What is Allspice?

Have you ever wondered what, exactly, allspice is? Well, I found myself wondering recently, and I thought I would pass on my newfound wisdom on the ways of allspice. Enjoy!

What is Allspice?

Photo: Pixabay

Botanically speaking, this spice is known as Pimenta officinalis, and it comes from the Jamaican Pepper Tree. While it is said to be native to south and central America, it was most famously shared with the world after its discovery in Jamaica in the West Indies: this is where Columbus discovered the stuff. Per the Farmers Almanac, a physician on the ship declared the tree had the "finest smell of cloves" he had ever encountered.

Allspice comes from the dried berry of the pimento tree, a tropical tree which can range in size from 20-40 feet, which is related to the myrtle and features thick, elliptical-shaped leaves. In the spring and summer, the tree produces white blooms, which are followed by the pea-sized berries in the fall. These berries are dried and ground to produce the allspice we know. 

What about the name? 

As I discovered on About Food,

Allspice comes by its name for a very good reason. The berries have a combined flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves with a hint of juniper and peppercorn. Some enterprising spice companies sell a mixture of spices as allspice, so be sure and check the ingredients on the label to be sure you are getting the real thing. Allspice is often called pimento, not to be confused with the capsicum pepper pimiento, which is a vegetable, not a spice.

How to use it

  • Since it tastes like a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, it is a frequent component of baked goods, especially in the fall. It is notably part of pumpkin pie spice. 
  • It can be used in Jamaican (savory) cookery. Known as Jamaican pepper, it is part of jerk spice mixes. 
  • In Polish cooking, it is called kubaba and adds a certain je ne sais quoi to pot roasts and stuffings. 

8 tasty recipes featuring allspice

I think these ones sound like winners, don't you?

Substituting allspice in recipes

If you don't have allspice on hand, this spice substitution guide suggests cinnamon; cassia; dash of nutmeg or mace; or dash of cloves. Or, follow the example of The Humbled Homemaker and mix equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Interesting facts

  • Once upon a time, flowers were given as symbolic gestures. Bright yellow allspice buds were seen as a symbol of compassion. (find more flower symbolism here)
  • Allspice is a curative, and is considered a remedy for health issues as wide ranging as muscle aches, indigestion, and fever. 
  • Allspice was named due to its scent, which is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Pimento was given its name by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, who thought the dried berries looked like peppercorns, and called them “pimenta”, or pepper. (source)

How do you use allspice in your baking or cooking?

Sweet Tarte: The Story of Tarte Tatin

Image via CraftsyI know, sweet readers, that you probably love a sweet story as much as me, so I thought I would tell you the tale of Tarte Tatin.

To the uninitiated, Tarte Tatin is an upside-down apple tart which is famous in France. It's upside down because it's baked with a slurry of apples, butter, sugar and some spices in a pan, with the pastry bottom on top. After it's baked, you flip the pan, and the yummy gooey stuff drips down on top of the apples to form a caramelly, buttery awesome apple topping on a pastry crust. It's easy and good eating, for sure. 

Among its many fine points, it's also largely viewed as a precursor to America's beloved pineapple upside-down cake. 

So how did the tart get its start? Well, one thing is for certain: the ones who made it famous in the 1880s were the Tatin sisters, Stephanie and Caroline, proprietresses of the Hotel Tatin, located about 100 miles south of Paris. 

How, exactly, the tart was developed depends on who you ask. There are several stories; I'll share a few with you.

Some say that it was a flub where sister Stephanie was cooking some apples on the stovetop and misjudged how quickly they were cooking. To try to chill out the fast-cooking pommes, she tossed a pastry crust on top and tossed the whole thing in the oven to slow the cooking. When she extracted it, the inverted tarte was well-received, and a new classic was born. In another similar variation, she simply forgets to put the crust below the apples so decides to put it on top and bake.

Other versions of the story make out Stephanie as a kitchen novice, accidentally assembling the tart in the wrong order before baking but deciding to go with it. Yet others include an unfortunate incident in which a tart is assembled and soon before baking, is accidentally flipped upside down, but she decides to go with it anyway.

If you've heard another variation of the story, or a slightly different version of any of the above, I'm not surprised. As I found out while writing my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Dessertsmany of the stories behind popular baked goods are like playing a game of telephone: they're slightly different depending on who tells the story. 

It's also probable that it wasn't an accident at all, but a matter of the baker following baking trends, since it's probable that the concept of upside-down desserts actually preceded the sisters Tatin. In his Le Pâtissier royal parisien, published in 1841, the famed pastry chef Marie-Antoine Carême had already referenced "gâteaux renversées" , or "reversed cakes", made with various fruits.

But to me, this is the most interesting part of the story: it wasn't even the sisters Tatin who made the tarte famous. In fact, it was a matter of word of mouth. 

Maurice Curonsky, a French author and gourmand, adorably nicknamed "the Prince of Gastronomy"was the first to famously revere the tart, referring to it in his writing as "tarte des desmoiselles Tatin". To the best of my high school French knowledge, "desmoiselles" is a more kind term than "old maids", but it does refer to their unmarried status. Word of the "tarte Tatin" spread, and this became its nickname--it had not previously been referred to by name like this.

Sealing the tarte's fame was the love of Louis Vaudable, an influential foodie and owner of Parisian restaurant Maxim's. According to the official Tarte Tatin website, Vaudable is said to have written "I used to hunt around Lamotte-Beuvron in my youth, and had discovered in a very small hotel run by elderly ladies a marvelous dessert listed on the menu under tarte solognote. I questioned the kitchen staff about its recipe, but was sternly rebuffed. Undaunted, I got myself hired as a gardener. Three days later, I was fired when it became clear that I could hardly plant a cabbage. But this was long enough to pierce the secrets of the kitchen. I brought the recipe back, and put it on my own menu under "Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin".

As the website continues, however, "Unfortunately, Mr. Vaudable was born in 1902, and the sisters retired in 1906. They died in 1911 and 1917, while Maxim's was purchased by the Vaudable family in 1932." So while it's a cute story, it doesn't quite line up. 

Nonetheless, the tarte did appear on the Maxim's menu, and became a popular favorite.

Today, you might not see tarte tatin on restaurant menus with great regularity, but it's a delicious and worthwhile experience to make your own. It's fairly simple--if you've ever made an apple pie, and if you've ever flipped a Pineapple upside-down cake, you're well equipped with all the skills you need. 

Happy Apples

Regarding apples: The French Calville apple is the specimen of choice for this recipe; however, if you can't find those, try Pippin, Cortland, or Gala apples. Interestingly, some older recipes call for unpeeled apples, though the recipe I suggest calls for Granny smith apples, cored and peeled. I have used Gala when I have made this recipe, but you choose your own bliss. You're not going to be wrong if you use Granny smith.

Regarding pans: You know, there actually exists a tarte tatin pan. But if you don't want to make the investment...go ahead and use an oven-safe skillet.

Regarding serving: Although old versions call for serving the tarte warm, by itself, go ahead and serve it with ice cream if you wanna (you probably do, right?). You won't regret it. 

Want a recipe? I will tell you, I have used the New York Times recipe pretty exactly, so I won't even try to adapt it here--rather, I will give you a link.

