Origin of a Dish: Brooklyn Blackout Cake

blackout2Brooklyn Blackout Cake. Photo courtesy The Way We Ate.

Flipping through my new copy of The Way We Ate: 100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table, I came across Rachel Wharton’s recipe for Brooklyn Blackout Cake. The book features a century of recipes from some of New York’s most prominent foodies; Rachel Wharton, one of the editors of Edible Manhattan and Brooklyn in one of my favorite people, and Brooklyn Blackout Cake is a double chocolate dessert that has some interesting history, leading all the way back to World War II and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

During World War II, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the United State’s most important ship building yards. In its heyday, it employed 71,000 workers, including blacks, Hispanics and 5,000 women. They held managerial jobs, made equal pay as white men, and even did the same work–including women welders.

Food in this era was most strongly shaped by rationing and shortages  Owners of local diners had to stand in ration lines for hours to get food for their restaurants, often simply shutting down the business instead of struggling to procure food. Even the Navy Yard commissary had difficulties: fresh fruits were scarce, coffee intake was limited, and luxuries like chocolate were especially hard to find. Sugar was rationed, cacao processing plants lacked labor, and what was produced was mostly sent to the front. Chocolate was a valuable source of energy, as well as comfort, for the soldiers who were fighting.

However, workers in the Navy Yard remember the smell of chocolate wafting over their workplace from Rockwood’s chocolate factory. Founded in 1904,  the company would become the second-largest chocolate producer in the country, ranking only below Hershey’s. The complex on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn converted raw cocoa into treats like Rockwood bits – their answer to Tollhouse Chocolate chips.  They also had major government contracts during the war, and their dependency on these contracts is perhaps why the went out of business in the post-war 1950s. Their factory, marked “Van Glahn Brothers” for the wholesale grocers who originally built it, can be easily seen from the BQE and is now “upscale loft units.”

There was another chocolate confection maker in the Navy Yard area that thrived before and during WW II: Ebinger’s Bakery. The store opened in 1898 on Flushing Ave., just outside of the Yard.  Ebinger’s was part of a tradition of commercial baking in the neighborhood, particularly German bakers. These shops presented an air of authenticity by hiring shop girls with German accents.

Ebinger’s is most reminisced about for its chocolate cake, “with its two layers of moist chocolate cake, soft chocolate cream separating the layers, soft creamy chocolate icing, sprinkled over with crumbs of the chocolate cake itself.(source)” Cake with a crumbled cake topping is very meta. Although this cake was probably first produced in the early 20th century, it got its famous name during World War II.

 “Brooklyn, like the rest of the city, was subject to blackout drills,”  Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours told me. Turnstile offers historic tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“In January 1942, a German Uboat even entered New York harbor, saw the lights of Lower Manhattan still ablaze, and used  the city lights to sink two tanker ships in short order. ” Action needed to be taken to protect the American ships entering and leaving the NavyYard.

“The first citywide blackout drills were held in June 1942, and throughout the war, much of the city went through a permanent ‘dimout.’ In Brooklyn specifically, the lights of Coney Island were essentially turned off throughout the war, as they were in Times Square, giving birth to many innovative mechanical signs, like the smoking Camel sign.”

Ebinger’s, being a neighbor of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, decided to name their chocolate-on-chocolate cake after the war-time events: Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

Although Blackout Cake is a beloved New York City- born food, Ebinger’s filed for bankruptcy in the 1960s, and closed for good in 1972. Many feel they were victims of anti-German sentiment during and after WWII. Some fans of the cake bought one before the bakery closed and it kept it in their freezer for a year.

Ever since, it feels like old school New Yorkers have been on a search to find a perfect replica of the Blackout cake. It might be one of those things that only tastes best in memory, but I don’t think it would hurt to give Rachel Wharton’s recipe a try. You can find her recipe here.

The Historic Ingredient: Verjus

verjuice2Long Island’s Wolffer Estate Verjus, a tart coking ingredient made from the juice of unripe grapes.

This is the third is a series of posts I’m doing about Medieval cooking; I’ve already eaten dishes from the earliest known English cooking manuscript; and dabbled in Martha Washington’s historic recipes; now, I want to focus on an interesting medieval ingredient: verjus, verjuice, or literally “green juice.”

