Category Archives: Cookies

Madeleines – What Would Jessie Dish? Week Eight: Remembrances of Things Past in a Classic Cookie

Madeleines with Rainier cherries make a light summer dessert.

How apropros is it that my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered recipe files included a recipe for madeleines?!  I did not make the Proustian connection until I started to write the post, after just having made the cookies.

If you do not recall or might not be into classic French literature, Marcel Proust created A la recherche du temps perdu, inspired by a madeleine he had eaten, dipped in tea.  Memories of his childhood came flooding back – profusely, in his very lengthy remembrance.  Who among us does not have a favourite childhood cookie memory – or seven?

What I liked about this week’s recipe is that I definitely do remember having these cookies at my grandmother’s place.  The madeleines I made turned out to be just as I remember them.  What I cannot figure out, however, is what happened to Jessie’s madeleine pan.  I know I do not have it, nor did my mother (LN D-W, do you?).  Her pan was a very old tin one, without nonstick coating.  My miniature madeleine pan is nonstick and comes from France (via West Vancouver, BC) .  The mini-madeleines (“mini-Maddies”??) stick, though,  far more than the much cheaper large nonstick version.   The large one I picked up – brand new – at a small-town flea market between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, a few years ago.

The recipe itself included a twist, as the madeleine is close enough to a basic génoise to double as a “jelly-roll” cake, which Jessie indicated on the reverse of the recipe.  One other aspect of the letterhead that is interesting (to me) is the bank’s logo with a very 1970s typeface and look; this is when Jessie had moved to the north side of Chicago from the south side and opened an account at this bank.  Yet I do know that she made these cookies decades prior to the 1970s.  Jessie’s pan probably was from the 1940s.

Always in fashion, Jessie and her family (ca. 1940) liked their desserts a la mode, too.

I also like the fact that the madeleine is a classic French cookie, and my grandmother was a bit of a Francophile.   Jessie loved to shop and thought Paris was a great city for women’s shopping, she wrote to tell me when I lived in France’s capital.  In the same aerogram, she indicated that London was better for men, when it came to shopping – my grandfather had suits and shoes made there – while Paris was superior for women’s wear.  I myself never had any trouble in either city shopping for men’s wear! (I devoted far more attention to bakeries in Paris than pursuing fashion).

Jessie's precise directions result in a ribbon of the egg-sugar mixture.

What I liked about Jessie’s recipe is that it is accurate (the time for beating the eggs and sugar alone was a great guide to achieving the ribbon stage, in my preparation), versatile (big and small madeleines as well as the jellyroll option), and yields a good number:  I made two dozen large cookies and 40 miniatures.

For the madeline recipe with updates…

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Chocolate Nut Revels – Rich yet Delicate Cookies: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 5

What exactly are these chocolate nut revels?  I was intrigued by this week’s installment of the lost recipes of my grandmother Jessie, especially as “revel” is not used often these days – much less as a noun than as a verb.

This particular recipe was an easy one to prepare, though it is another item I do not recall from among my grandmother’s repertoire.  However, the name made me wonder about some of the things in which Jessie used to revel.  In this first photo, from the 1950s, she is at a banquet, probably one which involved sports writers, promoters, agents, etc.  (She is third from right in the pearls, with my grandfather, Louis, next to her on the right.)  Jessie seems to be reveling in this event, having just finished her dessert:

One other thing Jessie reveled was spending time in the sun, particularly during the brutal Chicago winters.  Here she is in Miami, where my grandparents spent the winter from the 1940s through the 1960s (this picture is dated March 1965):

Another passion of Jessie’s was travel.  Below, she appears to revel in her proximity to one of the great pyramids in Egypt, in 1971:

Of course, as I mentioned in previous posts, Jessie reveled in baked goods and sweets, so it is no surprise that the Chocolate Nut Revels were among her index cards of recipes.  In preparing it, I followed the ingredients  precisely yet made a few modifications in technique, so I will only make a couple of notes in addition to the recipe at the end of this post.

For the chocolate nut revel recipe, Continue reading

What Would Jessie Dish? A New Wednesday Feature: Introduction to the Project and the German Pancake

My grandmother is just 16, at her high school graduation in 1920.

She could dish it up, but can I make it?

In helping my mother get ready to move into an assisted living apartment recently, I came across my mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking.  She no longer wanted it, had not used it in many years, and said I should take it.  However, it was not it until I had returned home, when I discovered that the book had a 5” x  7” Manilla envelope containing a number of recipes from my late grandmother, Jessie.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  I cannot imagine that anyone knew whatever happened to these recipes.  So I was excited to have stumbled on this treasure trove.

