nut bits adding a unique flavor and texture to make the creation so special!

The Praluline is regularly sent to enthusiasts over the world (USA, Japan, Sweden...) This star of the Maison Pralus has also become a culinary ambassador for the region of Roanne. “marvelous buttery brioche filled with rose pralines” according to the tasty definition of Gille Pudlowski, the Praluline has traversed its local borders to become the uncontested star in all of the Pralus shops (Paris, Annecy, Charlieu…)

and of course, if you're not sold on it yet, the legacy continues, per their website:

For its 50th anniversary, the Praluline is accompanied by a little “sister”: the Pralusienne. Cousin of the Tropezienne which celebrated its half century also in 2005, the Pralusiennne presents a tasty partnership of the Praluline and a delicious crème mousseline with Madagascar Vanilla.

Now, after coming across the Praluline, I did start to see variations on the rose-sugar-praline theme in a lot of patisseries, and I can tell you firsthand that it is a very good combination. 

Want to get your hands on one? I hear a rumor that they'll ship worldwide upon request; it undoubtedly won't be cheap, but you can find out more by contacting them

Or, if you're lucky enough to be in Paris, hit up one of their shops; locations can be found here.

Saturday
Feb272010

Sweet Harmony: Opera Cake From Dalloyau, Paris

Dalloyau in Paris is renowned for their Gateau Opera, and I'm here to tell you why.

But before I do that, how about a little backstory on the baker behind the cake?

Dalloyau was founded in 1802 by Jean-Baptiste Dalloyau. He was no stranger to fancy food--both his father and grandfather had worked in royal kitchens. However, he was a visionary in that he was able to forecast that with the revolution coming and the end of court life, there would be a rising interest in food from the middle and upper classes--and he was there to feed them, with his concept of a "maison de gastronomie" which specialized in takeaway dishes that could be prepared by cooks.

Well, the concept certainly took off, and Dalloyau began to create quite a nice niche for itself. And pastry and sweets were a big part of it--according to the Dalloyau website, in 1883, founder Jean-Baptiste's great grandson, Achille Henri Dalloyau created the first modern ice cream store--and established the pastry union.

And as for the Opera cake? Well, according to an article in Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas,

The elegant opera cake premiered as the Clichy, introduced by Louis Clichy, with his name written across the top, at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. Years later, the renowned Parisian patisserie Dalloyau reintroduced and popularized it as L'Opera. This classic gateau is composed of exquisitely thin layers of biscuit viennois soaked in coffee syrup and then layered with coffee-flavored buttercream and bittersweet chocolate ganache. The top of the cake is iced with a very thin chocolate glaze, creating a pleasantly firm texture. This cake is traditionally square or rectangular with the sides of the cake exposed to reveal its tempting layers.

And Dalloyau's storied version is very, very good. The rich coffee flavor infuses every bite, adding a deep, dark layer of flavor to every other piece of it: the biscuit, the chocolate, and the rich, smooth buttercream. Not to get too poetic about it, but this is sort of the kind of dessert that makes you want to close your eyes and say "mmmm" for a very long moment.

Today, Dalloyau today is comprised of over 500 employees, counting amongst their ranks "97 cooks, 100 pastry cooks, chocolate makers, confectioners, 4 ice-cream makers and 4 bakers"--all the better to make more Gateau Opera to share with the world.

Gateau Opera from Dalloyau, available at Dalloyau boutiques and cafes; for more information, visit dalloyau.fr.

Tuesday
Jan192010

Drop It Like It's Hot: The Famous Oatmeal Drop Cookies of 1900-1910

If you had been around on this day 100 years ago, what would life be like?

Well, you'd be fresh off of the 19-aughts, a tremendously eventful decade, marked with the opening of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School, the first successful flight by the Wright brothers, and the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

But even more importantly--if you had been around 100 years ago, what kind of cookies would you be eating? 

Probably Oatmeal Drop Cookies.

