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by Heather Harris Brady
This is the story of a cake, a gypsy and a badass Michigan heiress named Clara Ward. It was right around this time of year, in 1896, when Clara left her prince for the gypsy violinist Rigo Jancsi.
Clara, heiress to a lumber and mining fortune (with ties to Ludington, Leland and the Upper Peninsula), was a perfect example of Edith Wharton’s Ambassadors and an early adopter of the “being famous for being famous” approach (nothing is new). Born in Detroit on Fort Street, educated in London, and married at 15 to a middle-aged Belgian prince rich in title but poor in funds, Clara later acknowledged that she accepted the arrangement only to get out of further schooling. She became the toast of Europe, a favorite of King Leopold and a thorn in her proper mother-in-law’s side. During a ball she wore garters with the Chimay coronet and little gold bells, and put them on display. When the queen told her she was dragging down the family’s name she had said name and crest tattooed on her arm.
So, with things uncomfortable at the Chimay castle she and her prince traveled, enjoying the good life. Escoffier created two dishes in their honor, poulard Chimay and oeufs a la Chimay. In November 1896, while the prince and princess were enjoying a lovely meal in Paris a gypsy violinist caught Clara’s ear with the Rokoezy March. Rumor has it she slipped him her diamond ring and a few days later Clara skipped town with Rigo. I’ll including the rest of the story below the recipe for my fellow history buffs, but if you’re ready to get cooking yourself here we go!
Traditionally this cake is chocolate mousse between two layers of cake and it is cut into the neat, perfect squares. I’ve modified this recipe from Susan Derecskey’s Hungarian Cookbook. It’s light yet rich, chocolately without being super-sweet. Considering how non-traditional Clara was, I think she’d approve of me breaking the rules here and turning it into four layers – one layer, perhaps, for each of Clara’s husbands…
Rigo Jancsi, Makes one large 5” x 14” torte, about 14 servings
For the cake:
- 6 eggs, separated
- 6 T. granulated sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
- 3 T. sifted dark cocoa
- 4 T. sifted all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 4 T. sifted powdered sugar
- 3 T. sifted dark cocoa
- 1 pkt. unflavored gelatin softened in 2 T. cold water
- 2 c. heavy cream
For the glaze:
- 3 oz. dark chocolate
- 1/3 c. heavy cream
- 1 t. butter
Preheat the oven to 400. Whip the egg whites until stiff and set them aside.
Beat the egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar, until thick and lemony.
Fold in the cocoa powder. This got a little awkward, some of the cocoa stuck to the bowl but keep going!
Fold in 1/4 c. of the whipped egg white to lighten the batter, sift the flour over the top and fold that in.
Then fold in the rest of the egg whites.
Grease a jelly roll pan, line it with parchment (I was out so I used foil) and then grease the lining. Pour in the batter.
Bake it for about 15 minutes. While the cake is baking make the glaze. Combine the chocolate and cream in a bowl, melt together until smooth and then stir in the butter.
Peel the paper off while the cake is hot, then cool it completely while you make the whipped cream.
Mix the cocoa and sugar. Stir the gelatin to make sure it’s dissolved. If it’s not warm it slightly in the microwave. Start whipping the cream and add the cocoa mixture.
Drizzle in the gelatin and whip until stiff.
Cut the cooled cake in half (the short way) and then cut each half in half. I’m building my torte on a larger pan first. Once it’s cold and firm I’ll move it to a serving plate.
One of my layers tore a little bit so it’s going on the bottom.
Top the layer with 1/3 of the whipped cream.
Now keep going, two,
When you get to the top finish the last layer with glaze.
When the torte is firm (at least three hours in the fridge), move it to a serving plate and slice it at the table if you want to be dramatic. Serve it cold in 1″ slices.
The rest of Clara and Rigo’s story!
Clara spent Christmas 1896 in a mud hut visiting her future gypsy in-laws, where she promised to marry Rigo as soon as she could. Although her mother pretty much cut her off, she still bought Rigo an expensive violin, exotic pets, and baubles (including a bracelet made from a pair of garters King Leopold gave her). She added Jansci under the Chimay tattoo and he reciprocated by getting her portrait tattooed on his arm as well.