Find a recipe for Tarte Tatin here.

Have you ever tried Tarte tatin?

A Historical Look at the Mexican Wedding Cake Cookie

Mexican wedding cakes

Ah, Mexican Wedding Cakes: one of my favorite cakes that is not a cake at all, but a cookie!

And oh, what a cookie. These rich cookies rolled in confectioners' sugar to resemble sweet little snowballs crumble in your mouth in the most delightful way: basically butter and (usually) finely chopped nuts held together by flour and sugar, they begin to shatter and disintegrate the moment they hit your tongue. You may know them as Mexican Wedding Cakes. Or you might know them, with slight variations, under another name: Snowballs, Moldy Mice, Bullets, Russian Teacakes, Melting Moments, Mandulás kifli, Polvorones, Sand Tarts, Sandies, Butterballs, Almond Crescents, Finska kakor, Napoleon Hats (whew!). Mexican wedding cakes

These cookies hail from as many countries as they have names: talk about a universal cookie.

Mexican wedding cakes

Considering the many variations, is it possible to connect the cookie to a particular place? Well, you might first look back to sugar-rich medieval Arab cuisine. Sweetmeats, candies, and confections containing nuts (usually almonds) and spices were served at special occasions. Next, you spread it to Europe, a sweet tradition quickly adopted by Moors and taken to Spain. From then on it’s like playing Telephone: the concept of the cookie traveled far and wide, with each region taking on their own variations based on ingredients available at the time. This sweet cookie concept was then introduced to the New World by early explorers. Fast forward, and you've got a cookie tradition that has persisted due to the cookie's relative ease in preparation and simple but ultimately satisfying tastiness. 

Mexican wedding cakes In the 1950s, they started to appear in American cookbooks as Mexican Wedding Cakes, but it seems that it's really just a new name for an old cookie. They're nearly identical to Russian Teacakes, which were a popular dish at noble Russian tea ceremonies in the 1800s. A popular book in Russia from this era, entitled A Gift to Young Housewives, contains several morsels that are constructed similarly; it’s not hard to see how these treats came to be called Russian teacakes. So what's with the name's cultural makeover? I'm wondering if perhaps the name change was a Freedom Fries-esque name change in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Soviet Union and the United States were at odds with one another? It does seem to have coincided with a period during which TexMex cuisine made its entry into American culture in a big way.

But no matter what you'd like to call them, one thing remains true across cultures: these simple cookies are easy to make, and absolutely delightful to eat. Mexican wedding cakes

Mexican Wedding Cakes (Printable version here!)

Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch cookies

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Confectioners' sugar, for rolling


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour gradually, beating well after each addition; pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Add the nuts and vanilla; beat just until evenly mixed in.
  5. Shape the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter and place on the cookie sheets.
  6. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the position of the pans halfway through baking; the cookies are finished when they are lightly browned on the bottom and have a dull finish on top.
  7. Let the cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. While the cookies are still warm, gently roll them in a bowl of confectioners' sugar. Tap off the excess, and allow them to cool completely. When cool, roll them in the confectioners' sugar a second time before serving; the first coat tends to slightly melt into the cookie, and the second coat will ensure a pretty, snowy appearance.
  8. Store in a single layer in an airtight container for up to four days.

Yippee: Discover the Apee Cookie


Have you ever heard of an Apee, or AP? 

Although I respect the organizations, it has nothing to do with the grocery store A&P, or the Associated Press (AP). 

Nope: the Apee is a cookie I recently discovered. 


Curious, I hit the web, and the books. Here's what I discovered.

First, the The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: 2-Volume Set, which notes: 

"A recipe for apees, a rolled cutout cookie made with caraway seeds, sometimes called "seed cakes," first appeared in Eliza Leslie's Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828). Another version, known as "apeas," was based on German Anis Platchen (anise cookies), and Philadelphia bakers commonly sold them on the streets. Apeas became associated with Ann Page, a popular baker who stamped her initials, A.P., on the cookies. Anise is still a common flavoring used in a variety of cookies, ranging from old recipes for apeas to simple cutout cookies and ethnic specialties like German Springerles..."

Encyclopedia of Food and Drink by John Mariani, describes it like this: "Apee. Also "apea" and, in the plural "eepies." A spiced butter cookie or form of gingerbread. Legend has it that the word derives from the name of Ann Page, a Philadelphia cook who carved her initials into the tops of the confection. This was first noted in print in J.F. Watson's Annals of Philadelphia (1830) to the effect that Ann Page, then still alive, "first made [the cookies] many years ago, under the common name of cakes.'" 

Oddly though, the recipe I found for Apees does not include caraway seeds or spices. Nor did it call for stamping the letters (although I guess it wouldn't if that was one person's signature move). Nor did it include standardized measurements.

"Apees (Ice Cream and Cakes) 1 pound of butter 1 1/2 pounds of flour 1 pound of sugar 1 gill of milk Cream the butter and sugar; sift in the flour, then the milk, and stir it to a dough; turn it out on the moulding-board, and work to a fine dough again. Roll into sheets, as thick as a dollar piece, cut into small cakes, lay them on tins, and bake in a cool oven." --- Mrs. Rorer's Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886

Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try. So I evolved the old recipe into this recipe. Here's another that looks like they probably hit the mark more accurately, though!

Not Necessarily Historically Acurate Apees


  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon milk


Cream the butter and sugar; sift in the flour and mix, bit by bit, until incorporated. Roll into sheets, and cut into small cakes (I just dropped rounded teaspoons-ful onto a baking sheet). Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until crispy on the sides and bottom.

Apees Apees Apees Apees Apees

I made the cookies as drop cookies, but perhaps I should have done them as rolled or bar cookies. Who knows, dude. But either way, even though they weren't quite evenly crispy on the sides and middle, they still tasted good. Basic, but plenty buttery, they actually glistened with butter when taken out from the oven, and there may or may not have been the most tantalizing slight butter-sizzle as they were removed from heat. They became crisp as they cooled; when I garnished a nice bowl (not cup; bowl) of ice cream with a couple of these crispy cookies, I had absolutely no complaints. No complaints whatsoever. 

Either way, I think it's always fun to discover a "lost" recipe!

The Story of Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake

CakeSpy Note: Serious thanks to Sandy's Chatter and writer Joe Hart for sharing their stories and research with me!

If there was ever a cake to have a rags to riches, Lana Turner-type Hollywood discovery, it was chiffon cake, a light cake with a delicate crumb that physically resembles angel food cake, but with a far richer flavor. But even before being famously debuted and promoted as the “first new cake in 100 years” on its grand release to the public in 1948, the tale of the chiffon cake was unfolding glamorously in Hollywood . . . 

It all started with Harry Baker, who went to Hollywood in 1923, needing a fresh start. Exactly why isn't quite known, but some suspect it's because he was outed as homosexual in his hometown (sadly, not as OK then as it is today). He found work as an insurance salesman, but moonlighted as a caterer; it was during this time that he began to experiment with cake recipes. To describe Harry Baker as a “hobby cook” is an understatement--this cake was more like his Moby Dick. He later revealed that he tested over 400 recipes, seeking what he hoped would be a moister, more substantial version of the then-popular angel food cake. Was the recipe that finally worked a fluke, or a stroke of masterful baking? Perhaps a bit of both.

