Heirloom Recipe Contest Yields 'Naked Ladies'

Peach Puzzle, Naked Ladies with Their Legs Crossed, Wacky Cake and Tennessee Stack Cake.
America's Test Kitchen
Chris Kimball and Renee Montagne sample some of the contest recipes. i i

hide captionChris Kimball and Renee Montagne sample contest recipes.

Bettine Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR
Chris Kimball and Renee Montagne sample some of the contest recipes.

Chris Kimball and Renee Montagne sample contest recipes.

Bettine Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR

The team behind the public television show America's Test Kitchen is trying to save a slice of culinary heritage.

Their Cook's Country magazine launched the Heirloom Recipe Preservation Contest and was flooded with nearly 3,000 entries — family recipes dating back to the Revolutionary War — plus more modern fare like blueberry boy bait, a coffee cake from the 1950s.

Chris Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen, brought along an impressive array of some of the contest dishes to share and discuss with Renee Montagne.

"A great lost recipe is like a great short story," Kimball says. And like short stories, heirloom recipes have catchy titles, like Tennessee Stack Cake, Whoopie Pie or Naked Ladies with Their Legs Crossed (spiced crullers, if you must know). "So it's intriguing, it's interesting, it's kind of fun," he says. "The recipe itself is the narrative."

You can read some of the contest recipes, including the grand prize-winning Peach Puzzle, below.

Peach Puzzle

Peach Puzzle
America's Test Kitchen

Recipe by Lois Schlademan
Stow, Ohio

This recipe (which won the grand prize in the Cook's Country lost recipe contest) has all the abracadabra of a magic trick as well as beautiful presentation and great taste. Lois says the name refers to the "puzzling" cooking method. Her recipe begins by placing a custard cup upside down in the center of a pie plate. Seven peaches (peeled but still whole) are arranged around the cup and then drizzled with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, and vanilla. A buttery biscuit dough is then domed over the peaches and the custard cup. As the peaches bake under the crust, a vacuum forms inside the custard cup and the juices in the pie plate are pulled up inside the cup. Once cooled, the pie plate is flipped over to reveal the peaches nestled into the flaky biscuit. So where's the butterscotch-like syrup? It's all in the cup!

As you might imagine, Lois's recipe is unique—in our research, we failed to come across a single recipe like it. Lois says that her mother made peach puzzle back in the 1940s or 1950s and that it has been a family favorite ever since.

How good does this recipe taste? Lois' description answers that question better than we could: "When you pour a spoonful of syrup over the warm peach and it soaks into the biscuit crust, you will think you've died and gone to heaven—where, when meeting my mom, she would be pleased that it was her recipe that made you come visit!"

Serves 7

Peaches and Syrup

7 medium peaches, peeled (see note)

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

6 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

Dough

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled

6 tablespoons milk

1. For the peaches and syrup: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 6-ounce custard cup or ramekin upside down in the center of a 9-inch pie plate and arrange the peaches around the custard cup. Combine the brown sugar, water, butter, vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts, about 5 minutes. Pour the syrup over the peaches.

2. For the dough: Pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until blended. Add the butter and pulse until the flour mixture is pale yellow and resembles course cornmeal. Put the mixture into a medium bowl. (To make the dough by hand: Use the large holes on a box grater to grate frozen butter into the bowl with the flour mixture, then rub flour-coated pieces between your fingers until the flour mixture turns pale yellow and coarse.)

3. Using a rubber spatula, fold the milk into the flour mixture, pressing the mixture against the sides of the bowl to form the dough. Squeeze the dough together and flatten into a disk. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 9-inch circle. Lay the dough directly over the peaches and press and fit the dough so that it fits snuggly around peaches. (The dough will stretch as you fit it around the peaches, but do not attach the dough to the pie plate.) Bake until the top is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes.

4. Place a large rimmed serving plate over the top of the pie plate and quickly invert the puzzle onto a plate. Cut into wedges around each peach and serve, pouring syrup over each portion.

Notes from the Test Kitchen

Since this dish is all about the peaches, save it for when fresh local peaches are in season. And it is important to choose peaches that are neither very ripe nor rock-hard — they should give a little when squeezed. Be sure to invert the pie plate quickly to avoid losing any of the syrup. Serve with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

Assembling Peach Puzzle

1. Place a custard cup or ramekin upside down in the center of a 9-inch pie plate. Arrange the peeled peaches around the cup.

2. Fit the dough snugly around the peaches without attaching the dough to the pie plate. Bake as directed. Once cooled, quickly invert the puzzle onto a rimmed serving plate.

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

'America's Best Lost Recipes'

hide captionThis and other recipes will be included in a new book, America's Best Lost Recipes, to be published this fall.

Recipe by Tracey Duble
Ardmore, Pa.

Popular as an April Fool's Day recipe in the 1960s, Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake actually makes a lot of sense since vinegar was often added to early chocolate cakes to make them moist and tender. Sauerkraut has the same effect, plus it adds a coconut-like texture that is very appealing. This cake didn't seem at all unusual to Tracey, who came from a German/Polish background.

