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Baking History


Afternoon Tea - Afternoon Tea did not exist before the 19th century.  At that time lunch was eaten quite early in the day and dinner wasn't served until 8 or 9 o'clock at night.  But it wasn't until Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, asked for tea and light refreshments in her room one afternoon, around 1830, that the ritual began.  The Duchess enjoyed her 'taking of tea' so much that she started inviting her friends to join her.  Before long having elegant tea parties was very fashionable.   Demand for tea wares grew and soon there were tea services in silver and fine bone china, trays, cake stands, servers, tea caddies, tea strainers, teapots, and tea tables.....More on Afternoon Tea

Amaretti Cookies - Pronounced am-ah-REHT-tee.  Amaretti is the Italian name for macaroons, which means little bitter things.  Crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft inside, these small domed shaped cookies originated in Venice Italy during the Renaissance period.  Consisting of almonds or almond paste, sugar, and egg whites that can be flavored with chocolate or liqueurs and two baked cookies can be sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or even jam.  Often served with a sweet dessert wine , liqueurs or ice cream......More on Amaretti Cookies

Angel Food Cake - This cake is also called an Angel Cake, so named as its airy lightness is said to be the "food of the angels".  You may be surprised at how many egg whites are in an angel food cake.  But it really is not surprising given the liberal use of eggs in all cake recipes around the time of its invention (1870).  Waverley Root in "Eating in America A History" tells how in Mrs. J. Chadwick's 1853 "Home Cookery" she calls for 32 egg yolks for just one cake.  He also cites Mrs. Horace Mann's "Christianity in the Kitchen" (1861) as calling for 20 eggs in one cake that had to be beaten for about three hours.  It is a good thing that at about the same time the angel food cake was invented the rotary egg beater came along which eliminated the long and laborious hand beating of batters.  Angel food cakes use their own special pan which Greg Patent in "Baking in America" states was also invented in the late 1800s.....Recipe for Chocolate Angel Food Cake

Banana Bread - Banana Bread recipes became very popular in the 1960s when hearty breads were all the rage.  It has a thick batter and is a cross between a cake and a bread.  It is baked in a rectangular baking pan until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Banana Bread is classified as a Quick Bread (used since 1918) which is a  mainly North American term used to describe a light and moist baked good that is "quick" to make. The dry ingredients and liquid ingredients are mixed together separately, then combined and baked.  Leavened using a chemical leavening agent (baking powder/soda not yeast) that does not require fermentation and involves little or no kneading.  Quick breads are made either from a batter (muffins, coffee cakes, pancakes, popovers, loaves or breads) or a dough (scones and biscuits).....Recipe for Banana Bread

Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich) - Originally a German yeast cake that is also known as Bee Sting.  The story goes that a baker made the cake with a honey topping that attracted a bee which stung the baker.  The original cake had a yeast base that was filled with a custard and frosted  with honey, butter and almonds.

Biscotti is said to have originated during Columbus's time and credited to an Italian baker who originally served them with Tuscan wines.  They became so popular that every province developed their own flavored version.  Because of their long storage ability they were an ideal food for sailors, soldiers, and fisherman.  Traditionally biscotti were almond flavored as almonds were readily available in Italy and nearby countries.....More on Biscotti

Boston Cream Pie - The name Boston Cream Pie is believed to be a misnomer as it's really a cake.  The "pie" instead of "cake" may be due to the fact that colonists used to bake their cakes in pie tins as they did not own cake pans.  The first reference to Boston Cream Pie was when a New York newspaper in 1855 ran a recipe for a 'pudding pie cake'.  This recipe, however, had a powdered sugar topping not the chocolate glaze it now has.  Then in 1856 a man named Harvey D. Parker opened a restaurant in Boston called the Parker House Restaurant.  On the menu was a 'pudding pie cake' but it had a chocolate glaze not the powdered sugar topping of the original recipe.  This is the cake we know today and the name 'Boston Cream Pie' is probably a combination of the first 'pudding pie cake' recipe and the fact that Boston is the place where the chocolate glazed version originated.

Bread Pudding - Bread Pudding, first known as a "poor man's pudding", is an old fashioned dessert that has been popular in England since the 13th century.  Unlike the bread puddings of today where breads are sometimes made specifically for making the puddings, it was once made as a way to use up any stale bread that was hanging about.  The stale bread was moistened by soaking the bread in water and then squeezing out the excess water.  Sugar, spices and other ingredients were then added.   Today, bread puddings are made with either fresh or stale bread (brioche, challah, croissant, panettone, french, Italian) that is soaked in a rich mixture (custard) of milk (or cream), eggs, sugar, vanilla, and spices.  Nuts, zests, candied or fresh fruit can also be added.....More on Bread Pudding 

Breakfast - Defined as the first meal of the day and literally means, breaking the fast of the night.  It was during the 15th century that certain foods were created and served only at breakfast and this tradition continues even today.  It was reported back in the mid 1800s that a typical American breakfast consisted of at least six courses;  tea, toast, eggs, beef, ham, fish, game, fruits, and breads.  About the same time there were the American food reformers who advocated eating less meat and more grains.  One such food reformer was John Henry Kellogg who headed the Seventh Day Adventist "Sanatorium" in Michigan for people with medical problems.  One belief he had was that eating hard dry foods would keep your teeth healthy and recommended eating zwieback.  Unfortunately, zwieback was very hard and brittle and when a patient broke a tooth eating one, Dr. Kellogg set out to invent a new healthy dry cereal.  The cereal he produced was similar to a granola (now named Corn Flakes) and it sold very well.  So well, in fact, that others began producing dry cereals.