What finally ended up working, in 1927, is seemingly quite simple: he used vegetable oil (sometimes referred to as "salad oil") instead of solid shortening or butter in his recipe. The cake employs egg whites for lift, and the resulting cake is tantalizingly light, like angel food, but with a far richer flavor. Later, he would tell a Minneapolis Tribune reporter that the addition of the vegetable oil was "a sixth sense, something cosmic."

Chiffon cake

He approached the nearby Brown Derby restaurant (famous as the place where the Cobb Salad was invented) with this cake, and they agreed to sell it—it was the first (and for a time) the only dessert they offered.

As the Derby gained fame, so did the chiffon cake, and requests began to pour in from the likes of Barbara Stanwyck.

Chiffon Cake

By the 1930s, he was having to turn away orders. (Wisely, Baker kept his methods and ingredients a secret; it was this mystery that made it a highly sought-out sweet treat for the elite.) He remained a one-man operation, mixing each cake to order; at the height of production, Baker was producing 42 cakes in an 18-hour day, which yielded him the equivalent of nearly $1,000 in today’s money.

How was it done, people (especially copycats) wanted to know? For two decades, Harry Baker wouldn't tell. Finally, in 1947, he approached General Mills, the food manufacturing giant, to see if they might have an interest in acquiring the recipe. (Even they had been unable to figure out the secret.) They eventually paid up with what is still an undisclosed price for the recipe. They unveiled it to the public a year later, making a huge to-do about it, calling it "The first new cake in 100 years" in a big article in Better Homes and Gardens. The first published recipe was for Orange Chiffon Cake, ;and it rose to stardom as quick as you can say "Lana Turner."

Chiffon Cake

Later, an ad for Sperry Drifted Snow flour called it “The baking sensation of the century!," touting its richness yet simplicity to make--so easy that you could even "have your husband bake one."

Chiffon Cake

This version of Harry Baker's famous cake, inspired by a Brown Derby recipe, is said to have been favored by a fat gossip columnist who considered the grapefruit cake acceptable diet food! It's a study in pleasant contrasts: light yet rich, sweet yet tart, simple yet layered in flavor.

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon Cake

 Grapefruit Chiffon Cake

Makes one 10-inch tube cake (12 servings)

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 7 large eggs, separated, plus 2 additional egg whites (7 yolks and 9 whites)
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from 3 large grapefruits)
  • 2 tablespoons grapefruit zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the filling:

  • 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons light rum (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons grapefruit zest
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Have ready an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, 4 inches deep, with a removable bottom.
  2. To make the cake, in a large bowl sift the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice and zest, and vanilla until lightly frothy. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, whisking until the batter is smooth.
  4. In the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and on medium-high speed, beat the whites until they hold stiff peaks. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar a little at a time, and on medium speed, beat the whites until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.
  5. Stir one third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it; fold in the rest of the remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
  6. Spoon the batter into the tube pan, and bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Run a long, thin knife around the outer and inner edges of the pan. Invert the pan onto a rack and let the cake cool completely in the pan, upside down on the rack. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally.
  8. To make the filling, chill a large bowl in the refrigerator. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream, rum, grapefruit zest, sugar, and the pinch of salt until the mixture holds firm peaks. Cover the cream tightly and keep it chilled until you're ready to frost the cake.
  9. To assemble the cake, transfer the bottom (wider) layer of the cake to a platter and spread about half of the frosting on it. Set the remaining cake half on top, and top it with the remaining cream. If desired, garnish with additional grapefruit zest or thin slices of grapefruit.
  10. Serve immediately after assembling. This cake is best served the same day; store, loosely covered, in the refrigerator.


Dessert Recipes from the Titanic


Erma Bombeck famously said, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the 'Titanic' who waved off the dessert cart.” 

Which begs the question--what was on the Titanic's dessert cart? 

 Recently, I had an opportunity to find out. I was contacted by a promotions company connected to Las Vegas's Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, inquiring if I'd like to post some Titanic recipes for Thanksgiving. Well, the recipes they sent were all savory, not quite right for me, but when I gently noted that I only post dessert recipes on this site, I got a most excellent series of recipes in response, from the fantastic book Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Legendary Liner.

Below you'll find updated versions of sweets served in First, Second, and Third class on the Titanic; each recipe also features a picture of the actual dishware used in each class. Just to make it completely clear: the cupcake illustrations are not meant to trivialize the tragedy which occurred on the boat, but are more meant to celebrate the lifestyle on the boat before it hit the iceberg. 

Titanic themed cupcakes

First Class (image of dishware at the top of post). As the headnote reads, "Of the many authentic Edwardian recipes we researched for this book, Waldorf pudding was one that eluded us. The recipe here is a modern invention based on three of the essential ingredients in the famous Waldorf salad--walnuts, raisins, and apples." 

Waldorf Pudding

  • 2 large tart apples, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sultana (golden) raisins
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, halved


  1. Thinly slice the apples. Stir in raisins, lemon juice, and ginger. In skillet, melt butter over high heat; add apple mixture and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes or until apples are lightly caramelized. Scrape apple mixture and syrup into 10-inch round glass baking dish. Reserve.
  2. Meanwhile, in a saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk just until bubbles form around edges. Whisking constantly, add some of the milk to the eggs; mix until well incorporated. Add remaining milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and remaining sugar; mix well. Pour over apple mixture.
  3. Set baking dish inside a large roasting pan; pour enough boiling water in roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Place in 325 F degree oven for 45-50 minutes or until custard is set, but still jiggly in the middle. Carefully remove baking dish to cooling rack; sprinkle with walnuts. Cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. 



Second Class was still pretty fancy, just not as tricked-out. One of the things at their table at dessert-time? American-Style Ice Cream! "At the time of the Titanic's maiden voyage, ice cream was extremely popular in both France and the United States. In France, egg yolks were added to make the mixture both richer and smoother. The American style, without any eggs, was popularized by Dolly Madison after her husband became president in 1809."

American-Style Ice Cream

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup whipping cream


  1. In a small pot or microwave-proof dish, combine sugar, lemon juice, and salt; heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine light cream with lemon zest; heat over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until small bubbles start to form around the edges of the pot. Remove from heat. 
  2. Whisk sugar mixture and whipping cream into lemon zest mixture until smooth. Place in refrigerator uncovered; cool completely, stirring often.
  3. Pour mixture into ice-cream maker and proceed following manufacturer's instructions. Or, pour mixture into a chilled, shallow metal pan; cover and freeze for about 3 hours until firm. Break up into pieces and transfer to food processor; puree until smooth. Pour into chilled airtight container; freeze for 1 hour, or until firm. Soften in refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving. Makes 3 cups; serves 6.



Currant Buns:

"A staple of English Tea, these buns would have pleased the palates of the many british emigrants traveling in third class."