Per Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, this was the cookie of the decade:

Now, oats were hardly a new thing, but they had recently enjoyed some new developments in the US--according to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America by Andrew F. Smith,

In 1877, rolled oats were developed and trademarked by Henry D. Seymour and William Heston, who had established the Quaker Mill Company. The product was baked in cardboard boxes...In 1901, the Quaker Mill Company merged with other mills, and became the Quaker Oats Company. Directions for cooking oatmeal were printed on the outside of the Quaker box. These recipes, in turn, were reprinted in community and other cookbooks, and oatmeal became more popular as a cooking ingredient. During the twentieth century many new oatmeal recipes were published, including ones for soup, cakes, cookies, wafers, drops, maracroons, quick breads and yeast breads, muffins, scones, and pancakes. 

And so began the rise of the mighty oat in American culture.

Now, the original recipe calls for raisins, but figuring that a century of baking advances should allow for some experimentation in the name of deliciousness, I used milk chocolate chunks instead. Guess what? It worked beautifully. No, they might not be exactly the same as the ones enjoyed 100 years ago, but then again they didn't have the internet 100 years ago either--that is to say, sometimes innovation can be a good thing.

Oatmeal Drop Cookies

adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

Makes about 36 cookies 

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup milk chocolate (such as Lindt), cut into coarse chunks

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees (original recipe calls for 400, but I found that 350 worked better for me).
  2. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, and molasses thoroughly. 
  3. Stir the flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon together; blend in bit by bit with the wet ingredients until incorporated.
  4. Stir in oats, nuts, and chocolate. Use either a cookie scoop or spoon to drop dough by rounded spoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. (original recipe calls for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees)

 

Monday
Dec142009

Stalking Sweetness: The Tale of the Modjeska


While leafing through the most recent Williams-Sonoma catalogue, my attention was captured by this description of their caramel marshmallows (pictured above): "dubbed 'modjeskas,' these soft caramel confections were named in honor of a beautiful Polish actress by a fervent admirer".

Sounded like a nice way of saying "serious candy stalker" to me--that is to say, I had to find out more. A bit more lore was available on the Bauer's Candy website:

It's not a word you'll find in Webster's dictionary; it's the name of a Polish actress. Madame Helena Modjeska, famed queen of the European stage, appeared at the McCauley Theater in Louisville, KY. Her appearance in 1883 was the U.S. debut of the play "A Doll's House" written by Henrick Ibsen. Her theatrical performance was enthralling to a patron attending this debut, Mr. Anton Busath, owner of Busath Candies, who was honored by an introduction to the beautiful actress. He asked and was granted permission to name his confection after her. After Busath Candies closed in 1947, we began calling our "Caramel Biscuit" the "Modjeska" in honor of the creator, Anton Busath.


Not only did Modjeska grant permission for her name to be used, says this site, but "in fact, she even agreed to autograph a photo, which Anton then used to promote the candy—an early example of a celebrity endorsement. The rest is confectionary history."

Alas, no information was available on whether or not there was a Mrs. Anton Busath, and if so, how she felt about the candy's name.

What else can be said? Stalking has never been so sweet.

To purchase modjeskas, visit williams-sonoma.com or bauerscandy.com.

Monday
Aug312009

Love Me Tender, Love Me Sweet: Elvis's Banana Pudding

Elvis's Banana Pudding
When it comes to Elvis and food, undoubtedly you're going to think of his famous favorite sandwich, comprised of peanut butter, fried bacon, banana, and (depending on who you ask) honey, all nestled between slices of white bread and prepared in a griddle, grilled cheese style.

I know. With a dish like that associated with your name, you practically don't need to do anything else in life.

But Elvis did.
Elvis's Banana Pudding
Not only did he give us a plethora of musical hits and aforementioned sandwich, but as part of his legacy he also gave us an intensely creamy, meringue-topped banana pudding. Apparently, it was part of the Graceland doctrine that a batch this pudding be prepared nightly; as rumor has it, the King would mash up various pills in it (although if they were a pick-me-up or come-down, I don't know). Of course, I learned this all from the best possible source: a postcard from Graceland from one of my oldest friends.
Elvis PuddingPostcard about Elvis Pudding

A banana pudding so craveable immediately had me intrigued, and of course I made up a batch right away. I cut the original recipe in half and omitted the meringue topping (the egg whites can be frozen for later use); it seemed to work out fine, and yielded an unbelievably creamy and rich pudding. While I think I still prefer the Magnolia Bakery banana pudding, this one definitely wins points for its rich history and taste.