The foods eaten at home for breakfast have a lot to do with convenience as people do not have the time to make and eat a leisurely breakfast.  Bread-like items are popular breakfast foods during the workweek: bagels, muffins, scones, cereal or mu?strong style="font-weight: 400">sli, with a cup of tea or coffee.  Weekends are when the so-called "big breakfast" or "English breakfast" is served where eggs take center stage as well as bacon, sausages, tomatoes, toast, jams and preserves.  .....More on Breakfast

Brownies - Brownies are classified as a bar cookie that tastes like a rich chocolate cake that has been cut into squares.   Toasted and chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts) can be added or even chunks or chips of white chocolate.  The Brownie is definitely America's favorite bar cookie (square) and the name "brownie" refers to its dark brown color.  John Mariani in "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink" states that the first recipe appeared in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog. ....Recipe for Brownies

Cakes - Cakes began in ancient Egypt as round, flat, unleavened breads that were cooked on a hot stone.   Their evolution from crude cakes to what we enjoy today was possible, over many centuries, through the introduction of new ingredients and technology.    The Egyptian's discovery and subsequent skill at using natural yeast helped leaven those once flat cakes.  When butter and eggs made their way into the cake dough, their consistency became the precursor for today's cakes.   Cake making continued to improve especially with the new ingredients such as chocolate and vanilla, and eventually sugar, that came to Europe with the discovery of the New World....More on Cakes and Cake Recipes

Carrot Cake - Carrots, along with beets, contain more sugar than  other vegetables which may explain their use in some desserts.  Although used in puddings and jams, the Carrot Cake is by far the most popular carrot dessert.   Recipes for this cake, frosted with a Cream Cheese Frosting, began to appear in the 1960s.

The orange carrots we enjoy today originated from the purple variety grown in Afghanistan since the 7th Century AD.  As they moved westward into Europe the orange variety came about and this is the variety the English settlers brought to America.  Carrot comes from the Greek word "karōton" and the Greeks started the belief that eating carrots would improve your eyesight.  John Ayto in "An A-Z of Food & Drink" tells how during World War II the British furthered this belief by saying that British pilots improved their night vision by eating huge amounts of carrots.  They were, however, only trying to encourage the eating of carrots as it was one of the few foods that were not in short supply during the war....Recipe for Carrot Cake

Chiffon Cakes - Chiffon cakes were invented in the late 1940s.  The Chiffon Cake is a cross between a butter and a sponge cake.  Similar to a butter cake in that it contains baking powder and does have fat, albeit it is in liquid form.  You may notice that there is extra baking powder in this recipe.  This is because oil is heavy and needs extra leavening to ensure the cake will rise properly.  The advantage of oil is that it makes for a moist and delicate cake that doesn't harden even when refrigerated.  The chiffon is similar to a sponge cake in texture and that the eggs are separated.  The whites are stiffly beaten and then folded into the batter which contributes to the cake's leavening.  The batter is baked in an ungreased tube pan which allows the batter to cling to the sides of the pan as it rises.  The tube in the center of the pan enables the hot air to circulate so the heat can reach the center of the cake.  Once baked the cake is inverted until cool to keep the cake from shrinking and losing its volume....Recipe for Orange Chiffon Cake

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts, is credited with inventing the chocolate chip cookie.   The story goes that one day in 1930 she cut a Nestl?s Semisweet Yellow Label Chocolate bar into small chunks and added it to her butter cookie dough.  The cookies were an instant hit with her customers and word of their popularity reached the Nestl? company.  Nestl?must have realized that putting small chunks of their chocolate bar in cookie dough would appeal to the mass market because by 1939 Nestl?came out with chocolate morsels (or chips).  What a brilliant marketing plan it turned out to be when Nestl? packaged the chips in a Yellow bag and then bought the rights to the Toll House name and Ruth Wakefield's recipe.  They called her recipe "The Famous Toll House Cookie" and printed it on the back of the Yellow bag.  This recipe is still to this day, although in a slightly altered form, on the back the Nestl?chocolate chip bags.

Reported to be the favorite cookie of Americans, Ruth Wakefield's recipe has been the springboard for numerous adaptations.   The original recipe: 1 cup butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 white granulated sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved into 1 teaspoon hot water, 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup chopped nuts, and 1 pound cut up chocolate has only been slightly changed by Nestl?to accommodate the changes in baking soda and use of chocolate morsels.  Once made with a mere 1/2 teaspoon of dough, chocolate chip cookies now range from miniature to jumbo and Nestl?has met this demand by producing various size morsels from mini-chips to large morsels....More on Chocolate Chip Cookies

Clafoutis - Clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-TEE) is a French country dessert hailing from the Limousin region.  Clafoutis comes from the word 'clafir' which means 'to fill'.  Traditionally made with the first sweet cherries of the season and are left unpitted (kernels are said to add extra flavor while baking).  An earthenware dish is buttered and then covered with a layer of stemmed cherries.  A batter of eggs, flour, milk, and sugar (sometimes butter, flavorings, liqueur are also added) is then poured over the cherries.  The consistency of the batter can be thin (like a pancake batter) to thick (cake-like).  The assembled dish is then baked in the oven until the batter is puffed, set and nicely browned.  Confectioner's (powdered or icing) sugar is sprinkled over the top and it can be served with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.  It is best served warm.