  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast (1 tablespoon)
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water


  1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine warm water and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; sprinkle yeast over top. Let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, blend together remaining sugar, flour, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, and eggs. Stir in the yeast mixture until combined.
  3. Make a well in the dry ingredients; using a wooden spoon, stir in yeast mixture until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto lightly floured board. Knead for 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Transfer dough to a large, greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down; turn out onto floured surface; knead in currants. Shape into a 12 inch long log. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.
  5. Roll pieces of dough into smooth, seamless balls (I laughed when I read this part, btw). Place buns (I laughed again) on greased baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each bun. Cover loosely and let rest for 30 minutes. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Stir together icing sugar and water; brush over warm buns; let cool on rack. Makes 12 buns. 

Presidential Sweet: Desserts Named After Presidents

Presidential Sweet

Happy Election Day! To whet your appetite for both politics and pastry, why not avoid getting in a fistfight with your neighbor over who you should vote for, and instead enjoy this collection of stories about desserts named after Presidents and their first ladies? 

George Washington Cake: Washington Cakes have been popular up and down the East Coast for hundreds of years. Both the George and Martha versions come in several varieties. In the most traditional sense, Washington Cake is a dense, creamy fruitcake with white icing. Philadelphia-style Washington Cakes (pictured directly below) are completely unique, however—they’re more like gingerbread.

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Martha Washington Cake: George Washington’s wife is remembered for her fruitcake, or “great cake,” which required a big party: the original recipe calls for 40 eggs, 5 pounds of fruit, and similar quantities of other ingredients.

George thinks the cake is great

Apricots with Rice à la Jefferson: After the development of a new strain of rice called Jefferson Rice (to honor the President’s desire to improve rice culture in the United States), Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City developed this tricked-out rice pudding dessert.


Dolly Madison Baked Goods: While they dropped the “e” from Dolley Madison, the snack cake company’s onetime motto, “Cakes and pastries fine enough to serve at the White House,” makes it pretty clear that the company is named after the former First Lady. The company is now owned by Hostess, and makes mass-produced snack cakes and donuts.

President stuff

Madison's Gingerbread: While to many, the Madisons (namely, Dolley) are linked to ice cream, Dolley also had a much warmer, but equally delicious, favorite for the holidays--Soft Gingerbread. Apparently hers, adapted from a Jefferson recipe, got its unique and delicious flavor from beef drippings, but call me chicken, I decided to use butter instead and while we have no point of comparison, this one was very moist and delicious, so the butter seemed to have worked just fine. Recipe contained in this post.


Grant Cake: The Grant Cake appears to be a simpler variation of the later versions of the Election Cake which lack yeast, roughly the same in construction, sweeter, quick-bread version of the cake.

Robert E Lee Cake: This orange and lemon layer cake, topped with a citruscoconut topping, was traditionally believed to be a favorite of the Civil War general who led the confederate troops in the War Between the states.

James K Polk Cake: This is a fruitcake densely packed with nuts, candied fruits, and spices. Perhaps this cake, which weighs as much as a log, is to honor his nickname as “Napoleon of the Stump”?

Peach Pudding à la Cleveland: This sophisticated peach pudding, rich with brown sugar and Madeira sauce, was named with tongue firmly in cheek after our 22nd and 24th president by famed chef Charles Ranhofer, after Cleveland declared that he didn’t like French food.

Peaches a la Cleveland

Mamie Eisenhower Fudge: After she contributed this recipe to a White House cookbook, Mamie’s fudge (also called “Mamie’s Million Dollar Fudge”) became very popular. Considering that it is so easy to make (it takes just about 10 minutes) and that the addition of marshmallow cream makes the texture smooth and creamy, it’s no surprise that this is still considered a classic today.

Truman Pudding: Also called Bess Truman’s Ozark Pudding, this pudding, which is served warm, is made with fruit and nuts native to the Ozark region. It is said to have been one of Harry Truman’s favorite recipes from his wife’s baking repertoire.

United Cakes of America

Watergate Cake: Made with pistachio pudding mix, the invention of this cake recipe timed with the Watergate scandal of 1973, when all sorts of foods with the Watergate moniker proliferated. President Nixon was known to love pistachio nuts—hence the choice of flavor.

Hungry for more like this? These posts may also be of interest:



Carnival Knowledge: Sweet Foods invented at Fair

Treats at South Beach!

I'd like to make an important announcement. Me and my friend Rachel of Coconut & Lime have started a podcast. OMG! We are still taking it slow, but it's pretty exciting.

Our first topic was Fair Food. We think about nerdy food stuff a lot, and it was an appropriate subject to totally geek out about, I thought.

You can listen to the podcast here.

But I'd also like to share some interesting factoids I learned while doing internet research for the show. It mainly involves foods invented at state or other fairs. A lot of iconic sweets are included, and I thought you might be interested in hearing about some of the famous sweets that are said to have been invented at fairs. 

Cotton Candy: Apparently, this concoction which amounts to spun sugar and food coloring was originally fair fare. Some brilliant fellows named William Morrison and John C. Wharton are said to have introduced it to the world at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. It was called "fairy floss". 


Cracker Jacks: A snacking intersection of sweet, salty, and sticky, this stuff was not debuted at the ballpark, but instead at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The combination of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts was originally called "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts"--thankfully, they made the name a bit snappier before starting mass production.

Dr. Pepper: This soda, which is older than Coke or Pepsi, was debuted at the 1885 St. Louis World's fair. 

Ice Cream Cones: Neither ice cream nor waffles were invented at a fair, but they were both served at fairs, and the most famous documentation of them coming magically together occurred at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, when an ice cream vendor named Arnold Fornachou ran out of serving containers and formed a quick partnership with nearby vendor Ernest Hamwi, who rolled his zalabia (a waffle-like pastry) into a cornet shape, and the ice cream cone was born. 

The Story of Carrot Cake

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake from Hiroki

Although it would be a stretch to call this homespun favorite a fashion plate of a dessert, carrot cake--a lumpy and slightly frumpy but incredibly moist and flavorful carrot-flecked light brown-hued spice cake, frequently studded with either pineapple or plump raisins, nuts and finished with a thick coat of tangy cream cheese frosting--has enjoyed several moments of vogue over the years.

Believe it or not, the idea of using carrots in desserts actually dates back to Medieval times, when carrot pudding was enjoyed as a sweet at banquets. This was probably borne out of necessity, making use of the carrots’ natural sweetness; while a pudding would have been a steamed and vaguely cakelike affair, there was still much adaptation which would occur, because as much as you search for it, you're not going to find any mention of medieval cream cheese frosting.

Faceoff: Bunnies v. Carrot Cake

Carrots were imported to America by European settlers, and so was, apparently, the pudding; there are bushels of recipes for the stuff from this era on show at the Carrot Museum. The reason again is the carrot's natural sweetness: they contain more sugar than any other vegetable besides the sugar beet, and were much easier to come by during this time.

A big development in the world of carrot cake came in the early 1900s, when the pudding began to be baked in loaf pans, more like a quick bread. Carrots were used as an agent of moisture and sweetness in cakes, when luxury foods were rationed during the first and second world wars. It's possible, too, that the government became carrot-pushers: in England, recipes were distributed to promote the carrot as a nutrient-dense ingredient.

Carrot Cakes, Europa Cafe, Penn Station

By mid-century, the carrot cake had hopped over to America, where it would make dessert history. Most likely, the recipe was imported to the states following the second world war, where it caught on in cafeterias and restaurants. However, there is a delightful story which indicates that following WWII there was a glut of canned carrots in the U.S; an enterprising businessman named George C. Page hired bakers to find uses for the cans of carrots to create a demand for the product, and the solution was carrot cake, which he then sold through the company Mission Pak, a large purveyor gourmet foods.