The History

A byproduct of the wine industry, grape vines are thinned midway through the season, producing a haul of unripe grapes which can be pressed for their juice. Before lemons were imported into Northern Europe after the crusades, verjus added sour and acid flavors into food. Tartaric acid, better known as cream of tartar when used in baked goods, is responsible for its flavor; poured over ice and drunk straight, verjus is a refreshingly tart grape juice. I’ve read it can also be pressed from windfall apples and other unripe fruits and can be bottled and kept for up to a year.

Winemakers are trying to reintroduce verjus to a contemporary market; I found my bottle in a cheese shop, Formaggio Essex, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The New York Times wrote about verjus in 2010, suggesting it as ideal for saucing up a chicken (also a very traditional use) and replacing the lemon in “lemon bars” with verjus, for a dessert.

I scoured the internets for period-appropriate verjus recipes, and cooked up a dinner party to taste test the results!

The Recipes

I hosted my dinner on a Friday night, so I decided to a go a little Medieval-Catholic-ee and observe a “fast day,” meaning no meat. All my offerings were veg, starting with a squash soup from Libro de Arte Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) written c. 1465 by Martino da Como.

verjuiceA Squash or Pumpkin Soup, 1465.

The translated recipe for this dish can be found in The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. I used two butternut squash, sliced and cooked in a homemade vegetable stock that was heavy on the onion. I pureed to softened squash, and blended it with egg yolks, grated asiago cheese, and saffron. I plated each serving with a tablespoon of verjuice, and topped it with two kinds of black pepper, cloves, fresh grated nutmeg, and a dash of cinnamon. My diners were pleased with the recipe: they loved that the results were lighter and less sweet than a typical, contemporary squash soup. Get the full recipe here.

On the side, I served Green Poree for Days of Abstinence, a medieval French recipe of chard cooked with verjuice and finished with butter. I had picked this recipe to round out my menu, but this simple dish ended up being the favorite of the night. The verjus made the slow-braised Swiss chard sweet and bright. Everyone agreed it was not only the best Swiss chard they had ever eaten, but it was also a pleasure to eat: even my husband cleaned his plate.

verjus4Swiss Chard with Verjuice: The Best!

Swiss Chard Braised with Verjus
Adpated from The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy

This recipe is enough for one head of swiss chard, which would feed 1-2 people. I recommend preparing one head of chard per person; it cooks down substantially.

1 head Swiss chard, washed, dried, and tough stems removed.
1/4 cup verjuice
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter (or to taste)
Salt (to taste)

In a large pot, add chard, stock, salt and verjuice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 20-30 minutes until tender. Stir in butter and serve with toasted bread.

 verjuice3Verjuice dessert bar.

For dessert, I took the New York Times’ suggestion and baked Ina Garten’s Lemon Bar recipe, replacing the lemon juice with verjuice. I wasn’t sure if I should still add the lemon zest, however. I didn’t and I found the results to be too subtle and flavorless. Most of of diners enjoyed the slightly tart taste of the custardy bars; I took the leftovers to a party, and everyone gorged themselves. By the way, when making this recipe, I realized I didn’t own a 9×13 pan, so I dumped the batter in a much smaller pan and told myself it would be fine. As a result, the extra thick verjus bars didn’t set properly in the middle, and were a bit runny when I sliced into them. But thems the breaks, and no one seemed it mind.

The Results

Verjuice is awesome. I would buy it and try it again; I would even attempt to make it myself after I move out of New York have some outdoor work space. I think it’s a great thing to keep in the kitchen and I’m really curious to try it to deglaze pans and make sauces for meat. I’d love to use it with more cooked vegetables; I think the flavor complements greens better than lemon juice. And one of my dinner guests pointed out it would be a great mixer for drinks; she envisioned gin, which would make an excellent summer cocktail.

If you’re interested in giving verjus a try, there is an entire cookbook devoted to Cooking with Verjuice. You can also buy it online if you haven’t seen it in any nearby stores.

The possibilities are endless. The flavor is incredible (even if you hate grape juice, like I do!). Try it.

Taste History Today: Ray’s Candy Store Egg Creams

eggcreamsLemon-lime, mango, coffee, and strawberry egg creams.

