Two Centuries of 'Baking in America'

Author Unearths Recipes, Lore from Generations of U.S. Bakers

Baking in America cookbook cover

hide captionGreg Patent's new cookbook Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years.

cookbook author Greg Patent

hide captionGreg Patent

Michael Gallacher

Ever since he took second place in a junior-division Pillsbury Bake-Off, Greg Patent has loved baking. Now he's collected recipes and lore from two centuries of American bakers in a new cookbook, Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years.

On Weekend Edition Saturday, Patent discusses time-honored recipes -– including apple pie, Boston Cream Cakes and a sweet yeast bread called Election Cake -– with NPR's John Ydstie.

Patent, a contributing editor to Cooking Light magazine, began his trek back through baking history in the rare book room of the Los Angeles Public Library. He pored over a copy of what he says is the nation's earliest baking book: Seventy-Five Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, written in 1828 by Eliza Leslie, "a Lady of Philadelphia." He tested some of Leslie's confections, and found that doing so "made me feel an unexpected kinship and connection" with the baker and her nearly two-century-old recipes.

That spurred Patent to unearth and try more historic recipes that had vanished from 20th-century cookbooks. And he discovered, he says, "that these extinct recipes are as appealing and contemporary today as they were 100 or more years ago." Thus, his Baking in America cookbook pairs recipes from the present with recreated recipes from the past, and accompanies them with information on the ingredients, cooking equipment and techniques essential to American bakers then and now.

Below, reprinted with permission from Baking in America, are recipes (with Patent commentary) for $25,000 Apple Pie, Boston Cream Cakes, Election Cake, and Chocolate Almond Pound Cake.

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$25,000 Apple Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie, 8 to 10 servings

Says Patent: "A recent pie-baking contest that I judged at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, was a study in contemporary flavors. The students, vying for scholarship money, had put just about anything they could think of into their creations: cream, blood oranges, bourbon, cranberries, ginger, and even mesquite bean jelly. But in the end, the simplest and most old-fashioned pie won the day. Its sweet-tart apple flavor snapped my taste buds to attention with the first bite. A small amount of cinnamon and brown sugar enhanced the apple taste without overwhelming it. The apple textures were varied and combined perfectly with the tender yet flaky pastry. And the apples were perfectly cooked.

"The day before, we had visited an apple orchard in the picturesque Hudson River Valley, where contestants literally had their pick of the crop, but only one student did so. Meri Jo Leach chose five different varieties — Cortland, McIntosh, Crispin (also known as Mutsu), Empire, and Ginger Gold — to capture the $25,000 grand prize. For the best results, use a mixture of apple varieties for taste and texture. Two or three types are better than just one alone."

1 Double Piecrust (recipe follows filling recipe)

FILLING

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 pounds apples, quartered, cored, peeled, and each quarter cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into thin slices (6–7 cups)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1. Adjust one oven rack to the lowest position and the second in the center of the oven. Set a baking sheet on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Roll the larger piece of dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. Fit it into a 9-inch pie plate, without stretching it. Leave the excess dough hanging over the edges. Refrigerate.

3. For the filling, combine both sugars, the cinnamon, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Break up any lumps of brown sugar with your fingertips. Add the apples and lemon juice and combine well.

4. Roll the second piece of dough out on the lightly floured surface to an 11-inch circle. Spoon the apple mixture into the bottom crust, mounding it slightly in the center. Distribute the pieces of butter over the apples, and brush the edges of the overhanging pastry lightly with water. Carefully place the second circle of pastry on top of the apples. Press the edges of dough together firmly, and trim away the excess, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under itself to form a standing rim, and flute it. Cut 6 slits in the top of the pastry in a spoke pattern with the tip of a small sharp knife. Brush the pastry with the cream and sprinkle with the sugar.

5. Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Transfer the pie and the baking sheet to the center shelf and reduce the temperature to 375°F. Continue baking for another 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, the juices are bubbling up through the slits, and the apples are tender when tested with the tip of a sharp knife. Cool for several hours on a wire rack before serving.