At first a novelty, carrot cake nonetheless proved popular enough to stick around on menus. But it really caught on in a big way in the health-conscious 1970s, when carrot cake was perceived as being “healthy." And really, the idea isn't too far-flung: after all, carrots are vegetables, and raisins and nuts are pretty much health food, right?

Carrot Cakes

Of course, the thing that really separates carrot cake from being equivalent to eating a salad is the thick slather of cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar and cream that became the frosting of choice in the 1960s, a time during which Philadelphia Cream Cheese released many recipe pamphlets; possibly it is during this time that the carrot cake and cream cheese frosting really became a bonded pair.

Dangling a Carrot

And if we're truthful, what's ultimately kept the cake going isn't necessarily carrots, it's the full spectrum of flavors in the package. Those pretty little flecks of orange are not the dominant flavor of the cake: carrot cakes often taste like spice cake, with the sweetness of raisins or pineapple or even apples, paired with cream cheese frosting, is generally what we look for in a carrot cake. 

Carrot Cake, Baker Boys, Asbury Park, NJ

Speaking of which, the additions can be the subject of some argument. While raisins are undoubtedly the oldest complement to carrots, many modern palates prefer pineapple, apples or applesauce; sometimes walnuts, sometimes pecans, sometimes no nuts at all. These add-ins are the choice of the baker and the preference of the eater. The cake's mild but distinct flavor have made the cake an enduring favorite: while few would think of it as fashionable, it's considered a timeless classic that never goes out of style.

Here's a carrot cake that would please palates from yesterday and today. Go ahead and think of it as health food as you like; I won't stop you.

Carrot Cake

 Makes 1 cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, plus 1/2 cup unchopped pecans, for garnish
  • 1 batch cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch pans, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, oil, two sugars, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, and then turn up the speed to medium for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until combined and lightly frothy.
  4. Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture in 2 to 3 increments, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula with each addition.
  5. Stir in carrots, mixing until combined. Fold in the pecans.
  6. Pour an even amount of batter into each of the prepared pans.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, and cool completely.
  8. Once cooled, place one cake layer, flat side up, on a serving platter, and spread [f]1/2 to [f]3/4 cup of frosting on top. Leave a half-inch margin all around, as the weight of the second cake layer will spread the frosting to the edges. Place the second cake layer, flat side up, on top of the frosted layer. Frost the top and sides. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed until the mixture has a very smooth consistency; pause to scrape the bowl as needed. Add the confectioners' sugar cup by cup, mixing after each addition, until it is smooth and spreadable.

Regional Sweets: Mom Blakeman's Creamed Pull Candy

Mom Blakeman's

How can I describe Mom Blakeman's Creamed Pull Candy in a way you'll understand?

Well, here goes. First, imagine taffy.

 But not sticky like taffy. Maybe the smoothness of taffy, but with the melty texture of a butter-mint.

...but even more butteriness. Like a dab of buttercream frosting in there, too. But not a fancy meringue buttercream...more like the grocery-store birthday cake frosting that you probably would never admit you like to your foodie friends.

Imagine all of these separate aspects, and now swirl them into a sort of nugget of candy. A deliciously rich nugget of creamy candy. Now you're getting the idea of the magic that is Mom Blakeman's.

Mom Blakeman's

I honestly forget where I first heard about this candy. Maybe my college roommate, who was from Kentucky? Or perhaps one of my awesome friends in KY like Brigitte or Stella? I don't know. But I definitely know how I first tasted it: a reader, Melanie, sent me a tub of the stuff. Related: I like Melanie.

Naturally, I got curious about this sweet treat's pedigree. Founded in 1961, the company was founded by Mom herself--here's what I learned:

The website told me a little more about the candy itself: "The candy is better-known in local community as "cream" or "pull" candy. Creamed Pull Candy is a team effort involving several people to cook, pour it on cold marble, pull, cut, cream, pack and seal the candy. Making creamed pull candy is an art passed from generation to generation."

And then it told me the fascinating story of how the company took off.

 Maxine "Mom" Blakeman started making her creamed pull candy in her home in Lancaster, KY in the 1940's. She had a restaurant on the public square and made her candy available to her patrons. She was known for her generosity. During World War II, she always served any armed service men who came into her restaurant a free meal.

Residents of Lancaster who knew Mom Blakeman still talk of how she always had some candy for any school children who stopped by. After her husband passed away, she sold her large house to a couple on the condition that she could live in and make her candy in the two story garage on the property.

Mom Blakeman's candy was well known throughout central Kentucky. Mom Blakeman was encouraged to market her candy in 1961 by her good friend, Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Upon her death in 1970, the business was passed down to a friend who worked with Mom. Changing owners only a few times, the company is family owned and operated with one focus...making great candy.

Sweet! I always love a good backstory with my delicious treat. And this is certainly a sweet one--I can understand why Mom Blakeman's is sought out from far and wide! It's exactly the type of treat you'd really miss if you moved away from a place where it was readily available.

Mom Blakeman's

Of course, happily, in the age of the internet, we can order online and get it delivered to our door. Should you want to do such a thing, hit up the Mom Blakeman's website here. I also found a creamed pull candy recipe here.

Delicious Volume: Midwest Sweet Baking History by Jenny Lewis

Brownies: a midwest baking classic!

I'm fond of saying that "everything tastes better with a backstory". After all, isn't it more fun to eat a chocolate chip cookie while imagining Ruth Wakefield in a Massachusetts toll house, trying to take a shortcut making chocolate cookies by adding chocolate chunks, and inadvertently creating an American icon? Or picturing a hapless baker in St. Louis mixing up the sugar and flour in a recipe and ending up with Gooey Butter cake? 

If you find this sweet lore fascinating, then you should probably go ahead and invest in the new release Midwest Sweet Baking History: Delectable Classics around Lake Michigan by Jenny Lewis. It's published by The History Press. Did you know they existed? I didn't, but I am glad I do now--they have a ton of interesting books.

a book I like a lot

This volume is a comprehensive source for learning about the popular treats of the Lake Michigan region--but really, it goes beyond that. 

While you'll get plenty of sweet stories about specific foods, you'll also get a very interesting primer and backstory on the general history of baking in America.

There are chapters devoted to the development of popular baking ingredients (ever wonder when baking soda became a common pantry item?) and the developments in kitchen technology which played into what and how we ate. Author Jenny Lewis, who is a pastry chef, Certified Culinary Educator (did you know that was a thing? I didn't! I also didn't know all of these degrees existed!), and clearly One Smart Cookie, also gives some of the backstory on companies such as Kraft, Nabisco, and even smaller manufacturers in the Midwest such as Lessafre Yeast Company.

And then there are recipes. Yes! From historical--including one of the first printed brownie recipes, from the Chicago area, old fashioned doughnuts, and homespun pies--to contemporary, such as peach crumble with cornmeal cinnamon streusel, apple tart with salted caramel, and cherry whiskey cake.

