Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Friday, August 26, 2005
In Italy, there's a thin, crispy cookie baked on an iron much like a waffle iron, only the patterns are different. Some are geometric and some are floral, some hold family crests, others are more fanciful still. The most common pizzelle iron in America is the simple floral one, available either as a single or double iron. Sometimes, the plates can be reversed so it may also be used as a regular waffle iron.
These cookies can be served flat, dipped in chocolate in various creative ways, with or without nuts. They can be rolled into cornucopias and filled with cream, dipped in chocolates topped with nuts. Or they can be rolled into tubes, and filled, dipped, topped. Or they can be rolled into cones and filled with gelato or ice cream or even have cake baked in them. Or they can be molded over shallow bowls and filled with ice cream, or pudding, or fruit and whipped cream.
They are altogether versatile cookies.
Most commonly, they are flavored with anise, but I have a special fondness for them flavored with almond.
This is because my introduction to this cookie wasn't through Italy, but through a medieval cookbook called the Goode Huswife's Jewel. That recipe called for baking small cakes on a hot iron. I had a pizzelle iron. And that was my first wafer cookie.
Pizelles themselves have an interesting history. According to legend, a small village in Italy called Colcullo was overrun by snakes around 700 BCE. The villagers appealed to Apollo for help. His advice was to capture the snakes, drape them around his statue and release them. The domesticated snakes would never bother the villagers. This worked, so each year, they they held a festival called Festival of the Snake, where they sold sweet cookies embossed with a picture of Apollo enveloped by live snakes. At some point, Apollo became Saint Domenica and fireworks were added to the festival, but they still drape snakes around the statue and haul it through town to release the snakes into the wild - and they still serve embossed wafer cookies.
I don't know how their popularity spread through Italy, though. I do know that similar cookies were baked in Scandinavia called Lukken, and Norway has a cookie called a krumkake that is also thin, crisp, and baked on an iron, and Germany has its own Wafflekekse.
All these cookies are thick doughs pressed between two heated ornamental iron plates and baked until crisp and browned.
I want to make some pizzelles this weekend. I'll post pictures for you then.
In the meantime, here's a scaled down version of one of my favorite pizzelle recipes, adapted from that old English recipe. I substituted baking powder for the hartshorn, which is a very difficult to find ingredient if you don't hunt, but otherwise it's still a similar cookie to one you'd have found in the 1500's.
1 cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 ½ cups flour
2 - 3 teaspoons flavoring extract (anise, vanilla, almond – I prefer almond)
1 cup chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans
Cream the butter, then add eggs singly. Beat in the sugar and liquid flavoring. Mix the baking powder and flour and stir in. It will make a thick dough. Put a heaping tablespoon (or whatever size is needed to fill your pizzelle iron – mine’s large so a tablespoon is the right size, but the small ones can only handle 1 teaspoon full). Sprinkle on a few chopped nuts. Close the iron and let it cook – usually 40-60 seconds. Makes at least 30 pizzelles.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
A sampling of the bounty from the Farmer's Market this morning. The apples, lemons, and peaches will go into sweet pies and the sweet potatoes, new potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers will go into savory pies. The crookneck squash and cabbage will go on the grill tonight, along with a beer butt chicken. The leftovers will be used for a summer stew tomorrow.
Friday, August 19, 2005
The focus now will be on cookies instead of breads, cakes, pies, tarts, and other baked goods.
This is a good thing. Cookies are portable, bite-sized nuggets of yummy goodness. They are comforting as Grandma’s kitchen, and as indulgent as any edible commendation (Do you like that phrase? I do.). A sweet reward, a quick pick-me-up.
When I was a child, decades before Manager came into existence, we always had cookies in our lunchbox to eat or trade in the schoolyard. Cookies would be packed into small leather boxes to carry as snacks as we did our chores – and living in a small rural town, we always had chores. Cookies were always offered when we went visiting. More even than coffee or milk, cookies were our social lubricant.
Our village even had an annual Cookie Day Celebration, held on December 12th of every year. We had different festivals for each month day (January 1, February 2, March 3, April 4, etc), but Cookie Day was special.
Our little village was built with cobblestone streets that went up to the houses. The front doors opened straight into the cobblestone ways with no front yards at all. Bear in mind my grandfather was a teenager before the first car was ever invented – and the village was far older than he was.
Just imagine the day as I lived it each year:
On Cookie Day, each family would prepare and set a table out on the cobblestones in front of their house, stacked high with their special cookies. Each family had at least one special cookie and many had several. Some families decorated their tables with ribbons and flowers and offered milk or hot chocolate to the children.