Clara, ever the saucy vixen, told the press that she didn’t know why she left her husband other than that while she liked him well enough she never loved him – and that she did say goodbye when she left! Since they needed to make money now the inheritance spigot was off Clara and Rigo took to the stage. Her photograph, tattoo on display, was also a popular and lucrative money-maker. But, their relationship was rocky and ended before two years were up. Clara took up with a porter and Rigo found other wealthy ladies susceptive to his charms. I’ll put some of my research up on my Pinterest board if you’d like more details – the gossip around this couple is almost as good as the cake!
by Heather Harris Brady
Hold on to your seats kids because we’re going to cover a lot of ground today! We’re talking about Pullman bread and the tangzhong method with a dash of history to spice things up. Let’s start with the Pullman pan first.
Pullman pans were not the first of their kind, the first lidded bread pan was probably an adapted steamed pudding mold. When the Pullman Railway Company adopted them for their kitchens they became “Pullman pans” and traveled far and wide in the railcar kitchens. These pans turned out neat, stackable, versatile loaves for toast, canapes, and tea sandwiches for the fancy dining cars. (For an excellent article in the Chicago Tribune on the history of Pullman bread click here.) The pans are readily available online and very sturdy.
I took this idea and applied the tangzhong concept. Tangzhong is basically a roux used the base in many Asian milk-bread recipes. The tangzhong keeps the bread moist and fluffy but still neat and sliceable. Tangzhong is a ratio of one part flour to five parts water, and can be scaled as needed. I tend to make too much, but you can refrigerate it for a short time for a second batch. Because you are gelatinizing the flour and locking in the moisture, this helps your bread stay moist over time.
Sandwich Bread, Makes one large loaf
- 1 T. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 5 T. milk (or half water/half milk)
- 1-1/2 c. milk (or half water/half milk)
- 1 pkg. quick-rise yeast
- 2 T. granulated sugar
- 4 T. butter, softened
- 4-1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 t. salt
Whisk the first two ingredients together over medium heat.
Cook to a soft roux, where the whisk makes lines in the mixture.
Combine the roux with the scalded milk, stir in the butter and sugar.
Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the yeast, flour and salt.
This will give you a shaggy dough. Set it aside to double in bulk.
Take it out of the pan and knead it to a smooth dough, about five minutes. Flatten it out then roll it up like a jelly roll and put into your greased Pullman pan.
Preheat the oven to 350 and let the dough rise 2/3 of the way up the pan.
Grease the underside of the lid and slide it on. Put the pan on a baking sheet (a little dough might escape the top) and slide it into the oven.
Remove the top at 45 minutes and check the loaf. If the center sounds hollow it’s done. If not, return it to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Let it sit in the pan for five minutes, then turn it out on a rack to cool. I rub each side with some butter for a soft crust.
Don’t try slicing it until it’s completely cool. If you can wrap it and let it sit a day so much the better. When you do slice it you can cut them thin, they will stay neat and pretty.
I dolled these up with some butter, soft cream cheese, cucumbers and a sprinkle of salt.
by Heather Harris Brady
I’ve lived in Michigan all my life, the wrong parts apparently, because I’d never heard of cudighi until last week when I came across it in its natural habitat – the wilds of Ishpeming in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Ishpeming is in the heart of U.P. mining country, with its long winters and colossal chunks of rock. We have the Italian immigrants to this area to thank for cudighi, a spicy patty of seasoned meat on a hard roll. At Ralph’s Italian Deli you can order it in pork or turkey versions with cheese, ketchup, mustard and onion or with pizza sauce and cheese. On two different visits I tried both the pork and turkey, then when I got home I set to developing my own. It’s got tailgate and Super Bowl party written all over it!