I went on an egg cream tasting rampage with some friends from the Brooklyn Farmacy. Egg Creams are  a classic New York drink, invented somewhere on the Lower East Side  (although it’s debatable where).  The drink is made from seltzer, milk, and Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate, Vanilla or Strawberry Syrup (made in Brooklyn).  It’s best crafted at a soda fountain because the pressurized seltzer gives the drink a creamy, foamy head.  It’s sweet and refreshing and great when it’s hot (or chilly and rainy, like the day we had them).

Purists say there’s only one way to make an egg cream, but I’ve got a problem with purists.  I believe recipes are meant to change and evolve; so while an egg cream made with Fox’s Syrup is traditional, Ray’s Candy Store in the East Village changed up the old recipe by offering mango, tamarind,  lemon-lime, coffee, and strawberry egg creams, to name a few.  I liked the strawberry the best, because it reminded me of Frankenberry cereal.  I’m classy.

I’ve also made egg creams with the addition of rum or vodka, which was great.  And if you keep a careful eye on the Farmacy’s menu, you may one day see nouveau flavored egg creams pop up there, too.

UPDATE: I’ve heard many stories about where the egg cream came from, and how it got its name–what have you heard? What are you memories?  Please share in the comment below.

The History Dish: Rice with Maple Syrup (Hong Sooy Un Doy)

Let’s say it’s 1880 and your in-laws are in town.  They want to “see the real New York.”  So what do you do with them?  How about a tour of Chinatown!

Long before the endless stalls of knock-off handbags, Chinatown of the late 19th century was a tourist destination.  Gangs of middle-class city visitors would swarm to the Lower East Side to take guided tours, in which they might peek into an opium den, shop in import stores, or meet one of the “Irish Brides” of the mostly male Chinese population.

The tours were meant to titillate, even to shock.  You were descending into a “foreign” country,  just a few blocks below Houston Street.  I often wonder how these visitations were received by the immigrant Chinese population: some, I’m sure, took advantage of the situation for financial gain.  Others, perhaps, were even able to chuckle at the awe-struck outsiders.  But how does it really feel when your neighborhood is filled with tourists, ogling and judging your way of life?

The tour would always end in one of Chinatown’s many eateries to grab a bowl of Chop Suey, a mix of pork, chicken organs, and vegetables which was considered the height of exoticism at the turn of the century.  You can watch me (poorly) cook a turn-of-the-century recipe for chop suey here.

My colleague Bill Wander recently had an article published  in Asian Fusion magazine, all about these “slumming tours” as they were known at them time.  He did a little investigating into what a Chinese restaurant was serving at the turn of the century:

“The Oriental Restaurant at 3 Pell St in 1903 featured the inevitable “Chop SOOY” for 15 cents and a small chicken chow mein for forty cents. Birds Nest soup and shark fin soup were $1.50 and $2. respectively. The menu was ala carte, with rice or bread and butter at 5 cents. But the most unusual item on the menu might have been “Hong Sooy Un Doy” – Rice with maple syrup – 10 cents.”

You can see the full menu here.

Rice with Maple Syrup–I was intrigued! I like rice! I like maple syrup!  And who has ever heard of that flavor combination before?  It reminded me of a dish my mother used to eat when she was a kid: cooked rice in cold milk with sugar and cinnamon.  Sweet rice, in my mind, is associated with rice pudding.  To see it so simply dressed with sweet condiments, rather than savory, seemed unique.

So I cooked a pot of rice according to this recipe and drizzled real maple syrup on top.  I dug in with a pair of chopsticks.

My first thought was “hot ice cream!”  It had the creaminess and sweetness of ice cream, but with a comforting warmth.  But after a few bites, the flavor became monotonous.  It’s an interesting idea, but perhaps it needs some improvement.  Perhaps a maple-pecan-bourbon rice pudding instead?  Or maybe, a maple-ginger rice pudding; or maple-sezchuan-peanut rice pudding, to pull out the dish’s Chinatown roots.  Now that’s worth thinking about.


The History Dish: Lebkuchen with How-to Video!

I’ve got a talk coming up on Tuesday, April 2nd at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  It’s FREE and there will be cookies–Lebkuchen, to be precise. (rsvp HERE)

Lebkuchen are tradition German spice cookies and I made them because the talk on Tuesday will focus on the Tenement Museum’s new tour Shop Life, which features a recreation of an 1860s German beer hall and the tenement kitchen of the family who ran it.