The oldest child would get a market basket and wander from table to table, sampling and selecting cookies to bring back to their family. Families with no children of their own would borrow younger siblings to gather cookies for them.
Musicians would play on the street corners, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Down the hill, where the business district was (such as it is in a small town: the baker, the butcher, the dry goods store, the beauty shop, and the tavern), long trestle tables were set up with an actual stage and a band playing. Here, the children too old to be the cookie collector gathered to sip “kinderbier” and sodas, eat bratwursts and pomfrits from the street vendor, and eavesdrop on the adults who’d gathered there to drink beer and watch the children too young to collect cookies.
It was my favorite day of the year.
I’ve been trying to figure out how we could have a Cookie Day in a large city where people hardly know their neighbors, and few bother to bake anymore. I think I may have a way to emulate a part of it.
It would take some advance organizing and a small investment – hardly more than a good meal out.
1. Advance advertising to attract participants – flyers, newspaper articles, announcements on community bulletin boards and at day care centers, that sort of thing, would be the first step, since the date is already set. OK, I know December 12th is on a Monday this year, and since most folks can’t take a Monday off from work (unless you run it just in the evening for a couple of hours), it could be moved to the 10th or 11th.
2. The next step is to select a location. I prefer a park with a picnic pavilion, even for December weather. Outdoors just adds to the festive ambiance, unless you live in a really cold and snowy area. The bonus on using a park is that it’s often free, even a permit is simply a matter of reserving the pavilion.
3. Once you have a few people interested in the Cookie Day, you can mail out detailed information on how to do it, including the location and maps. Then, you can increase the participation by sending out new press releases and flyers that give date and location and mention some of the scrumptious cookies and families already on the list.
4. Now, secure entertainment – garage bands can be fun and will often play for cookies. Perhaps some of the cookie bakers will have musical family members who want a chance to perform. It never hurts to include a question about that on the flyer.
5. A few days before the Cookie Day, remember to bake your own table full of cookies as you prepare the program guide you’ll be handing out, which lists who will be there, what cookies they have, and who will be playing.
6. Collect decorations – balloons, ribbons, banners, flowers, extra tables and chairs, tablecloths, paper cups for beverages, and get them ready.
7. The morning of Cookie Day, set up the tables, put up the decorations, help the bakers arrange their cookies, show the performers where they “stages” are, put up any needed tents or awnings in case of damp weather, and welcome everyone to Cookie Day!
How it works: One adult stays with their table of cookies, but the rest of the family can spell them and everyone can get a chance to roam the tables, sample cookies, and fill a basket with goodies to take home. They can listen to the music, dance if the mood strikes, and nibble.
The rules are very simple:
1. Every participating family must provide a table full of cookies. Home baked is preferred, from a special family recipe if possible. This is ever so much less expensive than buying cookies from a store or bakery, or even using the pre-made cookie doughs. There should be enough cookies for every participating family to get at least a dozen of each cookie.
2. Each family must provide their own COokie Collecting Basket. It should be big enough to comfortably hold all hte cookies, and bringing waxed paper or something to help cushion the layers of cookies is a Good Idea.
3. Exercise courtesy in collecting cookies. Limit your first round to no more than a dozen cookies from each table. Once everyone has collected their first dozen cookies from each table, they can then go back and collect extras of their favorites untill all the cookies are redistributed to everyone there.
4. Enjoy the cookies and have a grest time!
Probably you can’t get away with serving beer, but you might be able to find a vendor or two to sell bratwursts and fries, just to balance out the sweetness of the cookies.
Since it’s August, and we have 4 months to plan, I think I’m going to try to go for it.
It ought to be fun.
And if you want to try it in your city, just tell folks “This Cookie Day celebration is brought to you through the creative efforts of the Cracked Cauldron and (insert your name here).”And let us know how well it goes for you!
Cookie Day. Let’s make it a nation-wide day of sweet connections!
A Simple Cookie
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 egg whites
Beat the egg whites into stiff peaks and set aside for a moment. Beath the sugar into the peanut butter. Fold the beaten egg whites and peanut butter together. Drop by scant teaspoons onto parchment paper, that new quick release foil, or a silpat type mat. Sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each cookie. Bake at 375º for 10 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from the parchment paper.
If you made them teeny tiny, you should get 3 dozen cookies from this, and moderately small will make at least 2 dozen. You really don't want them any bigger because they are quite rich.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Manager is working up the numbers to open as just a Coffee and Cookie shop. A lovely place just came up for rent in a good coffee shop area of town, another one came up just yesterday near a mjor university at a reasonable rent, and if we're willing to go to a different town, the university in Edmund just expanded their campus and there are still a few low rent places available near-by to grab the campus coffee crowd.