Cookbook Journals - As early as the 17th century, women have been sharing and recording recipes in book form.  But the books they made were not merely a compilation of recipes.  They were really a journal of a  woman's domestic life.  You would sometimes find household and gardening advice, as well as formulas for making medicines, as a place to save clippings on events taking place in their neighborhood, a place to save letters from friends and family, to record or even write poetry and quotations, and as a place where children practiced their writing of letters.  Some women kept adding to their journals throughout their lives so these books became a diary of their domestic development.  As the years went by you could see the progress of their cooking skills by the increasing complexity of the recipes and their abilities to adapt the recipes to their own tastes. Some women were so pleased with their accomplishments that they published their personal recipe books.....More on Cookbook Journals

Cookbooks - Recipes were once known as "receipts". 

- First cookbooks were written by chefs for chefs.

- It wasn't until the 18th century that cookbooks even began to look like what we have today.

- Hannah Glasse (1708-1770), Elizabeth Roffald (1733-1781) and Maria Rundell (1745-1829) were said to be the first English women to write cookery books aimed at the inexperienced housewife and her servants. 

- Hannah Glasse wrote "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy" in 1747 and she is probably the best known English cookbook writer of the 18th century.  Unfortunately, it has been revealed that her book was full of plagiarized recipes.  This was very common in the 18th century.

- During the 18th century, cookbooks used in the United States originated in England.......More on the history of Cookbooks

Cookies - During the early part of the 18th century North Americans began to use the word 'cookie' to define a small, sweet, flat or slightly raised confection.  The word 'cookie' appears to come from the Dutch word "koekje or koekie" and refers to a small cake.   Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food states that "cookies were originally associated with New Year's Day....references from the early part of the 19th century show that cookies and cherry bounce (a cherry cordial) were the correct fare with which to greet visitors on that occasion."  Cookies are now eaten any time of the day - coffee breaks, as a snack, for dessert, and even given as a welcoming gift.  In the U.K. they are called biscuits; in Spain they are called galletas; in Germany they are called kels; and in Italy they are called biscotti.  Every country has its favorite.  ....More on Cookies and Cookie Recipes

Croissant is French for crescent or crescent-shaped.  Croissants are composed of a light buttery rich yeast dough that can have either a sweet (jam, marzipan, chocolate) or savory (cheese, ham, chicken, mushrooms) filling.  Traditionally enjoyed in France for breakfast with coffee and milk.

Legend has it that one night during the war of 1686 between Austria and Turkey, bakers in Budapest Hungary heard Turkish soldiers tunneling under the city and sounded the alarm.  This led to the Turkish defeat of the war and the bakers' reward was the honor of making a commemorative pastry in a crescent shape (the shape that is on the Turkish flag).  Later the French were credited with reinventing the croissant dough to its current form using a puff pastry-like dough.  However, in the Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, he states that the recipe for the present day croissant doesn't appear in a French recipe book until early in the 20th century and there is no reference to it origins being from the croissant made after the war of 1686. 

Whatever its true origins,  the present day croissant is still credited to France and enjoyed in many parts of the world.  Croissants that are made with butter are called "croissant au beurre" and any croissant containing other types of fat (usually margarine) must be called "croissants". 

Eton Mess - This English dessert takes softly whipped cream and adds to it cut up strawberries and meringue cookies.  The name "Eton" is used as the dessert was first created at Eton College, one of Britain's most famous public schools whose alumni includes 18 Prime Minister's of Great Britain.  "Mess" is used because the cream, strawberries and meringue cookies are just mixed together in one big bowl.    This dessert is traditionally served at Eton College's annual June 4th prize giving celebration where parents and students get together and have a picnic....Recipe for Eton Mess

Fruit Fools - Dating as far back as the sixteenth century, this classic British dessert has seen its popularity ebb and flow.  Today fruit fools consist of cooked or raw fruit that is pur?/font>ed or mashed, then sweetened, chilled, and finally folded into stiffly beaten whipped cream (there should be streaks of the white cream showing where the fruit was not completely folded into the whipped cream).  Traditionally fools were made with tart fruits such as raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, loganberries, and rhubarb but today virtually any fruit can be used.  It is best showcased when served in a long stemmed parfait or wine glass, garnished with fresh fruit.  "Fool" is believed to have originated from the French word "fouler" which means "to mash" or "to press".