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Flaky Piecrust

Says Patent: "This is my favorite basic pastry for all-butter single and double-crust pies. It is quick to make, easy to roll out, and deliciously tender and flaky. Although the dough is easily mixed by hand, I always use the food processor. The speed with which the metal blade chops the butter into the flour and incorporates the liquid minimizes gluten development. The amount of liquid may be a little bit more than you need, so add it very slowly toward the end of mixing. The dough should be moist enough to just hold together, but not at all wet or sticky."

SINGLE PIECRUST:

Makes enough for one 9-inch pie shell

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cake flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

1/4 cup ice water

1 large egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

DOUBLE PIECRUST:

Makes enough for a double-crusted 9-inch pie or two 9-inch pie shells

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

1/2 cup ice water

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. If using a food processor, pulse the flours and salt together for 5 seconds. Add the butter and pulse 4 times for about 1 second each, just to cut it into smaller pieces. Combine the water, egg yolk, and cider vinegar in a measuring cup. Pulsing rapidly, gradually pour the liquid through the feed tube in a thin stream until the dough forms several large clumps and almost gathers into a ball, 20 to 30 pulses. Watch closely. You may not need to add all the liquid. If making the dough by hand, combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut it into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine the water, egg yolk, and cider vinegar in a measuring cup. Sprinkle in the liquid gradually, about 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork and stirring just until the dough gathers into a ball. You may not need to add all the liquid.

2. Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. For a single crust, gently press the dough together to form a 1-inch-thick disk. For a double crust, press the dough together and divide it into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Form each piece into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap the dough securely in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The dough can be made up to 2 days ahead.) For a fully baked single crust, continue as directed below. If making a double-crust pie, follow the instructions in the particular recipe.

3. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and flatten it slightly by tapping it all over with a rolling pin. Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, placing the pin on the center of the dough and rolling out, without pressing down, and using as little flour as possible. Turn the dough about a quarter turn with each roll. Avoid running the pin over the edge of the dough, which would compress it. Don’t be concerned about rough edges.

4. Fold the circle of dough in half, then in half again, and place the point in the center of a 9-inch pie plate, preferably Pyrex. Carefully unfold the dough and fit it into the pan by nudging it gently into the pan without stretching it. Trim the excess pastry to a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold the edge back under itself, toward the side of the pan, and pinch the double thickness to make a high-standing rim. Flute it by pinching it at 1/2-inch intervals into an attractive zigzag pattern. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

5. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400°F.

6 Line the chilled pastry shell with a square of aluminum foil, pressing the foil gently over the bottom and sides. Fill the shell with dried beans. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the edges of the pastry just begin to brown. Remove from the oven and carefully lift out the foil and beans. Prick the bottom of the pastry evenly with a fork, return to the oven, and continue baking until golden brown and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes more. Check frequently to make sure the pastry isn’t puffing up—if it is, prick it gently with a toothpick. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

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Boston Cream Cakes

Makes 12 to 18 cream puffs

"How these incredible cream puffs got their name is unclear," Patent says, "but the dessert was very popular on the East Coast in the early to mid-1800s."

FILLING

3 cups heavy cream

1 3-inch cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/3 cup sugar

6 large egg yolks

PUFF SHELLS

1 cup milk

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

Sugar for sprinkling

1. For the filling, place the cream and cinnamon stick in a small heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream and add the pod. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat; watch closely, or the cream may boil over. Remove from the heat, add the sugar, and stir until dissolved. Set aside to steep for about 1 hour.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325°F. Have ready a 9-inch ovenproof glass pie plate and a shallow baking pan large enough to contain the pie plate. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

3. If a skin has formed on top of the cream, stir it back in. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, and return to the saucepan. Heat the cream until almost boiling. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk the hot cream into the egg yolks; don’t beat. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the pie plate and set it in the baking pan. Add boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the pie plate and place in the oven.

4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, only until set; the tip of a sharp knife inserted into the center should come out clean. Carefully remove the custard from the water bath and set on a wire rack to cool. (The custard can be made ahead, cooled, and refrigerated for several hours, or overnight.)

5. For the puffs, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 425°F (or if you are using two 12-cup muffin pans, adjust two oven racks to divide the oven into thirds). Lightly coat 12 extra-large or 18 standard-sized nonstick muffin cups with cooking spray; set aside.

