Category Archives: Dessert

1897 Brownies: The Original Recipe to Honour National Chocolate Brownie Day

Did you know that today is National Chocolate Brownie Day? While I have no idea who proclaims such things, it is still cause for celebration.

To mark this momentous occasion, I finally tried a recipe I have wanted to make for some time – one which is purported to be the very first. The earliest published brownie recipe was in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck catalog, and its name, for that reason, is simply “1897 Brownies”.  I came across this in Food:  True Stories of Life on the Road, edited by Richard Sterling.  This is a wonderful collection of short essays on food experiences and explorations around the world.

The recipe followed a charming story of a young American woman who started a covert brownie business in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1970s.  I read it before our recent trip there, and I thought I might stumble upon a Scottish brownie somewhere.   While I did discover millionaire’s shortbread, there were no brownies to be had in Scotland (“nae brunies”…).

This recipe is fascinating – not only because it could be the original brownie – but it also has no butter.  (There is an alternative to using unsweetened chocolate, which includes cocoa and a modest amount of butter).  Thus, it is a lighter, lower-fat brownie. In fact, as National Brownie Day coincides this year with the last night of Chanukkah, it could be a good follow-up to the oil-laden or dairy-rich foods of the holiday.  The 1897 Brownie could be a good holiday treat for Xmas or New Year’s, as well.

For the review – and the recipe

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Pie is the New Cupcake?

The New York Times pronounced that pie is the new cupcake. Pie to Cupcake: Time is Up prompted serious reflection on my part on the State of Desserts.   Has the cupcake’s moment in the sun finally passed?

At first, I figured I had featured more cupcakes than pies on IslandEAT. However, I was wrong.  Perhaps pies really have overtaken cupcakes.  Perhaps I am a more of a victim of trends than I care to admit.

In the pie-versus-cake(cupcake) debate, I discovered that I have posted three pie recipes to two for cupcakes.  My first post for either was about my rather unsuccessful effort to recognize National Pie (Disaster) Day:

Blackberry pie, fresh from the oven

But, close on the heels of that pie,  I made cocoa-cayenne cupcakes with citrus-cream-cheese frosting (or, cupcakes, 2 x C3):

Pie v. Cupcakes – Where do you stand? Continue reading

Double-Chocolate Double-Malt Frosted Brownies: Recycling and Reusing Recipes

Are you a die-hard chocolate-malt lover? If so, these chocolate brownies are for you.

For a few months now, I have had what my late grandmother Jessie used to call a “yen” for chocolate-malt (Jessie had a great brownie recipe, too).  I blame my chocolate-malt fixation on Geni of Sweet and Crumby, after her post on a famous chocolate malt cake from a diner in Pasadena.

Geni’s post prompted me to adapt her chocolate-malt buttercream frosting;  I used it as a filling for a cupcake, topped with a quick meringue icing from King Arthur Flour’s site via the tantalizing “Chocolate Bliss Cake” from Debbie’s instructive site, A Feast for the Eyes. The InterTubes seem perfect for reusing and recycling, if not reducing in this instance (and you can forget about that last one in the context of double-chocolate-malt iced brownies).

Recycling and reusing are not new to me.  My first “official” job was working for a recycling centre part-time while in high school, for the minimum wage of $2.65/hour.  Despite the low pay, there were perks, such as finding and reading a wealth of publications during slow times (not to mention the shocking revelation of a vast variety and quantity of unmentionable magazines – at least for a 16-year-old, back in the pre-InterWeb days of the 1970s).

More recently, I worked for a world-wide conservation organization, whose recognizable logo is an endangered black-and-white bear – have you guessed it yet?  At one teleconference, I offered that the well-known campaign “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is not a triumvirate of equals, rather it was a hierarchy.  That is, first, we should reduce consumption before reusing or repurposing things.  If those two are not possible, recycling is the next step.  I had said this in a discussion on how to best engage people in daily activities around conservation. The campaign of the “Three Rs”, dating back to the 1970s, was one to which people now give little thought about the components.  “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” are so well-known that rarely do people reflect on the better and best options within the trio.