I first read about fruit fools in Helen Saberi and Alan Davidson's book "Trifle".  In their discussion on the history of trifles they tell us that early trifles resembled "fools".   Early fools were thickened with eggs and cream, and sometimes wine and spices were added.  Some fools didn't contain fruit at all and were more like a custard.  But somewhere along the way it was realized that eggs, wine and spices were not needed to enhance the flavor of the fresh fruit and cream...Recipe for Fruit Fools

Frozen Fruit Pops - Although the first frozen fruit confections on a stick (called the "Hokey Pokey") were sold as early as 1872, it wasn't until 1923 that they became well known.  That year a man named Frank Epperson applied for a patent on the first frozen fruit on a stick, called the "Epsicle".  As with many inventions, the Epsicle came about by accident on a cold New Jersey morning.  It seems that Frank Epperson had made a glass of lemonade from a prepared powder and had accidentally left the glass, with a spoon in it, on the windowsill overnight.  The next morning he discovered that the lemonade had frozen into a solid mass.  After running the glass under hot water he removed the frozen lemonade from the glass by holding onto the spoon, and it was then he realized he had a new invention.  Once the patent for his "Epsicle" was issued he did sell it to the Joe Lowe Corporation (now called Popsicle Industries) who renamed the frozen fruit on a stick the "Popsicle"....Recipe for Frozen Fruit Pops

Fudge - In the late 1800s, American college women starting making a candy we now know as fudge.  Recipes began to appear in cookery books around 1896....Recipe for Fudge

Gingerbread - There are two major styles of gingerbread: a moist and spicy sweet cake or a cookie that is usually molded or shaped into a figure.  In both cases we seem to enjoy this dessert mainly during the fall and winter, especially around the holiday season. 

The Crusaders are credited with bringing gingerbread to Europe, although not in the form we enjoy today.  At one time it was made with breadcrumbs and sweetened with honey.  As with most recipes, gingerbread evolved around the world to meet the tastes of its different cultures.  If you sample gingerbread in a country other than your own you may be surprised to find it does not look or taste as you expected.   It may be a bread, cake or cookie and can range from light colored with just a touch of spice to dark colored and very spicy.  Other gingerbreads: France has Pain D'espice (a cake containing flour, spices and honey), Holland has Speculaas (crisp gingerbread cookie molded into different shapes),  Austria and Germany have Lebkuchen (a molded gingerbread cookie full of honey and spices), and China has Mikong (ginger flavored honey bread)....Recipe for Gingerbread Cake, Gingerbread Cookies and Gingerbread Scones

Genoise - Genoise is named after its place of origin, Genoa Italy and is a type of light and airy sponge cake.  Different from a sponge cake in that melted unsalted butter (sometimes clarified) is added to the batter which makes it a more tender and flavorful cake that is less sweet than a regular sponge cake.....More on Genoise

Ganache is a French term referring to a smooth mixture of chopped chocolate and heavy cream.  The origins of ganache are debatable but it is believed to have been invented around 1850.  Some say it originated in Switzerland where it was used as a base for truffles.  Others say it was invented in Paris at the Patisserie Siravdin....More on Ganache 

Hot Chocolate - The drinking of chocolate in the New World was first discovered by Columbus in 1502 when he landed in what we now think was either Mexico or Nicaragua.   He found the Aztecs drinking a chocolate beverage made with cocoa beans from the tropical tree Theobroma which translates to "Food of the Gods".  The Aztec's emperor, Montezuma, loved the drink so much that he would drink upwards of 50 cups a day.  To make this drink the Aztecs would first roast and grind the beans to a paste and then add the paste to water, along with chili peppers and vanilla.  This produced a beverage that was very bitter tasting which the Spaniards didn't enjoy.  Columbus did take some cocoa beans back to Spain but there was little interest in them.  It wasn't until Hernando Cortez, around 1520, brought the cocoa beans back to Spain from his trip to the New World that the chocolate beverage became popular.  To make this drink more palatable, the Spaniards processed the beans as the Aztecs did but then they added sugar and spices (vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, hazelnuts, almonds, orange flower water) to the chocolate paste.  Once the paste was allowed to solidify it was added to water or milk.  This drink immediately became popular with the Spaniards.  So popular that aristocratic ladies would start each day with a cup and even went so far as having their servants bring them some during Mass. 

Eventually this chocolate beverage spread throughout Europe but chocolate was still very expensive so it was enjoyed primarily by the upper class.  But everything changed in the 1820s when a Dutchman, by the name of Van Houten, came up with a way to remove most of the fat from the cocoa beans to produce what we now call cocoa powder.  Almost overnight cocoa powder replaced chocolate in the making of hot chocolate and it lost its appeal with adults.  It now became a drink served to children and remains that way to this day....Recipe for Hot Chocolate

Hot Cross Buns - This round, rich, sweet, yeast bun is traditionally served on Good Friday.  The passing of a London by-law in the early 1500s forbidding the sale of hot cross buns except on Good Friday, Christmas, and at funerals seems to have permanently influenced when we eat these spiced buns.   Made of milk, yeast, sugar, flour, spices (such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves), eggs, butter, currants, raisins and/or candied fruit.  John Ayto in "An A-Z of Food & Drink" states that the first record of the cross appearing on the top of the buns was in 'Poor Robin's Almanack' (1733) and the 'hot' was added to the name in the early 1800s.   The cross (represents cross of Christ and the Crucifixion) on top that can be made by cutting into the dough, by strips of pastry, or with a paste of flour and water.  Once baked, they can be iced with confectioners frosting or fondant.  Superstition had it that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday never became moldy and one bun used to be kept as a charm until the next year's buns were made.  There are various stories as to when they were first made, but the story I like is related to the Anglo Saxons.  They are said to have baked the buns in honor of their goddess of Spring, Eostre, from whom the name Easter is derived...More on Hot Cross Buns