Morever, what we learn is that recipes--and baking methods--aren't so much invented as they evolve--and so, the popular baked goods will reflect the immigration patterns of the United states, often the result of "old country" favorites getting a "new world" makeover based on the kitchen technology and ingredients available in the new surroundings. And it's a fascinating and delectable journey.

Buy the book here: Midwest Sweet Baking History: Delectable Classics around Lake Michigan; listen to an interesting interview with the author here.

Love Me Knot: The Story of the Calabrian Love Knot

Calabrian Love Knots

CakeSpy Note: I am reposting this recipe because it's featured on Serious Eats this week!

If there is one thing I love even more than a great baked good, it's a great story. And if it's a story about a baked good, well then, all the better.

So when I came across the following introduction preceding a recipe for Calabrian Love Knots in Judith M. Fertig's amazing tome (buy it--trust me--it's a great book!) All American Desserts

During the early 1900s, the height of Italian immigration...many people came from Calabria in the "toe" part of boot-shaped Italy, right across the Mediterranean from...Sicily. When women of Calabrian descent become brides, beautifully arranged platters of these almond-flavored cookies are often served at the reception.

...well, all I can say is that I had to try this recipe.
Calabrian Love Knots
It's not hard to see why these cookies are a time-honored tradition. They're simple to make, but the pleasure that they provide is tenfold: like a slightly drier and less sweet version of a sugar cookie, they taste delectable when dipped in strong coffee (or even wine!). They're truly the stuff of memories: as one Italian CakeSpy reader put it, "My grandparents had them at their wedding reception in the 40s. Nowadays only few families still know how to cook them and it is possible to buy them only in very small traditional bakeries in the countryside."


Now, I did make some alterations to the original recipe. First, because I happened to have a half wheat/half all-purpose flour mixture left over from a recent baking project, my batch was made with some wheat flour (we thought it tasted pretty good, actually!). And second, while the original recipe called for a light almond paste, sugar, and cream glaze, I served mine without--as hard as it is to admit this, they actually didn't need it. (Of course, if you don't believe me--and I don't blame you--the frosting recipe is written below).
Calabrian Love Knots
Calabrian Love Knots

adapted from All American Desserts by Judith M. Fertig
- makes about 2 dozen -
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used a half-and-half mixture of wheat flour and all-purpose, which made them a bit nuttier)
Optional almond sugar frosting:



  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar




  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either grease baking sheets or lay out some parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Beat together the eggs, oil, granulated sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Stir in the milk, almond extract, baking powder, and enough flour so that the dough becomes stiff. 
  3. Knead the dough either by hand or with a dough hook in a mixer until smooth. Pinch off about 1 tablespoon worth of dough for each cookie; roll into a rope and then twist into a pretzel shape, simple knot, or the letters of the name of your significant other. Place cookies on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies on to a wire rack to cool.
  5. If you're making them with frosting, go ahead and whisk the cream and almond extract together in a small mixing bowl. Beat in the confectioners' sugar bit by bit until it is smooth and of your desired consistency. Drizzle over the cooled cookies. 
  6. Either way, store in an airtight container. These cookies keep beautifully when frozen.

 For more, visit Serious Eats!

Sweet Discovery: Pasteis de Belem from Portugal

Pasteis de Belem from Portugal

The best kind of mail? The kind that comes with an introduction to a new baked good. And recently, I became friends with a new baked good with a fascinating history, via reader Sofia from Portugal, who is "married, have 2 girls, baked my first cake when I was 12 and never stopped since, work in the shipping business and am part-time cake designer since 2007 and I am totally and absolutely mad about chocolate." A true friend! Here goes Sofia:

I Live in Lisbon, Portugal and would like to tell you about some sweet pastries called Pastéis de Belém (baked since 1837).

Well, how shall I begin to describe these marvelous, wonderful and crunchy pastries? Let's start with a little historical context.

It all began early in the 19th century.

Next to the Jerónimos Monastery, there was a sugar cane refinery, but liberal revolution resulted in the extinction of the religious orders and convents, and monasteries were closed and the workers and the clergy were expelled.

Pasteis de Belem from Portugal

In an attempt to prevent eviction, a monk had the idea of selling some sweet pastries, which quickly gained success and began to be called Pastéis de Belém!

At that time Belém was still far from the city of Lisbon. However, the grandiosity of the monastery and the Tower of Belém attracted visitors who soon grew used to savoring the delicious pastries baked in the monastery.

Nowadays it is said that the recipe is still the original, some ingredients remain a secret, and the pastries are baked in the “secret room”.

Now the pastries…

Pasteis de Belem from Portugal

The outside is made of light, crunchy pastry with a slight pinch of salt. The inside is creamy and sweet. They are better when still warm and are served with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

If you’d like to come over and have a taste, prepare yourself for a long line.

In the Summer or in sunny Winter days one good thing to do is to buy the pastries and cross the street to eat them in the park sitting on a bench, if available, or on the grass (beware of sparrows that will approach to eat crumbs)!

Pasteis de Belem from Portugal

How I like to eat them: take little bites around until the filling is surrounded by a thin coat of pastry and then put it all in my mouth.

Note: In the same street, but one block away there’s a Starbucks and I can assure you, it all goes very well together.

Sweet Sleuth: Who Invented S'mores?

Is this how the S'moreo was born?Today, while eating a delicious s'more, I found myself thinking that if I could go back in time, at that moment my destination would be to visit the person who invented the s'more so I could thank them. With emotion and enthusiasm.

It was with deep sadness that I realized I would not know who that person was, so I hit the books to find out more about this sweet treat.

This s'more was made using a portion of Snickers Bar.The name seems self-explanitory enough: a slurring of "Gimme some more" would naturally become S'more. Why did it settle on this particular sweet treat? No idea, but I have the thought that it is like a nickname: this one just stuck.

As for who invented it? As What's Cooking America advises,

No one is really sure who invented S'mores, because the recipe has basically been passed around by word of mouth since then. The first known recipe appeared in the 1927 Girl Scout hand book called Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.

The recipe is credited to Loretta Scott Crew, so happily I would at least have a person to go back in time and thank, because while she probably didn't invent the confection, hers is the first known published recipe for the delicious triple-threat of graham cracker, marshmallow, and chocolate.

So how did this trinity of awesome come together?

What seems pretty reasonable (to me, anyway) is that what really kept this treat going was the producers of the products. Concurrently, marshmallows were becoming commercially available for the first time; Graham crackers had gained much popularity after their invention by Sylvester Graham (described as "a New England health advocate with a passion for temperance and fiber"), and the recipe had been picked up and gained popularity (as well as evolving into a sweeter, more cookielike cracker) after being mass-produced by Nabisco. I must make a side note to wonder "What would Sylvester Graham think of S'mores?". Somehow I don't think it's what he envisioned his legacy to be.Sta-Puft could make so many S'mores.

But I digress. My theory about products coming together in the right place at the right time is supported by an article on Slashfood, which also brings up an interesting point on other popular confections which debuted in the same era:

The true origin of the snack is unknown, as camping recipes tended to be passed from person to person and family to family - often over the campfire itself. The first recipe for s'mores was published in 1927 in the Girl Scout Handbook and the event marked the official introduction of the s'more into popular culture.