If you would like to find out more about the talk, and see how lebkuchen are made (hint: kirschwasser, candied citron, 2 oz of cinnamon…and more) watch the video belo!  The video is introduced by Dr. Annie Polland, VP of Education at the Museum, and my bit starts at two minutes in.


From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (American Edition. Original German version was printed in the 1840s)

2 cups honey
1 1/3 pounds brown sugar
1/2 pound slivered almonds
1/2 pound candied citron (or candied lemon)
1/2 pound candied orange peel
Zest of two lemons
2 ounces ground cinnamon
1/4 ounce ground  cloves
2 teaspoons ground mace
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup kirschwasser
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 lbs flour

1. In a large saucepan, combine honey and brown sugar.  Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until it begins to bubble and rise to the top of the pan.  Add almonds and allow to cook for five minutes.

2. Remove from heat.  Add candied fruits, lemon zest and spices, stirring to combine after each addition.  Add kirschwasser, then baking powder, and mix to combine thoroughly.  Gradually add flour until the dough is thick but not crumbly.  You won’t use all of the flour.

3.  At this stage, the dough should still be slightly warm.  Either press dough into a shallow baking pan, or roll out on a heavily floured board 1/4 inch think.  Cut into long strips, about as wide as a biscotti, and place on a baking sheet.  Allow to sit out overnight.

4.  If you are baking the lebkuchen in a pan, bake for one hour at 350 degrees.  If you have rolled them thin, then 30 minutes at the same temperature will do.  Cut into sqaures immediately after they are removed from the oven.


Good lebkuchen are supposed to sit around for a couple months after you make them.  Even in modern recipes, there are often family traditions of letting them get stale before consumption.  These lebkuchen are not only great fresh, but perfect with a cup of coffee.

Appetite City: Baked Alaska

Appetite City: Fine Dining. My demo starts at 12:35

Ok. So mine is maybe not the prettiest Baked Alaska.  And sometimes, I show my colors as still being a young cook.  Like when I dump my carefully crafted dessert all over the floor.  Oh well–at least I’m honest about it.

The history of  how Baked Alaska came to be is a little loosey goosey, as origin stories for the most famous dishes tend to be.  We do know that at the turn of the 19th century, scientists discovered the insulatory properties of egg whites.  Cooks seized on this idea, and began creating Baked Alaska-like dishes in the first half of the 19th century.  But Chef Charles Ranhofer, the gifted head of the Delmonico’s kitchen, seems to be the one that perfected and popularized it.  Allegedly,  it was served at a dinner celebrating the purchase of Alaska in 1867, and the popularity of this fantastic new dish sky-rocketed over the next century, peaking sometime in the 1950s.

Making a good, old-fashioned “Alaska, Florida”  has a hella lot steps, and the end result doesn’t taste that great.  It was waaaay super sweet.   I think this is one of those instances when you should look up a modern version of the old classic.  The dessert is worth cooking up in a simpler form: the combination of hot meringue and cold ice cream seems like magic and will really impress your friends.



Alaska, Florida (Baked Alaska)

From the Epicurian, published 1893.
And Martha Stewart Living.Small yellow cakes
Apricot marmalade
4 bananas
1 qt heavy cream
1 ¼ lb sugar
½ vanilla bean
6 egg whites
1 tsp cream of tarter1. Cake base:  Make your favorite yellow cake recipe in advance, baking it in cupcake tins or ramekins, depending on the size of your ice cream molds.  Remove the cakes from the tins, level the tops, then cut a depression into the center of each cake.  Fill depression with apricot marmalade.

2. To Make Banana Ice Cream:  Mash 4 banana to a pulp; Mix with 1 pt heavy cream and ½ lb sugar.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Put into an ice cream maker until frozen soft.  Pour, or scoop, into a conical ice cream mold until mold is halfway full. Freeze until frozen hard.

3. To Make Vanilla Ice Cream: Infuse ½ a vanilla bean in ¼ cup milk by gently heating on a stove top burner.  Combine with 1 pt heavy cream and ¼ lb sugar; stir until sugar in dissolved.  Freeze in an ice cream maker until frozen soft.