Ice Cream - The United States is by far the world's largest consumer of ice cream followed by Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Britain.  Ice cream is such a big part of our culture that in the 1920s as immigrants arrived in the United States (Ellis Island) they were served ice cream as part of their first meal.   Although we may have adopted it as our own ice cream is not an American invention.  Paul Dickson tells us in his book 'The Great American Ice Cream Book' that the first record of it being eaten in the United States was in 1742 when ice cream was served at a dinner given by the then Governor of Maryland.   But it wasn't until the latter part of the eighteenth century when ice cream houses started to appear in New York and Philadelphia that ice cream was not simply a dessert to be enjoyed by the wealthy . 

The first ice creams were really "iced cream" as they were made with cream, sugar and flavorings (no eggs) that were simply frozen.  They were quite coarse in texture and contained large ice crystals.  Although the French started to add eggs or egg yolks to their ice cream recipes around the early 1700s, the British didn't follow suit until the middle of the century.  And it wasn't until the 1840s, and the invention of the first ice cream machine, that ice cream began to take on the smooth and creamy texture that we enjoy today....Recipe for Ice Creams

Ice Cream Cone - The ice cream cone turns 100 this year.  It made its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and there are many conflicting stories of who should be given credit for its invention.  Paul Dickson in his "The Great American Ice Cream Book" states that the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers (IAICM) has given Ernest A. Hamwi the credit for inventing the cone.

Ice cream was very popular at the turn of the last century and so it is not surprising that there were over 50 ice cream vendors selling a total of 5000 gallons of ice cream per day at the Fair.  Ernest Hamwi also had a booth at the fair but he was selling a type of waffle (zalabia), not ice cream.  One day, the man (Arnold Fornachou) at the booth next to Hamwi ran out of small dishes to serve his ice cream.  Hamwi got the idea to roll one of his hot Belgian waffles into a cornucopia and told Fornachou to put a scoop of his ice cream into the cornucopia's mouth.  They were an instant hit with Fornachou's customers who lined up to have their ice cream served this new way.   In fact, the cones were so popular at the Fair that St. Louis foundries started manufacturing molds for making the cornucopia shaped cones.  The cones were first given the name "World's Fair Cornucopia" until about 1909 when they were renamed "ice cream cones".  The cone obviously gained popularity across the United States because by 1924 Americans were consuming upwards of 245 million cones per year.....Recipe for Ice Cream Cones

Ice Cream Sandwiches - By the end of the 19th century ice cream was firmly entrenched in American society and with its popularity came many new inventions.  One of the first inventions to come along was the ice cream cone which made its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  By the 1920s we had the first chocolate-covered ice cream bar (Eskimo Pie), the banana split, ice cream cakes, the first chocolate covered ice cream bar on a stick (the Good Humor Ice Cream Sucker), and the ice cream sandwich.  John Mariani in his 'The Dictionary of American Food and Drink' says the first ice cream sandwiches were made with cake like chocolate cookies followed in San Francisco by sandwiches made with oatmeal cookies.  In the 1980s the 'Chipwich' became very popular which was made with the chocolate chip cookie....Recipe for Ice Cream Sandwiches

Ladyfingers - You may know them as Ladyfingers but these long finger- or oval-shaped cookies are also known around the world as Boudoir biscuits, sponge biscuits, sponge fingers, Naples biscuits, Savoy biscuits (Savoiardi) and biscuits ?/font> la cuiller.  The first mention of these cookies was in John Keats' poem 'The Cap and Bells' (1820) "Fetch me that Ottoman, and prithee keep your voice low, said the Emperor; and steep some lady's-fingers nice in Candy wine". 

Ladyfingers are made from a sponge cake batter where the egg yolks and sugar are beaten together until thick, to which vanilla extract, sifted flour and beaten egg whites are folded in.  The batter is then piped into long finger-shaped cookies which are dusted with sugar before baking to give them a crisp sweet crust.  The batter contains more flour than most sponge recipes to make it thick enough to pipe.  Although these delicate sponge cookies can be eaten on their own as a petit four or as an accompaniment to ice creams, they really shine when soaked in a syrup and used as part of more complex desserts such as Tiramisu, English Trifles, or Charlottes....Recipe for Ladyfingers 

Linzertorte - Linzertorte which is one of Austria's most famous desserts.  Believed to have originated from the City of Linz, written recipes began to appear in the early 1700s.  Traditionally this torte consisted of a crust made with flour, ground nuts (traditionally almonds), sugar, egg yolks, spices and lemon zest that was filled with preserves (traditionally black currant) and then topped with a lattice crust. 