"My mother used to make sauerkraut cake for us when we were kids," she says. "My brother and I loved it. It is a rich chocolate layer cake with sauerkraut as one of the main ingredients. The taste of the sauerkraut really adds to the depth of flavor. I didn't realize how strange it was until I took this cake into school one day when I was in sixth grade. Everyone loved it until I said that it had sauerkraut in it. People had thought it was coconut. To this day if I want to surprise someone, I will make sauerkraut cake. People adore it, and then give you a look of amazement when you tell them the secret ingredient!"

Serves 12

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Frosting and Filling

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, melted

2/3 cup mayonnaise

2/3 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

2/3 cup pecans, chopped

1. For the cake: Adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the water, eggs, and vanilla in a large measuring cup.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the flour mixture and the water mixture alternately in two batches, beating after each addition until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the sauerkraut and pecans. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating and switching the pan positions halfway through baking. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes then, turn out onto a rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

3. For the frosting and filling: Whisk the melted chocolate chips and mayonnaise in a medium bowl and reserve 2 cups. To the frosting remaining in the bowl, add 1/3 cup of the coconut and 1/3 cup of the chopped pecans (this is the filling).

4. Spread half the filling on one cake layer. Repeat with the second layer and the remaining filling. Top with the final layer and spread the top and sides of the cake with the reserved frosting. Press the remaining coconuts and pecans into the sides of the cake. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (The cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Notes from the Test Kitchen

Both the cake and the frosting in this dessert have unusual components—the sauerkraut in the cake, and the mayonnaise in the frosting. The sauerkraut adds moisture and brightness to the cake (much like carrots in a carrot cake). Mayonnaise, made from eggs and oil, replaces the butter in the frosting. We served this cake to the test kitchen and waited for a reaction. No one could identify the sauerkraut at all (most thought it was chopped coconut), and as for the frosting, tasters thought it was tangy and chocolaty at the same time.

Naked Ladies with Their Legs Crossed (Spiced Crullers)

Naked Ladies with Their Legs Crossed
America's Test Kitchen

Recipe by Shirley Sieradzki
Mishawaka, Ind.

This recipe wins the prize for most creative title, but it was the taste of these spiced crullers (which disappeared as fast as we could make them) that really sold us. Although the exact origins of crullers is unclear, recipes similar to Shirley's can be found in late 19th-century cookbooks, when the advent of chemical leaveners meant that many doughnut recipes could be made with baking powder or baking soda rather than the traditional yeast. This recipe comes from Shirley's grandmother and Shirley speculates that her grandmother's German ancestry might have had something to do with her decision to add mashed potatoes to the dough. The dough is rolled like pie crust, cut into strips, and each strip is slashed in the middle. Each strip is then twisted to look like crossed legs.

Shirley's favorite memory associated with this recipe involves one of her five grandchildren. "When our granddaughter was in the fourth or fifth grade, her teacher asked her what she did that weekend. Can you picture the look on the teacher's face when my granddaughter said, 'We made naked ladies with their legs crossed'?" Eventually, all was explained, and Shirley treated her granddaughter's class to a platter of these tasty doughnuts.

Makes 24

1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 quarts vegetable or peanut oil

1. Bring the potato and water to cover to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potato is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potato, then mash until smooth. Let cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

2. Transfer 1/2 cup mashed potato to a medium bowl (discard the remaining potato) and beat in the egg, milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and vanilla until combined. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the potato mixture. Stir to form a moist and sticky dough.

3. On a heavily floured work surface, roll the dough into an 18 by 14-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch wide strips, make a slit in each strip, and twist to shape the dough to resemble crossed legs. Transfer the crullers to a floured baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to fry. (The crullers may be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

4. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until the temperature reaches 350 degrees. Carefully lower 6 crullers into the hot oil and fry, maintaining a temperature between 325 and 350 degrees, until crisp and deep brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crullers to a plate lined with paper towels and drain for 3 minutes. Toss the crullers in a bowl with the remaining sugar and transfer to a serving plate. Repeat with the remaining crullers, regulating the oil temperature as necessary. Serve.

Shaping the Ladies

1. Cut the 18- by 14-inch rectangle of dough in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into 1 1/2-inch wide strips.

2. Cut each strip lengthwise three-quarters of the way to the top to make a pair of legs.

3. Twist the legs around each other twice to cross.

Notes from the Test Kitchen

Tasters commented on the crisp crust and soft, chewy interior of these crullers. That chew and flavor comes from just a little mashed potato. But don't be tempted to use leftover mashed potatoes you may have on hand. We did and soon discovered that the butter and dairy we had added to them made the crullers too sticky.

Wacky Cake

Wacky Cake
America's Test Kitchen

During both world wars, butter, sugar, milk, and eggs were often in short supply, leading American women to devise a variety of "make-do" cakes. We found several sources suggesting that wacky cake was invented during the 1940s, but we couldn't understand how it earned its name until we found a recipe in The Time Reader's Book of Recipes, a collection of reader recipes compiled by the editors of Time magazine in 1949.