4. When banana ice cream is hard, remove from freezer and pour vanilla ice cream over top, until the mold is filled.  Return to freezer and freeze until hard.

5. To make meringue:  Combine egg whites, remaining sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of electric mixer, and place over a saucepan filled with water.  Heat over stove-top like a double boiler, whisking constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.  Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whip starting on low speed and gradually increasing to high until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Unmold ice cream, and place on top of cake.  Fill a pastry bag with meringue; encase ice cream and cake in meringue

7. Bake in a 500 degree oven for 2 minutes.  Serve immediately


Be sure to watch the episode to see me demo the whole thing, from start to finish!

Events: Bake for a Good Cause?

The City Reliquary, a charming little museum in Brooklyn, is hosting a bake sale benefit.  Care to bake and donate some love?  It’s worth it; I donated historic baked goodies two years ago, and it literally launched my career.  This author of this blog post and the director of this video both encountered my treats for the first time at this bake sale.  Countless other connections have been made, just because I delivered a few cookies to help a great museum.

Details below.


I wanted to let all of you know about a really fun event to benefit the City Reliquary Museum.

It’s called the Havemeyer Sugar Sweets Festival, a bake sale, baking competition and celebration of baked goods.

When? Saturday, Oct 15 from 10am to 4pm
Where? The City Reliquary, located at 370 Metropolitan Avenue (between Havemeyer and Roebling)

Um, What? The City Reliquary is an all-volunteer museum that celebrates everyday New Yorkers and everyday New York history.  The Reliquary hosts rotating exhibitions by local artists, historians and schoolkids; weekly events; education programs; and annual block parties. The Reliquary also collects utterly unique bits of New York history. http://www.cityreliquary.org/

How Can I Help?

1. Donate Baked Goods!

We are looking for bakers and sweets-makers (you!) to donate their fresh-baked yummies to the Festival.

Cookies, cupcakes, brownies, bars, tarts, quick breads…any fresh baked treat is welcome.  All proceeds will go toward the City Reliquary.
2. Enter The Best Baked Goods competition!

Are you the city’s best home baker? Strut your stuff!  We will be determining the:

  • Best Cookie
  • Best Brownie/bar
  • Best Cupcake
  • Most New York baked good

A team of professional bakers will judge your treats. We will award great prizes to all winners. Please be sure to bring enough treats to enter the competition and to sell.


3. Come and pig out!.  There will be plenty of treats to try!

Questions? Please contact Jeff Tancil at [email protected]


Going Vegan Day 5: A Vegan Feast!

Nut Roast!

I kept breakfast and lunch simple today: oatmeal with soy milk in the morning;  almond butter on coconut bread with banana slices for lunch.  The coconut bread was really tasty, and also a throwback to the 1910 cookbook.

Cocoanut Bread — 1 lb. whole wheat flour, 1 lb. white flour, ½ lb. cocoanut meal, some cane sugar.
I used 1 cup of cane sugar for this recipe, and the coconut shreds I used were also sweetened.  I also added 1 tsp of baking powder.  The bread was delicious!

In the evening, I opened my doors to 13 guests ready to given veganism a try.  Some were seasoned vegan veterans, some were hardened omnivores.  The Menu:


First Course
Autumn Salad
Shaved Cabbage, Grated Beets and Apples, Mint, Lemon Juice and Toasted Walnuts.

Second Course
Semolina Soup
with Mizuna greens

Third Course
Pine Nut Roast
with Sauteed Spinach and Spaghetti Squash

Fourth Course
Continental Tart
Coconut Bread with Homemade Blackberry and Blueberry Lime Jam
or Malt Syrup


The first course was another salad recommended in Henderson’s 1945 book.  It was light, refreshing, and delicious.  The second course was the Semolina Soup I made earlier this week, flavored with Marmite.  Everyone was bowled over by the soup, and wanted the recipe to make it at home.  I passed around the Marmite jar for everyone to ogle.

The third course was Nut Roast, adapted from the 1910 recipe I made earlier this week, with some adjustments according to Henderson’s 1945 recipe.  Henderson gives several suggestions as to how her basic recipe can be served; I roasted mine in individual portions, and served it on top of spinach and spaghetti squash.