Linzer Cookies use the same ingredients as the Linzertorte but present them in a different way.  Two cookies are sandwiched together with a layer of preserves.  The top cookie, dusted with confectioners sugar, has a cutout so the preserves are visible.  When cut into a round shape with a round cutout they are known as Linzer "Eyes" (Linzer Augen) as they are said to resemble an eye.  Traditionally these cookies are filled with black currant preserves.  However, in America as black currant preserves are expensive, we fill them with a variety of different flavored preserves, most notably seedless raspberry preserves.  Variations now exist for this cookie using ground hazelnuts, pecans, or even walnuts in place of the traditional ground almonds....Recipe for Linzer Cookies

Madeleines - Dating back to the 18th century in the French town of Commercy, in the region of Lorraine, the story goes that a girl name Madeleine made them for Stanislaw Lezczynski, Duke of Lorraine, who loved them and subsequently gave some to his daughter, Marie, the wife of Louis XV.  Their popularity grew after that.  Made famous by Marcel Proust in his novel 'Remembrance of Things Past' in which he wrote: "She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines', which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell.  And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.  No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched on my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.  An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses....".....More on Madeleines

Meringue Mushrooms - A recipe for Meringue Mushrooms can be found in Fannie Farmer's Original 1896 Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  But Maida Heatter is the one who brought them to their level of popularity today.  In her 1978 book "Book of Great Chocolate Desserts" she tells the story of entering them in an international cooking Olympics some 20 years before.  Since then she says has seen recipes in newspapers and magazines that look just like the ones she made for the Olympics.

There are many slightly different versions of this recipe but they all involve making a meringue from egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar.  The meringue is then placed in a pastry bag and piped into shapes of mushroom caps and stems.  After baking in a slow oven the stems are attached to the caps in one of two ways.  You can save a little meringue and use it as a 'glue' to attach the stems to the caps or you can use a little melted chocolate to 'glue' them together.  Either way is delicious.  The finishing touch is dusting the tops with a light sprinkling of cocoa powder.....Recipe for Meringue Mushrooms

Muffins - The name 'Muffin' either comes from the French word 'moufflet', meaning a soft bread, or from the German word 'muffe' which is the name for a type of cake.  There are two types of muffins: English and American.

English Muffins are made from a yeast dough that is formed into rounds, cooked on a griddle, toasted, split and buttered.  They are relatively flat with a golden-brown top and bottom and a light, spongy interior.

Muffins began as a yeast bread but American muffins have evolved to be a cross between a bread and a cake and a chemical leavener (baking powder/soda) is now used instead of yeast.  A basic muffin recipe contains flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, eggs, fat, and milk (buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream)...More on Muffins and Recipes

Oats - Oats are a cereal grain that are rich and flavorful and come in many forms.  The oat flakes (rolled oats) that we are most familiar with were first produced in 1877 by the The Quaker Mill Company.  By 1884 they began selling their product, calling it "Quaker Oats", in the now famous cardboard canister with its distinctive red, white and blue label.  An interesting fact is that Quaker Oats is said to have been not only the first packaged food in America but also the first product to be mass marketed in the U.S.. 

Oats were once thought of as a weed and weren't domesticated until after the Christian era began.  Besides Northern Europe, Scotland, and Ireland, oats were used as animal feed.  In fact, even today, over 90% of our U.S. crop is still used for this purpose.  In retrospect you can see why Dr. Johnson  in his 1755 'Dictionary of the English Language' defined 'oats' as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses but in Scotland supports the people".  Northern Europe, Scotland, and Ireland have long enjoyed oats, mainly as porridge or in oat cakes.....Recipe for Oatmeal Cookies

Parfaits - Parfait is French for perfect and is a frozen custard dessert made with eggs, sugar, whipped cream and flavorings such as a puree, liqueur, coffee, or chocolate that is placed in a mold, similar to a bombe.  An American parfait has evolved to mean a dessert consisting of ice cream layered with flavored syrups or fruit and whipping cream that is topped with more whipping cream, nuts and a Maraschino cherry.  It is served in a tall narrow glass so the layers are clearly visible...Recipe for Berry Parfaits

Pavlova - In the 1930's an Australian chef, Herbert Sachse,  invented this dessert when a soft meringue cake was requested for an afternoon tea at the hotel where he worked.  This meringue cake, with its unusual soft sweet marshmallow center and light, delicate, and crisp crust, is produced by folding a little vinegar and cornstarch (cornflour) into the egg whites and sugar mixture once they are stiffly beaten.  When cooled, softly whipped cream and fresh fruit (kiwi, raspberries, strawberries, passion fruit) are mounded in the center of the meringue.  The name, Pavlova, was chosen in honor of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited Australia in the 1920s.  Although Australia is credited with inventing this dessert, New Zealand also lays claim to it as a similar dessert was being served in that country around the same time as it was said to have been invented in Australia....Recipe for Pavlova  Recipe for Chocolate Pavlova

Peanut Butter Cookies - The peanut butter cookie was invented in America in the 1940s. Peanut Butter Cookies, along with the Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal, are classified as drop cookies. 

George Washington Carver (1864-1943) tried very hard to get Americans to use peanuts in both cooking and baking.  He founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and wanted farmers to grow peanuts after the cotton crop was destroyed by the boll weevil in the 1890s.  He did accomplish his goal of getting Americans to both grow and eat peanuts, especially peanut butter, but not so much in cooking as in baking cakes, cookies, puddings, pies, and candies.