We can buy a "coffee shop in a box" deal for less than $10,000 which comes with all the basic equipment and month's supply of syrups and coffees and disposables like cups and napkins. The equipment is high quality (not top of the line, but the manufacturers are in our top 5 picks, and of a higher quality than we could afford if we bought each piece separately) and the syrups are one of our favorite brands.
Add in a location and some simple decorating and furniture, and we could probably open for under $30,000.
If I could convince the bank (any bank!) to give me a home equity loan for my house, we could open in just a few weeks. I have more than $30,000.00 in equity in this house. But my monthly salary is too low to allow me to qualify for that loan. It sucks, it really truly sucks, to have the assets and no way to access them.
I may do a bit of bank campaigning to see if I can't soften a banker's heart. Sure, it may look high risk on paper, but in reality, it's not like I'm asking for the loan to go on vacation, wasted money that will generate no financial return. I'm asking for the loan to start a business; one we have intensely researched, that has salivating customers waiting for our opening, and one that will generate enough income to repay the loan, and to start our expansion plans in under a year.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Our little blog was mentioned in Inc. Magazine.
While technically everything in the paragraph about us was true; after all, we do own the Cracked Cauldron, and it is a bakery, but in reality, we haven't opened doors for business - yet. We're still working on that part.
We have a location that we can't afford to inhabit yet, and we have a huge and growing number of customers who want us to open very badly (hehe - we're their only source for Bacon Bread, Chocolate Chai Roses, Caramel Orange Cinnamon Rolls, Chicken Aloute, the Peter Max Bread*, Lemon Apple Pie, and the highly addictive Hot Drops and Tavern Cookies), but we lack the funds to pay for hte location and to get the basic minimal equipment we need to do this as a full time business.
Manager is doing personal cheffing jobs and hiring herself out to do accountacy work at large corporations so she can keep her skills honed for the management of the bakery.
Me? I get to invent new recipes, like that Lemon Apple Pie.
Let me tell you about this pie. I like apple pie as well as any German or American. I make a really good pie crust and can wield a rolling pin with the best of them. But this apple pie is the best I've ever made. I bought some sweet Pacific Rose apples and some tart Granny Smiths, peeled them, cored them, sliced them thin, and simmered them in lemon juice squeezed from a whole large lemon (not a Meyers Lemon, we don't get those in Oklahoma), along with honey, cardamom, cinnamon, cassia bark, cloves, and white pepper. While they simmered, I mixed up a dough where I substituted chilled fresh squeezed lemon juice for the ice water I normally use for pie crust, and added cardamom, vanilla sugar, and a dash of cinnamon to the crust. Rolled out and waiting, I scooped in the apple slices. The juices in the pan I simmered to thicken into a nice sauce with just a pinch of cornstarch, and poured that over the apples in the waiting crust, adding just a light dusting of brown sugar with cinnamon and finely ground aniseed and a sprinkle of lavender water. I added the top crust, with little phlox flower cutouts, brushed the upper crust with lemon and lavender water, sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar, and baked it up into the best apple pie I ever ate. And I've eaten a lot of apple pies in my 60 years.
This pie is definitely going on the menu.
I'd share pictures, but, well. We ate it all.
Next time I bake this pie, I promise I'll take pictures. If you can't eat it, you should at least be able to see what it looks like.
* the name "Peter Max Bread" is still pending.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
This month celebrates something that is the cornerstone of our business - buying and eating locally.
Even though we aren't open for business yet, we still buy as much of our food locally as we can. We live in an area where that means we get an abundance of foods, especially this time of year.
In our research for the Cracked Cauldron, we met some wonderful local producers, the mushroom man in Tulsa, Shawnee Mills for wheat and cornmeal, Wichita Buffalo for buffalo meat, and so many others. We saw herb farms and orchards, and discovered a lot of U-Pick places.
Except for truly exotic foods such as spices, sugar, coffee, tea, and a few exotic fruits, vegetables, and grains, almost everything else grows here. And with a growing Asian and Mexican population, even foods once exotic are becoming locally grown. That includes seafoods that are now being farmed in our many lakes and ponds. We lack only the saltwater seafoods and seaweeds.
The farm raised salmon, catfish, and such may not be as tasty as their wilder cousins, but they are (hopefully) more sustainably raised.
We haven't given up on opening the Cracked Cauldron, just re-vamping nad re-ordering what and where, and potentially when.