In honor of Sunday night’s Oscar festivities, the bakery is rolling out appropriately themed sugar cookies. The Oscar statue cookie cutter is more of a suggestion than a dead-on likeness; it doesn’t truly do justice to the chiseled features and Beach Body muscles associated with a Hollywood celebrity. Not to worry- the gold royal icing and luster dust should smooth out any imperfections.
While easing circles of pâte brisée into aluminum pie plates, I have been overhearing the ladies around the bench discussing the Oscars. Having seen only one nominated film, I am once again woefully ill prepared to participate. Equally embarrassing is my limited knowledge of who will be wearing what on the red carpet. There is one category however, where I can hold my own. My vast experience with movie candy could very well place me in the running for Best Supporting of One’s Dentist category. This might explain my anxiety when faced with an entire aisle (I’m talking about you, CVS) dedicated to bright cello packages and cheery boxes of cavity inspiration. How clever of you to place these temptations in direct proximity of the check-out line.
Movie candy is a highly debatable and personal topic; one woman’s Buncha Crunch is another woman’s Raisinette. Or in the case of my father, one Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew. According to a man who has logged countless Saturday matinee miles, in the 1930s the price of a movie was 15 cents. Both Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and Goobers Chocolate Covered Peanuts cost a nickel. “If I walked to the movies instead of taking the bus, I had a nickel for the candy,” my father explained. I wonder what his thoughts would be if he knew that movie candy now provides Thoughtful Portion specifics on the back of the candy boxes. I haven’t the heart to tell him.
According to Nestlé USA, their aim is to “help consumers make thoughtful food choices.” Apparently the age-old practice of hunkering down in a soda splashed, popcorn littered movie seat and consuming a box of confections during a two-hour feature film is frowned upon. In an effort to educate consumers, Nestlé gently informs us that a thoughtful portion of Sno-Caps, for example, is a mere 22 pieces and that the entire box contains two servings.
As the daughter of the man whose mantra is “everything in moderation,” I find it hilarious that a candy manufacturer thinks consumers are reading the back of the Sno-Caps or Raisinettes or Milk Duds packages in a blackened movie theatre, let alone counting out pieces of candy as the action unfolds on the screen before them. The moderation factor has already been subliminally tucked into the box by way of less chocolate, more box at a higher price. Which is why I continue to smuggle in my own movie treats in a small plastic sandwich bag that I tuck into a coat pocket. Twizzlers are obviously more sea-worthy than chocolates, but M&Ms with a hard candy shell travel remarkably well and make the transfer from plastic bag to hand to mouth seamlessly. Reese’s peanut butter cups are slightly more fragile, but well worth the effort. As for the Goldenberg peanut chew? The serving size indicates a mere 4 pieces are allowed before risking the wrath of the candy police. Considerably smaller in size than when they were first introduced in 1922, I’ll take the chance of stepping outside the 4-piece candy line. On a personal level, it’s interesting to note that 1922 was a banner year for peanuts and chocolate; H.B. Reese introduced the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that year, a marriage of milk chocolate and peanut butter. It wasn’t until 1977 when Hershey rolled out Reese’s Pieces and 1982 when the movie E.T. dramatically increased popularity of the candy.
Say what you will about Thoughtful Portion suggestions but what really draws me in to movie candy is the visual of the packaging. The familiarity strikes a chord deep within my food memory bank. The deep reds and blinding yellows, the milk chocolate-y brown reminds of the joy and excitement of movie going when the theatres themselves were generously, not thoughtfully sized. When you chastised the people in front of you for whispering during the film or rattling their candy wrappers, rather than pleading with someone to stop texting throughout the movie. Might this explain why I have only seen one Oscar nominated film this year? Quite possibly. As for a need to know how much candy to eat or gain a little knowledge about when movies were movies, all I have to do is phone home.
Valentine’s Day unfolded on Tuesday in a blur of pink buttercream. Temporarily blinded from the glare of cello wrapped sentimental cookies leaving the building, I couldn’t help but wonder. What happened to the card carrying members of Whole30? Where were the I-Quit-Sugar devotees? Perhaps they received a day pass for February 14th.
In the two days leading up to Valentine’s Day, I spent what you might call a busman’s holiday working in a bakery. The sweetest part of the experience was the opportunity to work alongside Blondilocks and for my dear pal Alicia. Three hundred and fifty galettes later and too many cookies to count, I wandered out onto Sullivan Street, winding my way towards Bleecker. Barely able to stand against the ferocious wind, the hood of my coat refused to cooperate. A man firmly planted against a red brick doorframe offered some sage advice as I blew past; “Put your hood up, baby!” Would that I could, Sir.