6. Combine the milk, butter, and salt in a medium heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil. Remove from the heat, immediately add the flour, and beat with the wooden spoon. Return the pan to medium-high heat and stir constantly for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.

7. Place the eggs in a medium bowl and beat them with an electric mixer on high speed until very thick and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. On low speed, beat the eggs into the warm puff mixture in about 4 installments, beating only until each addition is completely incorporated and stopping to scrape the saucepan once or twice. Use two soup spoons to place small even mounds of dough in the pans, one for picking up the dough and one for pushing it off the spoon. Sprinkle each puff lightly with sugar.

8. Bake large puffs for 25 minutes, standard-sized ones for 20 minutes, or until they are very well browned and have puffed tremendously. Do not underbake, or the puffs may collapse as they cool. Carefully remove the puffs from the pans and cool on wire racks.

9. When they are completely cool, split the puffs horizontally and fill each with some of the custard (which may be at room temperature, slightly warm, or cold). Replace the tops of the puffs and serve as soon as you can, with knives and forks.

Filling Variations:

1. Fill with 2 cups heavy cream beaten until thick with 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar and 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.

2. Fill with scoops of ice cream or frozen yogurt.

3. Fill with 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, beaten until thick, with 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries, 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, and 2 tablespoons sugar folded in.

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Election Cake

Makes 1 large tube cake, 20 to 24 servings

From Patent: "Food historian William Woys Weaver says election cakes could be just about anything served at musters, election-day picnics, and other festivities, but originally, they were enriched breads. The name goes back to the 1600s. This version is a big, gorgeous yeast bread, flavored with nutmeg, mace, brandy, and Madeira and containing a generous amount of dried fruits. I adapted it from an 1860s recipe in the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. It has an extremely light texture, very similar to a panettone, and is one of my favorite sweet yeast breads.

"The dough is very soft and sticky and is best made with an electric mixer, but you can make it by hand. The key to success lies in using the minimum amount of flour. Raisins and citron were the two most commonly used dried fruits in election cakes, but I like to use equal amounts of a large variety of fruit, such as dried sour cherries, blueberries, citron, and dark and golden raisins. Feel free to use whatever you like, including dried cranberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, or figs, cutting the larger fruits into 1/2-inch pieces. This cake keeps well for days at room temperature and is wonderful with steaming-hot coffee or tea."

SPONGE:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

2 1/4-ounce packages (1 1/2 tablespoons) fast-rise active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm milk (105°–115°F)

1/2 cup sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft

DOUGH:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon salt

1 whole nutmeg, grated (2–2 1/2 teaspoons)

3/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 tablespoons sweet sherry or Madeira

2 tablespoons brandy

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 pound dried fruits (see above)

1. For the sponge, using a rubber spatula, combine the 3 cups flour, yeast, milk, sugar, and soft butter in a mixer bowl or another large bowl.

2. If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and beat on high speed just until the dough gathers into a ball, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to medium-low and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Knead the mixture briefly in the bowl between your hands. It should feel soft, smooth, supple, and not sticky. If making the sponge by hand, knead it on a lightly floured surface for 8 to 10 minutes, until elastic and no longer sticky. Return the sponge to the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until almost tripled in volume, about 2 hours.

3. For the dough, beat the room-temperature butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the salt, nutmeg, and mace, beating them in well. Gradually add the sugar and beat for 3 to 4 minutes more. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute. Add the sherry or Madeira and brandy and beat on low speed until incorporated, then beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Deflate the dough in the bowl, stirring it down with a wooden spoon. Add the butter mixture.

5. If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until the ingredients are completely incorporated and the dough is smooth. On low speed, gradually add the flour, then knead on medium speed for 4 minutes. The dough will be very soft, smooth, and sticky; do not add any additional flour. If making the dough by hand, gradually beat in the butter mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Stir in the 3/4 cup flour. Knead on a lightly floured work surface until soft, smooth, and slightly sticky, adding a small amount of flour if necessary. Return the dough to the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

6. Knead the dried fruits into the dough with the dough hook on low speed or stir them in with a wooden spoon. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly to make sure the fruits are evenly distributed. The dough should be moist and only slightly sticky. Knead in a small amount of flour only if the dough seems excessively sticky.