At the risk of a Holden-Caulfield-esque accusation of a “digression”, this will be the last time I reuse photos from my recent trip to England and Scotland, with a vague attempt for food-related pictures.  In the charming Cotswolds town called “Broadway” (where the neon lights are not brighter, as neon does not exists in Broadway), the Horse and Hounds pub made a quaint subject for a photo:

In nearby Bath, the Sally Lunn Bun is famous.   I imagine it is no longer baked in the “faggot oven” (!?!) which I had in my previous post.  The light and tender rolls lent themselves to both the sweet (clotted cream and lemon curd) and savoury (Welsh rarebit) courses we sampled:

Near the impressive Exmoor National Park, the medieval village of Dunster had many dining options, including the very good Stag’s Head Pub (background), where we enjoyed a fine local dinner.

Sheep dot the landscape throughout the Lake District and provide the basis for many a Sunday roast in the UK (not to mention the inspiration for this unusual side “dish”, which I discovered linked to my post on Yorkshire pudding and German pancakes, just last week!).

Finally, at the very northern edge of the Lake District, the town of Cockermouth is “open for business”, after ravaging floods last year.  The downtown was very colourful and featured a pleasant restaurant called Carlin’s, where we dined one evening:

For the review of the brownie and the recipe…

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Millionaire’s Shortbread and Poor Man’s Almond Bark

What is “Millionaire’s Shortbread”?   I learned of this three-layered bar on a recent trip to Scotland and England.  It is shortbread, naturally, with a middle-layer of caramel, topped with a rich layer of chocolate – rich enough for a millionaire, of course.

For me, it is fitting that this is a Scottish specialty, as I associate Scotland with both shortbread and millionaires (think of JD Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, who were 19th-century “Robber Barons” in the US).   This is a dessert sumptuous enough for one of the great Scottish castles, Eilean Donan:

Of course, England is home to many castles and manor houses, too, including Chatsworth, once home to the dashing Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire:

Even the sheep of Chatsworth are lucky enough to cavort on ancient steps!

But the nearby Haddon Hall still has a very regal Lord Edward Manners (is his daughter Miss Manners?):

Promotional brochure for Haddon Hall

 

Perhaps Lord Manners politely indulged in a millionaire’s shortbread or two in his lower garden:

For the chocolate failure, rescue, and the recipe…

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My Grandmother’s Swiss Roll – A Scrumptious and Retro Dessert: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 19

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye” – why are these lyrics,  foreshadowing the Von Trapp family’s clever escape into Switzerland from Austria – stuck in my head?  It is due to my grandmother Jessie’s retro Swiss roll, the last of the 19 recipes of hers I discovered earlier this year.

While I vaguely recall a jelly roll – or Swiss roll – my grandmother had made, I associate this more with the commercial, sometimes chocolate-covered, individual “pastries”, filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients.  This recipe has just five staple ingredients (one being the jam for filling), so it really does not have much in common with those preservative-laden “treats”.

Being in a Swiss state of mind, I was pleased to have found photos Jessie took while in the Swiss Alps:

Jessie's husband, Louie, (my grandfather) in Switzerland, mid-1950s.

 

 

Jessie's daughter, Natalie (my mother) met her parents in the Alps for a visit.

 

Perhaps Jessie did not take these, but it is odd that she is not in either of them – or any others – and she liked to pose for photos.  My mother was working as a civilian employee of the US army near Stuttgart in the mid-1950s.  On one of their trips to Europe, my grandmother and grandfather decided to check up on my mother, meeting in Switzerland (my grandmother refused to set foot in Germany or Austria after World War II – my last two posts will give you a clue).

However, there is a photo of Jessie dancing in Florida in the 1950s, which I thought went well with this post:

 

Was Jessie (in white jacket) doing her own Swiss rock-and-roll here?

 

While this recipe is simple, with few ingredients, it does require attention and meticulousness in preparing the pan and rolling up the cake.  Jessie was very particular and specific about what she liked, so that fits with this recipe well.

It reminds me of a lunch she and I had, right around 1970, not too long after my grandfather had died.  We were at a restaurant near the University of Chicago’s Law School, and it was summer.  My grandmother ordered iced tea.  When it arrived, she sent it back because there wasn’t enough ice:  “You call this iced tea?  It’s barely got any ice!”  Then she sent it back, as there was too much ice:  “What do you expect me to do?  Remove these ice cubes myself?  Why bother going out to eat?” she said to the patient waiter.  Finally, the third time, she said, “Where’s the lemon?  I can’t have iced tea without lemon!”  The frustrated waiter complied, and Jessie had her tea exactly the way she liked it.