The publication of the s'more recipe was not the first pairing of chocolate, marshmallow and cookies. In 1913, the Mallomar cookie was introduced to market, followed in 1917 by the Moon Pie. Both products have a graham cracker-like base - a sandwich, in the case of the Moon Pie - and are topped with marshmallow and a layer of chocolate.

 so, maybe it was a Girl Scout reaction to popular treats around the time, which themselves were the result of these new products?

As for their enduring popularity? As Liesl Schillinger (a documented s'more hater) says,

they're easy-to-make, guaranteed nostalgia-inducers, well within the reach of any parent's budget. Others may disagree, but I suspect that most us don't eat them for the taste. We eat them to relive our first s'mores experience, back when our taste buds were so rosy new that any sugar was ecstasy; back when our parents were the age we are now … and younger. S'mores take us back in time. You don't have to like them to love them.

Well put.

Want s'more? You may enjoy:



Cookie Chronicles: Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, San Francisco

Now I am going to tell you about the strangest place I went in San Francisco. 

It was called the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.

I learned about this treasure from Anna Roth's new book West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food from San Diego to the Canadian Border , which is hot off the presses, which I leafed through in one of my new favorite bookstores, The Booksmith, on Haight Street. It's an ode to eating on the Left Coast, and it has plenty of sweet tips. One in San Francisco fascinated me beyond all others though:

and so the next day, SpySis and myself went down to Chinatown to find this place for ourselves. Ross Alley is a strange little spot, hard to find in spite of a fairly central location—it's kind of 'round the corner and very unassuming. But round the corner and there it is, smelling like vanilla and sugar.

You walk in and it's like walking into a David Lynch movie—a bunch of old Asian women (and one man, when we visited) pressing and folding fortune cookies in the back (and a stern sign that it is “50 cents to take a picture”--I paid up, there was someone strictly enforcing it) and a very straightforward (no cute displays here) retail area up front, selling fortune cookies by the bag, less than $5 for a huge bag. They had vanilla, chocolate, and swirl, and even ones that were filled with “adult fortunes”. We didn't pick up one of those, but a bachelorette party behind us did.

They had free samples of unfolded cookies too (pictured top), and they tasted...well, like Fortune Cookies. Personally I'm not a huge fan of fortune cookies, finding them to be too wafer-cardboard-sweet for my tastes, but SpySis said they had a leg up on regular varieties. Of course, it's very possible that this is because of the experience surrounding this cookie; it was definitely a unique sweet experience.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, 48 Ross Alley, San Francisco.

Also, buy the aforementioned West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food from San Diego to the Canadian Border book by Anna Roth here.

Pastry Profiles: Fisher Fair Scones of the Pacific Northwest

Recently, Fisher Flouring Mills celebrated their 100th anniversary. Why is this of interest, exactly?

Because, for anyone who has ever attended the epic Puyallup Fair in the Seattle area, you may know them as the makers of the famous Fisher Fair Scones. Let's take a few minutes to learn a bit of the backstory behind this company and their signature product, shall we? I'd like to thank Nick at Team Soapbox who was so helpful with getting me much of this information.

The Fisher Flour Mills opening invite, from 1911First off, why the Pacific Northwest? This company, which initially focused mainly on flour, settled in Seattle in 1911 because it was “the most promising city on the coast.”

The Fisher booth in 1923How did they start making scones as a fair food? William H. Paulhamus, president and general manager of the Puyallup Fair (Western Washington State Fair) pitched the scones idea to Fisher and said he’d donate jam made from his raspberry farm in Oregon. The scones debuted at the fair as a chance to showcase and promote the company's flour flour. They were a success, going for just a few pennies each. Today, they are still a Northwest favorite and a tradition of Washington fairs.

Current CEO Mike Maher has a long history with the company, too:

“My connection to the fair goes back three decades. As a teenager, I started working in fair operations for Fisher, driving the trailers to each venue, training staff and making scones for customers myself. I learned quickly about the magnetic appeal of a fresh-baked scone slathered with whipped butter and raspberry jam. It didn’t take long before I became hooked on the idea of delivering smiles to our customers, one fresh-baked bite at a time.”

Michael Maher began with the company in 1978 (then Fair Scones, Inc.) and has risen up the ranks as the company has grown over the past 30-some years.  

Current CEO MikeHow did current CEO Mike rise to floury fame? Mike’s career began as a high school student in Portland, OR when he was hired by Fair Scones, Inc. to work its concession booth at the Rose Festival.  From 1979 to 1984, he worked summers as a concession manager, operating various events in Oregon,Washington, and British Columbia.  After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1985, he came on board full time as the general manager, overseeing all festival operations.  In 1995 Mike became vice president—operations and directed the company’s expansion into retail scone products and wholesale baking to the airlines.  In the late 1990s Mike led three specialty food company acquisitions and expansion into private label products.  He was named president and COO in 1999.  He joined the Board of Directors in 2003, and was later promoted to his current post as president and CEO.

Old Fisher Flouring Mills truckHow did the scones gain such popularity? What started as a promotional tool eventually expanded to became a signature food item at 39 fairs and festivals throughout the Northwest, but the company is still family-owned (and even the Fisher family still has a stake in the company) committed to local community. Today, Fisher owns the raspberry farm in Oregon and still uses the same simple jam recipe (berries, sugar & pectin) to accompany the scones. The scone recipe has remained largely unchanged, except for a few tweaks to the salt and sugar amounts to accommodate modern tastes.

The scones represent the company’s commitment to a tradition of local, Northwest deliciousness by utilizing local ingredients and tastes—showcased at local fairs. This commitment has now come full circle in a world where people are thinking and shopping local.

Some more little tidbits of interest, sent along by Nick of Team Soapbox:

  • Fisher Scones debuted at the 1915 Puyallup Fair, in the very same corner booth under the grandstand where they are still sold today.
  • The scones originally were free or just a few pennies, promoting Fisher Flours.
  • Today, Fisher serves up more than 40 tons of raspberry jam each summer to top the scones.
  • 1.5 million scones are sold each year
  • This fall, Fisher will serve its 100,000,000th (yes, one hundred millionth!) scone at the Puyallup Fair. 
  • Mike Maher, Fisher’s CEO started out by making scones at the fair himself. Mike’s been with the company three decades. Nobody's sure how many scones he’s eaten.
  • Fisher supports Northwest farmers through a partnership with Shepherd’s Grain, a cooperative of 33 local farmers who use sustainable agriculture farming methods. They’re also connected with the Food Alliance of Oregon, which provides the most comprehensive third-party certification for social and environmental responsibility in agriculture and the food industry in North America.
  • For almost 100 years, Fisher Scones have been a tradition at fairs and festivals throughout the Northwestern United States. These triangular shaped biscuits, baked fresh and smothered in honey-whipped butter and tart raspberry jam, have created unparalleled loyalty.
  • Scones can be yours year round, at home. Fisher brand scones are available by a home mix line; on the mix subject, this year, the company plans on introducing new packaging for the scones (and new all-natural Pancake & Baking Mix, Biscuit Mix, and Cornbread Mix).

Want to continue getting sconed? Check out their website here, and find them on Facebook here.

Pass the Torchetti: Torchetti Cookies from Cle Elum Bakery, WA

The other day, I found myself in a magical land called Cle Elum.