There were nearly 20 recipes, half typed on 3″ x 5″ cards, with the others were written in her careful handwriting on various pieces of scrap paper (“Waste not, want not!” Jessie would implore, having lived through the Great Depression).  Most of the recipes are for baked goods (hooray!), and I do remember having eaten most of these dishes.  There are a few I am sure she did not make for me, so re-creating other recipes my grandmother made intrigues me as well.

I decided that it would be a fun feature on IslandEAT to prepare each and every one of the recipes, expanding or clarifying the directions, and assessing the results.   Many are in the short-hand of an experienced baker – and cook – who knew her technique well, so the steps are implicit – that is fine if you know the technique, of course, and, fortunately, I have developed a sense for baking over the years and am familiar with many similar recipes.

However, some recipes, especially the handwritten ones,  are completely vague and lacking directions – and even titles.   I will have to experiment to see if I can re-create what I think she had intended. What they all have in common is a no-nonsense, non-fussy simple approach with relatively few ingredients.  The recipes are primarily American or, in a few cases, European.  Some are still current and even in vogue, while others do seem rather vintage, e.g., “apricot mold”, which uses apricot jello and evaporated milk — not the kind of thing I generally make, but I am ready to try it.

From now until I have prepared all 18, I will feature a Wednesday recipe from the past, with a scan of the original recipe (and sometimes, the odd bits I have found on the reverse side), aiming to do this every week until the end of summer.  I expect to include some recollections of her, as she was a bit of a character, with a very good sense of humour, unusual turns of phrases, and quite the sharp tongue; Jessie was not afraid to ask – or ask repeatedly – for what she wanted or to let people know exactly what she thought.  I hope this summer project helps IslandEAT’s readers get a glimpse into her personality.

For more on the German Pancake and the What Would Jessie Dish? Recipe Roster

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The Ultimate Thick Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie: Your Quest for Perfection Ends Here with this Recipe

The cookie above left is smooth, while the other had the jagged-edge technique.

What can be more satisfying than finding what you were seeking for years? The perfect chocolate chip cookie can be elusive, despite its simplicity and iconic status.

I found that the traditional Toll House Cookie recipe (on the back of the chocolate chip package of the same name) yields serviceable cookies but did not produce the thicker, chewy toothsome variety, which I prefer.  I am not even considering the time my mother used baking powder instead of baking soda in the Toll House  recipe she made – under duress, for a school bake sale – resulting in rock-hard disks, which may have been over-baked, as well.   (To avoid being accused of being an ungrateful son, just past Mother’s Day, my mother frequently has told this story, without my prompting….)

Over the years, I occasionally would discover a bakery or home baker who created the ideal cookie:  one that has a minimally crisp circumference, contrasted by a soft, chewy pliable interior, yet filled with more-than-enough chocolate chips and the nutty counterpart of pecans or walnuts.  The nut-component truly is optional, but I will dare to take a stand and declare that I am 100% pro-nut.   However, I never did find a recipe to produce the ideal treat.  I even bought a cookbook nearly 25 years ago – and still have it – entitled enticingly, The Search for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. This book promised to reveal the paragon of chocolate-chip-iness, yet none had the exact texture I craved.  Many of the award-winning recipes are good, and there were some interesting variants on the classic…just not “The One”.

Crisp perimeter with a satisfyingly chewy thick interior

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Chewy Soft Brown Sugar Beurre Noisette Cookies: An Intense Extravanza of Brown Nuttiness

A crisp perimeter surrounds the chewy interior.

Are you a cook or a baker? There seems to be a never-ending debate on this culinary dichotomy.

For me, I relish the accuracy and science of baking, where measurements, technique, and thoroughness are so important. Part of the appeal to me is the exactness, while the other draw is my sweet tooth (or a mouth full of sweet teeth – I think I have way more than just one). Of course, there can be room for deviation and creation; however, this is within the limits of the chemical reactions of wet, dry, leaveners, etc. There is the possibility of adapting recipes with different extracts, spices, nuts (or not), and/or chips of varying chocolate-ness (or not, like butterscotch or peanut butter or that imposter, white chocolate). However, a framework of a recipe is necessary.

Cooking v. baking  and the recipe for chewy brown sugar beurre-noisette cookies Continue reading