Elvis's Banana Pudding (With Some Liberties Taken)

  • 2 large (or three small) ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/8 lb butter
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • About half a box of Nilla Wafers


Pudding
1. In a large saucepan, mix together the milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and butter and cook over medium heat until mixture thickens (for me, this was about 25 minutes--but you've got to be watching it the whole time). Add vanilla.
Elvis's Banana PuddingElvis's Banana Pudding
2. In a medium (9x13 inch) pyrex pan or similarly sized baking pan, layer the bananas and wafers.

3. Pour the pudding over the bananas and wafers.
4. If you want to add the meringue topping: beat the egg whites with 4 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form. Cover the pudding with the meringue.
5. With or without meringue, bake for 15 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
* As a serving note, it's lovely served in a parfait glass with a thick dollop of whipped cream.

 

Thursday
Aug202009

Sea Biscuit: The Hermit Cookie of 1880-90

Delicious Sandwich Cookie
The late 1800s were a pretty eventful time in the USA: in New York, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened and Lady Liberty was installed; in the West, Billy the Kid and Jesse James bit the dust; the nation also grew, officially adding Washington, Montana and the Dakotas to the Union. And according to Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, the cookie of the decade was the Hermit:

One of our earliest favorites--rich with spices from the Indies, plump with fruits and nuts, Hermits originated in Cape Cod in Clipper Ship days. They went to sea on many a voyage, packed in canisters and tucked in sea chests.


Now, you may be wondering where this morsel got its funny name. There are a few theories uncovered on historycook.com:

 

Some say that the cookies were named because they look like a hermit's brown sack-cloth robe, but the earliest recipes are for white and round cookies. One possible lead is that the Moravians, an ethno-religious group well-known for thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called "herrnhutter" in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like "hermits" to an English-speaking cook.


Funny name and hazy origins aside, there's definitely another reason why hermits have lingered in our cookie jars: they're rich, cakey, moist, and satisfying. Adding raisins makes them taste vaguely virtuous, if you're into that--I'm not, so I substituted chocolate chips, and it worked out quite deliciously. They got even better when I sandwiched a slab of cheesecake filling between two of them (I think frosting would also work fantastically).
Hermits
Hermits


- makes about 3 dozen small cookies or 24 large cookies; if you're interested in the cheesecake filling shown in the top photo, you can find the recipe here -
 
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cold coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate (or white chocolate) chips
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
  1. Mix butter, sugar and egg thoroughly. Stir in coffee.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together; mix bit by bit into the butter/egg mixture.
  3. Once incorporated, add the chocolate chips and nuts and stir only until incorporated.
  4. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 400 F. 
  6. If you want small cookies, drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto your cookie sheet; if you're not scared of a big cookie, do as I did and use an ice cream scoop. 
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes for small cookies, 12 or so minutes for larger ones, or until there is the slightest crispiness on the bottom (as they have a light brown hue from the coffee, you've got to be careful about this!).

 

Wednesday
Jan072009

Going Dutch: Say Hallo to the Jan Hagel

Jan Hagel cookies
What can we say about our love affair with Jan Hagel? It just sort of...happened. OK, truth be told, we'd just poured 2 cups of flour into a bowl to make banana bread and realized we had no bananas. After scouring our recipe books for another recipe that might start out with the same amount of flour, we decided to try the Jan Hagel from our beloved Betty Crocker's Cooky Book.

As Betty informs us, the Jan Hagel is a cooky of Dutch origin; as the internet informs us, they are also sometimes known as Hollanders, Janhagels, Dutch Almond Cookies, Dutch Hail or Sugar Hail Cookies.
But what may have started out as a fluke has blossomed into an obsession: these cookies, which are thin, crunchy, and very buttery, are also really, really good. But what gives with the name?
As we found out through one site, A Cookie for Every Country, Jan Hagel (yan HAH-ghle) "is Dutch for ‘an unruly mob’ or ‘rabble,’ with hagel in the sense of ‘multitude’ or ‘swarm.’ In the cookie, the rock sugar resembles hail." Another site backs up the hail theory, citing that Jan Hagel is merely translated "John Hail". The recipe we used didn't call for rock sugar, but maybe those little bits of nut could stand in for the "hail"? Also, though we can't find a reason behind it, there is another legend which was interesting, which is that "Jan Hagels are fed to homesick little children in heaven upon their arrival at St. Peter's Gate".
Who could blame the little lost souls--we wouldn't want to leave these cookies behind, either.