Americans love their peanut butter so much that over half of our peanut crop goes to making peanut butter.  John Mariani in 'The Dictionary of American Food & Drink' tells us that peanut butter was invented in the late 19th century by a St. Louis doctor who first promoted it as a health food at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  Children are big eaters of peanut butter, especially in their favorite 'Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches'.  Public schools give children this type of sandwich 'free' when they forget either their boxed lunch, or lunch money, at home.....Recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies

Petit Four - What do miniature tuiles, eclairs, fancy cakes, macaroons, glazed or candied fruits, tartlets, ladyfingers, cigarettes, etc. have in common?  They all belong to a category of small fancy cookies, pastries, or confections called "petits fours".  The name petit four seems to have originated from the name of the ovens (petit four  meaning 'small oven') they were baked in.   In the 18th century the ovens were made of brick and once the large cakes were baked, small cakes were placed in the ovens as they were cooling down.

Petits fours can be eaten in one or two bites and these fancy  pastries are further divided into "sec" or "glace".  "Sec" meaning "dry" and "glace"; meaning "iced or frosted".  Petits fours sec usually refers to small biscuits (cookies) or pastries which have little done to them once baked.  Tuiles, macaroons, cigarettes, meringues, and ladyfingers are some examples. Commonly served with afternoon tea or with ice cream, sorbet, or custard.   Petits fours glace are pastries that can be filled with cream, chocolate, or jam and then covered, glazed, or dipped and decorated with marzipan, fondant, chocolate, or some other form of glaze or icing.  A miniature sponge cake filled with a buttercream and glazed with ganache is one example.   The petit four "sec" and "glace"; can be sponge or cake based, biscuit or cookie based, meringue based, marzipan based, fresh fruit or chocolate based.  They are traditionally served with afternoon tea or after a fancy meal (particularly petits fours glace accompanied by tea, coffee, liqueurs, or dessert wines. 

Pound Cake - The pound cake originated several centuries ago in England from yeast leavened bread-like cakes.  The name comes from the fact that the original pound cakes contained one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.  No leaveners were used other than the air whipped into the batter.  These cakes were rich and dense.  By the mid 1800's pound cake recipes began to deviate slightly from the original formula to make a lighter cake.  Some recipes even contained a liquid, such as alcohol or rose water.  It wasn't until the 20th century that artificial leaveners (baking powder/soda) were added.  Today, pound cakes use different proportions of the same ingredients as the original formula to produce a lighter cake....More on Pound Cake

Rice Pudding - In Roman times rice puddings (pottages), softened in milk (almond or cow's), were thought to cure upset stomachs.  Eventually recipes for both baked and boiled rice puddings began to appear.  Spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon were popular in rice puddings along with raisins and currants.  Eggs were sometimes added towards the end of baking and you will still find them used in recipes today.  Rice pudding recipes differ in the type of rice (long or short grain white rice, brown, basmati, jasmine), milk (whole milk, coconut milk, cream, evaporated or condensed), spices (nutmeg, cinnamon), flavorings (vanilla extract, orange or lemon zest), amount and type of sugar (white or brown), whether eggs and butter are added, to whether there should or should not be a film of top....Recipe for Rice Pudding

Sable (French Butter Cookie) - The Sable is a classic French cookie originating in Normandy.   Sable is French for "sand" and refers to the sandy texture of this delicate and crumbly shortbread-like cookie.  A versatile dough that can be flavored with ground nuts or zests and although traditionally round with fluted edges, they can also be cut into other shapes and even sandwiched together with jam or preserves, chocolate or lemon curd....More on Sable

Scones - Scones are believed to have originated in Scotland and are closely related to the griddle baked flatbread, known as bannock.   They were first made with oats, shaped into a large round, scored into four to six triangles, and cooked on a griddle either over an open fire or on top of the stove. 

The origin of the name 'scone' is just as unclear as where it came from.  Some say the name comes from where the Kings of Scotland were crowned, the Stone (Scone) of Destiny.  Others believe the name is derived from the Dutch word "schoonbrot" meaning fine white bread or from the German word "sconbrot" meaning 'fine or beautiful bread'.  Still others say it comes from the Gaelic 'sgonn' a shapeless mass or large mouthful.....More on Scones

Sherbet and Sorbet - In ancient time, the Sherbet was a non alcoholic sweetened fruit drink sold in the Middle East by street vendors during the summer months.  As time went on the Sherbet, known as 'shar?', had alcohol added to it so a new name 'sharb?/font>t' was given to the original non alcoholic fruit drink.   By the 16th century the sharb?/font>t had made its way to Europe where it became very popular.  In Italy the fruit drink was called sorbetto (from the verb sorboire meaning 'to sip'), in France it was called sorbet, in Spain it was called sorbete and the English called it sherbet.  Over time, and with the advent of making artificial ice, sorbets/sherbets were sometimes frozen and were either served as a drink or eaten with a spoon.