7. Butter a 10-x-4-inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Shape the dough into a ball. Use your fingers to make a hole in the center and expand the hole so that the dough will fit around the tube. Place the dough in the pan, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and set aside until almost doubled in volume, about 2 hours (the dough will fill the pan by about two-thirds).

8. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

9. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown and springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the thickest part comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes.

10. Run a knife around the sides of the cake to release it from the pan, and lift the cake out of the pan by its tube. Run a thin-bladed knife between the cake and the bottom of the pan to release it, and invert onto a cooling rack. Turn the cake right side up, and let stand until completely cool. Stored at room temperature in an airtight plastic bag, the cake will keep for several days. The cake can also be frozen for up to 1 month. To serve, cut it into slices with a sharp serrated knife.

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Chocolate Almond Pound Cake

Makes one 10-inch tube cake, 16 servings

Says Patent: "This is a great big chocolate cake with a fine, moist texture. Almond paste enriches the batter, and finely chopped almonds coat the pan and decorate the top of the cake. The chocolate glaze is almost black and has a beautiful shine. Make this for a party. If you wish, serve each portion with a spoonful of lightly sweetened whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

"Almond paste is widely available in 8-ounce cans or 7-ounce boxes of foil-wrapped tubes (Odense brand, from Denmark); I have used both kinds with excellent results. If you want a more intense almond flavor, add 1 teaspoon pure almond extract with the vanilla."

1/2 cup blanched or unblanched whole almonds

5 ounces (5 squares) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 cups sifted cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

7 or 8 ounces almond paste (see above)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

8 large eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

CHOCOLATE GLAZE:

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

5 ounces (5 squares) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Process the almonds in a food processor until very finely chopped, 20 to 30 seconds; be careful not to overprocess, or the nuts will become oily. Set aside. Butter a 10-x-4 inch tube pan with a removable bottom and line the bottom with cooking parchment or waxed paper. Butter the paper or parchment. Dust the inside of the pan, including the tube, with the almonds, and knock out the excess. Save the almonds that didn’t stick to the pan to sprinkle on top of the cake after glazing. Set aside.

3. Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a small saucepan set into a larger pan of hot water over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until the chocolate melts, being careful not to splash any water into the chocolate. Remove from the heat, leaving the chocolate pan in the water bath.

4. Resift the flour with the salt and baking soda; set aside. Cut the almond paste into small pieces about the size of an almond; place them on a dish and cover with plastic wrap to prevent them drying out.

5. Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until very smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the almond paste a piece or two at a time, beating briefly after each addition until incorporated. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the vanilla extract and beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Beat in the remaining 11/2 cups sugar 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 20 to 30 seconds after each addition. Beat for 5 minutes. The mixture will be very light colored and fluffy. Stir the chocolate until it is very smooth and remove the pan from the water bath; set aside.

6. Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each. Beat in the chocolate on low speed only until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour and beating only until smooth. The batter will be thick. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

7. Bake for 1 hour and 10 to 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the cake springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the thickest part comes out looking a bit wet with some chocolate sticking to it; do not overbake. The cake will have a few cracks on top. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

8. Run a thin-bladed sharp knife around the sides of the cake to release it and lift the cake out of the pan by the tube. Run the knife around the tube and between the paper liner and the bottom of the pan. Cover the cake with a wire rack and carefully invert the two. Remove the pan and paper, and let the cake cool completely.

9. For the glaze, combine the water, sugar, and salt in a small heavy saucepan and bring almost to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When you can no longer see any sugar crystals, remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and chocolate until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is very smooth. Set aside for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the glaze thickens a bit and is spreadable. It should not be runny.

10. Transfer the cake to a serving plate. Spoon the glaze over the top, and spread it with a thin narrow spatula all over the cake, including the tube portion. As the glaze runs down the side of the cake, quickly spread it thinly and evenly with the spatula. Sprinkle the reserved almonds on top. Let stand for an hour or two, until the glaze is set.

11. Cut the cake into thin slices with a serrated knife. Store leftovers covered with a cake dome or an inverted bowl.

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