Jan Hagel Cookies
Here's the recipe:
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts (we used a mix of walnuts, almonds and cashews--it was delicious)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan, 15 x 10 x 1 or so. Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting. Blend flour and cinnamon; stir into butter mixture. Pat into pan. Beat water and egg white until frothy; brush over dough; sprinkle with nuts. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Cut immediately into finger-like strips. Makes 50 3 x 1 inch strips.

 

Wednesday
Oct082008

Sweetie Pie: Learning to Love the Navy Bean Pie

 

Banana Bean Pie
You know those little ad words that google oh so sweetly places at the top of your email browser? Well, recently one of those intrigued us, because it was for a type of baked good we'd never heard of before: the navy bean pie. Now, upon first thought the idea of a navy bean pie isn't necessarily attractive, but then again, when you really think about it, does "sweet potato pie" or "zucchini cake" really sound delicious at first? So, we decided to give these bean pies a try.

 

Pie Tasting
OK, so what are they? According to Wikipedia, a bean pie is a "sweet custard pie whose filling consists of mashed beans—usually navy beans—sugar, butter, milk, and spices." But beyond that, where do these pies come from? While the bean pies are associated with soul food cuisine, a very interesting wrinkle is that they are also associated with the Nation of Islam movement: its leader, Elijah Muhammad, encouraged their consumption in lieu of richer foods associated with African American cuisine, and the followers of his community commonly sell bean pies as part of their fund-raising efforts. And as trybeanpie.com says,

 

"The Navy Bean Pie is a nearly century old recipe that originated in the Holy
City of Mecca.
The Bean Pie was introduced in America around 1930 in the community known as Black Bottom Detroit, the Black community. It was originally formulated as a healthy alternative for sweet potato pie."

 

Now, while the Nation of Islam movement (and the pies) seem to have roots in Detroit, we first encountered the pies through Sister Nadine's, which is based in Boston (if you're interested in their story, read about it here.) Cakespy Note: We feel we should give them props for packaging the pies very securely; they and arrived in Seattle in perfect condition.

OK, and so now that you're educated, how did they taste?

 

Original Bean Pie
First we tried the "Original" bean pie. The texture was on par with that of a pumpkin pie, slightly custardy and not overly sweet; surprisingly, the beans did not lend any grittiness to the chewing process--had we not known that these were bean pies, we might not have known what they were (but of course, that would not have stopped us from continuing to eat it). We ate ours plain, but bet it would attain a few degrees of additional deliciousness if paired with vanilla ice cream or a thick layer of whipped cream.

Blueberry Bean Pie

 

The second one we tried was the Blueberry bean pie. We thought this was a strange flavor, but it was ultimately rewarding--the blueberries were the first taste that hit the palate; as Mr. Cakespy put it, if this pie could speak, it would say "Hi, my name is blueberry...and this is my pie". This sweet initial taste, paired with a more substantive bite of the bean filling, made it an unusual, but addictive, pie. Of all of them, this was probably our favorite.

 

Banana Bean PieBanana Bean Pie

 

Finally, we went for the banana bean pie. Once again, it was an unusual flavor combination, but somehow it worked. The banana didn't necessarily hit you right away--it was more of a complement than a contrast to the bean filling, and the flavors sort of, if you'll allow us to be poetic for a moment, well, blossomed inside of the mouth. Paired with the substantive crust, these reminded us fleetingly of banana pakoras (but of course, baked, not fried). Overall, a very nice pie for banana fans.

 

 

All things considered? Our investment was well worth it--we were happy to discover a new baked good, and rewarded to find them delicious. They're definitely a more substantial dessert, but a very tasty one too--the perfect addition to a fall baking repertoire.
To buy Sister Nadine's bean pies, visit sisternadines.com; if you want to try your own, why not give this recipe a whirl?

 

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