The West Village is dotted with florists, tiny jewel box storefronts, windows over-filled with thorny long stems, fragile blossoms and the promise of spring. As challenging as the food industry is, one can only imagine the perils of being a florist on the 13th and 14th of February. Roses are not nearly as hardy as a case of unsalted butter or a 30 lb. box of semi-sweet chocolate. The logistics are staggering to think about. Not only do floral arrangements need to be artfully arranged, there is the entire delivery component. I best stick to sugar.
Seeking refreshment, Blondilocks and I turned down Bleecker at West 10th Street, but not before being approached by a veritable live Valentine. Outfitted head to toe in what can only be described as rose pink, the elderly woman paused before wishing us a “Happy Valentine’s Day, tomorrow.” Her enthusiasm was more genuine, dare I say heartfelt, than anything plucked from the card rack at Papyrus.
Cupid knows better than to stick around past closing time. Sprinkle King’s red, white and pink miniscule hearts have been relegated back to the basement. It has been brought to my attention that George Washington has a birthday celebration in just a few days. Had I not spent last week crimping edges on cherry-pies-for-two, I might take notice of this pie holiday opportunity. Sorry George, but I have other plans.
The cold and flu season refuses to board that Greyhound bound for nowhere. This is clearly evident on the streets of New York and the trains of NJ Transit. Inspired by a beverage set before me a few days ago in a small eatery on West 10th Street and a conversation with my floral artist friend Tim, this week’s pie features restorative ingredients. We can all use a slice of warmth; cherry pies can wait a week.
In matters of music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart proved to be one of the most prolific and influential composers of the classical era. In matters of the heart, Mozart was a casualty of Cupid’s arrow.
Scoring higher marks in talent and personality than in looks, and without the benefit of match.com, Mozart traveled a bumpy road on the way to love. As a young man in his early twenties, Mozart had his eye on Aloysia Weber, the eldest daughter of a musically gifted Viennese family. Mozart wrote several arias for the talented soprano and at one point, expressed his interest in marriage. Aloysia was less smitten with Wolfgang and declined his proposal.
Fortunately, Aloysia was one of four sisters and it wasn’t long before Mozart turned his affections towards Constanze Weber. Despite protestations from Mozart’s father and Constanze’s mother, the two married in 1782. Their happily ever after lasted a mere nine years until his death at the young age of 35. Mozart left his wife in serious debt and the sole provider for their two sons. Constanze proved to be a plucky widow, resuming her career as a vocalist, publishing Mozart’s works and collaborating on a biography about her late husband. Despite the financial and emotional burdens, she survived her husband by more than 50 years.
Mozart left his mark not only on the music world, but on the chocolate world as well. In 1865, 100 years after Mozart had visited Munich, Peter Reber opened a confectionery and café. The family-owned Reber company claims their chocolate Mozart-Kugeln are the original; ‘exquisitely filled with pistachio marzipan, almonds and hazelnut praline, covered with fine milk and bittersweet chocolate.’
Chocolate imitation however, is a sweet form of flattery as evidenced by the Mozart confections currently produced in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and the U.S. The claims of authenticity from each chocolatier have resulted in heavy-handed marketing, storefronts boasting 'home of the original' chocolates, and ultimately culminating in an ugly trademark court battle. Regardless of the drama surrounding Mozart's namesake confections, if chocolate be the food of love, it clearly plays on.
Affectionately known as ‘Mozart Balls,’ the chocolates are all variations on the same theme; chocolate, marzipan, pistachio. Whether foil wrapped in red and gold or silver and blue, the marriage of Mozart and chocolate has created more jobs and more revenue than Mozart ever knew. Unfortunately, he never tasted the confection and sadder still, never presented a box to his beloved Constanze. Imagine the hearts he might have won had he been able to post on his profile, “Likes long walks by the Danube, playing the piano and namesake chocolate.”
To impress your Galentine/Valentine, click here for more on Mozart
Preferring the heat of the kitchen to the chill of winter, I anxiously awaited Punxsutawney Phil’s February weather forecast with great anticipation. This is not the first year Phil has dashed my hopes for an early spring.