Cudighi, Makes four large sandwiches
- One one-lb. package of ground turkey (93% lean)
- 2 t. fennel seed, freshly ground
- 1 t. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- 1 t. Tony Chacere’s Cajun seasoning (other hot seasoning mix)
- One green pepper, diced
- One 8 oz. package of sliced white mushrooms
- ½ lb. provolone cheese
- 8 oz. mozzarella cheese
- One 8 oz. can pizza sauce
- Four oblong hard rolls
Mix the seasonings into the meat well and set aside.
I used one electric griddle for everything, but you could use frying pans if you prefer. Saute the mushrooms and pepper in 1 T. olive oil, until the peppers are soft and the mushrooms are brown.
Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Form the meat into thin (1/2” thick) oblong patties shaped to fit the rolls you’re using. Brown the patties on each side, and then cover until they are cooked through.
Top each patty with some cheese and put a lid on them again until the cheese melts. (At Ralph’s they assemble the sandwiches and put them under the broiler to melt the cheese, but it was too hot to turn the oven on.)
While the cheese is melting, split the rolls and spread pizza sauce on each side (add a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese if you like).
Divide the mushrooms and peppers into four servings and pile them on the bottom side of each roll.
Top the veggies with the cudighi hot from the pan and squish the whole thing together.
Cut into halves. Serve hot with chips and lots of napkins. (PS: The proper pronounciation is COO-dih-gee, if you’re wondering.)
One year ago: Fallen Chocolate Cakes
by Heather Harris Brady
I imagine there are lots of people who would argue that there are few foods more American than spoonbread. “George Washington ate it, it was one of Jefferson’s favorites!” I, however, would argue that spoonbread is really just a lush, well-preserved duchess in a long noble line of cornmeal-based cookery. Polenta itself dates back to Roman times and when settlers arrived in the New World to find Native Americans stirring up cornmeal porridge they dressed it up according to their means. Cornmeal porridge seems indemic to many Native American menus, particularly the Low Country, which probably is why today spoonbread is considered a Southern specialty.
In any case, this spoonbread is a light, yet rich side dish that is a nice way to round out soup or a salad into a meal. It could also be a nice thing for brunch or cut into little squares for cute appetizers with a drizzle of honey on top. Think of it as a cross between cornbread and a soufflé. It will rise to the top of the baking dish and fall as it cools.
I used a coarsely ground polenta in the recipe below, but you could easily substitute a more finely ground cornmeal. Just keep in mind that you may need to also adjust the liquid. While I used regular all-purpose flour you could sub in the gluten-free blend of your choice.
Spoonbread, Makes about nine 3” squares
- 1 c. coarsely ground polenta
- 3 c. milk
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 T. butter
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. baking powder
- 2/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 t. Cajun seasoning
- 2/3 c. grated parmesan cheese (or other cheese of your choice)
Preheat the oven to 375. Heat the milk over medium heat, whisk in the polenta gradually. Cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until thickened in a porridge. Stir in the butter and salt, let cool for five minutes.
Grease a two-qt. baking dish and dust it with crumbs. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.
Stir the egg yolks into the polenta mixture, followed by the flour, seasoning and baking powder.
Fold in the cheese.
Then the egg whites.
Pour the batter into the baking dish.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until it reaches the top of the dish and turns golden brown.
Cut in squares and serve warm from the oven. Feel free to make this recipe your own – add crumbled bacon, veggies (especially sweet corn kernels), whatever strikes your fancy.
One year ago: Walnut Wafers with Goat Cheese, Honey and Thyme
by Heather Harris Brady
Legend has it this torte came about during the days of the Crimean War, when someone wanted to celebrate a victory but didn’t have time or means to bake anything. Even if you’re battling nothing more than a busy schedule this torte makes a beautiful and impressive dessert.
As it is sort of an Austrian trifle, I put it together in the hour between picking my daughter from dance and getting my son off to driver’s ed. This version is based on the recipe from Rick Rodger’s Kaffeehaus cookbook. Rum is the traditional flavoring but I used mainly sherry because I had it on hand. While it’s not difficult you should read the entire post before you get started, so you know how to time everything.