When I mixed this recipe, I simply put a bowl on top of my kitchen scale. I dumped the ingredients in one at a time and weighed as I went along.  Below, is my adapted version of the recipe.  I used dried herbs from my mother’s garden.

Nut Roast

8 oz pine nuts, coarsely chopped if large.
8 oz bread crumbs
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, skinned and pulverized.
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 tsp sage
2 tsp parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

1. Use hands to mix all ingredients, added a little water or vegetable stock if there is not enough liquid.  Press into a pie plate or individual ramekins.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the top is browned.


The nut roasts, cooked in individual star-shaped ramekins, delighted my guests.  For the vegans, it was the first time they had ever had a nut roast, and were excited to try it.  One guest, who went to school in Scotland, informed us that nut roasts are still a common vegetarian option, at least in her school cafeteria.

And for dessert, I served an apple Continental Tart, also from Henderson’s book.

Continental Tart!


Continental Tart

For the Crust:

5 oz. whole wheat flour
5 oz. breadcrumbs
5 oz Soy baking butter substitute
5 oz brown sugar
2 oz ground almonds (I ran almonds in my food processor until coarsely ground)
Lemon Juice

For the Filling:

6 medium baking apples
1/2 cup mixed, dried fruit
1/2 cup apple cider
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg.

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, adding enough lemon juice to make a dough.  Leave overnight in the refrigerator, then press into the bottom and sides of a round cake or pie pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until crust is puffy and brown.

2. In the meantime, pare and core apples, and slice them into 1/4 wide slices.  Cook, covered, over medium heat with spices, fruit and cider until tender.  Pour into baked crust and set aside.

3. 15 minutes before serving, place tart in the oven at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool 5 minutes; cut and serve.


The tart was also a big hit, provoking inquiries about the contents of the crust.  Margarine, I discovered, is not vegan!  It has whey in it!  So be sure to use a soy spread (or butter, if it doesn’t matter to you.)

We had a second dessert of slices of coconut bread, spread with some of my mother’s homemade jam (Blueberry Lime and Blackberry) or dribbles of malt syrup, which the vegans had never heard of before and were very enthusiastic about.

Our dinner table conversation turned to the origins of veganism, as well as why people do or don’t go vegan today.  “It’s not cheap,” a vegan friend admitted.  “It can be very expensive to choose vegan products.”  We went on the discuss that a lot of the methods that allow the cheap production of food are also the methods that can be deemed unethical, like caged hen production of eggs.  I pointed out that perhaps it was a policy change that was needed: “We’d all like to be buying cruelty free, hormone free milk, but I don’t think anyone in my neighborhood could afford it.”

“We don’t need to drink as much milk as we consume,” he answered.  He suggested consuming less of a better quality, but that “…It can be different if we’re talking about trying to feed your family of four.”

The conversation danced around a variety of topics, but focused on the food, and ideals, at hand.  There was a discussion about the “preachiness” and “pushiness” associated with veganism.   A dear friend and long-time vegan attended, who was the inspiration for the entire experiment.  He piqued my interest in vegan cuisine without ever pressing upon me the ideals behind veganism; he let me start asking those questions myself, and I admire him for it.  He amicable joked about the outspokenness of the vegan movement : “How do you know the vegan at a dinner party?  Don’t worry, he’ll tell you.”

We talked about the difficulties of finding vegan products:  for example, learned that filtered wine is not vegan; it uses isinglass, an extract from the swim bladders of fishes.  Animal products appear in the most unlikely of places.

And most of all, we talked about how delicious the food was.  Everyone who attended, vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore all agreed the dishes were excellent, and asked for recipes for each one.  All said they would make these foods again, just for the pleasure of them.  And then my friend Emily rose to give a toast:

“Lohman,” she said, raising a glass of vegan wine high, “Every time I get invited over for dinner, I’m always worried.  It’s always like, ‘come eat my beaver’ or my bear or my vegan food or whatever.  And I always think ‘Eeee…Well, at least the company will be good.’  But then I come, and the food is always, always delicious.  You have an amazing talent for making bizarre foods taste amazing.”

We cheersed, and spent the rest of the evening guzzling bottles of wine.  The next day, my boyfriend and I broke our vegan fast in the evening with sloppy joes and chocolate chip cookies.