For a description of Jessie’s Swiss roll – and the recipe….

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The Anatomy Of A Cupcake

With all the attention to cupcakes of late, there is little on cupcake forensics.  I will dissect a birthday cupcake for you.


Sometimes, certain recipes, foods, or food combinations, for that matter, get in one’s mind and do not go away.  On the very informative instructional site, A Feast for the Eyes,  I recently had come across Debby’s recipe for Chocolate Bliss Cake.  I really liked the idea of an easy five-minute version of the classic seven-minute meringue icing (thank you, King Arthur Flour, for this simpler version!).  I thought it would go well with Debby’s moist chocolate cake – which included my favourite addition of coffee – and a chocolate buttercream filling.  While I am a big fan of chocolate cake with the icing of the same flavour, the contrast of a light, marshmallowy meringue icing is a treat for both the senses of sight and taste.

However, I also had been thinking about chocolate malt since I read Geni’s recipe for Chocolate Malt Cake on the engaging blog, Sweet and Crumby.  Chocolate and malt – as in Whoppers, Maltesers (NB:  this site prevents visitors under 12-year-old from exploring these chocolate-malt treats further…), chocolate malted milk balls, or a thick chocolate malted ice cream shake – are an irresistible combination.  Chocolate complements many other ingredients to star in desserts, e.g., coffee, mint, peanut butter, and raspberry, to name a few of my favourites.

If you are a devotee of chocolate malted milk balls, the chocolate-malted buttercream is reminiscent of the crunchy filling, with a different texture, of course.  I found it to be quite addictive, which I must admit, at this point, in this cupcake anatomy lesson.

In the  midst of these cravings, my friend Kip happened to mention that it was Jim’s birthday (which I should have remembered as he is precisely 12.5 years older than I am!).  A birthday cake on this island can be a bit of a challenge for those who do not like to bake, as there is one bakery – closed for holidays, at the time – and one baker who makes sumptuous cakes with impressive decorations, which are priced accordingly for major special occasions.  And Kip will be the first to confess to not being a baker, though she is a marvelous cook.   So I told Kip that I would bake something to celebrate.  I wanted it to be visually impressive, as Jim is one of the top professional photographers in Canada!

Initially, I had planned to bake a cake, but the image of Hostess cupcakes I had seen in the US recently kept making me think of filled cupcakes, an undertaking I had never attempted before.  As I have been in a more reflective state with my series on my grandmother, Jessie, I was thinking recently of a cupcake from a neighbourhood bakery of my childhood, which was a chocolate cupcake, filled with a white marshmallowy-buttercream centre, and iced with a dark chocolate frosting.  Thus, the Chocolate-Malt-Meringue Bliss Cupcake came into existence.

For the technique and the recipe….

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Brown Sugar Cookies – Speedy, Simple, & Superb: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 16

The easiest recipes are often the best.  This four-ingredient recipe, from my grandmother’s recipe files, which I recently discovered, is quick, straightforward, traditional,and toothsome.


I am a big fan of brown sugar, especially dark or demerara, so I was glad to have found this recipe, among my grandmother’s hand-written and typed cards.  While it is not the brown-sugar-beurre-noisette cookie which ranks among my very favourite cookie recipes, this version is much faster and a classic shortbread or sablé.  I remember well my grandmother’s tubular aluminum cookie press, which made fancy beribboned butter cookies.  I can picture only the plain melt-in-your-mouth white butter cookies, which Jessie often adorned with glacé cherries.

In thinking about brown sugar, I thought about “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and jazz, which Jessie liked.  This led me to think I might find a picture of my grandmother Jessie at the Stork Club in New York City (I remember she had matchbooks from there but no such luck in the photo realm).  At various nightclubs, Jessie liked the many-layered and coloured liqueur drink, the “pousse-café” (she unfortunately pronounced this confection-concoction as “pussy café” – I kid you not…) , with layers of brandy, green chartreuse, white crème de cacao, crème de cassis, yellow chartreuse, and grenadine, as Wikipedia describes one variant, though there were many other versions.  This depends on the specific density of each liqueur to float on top of the previous one.  It was all the rage in the early 20th century.

Jessie and Louie - cocktails at a race track press club, 1950s

For the description of the cookie and the recipe …

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