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One of my treasures from Gram is a slim, pale-blue, hard-bound volume entitled “Cook Book,” published by the Day Nursery Association of Richmond, Indiana. It’s your basic school fund-development effort. Back in 1924, however, a fundraising cookbook did not have a plastic binding, and it did have a letter from the First Lady’s secretary (more on that in another post).

Mother's Lemon Butter from Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

There is space at the back to write in one’s own recipes, two or three blank pages with “Memoranda” printed at the top. Only one recipe made it onto these pages, for a lemon spread called “Mother’s Lemon Butter.” It’s written in my grandmother’s hand. Was it her mother’s recipe, or had it been passed down from a generation before that?

For those of you not familiar, lemon butter or curd is a tangy-sweet conserve perfect for spreading on scones or toast. Picture high tea, late afternoon, in your country house with the butler serving. Ah yes . . . when exactly does that happen? My extended clan used to buy jars of lemon curd in England or Scotland to give as gifts; the jars would sit for years in regal glory on pantry shelves, waiting for the “right” occasion. Whatever the occasion, it never quite warranted opening the precious stuff.

If you whip up a quick batch of lemon butter yourself, the pressure is off. You won’t worry about using it all up as the filling for a two-layer cake, or as dipping sauce for fresh spring strawberries. You’ll be fearless about folding it into whipped cream to serve with poundcake, or building layers of creme fraiche, lemon butter and berries in a tall glass bowl. Lemon butter is an ace in the hole: Something that allows you to create a company-worthy dessert, fast.

When my tasters tried the recipe as written, however, they were not about to go home and make this treat: Too sweet, and complete with sugary grit. I cut the sugar by a third, and gave the lemon juice a few minutes to work on dissolving the sugar before the eggs go in. Those tweaks delivered the kind of creamy, tart, bright spread I imagine Grammy’s mother — or grandmother? — would appreciate.

Mother's Lemon Butter from Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Mother’s Lemon Butter

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Grated rind and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs

Off the heat, put butter and sugar in the top part of a double boiler. Cream them together, then add grated rind and lemon juice. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the sugar to start to dissolve.

In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs well. Put the double-boiler top onto its base, and begin to heat the lemon mixture over medium heat. As the mixture starts to heat, add eggs and whisk in, hard. Keep stirring or whisking as mixture heats; after 5-7 minutes, mixture will thicken dramatically, to the consistency of pudding. Take pan off the heat and pour lemon butter into a bowl to cool.

Serve warm, with toast or scones, or cool and refrigerate. Lemon butter will keep up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

All photos and recipes copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

My grandmother used to send Christmas cookies in several tins, most of them large, round and gently dented. However, there was often a slightly smaller tin tagging along. Nestled in the waxed paper of this tin would be these powdered-sugar coated crescents, rich with nuts and butter.

Theoretically, these cookies were packed on their own because they were a bit fragile and because the powdered sugar would otherwise have had its messy way with the other types of cookies. But really, they were packed alone so Dad could abscond with the tin. The look he’d get as he popped a whole sugary cookie into his mouth was pure guilty bliss.

The recipe below is lightly adapted from Grammy’s, which came from a slender book, “Holiday Cookies,” from Peter Pauper Press. (I wish Peter Pauper Press still published cookbooks: I’d go straight to them to publish the Baking Family dessert book. Beautiful typesetting and design, all in a neat little old-fashioned package.)

For finishing, I just pour about a half-cup of confectioners’ sugar into a cereal bowl and gently roll the cookies one by one in the bowl.

Almond Crescents

Makes 5-6 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in chopped nuts and salt, then add flour gradually, mixing well after each addition. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour and as long as two days.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator. Pull off small pieces and work with hands until somewhat pliable. Roll into two-inch long pencil-thick strips and shape into small crescents.

Bake until set, not brown — about 14-15 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to cooling rack or plate. When fully cool, roll in confectioners sugar.

I went through Grammy’s recipes with my father — her son — several times. We would look for what was not there, such as Tipsy Parson, as well as talk about the recipes I already had.

When Dad got to Grammy’s pumpkin pie recipe, he stopped and smiled. “People who didn’t like pumpkin pie were converted when they ate Grammy’s,” he said.

The pie is lighter than most pumpkin pies, thanks to the trick of separating the eggs and beating the whites. I’d also credit the relatively large quantity of grated nutmeg for the pleasure in this pie.

Crust got a bit brown this time...

Grammy’s Pumpkin Pie

Serves 8

  • Pastry for one-crust 9-inch pie
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Put pumpkin puree in large bowl. Add salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and egg yolks; mix. Add sugar, cream and melted butter; mix. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Add to pumpkin mixture and fold in gently.

Line pie pan with pastry; pour in pumpkin mixture. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until pie filling puffs up and begins to brown; a knife stuck in about two inches from the edge should come out clean. If crust begins to get too dark at about the 20-25 minute mark, protect it with a crust-cover or strips of tin foil to prevent over-browning.

Recipe and photograph copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC

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