There is a lot of debate, and  a lot of passion, surrounding the topic of veganism.  I’ve enjoyed this past week,  but I would not adopt veganism forever.  My line of work is food and I feel I would never want to limit myself in regards to what I can and cannot eat.  Additionally, I do believe an ethical, omnivorous diet is possible.  I will continue to respect and admire my vegan friends, and this project has inspired other to try out veganism:  my friends Sharon and Kathy are going vegan this week, you can follow their adventures here.

I think I’m going to leave it at that, but I’m really curious to hear from you, dear readers: What do you think of veganism?

History Dish Mondays: Strawberry Cakes

The possible origin point of the strawberry shortcake.

I work on Saturdays and my morning path to mass transit takes me past the Roosevelt Island Greenmarket.  It’s run by a friendly Mennonite family, which is a sight for sore eyes for this Midwestern girl.  And it’s always stocked with the freshest, most delicious produce I have ever had.

Recently, the pints of bright red, sunshine-grown strawberries have been screaming at me to take them home.  So I handed over my dollars and bought them – because I wanted to try this recipe for Strawberry Cakes.

This recipe comes from Eliza Leslie’s 1847 cookbook The Lady’s Receipt Book.  It’s the oldest recipe I’ve found that resembles modern day strawberry shortcake: biscuits layered with mashed strawberries and topped with frosting.

This recipe contains some lovely bits of prose:  “Rub with your hands the butter into the flour, til the whole is crumbled fine…Knead the dough til it quits your hands, and leaves them clean.”  It’s a beautifully written recipe, although the paragraph form renders it a bit impractical.

I was intrigued by how this recipe treated the fresh strawberries: “Have ready a sufficient qauntity of ripe strawberries, mashed and made very sweet with powdered white sugar…the strawberries, not being cooked, will retain all their natural flavor.”

Cutting out the biscuits/cookies.

When I prepped the dough, it came together very quickly; it was easy and kinda fun. But I did notice that there was no leavining in the recipe: no baking power or yeast to make it rise!  After I cut the biscuits and baked them, they came out of the oven looking very much as they had gone in: flat. I was worried they would be too dense and the berry sandwich would not work at all.  I thought that if you tried to take a bite, the berries would moosh out all over.

But here’s where I was surprised:  instead of being rock hard, the biscuits were buttery and crumbly.  Both in taste and texture, they resembled short bread cookies; which makes a lot of sense of of the name “strawberry short cake.”  It’s interesting that we’ve replaced these buttery disks with pound cake, angel food cakes, or a fluffy biscuit.

The cookie crumbled and mixed with the berries and frosting.  I ate my short cake sandwich moments after spreading it with strawberries and frosting it.  I was worried that the strawberry juice would make the cookies mushy and gross.  I was wrong again: when berries soak into the shortbread rounds, it makes for an even happier marriage of fruit and cake.  Try for yourself:

Strawberry Cakes

From The Lady’s Receipt Book by Eliza Leslie Philadelphia: Carey And Hart, 1847.

4 Cups Flour
4 Sticks Butter
2 Large Eggs (or 3 Medium Eggs)
3 Tablespoons White Sugar
Super Fine Sugar (to taste)
1 Pint Strawberries

1. Preheat over to 450 degrees.  Rub butter into the flour with your hands, much as you would when making pie crust, until it crumbles.

2. Beat egg until light in color, then whisk in sugar.

3.  Add egg to butter and flour, and knead with your hands in the bowl.  When the dough forms a ball, remove from bowl and place on a floured surface.  Continue kneading until dough is springy and keeps its shape.  If dough is too dry and crumbly, add a little cold water.

4. Roll out dough on a floured surface into a “rather thick sheet.” I rolled mine about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with a tumbler or a biscuit cutter dipped in flour.  Place on a butterd, non-stick, or parchment lined baking sheet.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

6. In the meantime, sort out a few lovely strawberries to adorn the top of the cakes.  Mash the remaining strawberries with super fine sugar to taste.  The amount will very depending on the sweetness of the berries.  I used about a 1/4 cup of sugar.

7. When the shortcakes are cool, split them (I did not do this step, I just made cookie sandwiches) and spread the center with mashed strawberries.  Spread the top and sides with a royal icing. Adorn with a whole, ripe strawberry.