In America at the turn of the 19th century, the word sherbet and sorbet were (at still are in some places) used interchangeably.  The difference, however, is that sorbets are made using fresh fruit (juices/purees), sugar, water and sometimes lemon/lime juice and come closest to the original Middle Eastern drink.  Sherbets, on the other hand, contain fruit juice or puree, sugar, and water but also milk and/or cream, and sometimes eggs to give them a smooth and rich consistency somewhere between an ice cream and a sorbet....Recipe for Lemon Sherbet, Blackberry Sorbet, and Strawberry Sorbet

Shortbread - Scottish in origin, this rich, tender and crumbly straw colored biscuit (cookie) was once only served during Christmas and New Year's Eve (Hogmanay).   The classic proportions of one part sugar to two parts butter to three parts flour were mixed together and placed in a lightly floured  8 inch (20 cm) round wooden mold carved with a thistle.  The dough-filled mold was then inverted onto a baking sheet, released from the mold,  and baked in a slow oven.  Once baked, the shortbread was cut into wedges that were given the name "petticoat tails".  This name was derived because the shape of the shortbread wedges was similar to the bell-hoop petticoats worn by court ladies in the 12th century.....More on Shortbreads

Strawberries - The cultivated strawberries we enjoy today began in France with the chance meeting of two American species; one from North America, the other from South America.  The first to arrive in France in the early 1600s was the F. Virginiana, the wild scarlet woodland strawberry that was found growing along the Eastern United States.  A century would pass before the second American species, F. Chiloensis, would arrive from South America.  It seems a French engineer, Fr?/font>zier, who was sent to the west coast of South America for a totally different reason, found and brought back to France a large walnut sized strawberry that tasted like a pineapple.  At first, although the Chilean strawberry plant thrived, it would not bear any fruit.  Then, by chance, the North American strawberry was planted near the South American plant.  The two strawberry plants met and crossed naturally to produce a strawberry with the best characteristics of the two species.  This new hybrid was the ancestor of the cultivated strawberries that have become one of the most popular fruits in the world today....Recipes for Strawberry Desserts

Tiramisu - Pronounced tih-ruh-mee-SOO.  Literally translated it means "pick me up" or "carry me up".  It is an Italian dessert invented in the 1960's at the El Touga restaurant in Treviso, Italy.  Variations exist, but the bottom layer is usually composed of a sponge cake or ladyfingers that are dipped or soaked in a mixture of coffee (espresso) and alcohol (rum or brandy).  The next layer is typically a Zabaglione (Zabaione) (pronounced zah-bahl-YOH-nay) or a custard-like variation combined with mascarpone cheese.  Zabaglione is a light, airy wine custard made by whipping egg yolks, sugar and sweet Marsala wine over a water bath.  (Traditionally served warm or cold in wine goblets.  Can also be used in making Tiramisu.  Invented by the Italians but the French make their own version called sabayon (pronounced sah-bah-YAWN) and the Marsala wine (see note) is sometimes replaced by Champagne or dry white wine.)  Grated chocolate is then sprinkled over the Zabaglione, followed by a layer of softly whipped cream.  The layers are often repeated which is why it is oftentimes called an Italian Trifle.  Finally, the Tiramisu is garnished with cocoa powder and sometimes a dusting of ground cinnamon....Recipe for Tiramisu

Torte - Torte is German for cake and refers to both a multi-layered cake filled with buttercream, jam, or cream and to a rich, moist, and dense single-layered cake. 

Trifle - What a stunning dessert the trifle makes with its multiple layers that delight our senses with so many colors, textures and flavors.  The English have enjoyed this dessert for over three centuries now.  Although the dictionary defines 'trifle' as being something insignificant, this dessert is anything but.  Its beginnings were humble as the first trifles simply consisted of a mixture of boiled cream and a few other ingredients.   It wasn't until the mid 18th century that the trifle started to evolve into what we have today.   This is a trifle recipe by Frederick Bishop from "The Wife's Own Book of Cookery", 1852  (quoted from Elizabeth David's 'An Omelette and a Glass of Wine')

 'Cover the bottom of the dish with Naples biscuits, and macaroons broken in halves, wet with brandy and white wine poured over them, cover them with patches of raspberry jam, fill the dish with a good custard, then whip up a syllabub, drain the froth on a sieve, put it on the custard and strew comfits over all.' 

(Naples biscuits was the name given to sponge fingers at the time.) (Syllabub being a milk or cream that is whipped with sugar, spirits, spices and sometimes egg whites.) (Comfits are sugar-coated coriander or caraway seeds.)....More on Trifles

Truffle - The name 'truffle' for this confection comes from the fact that the mis-shaped cocoa powder covered truffle looked like the fungus of the same name....More on Truffles

Tuiles -  is French for tile.  So named because tuiles copy the shape of roofing tiles once used in France.  A very thin, crisp (brittle) cookie that is traditionally made with almonds but can be flavored with vanilla, oranges, or even other types of nuts....More on Tuiles.

Valentine's Day - February 14th is named after the patron saint, St. Valentine, and we celebrate this day with the exchange of candy, flowers, cards, and gifts as a token of affection to our loved ones.  The history of this day is very sketchy but it does appear to derive from Christian and Roman traditions.  The story I like dates from the third century when Rome was ruled by the Emperor Claudius II.  The Emperor outlawed marriages for young men as he felt single men made better soldiers than men who were married.  A priest, named St. Valentine, didn't agree with the Emperor and married young lovers in secret.  When the Emperor discovered what St. Valentine was doing, he sentenced him to death. 

The story then goes that while in prison, waiting to be put to death, he met and fell in love with the jailor's daughter.  Before he died he sent her a letter and signed it "From your Valentine".  This expression is still used today and St. Valentine is now best remembered as being a romantic and heroic figure.