Mrs. Donald Adam of Detroit, submitted this strange recipe, which called for mixing the dry ingredients — flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda — right in the baking pan. If that wasn't strange enough, three holes — two small and one large — were made in the dry mix. Into the large hole went melted vegetable shortening, while vanilla and vinegar were destined for the smaller holes. Cold water was poured over everything, then the whole mess was stirred and popped into the oven. How does this strange recipe work?

Without eggs, this cake depends on the last-minute reaction of vinegar and baking soda to lift the thick batter. The three holes ensure that the dry ingredients (including the baking soda) remain dry until the last possible second. The lift provided by the baking soda and vinegar reaction is fleeting, and the recipe's odd mixing method ensures that the batter gets into the oven quickly.

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup natural cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup water

Confectioners' sugar

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in the prepared pan. Make 1 large and 2 small craters in the dry ingredients. Add the oil to the large crater and vinegar and vanilla separately to the remaining small craters. Pour the water into the pan and mix until just a few streaks of flour remain. Immediately put the pan in the oven.

3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan, then dust with confectioners' sugar. (The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Notes from the Test Kitchen

To simplify things, we replaced the melted shortening with vegetable oil, and to boost the chocolate flavor we added another tablespoon of cocoa powder. The cake was a bit sweet, so we cut back on the sugar, and, because several tasters complained about a slight "soapy" flavor, we also decreased the baking soda. On a whim, we decided to try this cake with more "timely" ingredients. We replaced the oil with melted butter and used milk instead of water. This cake was less chocolaty and more crumbly — the original was better. Be sure to use natural cocoa powder rather than Dutch-processed cocoa for this recipe. The two types of cocoa powder react differently in recipes with baking powder and baking soda and don't always produce similar results.

A Wacky Mixing Method

1. Using a spoon, make 1 large and 2 small craters in the dry mix.

2. Pour the vegetable oil into the large crater, then the vinegar and vanilla into the smaller craters. Pour the water over all the ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix the batter, taking care not to overmix; the batter should still contain a few streaks of flour.

Tennessee Stack Cake

Tennessee Stack Cake
America's Test Kitchen

Recipe by Andrea Hall
Puyallup, Wash.

This eight-layer cake, an Appalachian specialty, is known by various names, including apple stack cake, pioneer stack cake, and washday stack cake. The last name refers to how the cookie-like layers were often baked on washday and then layered with apple butter and left to sit for a day or two before being served. As the cake sits, the cookie-like layers soak up moisture from the apple butter and soften, becoming tender and cake-like in the process.

Andrea's recipe certainly won us over, but so did the story that accompanied her entry. "I remember my grandmother — 'Mom-Mom'—saying that there was always stack cake on the dining room table when she was growing up. She was born in 1917 into a family of ten in Lone Mountain, Tennessee, a very beautiful rural area south of Cumberland Gap. Baking day was Saturday, and dried apple rings were brought down from the attic, where they were hung every fall, reserved mainly for use in this special cake. Once baked, everything was placed on the dining room table to cool, then covered with a clean tablecloth to keep the flies off until items were put away Sunday morning. Mom-Mom remembers how they loved to go downstairs in the morning and see the large hump under the cloth where the stack cake lay! The anticipation was heightened by the fact that the cake could not be eaten until after Sunday dinner, and all day the scent of spiced apples and baked sugar cookies lingered throughout the house."

Serves 10 to 12

Filling

3 (6-ounce) bags dried apples

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Layers

6 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. For the filling: Bring the apples and water to cover to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until the apples are completely softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the apples and let cool until just warm, about 15 minutes. Puree the apples in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. (The filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

2. For the layers: Adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in a large measuring cup.

3. With an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in two batches, beating after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed until combined. (The dough will be thick.)

4. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Working with 2 portions at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll each out into a 10-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 9-inch cake pan as a template, trim away the excess dough to form 2 perfectly round 9-inch disks. Transfer the disks to the prepared baking sheets and bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Transfer the disks to a rack and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Repeat with the remaining dough. (The layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

5. To assemble the cake: Place one layer on a serving plate and spread with 1 cup filling. Repeat 6 times. Top with the final layer, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until the layers soften, at least 24 hours or up to 2 days. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve. (The fully assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Notes from the Test Kitchen

Be sure to let the cake sit at least 24 hours, as the moisture from the filling transforms the texture of the cookie-like layers into a tender apple-flavored cake. This cake takes a while to create but each step is simple and the dough rounds that form each layer are sturdy and easy to handle. Using a cake pan as a template will make this part of the process foolproof and give you an evenly shaped cake.

Books Featured In This Story

America's Best Lost Recipes
America's Best Lost Recipes

121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget

by Cook's Country Magazine

Hardcover, 214 pages | purchase

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  • America's Best Lost Recipes
  • 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget
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