Now, don't ask me how to pronounce the name of the town--but do ask me what I ate there, because I did find a magical place called Cle Elum Bakery.

I ate something called Torchetti, that's what. This is a traditional Italian cookie which I learned more frequently goes by Torcetti, which means "little twist"--which, you know, describes them pretty well. Physically they resemble Berlinerkranser or Calabrian Love Knots, but texture and taste-wise they are different; where aforementioned cookies are crumbly and buttery, these biscuits are more hearty and sturdier in texture with the addition of yeast, more like lightly sweet biscuits than butter cookies.

As I learned from this segment,

The recipe itself is very old, indicated by the use of yeast, not baking powder, for leavening.  These cookies are from the Piedmont region of northern Italy.  Turin, Piedmont's capital, was also Italy's first capital.  The city preserves remarkable architectural and cultural treasures.

They're a very nice snacking cookie, no matter what you want to call them or how you want to spell it.

Of course, if you can't make it up (or over?) to Cle Elum, you can try this recipe (adapted from Taste of Home):

Torchetti (or Torcetti)

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (110° to 115°)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • Additional confectioners' sugar


  1. Place flour in a large bowl; cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla and 2 cups of the crumb mixture; beat until well blended. Gradually beat in remaining crumb mixture.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; knead for 3-4 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  3. Punch dough down; divide into six portions. Shape each portion into twelve 6-in. ropes, about 1/4-in. thick; roll in confectioners' sugar. Shape each rope into a loop. Holding both ends of loop, twist together three times.
  4. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Roll warm cookies in additional confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire racks. 




Where I Want To Live: Taffy Town, Salt Lake City, Utah

Taffy Town, Population: YOU.

Or at least it could be. Because friends, this place actually exists. It is a candy factory, located in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Now, this company is magical in more ways than one. First of all, it opened my eyes to the fact that Saltwater Taffy, which I knew from growing up by the Jersey Shore, exists outside of the tri-state area. True, many accounts point to it being invented there (NJ pride!), but there are pockets of Taffy Territory elsewhere in the US: notably by the Oregon Coast, and also--news to me--in Salt Lake City.

I learned of this company in a roundabout way--while visiting a Bavarian Village in Central Washington. It's true. While visiting a Das Sweet Shoppe, a candy shop in Leavenworth, WA, I was impressed with the vast array of taffies in flavors from Buttered Popcorn to caramel to Cinnamon Bun (!) to Apple Pie to Huckleberry, and asked "are these made on premises?". 

No, the kind employee informed me, almost apologetically, the candies came from a company in Salt Lake City. 

Say what?

It's true, she said: these taffies were made by a company called Taffy Town, which had the best taffy she'd ever tasted--worth shipping, undoubtedly--made using salt from THE Salt Lake.

Well, that was interesting enough to get me to buy a half pound of the sweet stuff (one of which had a heart--no, really! I checked the site, and they don't usually), and to (with mouth full of taffy, which was, as hoped, salty-sweet-smooth and delicious) check out their website.

It's true, this company is like...Taffy City. Or at least Taffy Town, which makes their company name apropos. Apparently, after many years in the candy biz, they decided Taffy was their...ah, sweet spot:

For over 79 years we were known as Glade Candy Company offering individuals the finest in Gourmet Taffy.  In 1995, our name was changed to "Taffy Town"  to reflect our total dedication to taffy excellence.  We then expanded to serve a World Wide market.  Using a whipped process that produces a soft texture taffy that simply melts in your mouth, we then add the finest in domestic and imported flavors to obtain perfection in confection.

In case you didn't catch it, my favorite bit: "total dedication to taffy excellence."

While they make it VERY CLEAR IN ALL CAPS THAT THEY DO NOT GIVE TOURS OF THEIR PRODUCTION FACILITY, you can get the following from a visit:

Come in today and see over 60 different flavors of our rich tasting taffy to delight every palate.  In addition to our taffy, we offer you our NEW fresh creamy smooth fudge, and other gourmet candy creations.  We have all sorts of GIFT IDEAS:  including a Taffy Town Gift Certificate!  Also, we have a video playing on our big screen showing how we make the taffy.

Of course, if this alone doesn't seem worth a visit to Utah, here's a link to their retailers. Check out the Taffy Town website here.

Sweet Mystery: Lowry's Fudge Cake Recipe and Story

Recently, I came into contact with a new type of cake: Lowry's Fudge Cake. Or was it Lowery's? I'm not completely sure, because based on anecdotal evidence, I see it both ways.

To the best of my sweet sleuthing, this cake--really more like bar cookies, really--made a name for itself in the kitchen of the Lowry's Motel restaurant in Greenville, IL. I found this small recipe headnote on Recipe Circus:

No Greenville native of a certain age will ever forget the pleasure of biting into a piece of Lowery's Fudge cake. It was sold exclusively at the old Lowery's Motel. We still remember how it was cut into squares and neatly wrapped in wax paper. After the Lowery ladies died and the motel restaurant became but a fond memory, custody of the fudge-cake recipe was passed to another lady of the church. It still arrives for the reception in perfect squares, wrapped in the traditional wax paper, though now the ladies of the Pastoral Care Committee unwarp it and arrange it on a silver tray. It never lasts long.

...and yet when I tried to find "Lowery's Motel" I drew a blank, but I did find evidence of a Lowry's, as noted in the obituary of Mariam T. Lowry (which references a motel in the family), and this vintage postcard:

...so sadly, while I was unable to find out much more about who created this recipe, one thing is not shrouded in mystery: the cake's deliciousness. As previously noted, it really is more like a cross between a cake and a bar cookie, kind of like a chocolate gooey butter cake with a crumb topping. Very decadent, very delicious. Happily, I was able to find a recipe--here it is for you. The one I tried (pictured top, not baked by me) also had a brown sugar crumb topping. Feel free to leave any more lore about the cake in the comments section!

Lowry's (or is it Lowery's?) Fudge Cake

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 4 squares semisweet chocolate
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour, sifted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 300F.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate together. Add the sugar, Stir until melted. Cool slightly. With a wooden spoon, mix in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in flour and salt. Add vanilla and chopped pecans. Some people like alot of vanilla and a lot of nuts. I suggest 1 tsp vanilla and 1 cup chopped nuts. 
  3. Pour the mixture into a buttered 9X11 inch pan. Bake for about 40 minutes. Start testing at 30-35 minutes. To be a purist, your straw for testing should come out clean. Cool on wire rack.


Do the Mashed Potato: Chocolate Covered Potato Kisses Recipe for Serious Eats

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and in the 1930s, candy was often made using an unlikely ingredient: mashed potatoes. No, really.

Potato fondant, rolled candies filled with peanut butter, and Potato Fudge were among the potato-rich candies referred to as "depression candy."

Of course, even in less depressed modern-day kitchens, these recipes are worth revisiting: turns out, potato is a surprisingly versatile candy filling, working very well with a variety of flavors and textures and making for a texture that is surprisingly creamy. This recipe for Potato Kisses is one of my personal favorites, rich with sweetened coconut. And of course, like so many things, it tastes even better with a rich coating of dark chocolate.

For the full entry, more cute pictures, and the recipe, visit Serious Eats!