February 2nd, also known as the Christian Festival of Lights, or Candlemas, stems from an ancient European celebration marking the midpoint of winter, falling between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Although many states now boast their own rodent forecasters, the largest Groundhog Day Celebration is held in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania. History hails Phil as the original forecasting critter, coaxed from his burrow since the initial festivities in 1887. Tended to by a devoted following of locals, Phil winters in a small wooded hollow in Punxsutawney, known as Gobbler’s Knob. On the morning of February 2nd, he is rudely awakened and plucked from his burrow to deliver his pronouncement.
On a sunny day, the groundhog will see his shadow likeness and return to his beauty sleep. On a cloudy and shadowless day, Phil is more likely to stay above ground, indicating that spring is soon to follow. Rumor has it that there is only one Punxsutawney Phil, kept youthful by an elusive elixir. I suppose you could say Phil is the groundhog equivalent of Lassie, returning season after season, hair and makeup perfectly in place. You would think that after years in the spotlight, Phil might have invested in a luxury condo in Miami. I suppose fleeing notoriety is hard, particularly when you have your very own gift shop.
The folks in Punxsatawney offer more than t-shirts as souvenirs. Combing through their website, I discovered recipes for traditional groundhog cookies. Thankfully the key ingredients did not call for any woodland creature enhancements. One common Pennsylvania Dutch addition however, was molasses. I squirreled away the cookie recipe and went looking for pies of the sweet, not Sweeney Todd, variety.
I imagine when Punxsatawney Phil was probably just a young groundhog, Chipmunk Pie was a mainstay at church suppers. A humble dessert of apples and nuts held together by a thin batter, it was baked in a pie crust until it puffed in the oven then settled down into a chewy dessert, heavy on the sugar, light on the fruit. Pennsylvania Dutch bakers traditionally relied on molasses and corn syrups to sweeten desserts. The famous Shoofly Pie is a low-lying pie filled with cake crumbs and molasses, terribly popular at Farmers markets throughout Pennsylvania. Familiar with both the Chipmunk and the Shoofly, neither pie seemed fitting for a groundhog with celebrity status. More interesting was a little known pie called the Montgomery Pie.
History credits the Montgomery Pie as a dessert hailing from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Some recipes claim Montgomery, Alabama as the origin. Having lived in Montgomery County, Pa. for a sweet, long time, I would like to believe the pie has Pennsylvania roots.
The pie is a contradiction in textures; a pre-baked pie crust filled with a thin molasses bottom layer and covered with a cakey top that miraculously transforms in the oven. Montgomery Pie shared many of the ingredients found in Shoofly Pie, but hinted at a much more dramatic finish. I was game.
Several Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks offered recipes; I settled on one from The Third Presbyterian Cook Book and Household Directory. Credited to Mrs. A. Wolf (perhaps a distant relation to the groundhog) it specifically admonishes the baker not to combine the two distinctive layers. I did as I was told. The bottom layer is very similar to Shoofly Pie; brown sugar and molasses, one lone egg and half of a cup of water. A much needed pinch of lemon zest and juice cuts the sweetness. The top layer is basically cake batter; butter and sugar, one additional egg, flour and baking soda for lift. Apparently Mrs. Wolf swore by Arm and Hammer baking soda, it is clearly mentioned in the recipe. I applauded the fact that Mrs. Wolf was a strictly-from-scratch gal; many other recipes had the audacity to use cake mix for the top layer. Blasphemy.
It is a curious recipe, to be sure. As is the case with many Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, they may be thrifty with the eggs and butter, but generous with the sweeteners. Apologies to Mrs. Wolf for replacing the white sugar with brown, adding a pinch of salt and bumping up the lemon zest.
If I had any leanings towards science, I’m fairly certain there’s a good bit of alchemy going on between the two pie layers. The molasses bottom is dangerously pourable, barely able to contain itself in the pre-baked crust. The cakey layer is rich with buttermilk, (referred to in the original as ‘thick milk’) dolloped on top and left untouched. Once the pie hits the heat of the oven, the molasses bakes into a layer that has the consistency of the very best date bar. Covering the sweet base is a dowdy, but tasty, vanilla cake. Serving the pie with a liberal dollop of crystallized ginger whipped cream was a personal choice that I’m sure would have been considered a bold move for Mrs. Wolf and the ladies of the Third Presbyterian Church.
Sometimes bold moves are necessary, now more than ever. When Punxsatawney Phil delivered yet again the sad news that winter lingers on, these are tough days, indeed. Pass the crystallized ginger whipped cream.
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