You do need a ready supply of ladyfingers, either homemade or store-bought like these:
Malakoff Torte, Makes one 9″ torte
- One large package of ladyfingers/savoiardi biscuits
- Light bavarian cream filling (recipe follows)
- 6 c. stabilized whipping cream for frosting (just 4 c. if you’re not decorating it)
Bavarian cream filling:
2 c. milk
2 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
2 pkgs. unflavored gelatin
1 pt. whipping cream
2 T. sherry or rum
Warm the milk in a saucepan over medium heat and beat the egg yolks together with the sugar.
Whisk some of the hot milk into the egg yolks and whisk it all into the pan on the stove. Put the sherry in a bowl and add the gelatin to let it soften. Microwave it for a few seconds until it dissolves. Then whisk it into the cream.
Pour the cream into a shallow metal pan and cool it until just barely set. Whip the cream to stiff peaks, and fold in the gelatin cream. Return it to the refrigerator while you get the pan ready.
Heat 1/3 c. of water and 1/3 c. sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add 1 T. sherry or rum. Open the package of biscuits and quickly dip each one in the sugar syrup then lay it into the bottom of a 9″ springform pan.
Repeat until you’ve covered the bottom of the pan. Add a sprinkle of dark chocolate chips if you like.
Then cover the biscuits with half of the bavarian cream.
Heat 1/3 c. of water and 1/3 c. sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add 1 t. almond extract. Do another layer of biscuits, then spread the rest of the cream on top.
Heat 1/3 c. of water and 1/3 c. sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add 1 T. sherry or rum and one final layer of biscuits on top. Chill the cake for at least four hours (preferably overnight). Then run a knife around the pan and remove the outside ring. You should have a cake that looks something like this:
Cover the entire cake with the stabilized whipped cream. I just did a crumb layer here because I’m decorating for company! Note – this time I remembered to elevate the cake first!
I used one of my largest star tips and starting in the middle of each one, I just did loose swirls all over the top and around the sides.
Keep the cake and any leftovers cold. The flavors blend nicely over a day or two. My son said the cake tastes the way vanilla smells, which is pretty accurate considering all the sherry and almond flavoring.
One year ago: Apple crisp
by Heather Harris-Brady
Baked beans were one of my grandma’s staples, and she always made them in her beanpot. If you’ve never seen a beanpot before, it’s a squat pottery vessel with a lid. Most of the time they are brown and white, like this:
In the early days of this country native Americans baked beans in clay pots. They dug a hole, got a pile of embers going, buried the pot and covered it in deerskins. Later on, cast iron pots came to market, in addition to the clay versions which grew into the Boston tradition that’s still going today.
I myself never made baked beans because I didn’t have said beanpot. However, one day, I found one at a garage sale for $3! My kids couldn’t understand why I so excited about something that looked so boring. But, they humor me – they helped me carry it and a large mirror back to the car. Since then it’s sat on a shelf in my dining room waiting for me. Last Saturday my son said “Mom, are you ever going to use that beanpot?” And just in that instant I said, “Yes I am, tomorrow!”
It was Memorial Day weekend, with a picnic on the agenda, and if not now when? They make the house smell great while they’re baking, as a bonus.
Baked Beans, Serves 16 as a side dish
1 1-lb. bag dried great northern beans OR 1 large jar Randall’s Great Northern Beans
3/4 c. ketchup
1/3 c. French’s yellow mustard
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 c. molasses
Soak the beans overnight and discard any floaters or ones with dark spots.
Drain, put them in a saucepan with fresh water and boil until just al-dente – about two hours. (You can put them in the bean pot without this parboiling but it will take a REALLY long time – like all day – for them to cook.)
Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the cooked beans with the remaining ingredients. Stir well and put them into your beanpot (or dutch oven).
Add one cup of water and put the lid on.
Bake for about two hours, stirring occasionally.
As it happens I was making these for vegetarians, but on another day I would stir in some smoked bacon ends with the rest of the ingredients. You can serve these hot, room temperature or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers. You could expect them to stay yummy for about a week for sandwiches or as a side dish.