Blowouts and jumbles. Grandmother's great desserts - they were more than just apple pie
A REAL HOMEMADE COOKIE OR a fruit cobbler brings visions of summertime, fruity ice creams, homemade lemonade, and grandmothers. ``Grandmothers, especially,'' says Lee Bailey, author of Lee Bailey's Country Desserts (Clarkson N. Potter Inc./Crown, New York, 168 pp., $19.95).
``I think my grandmother actually smelled like a cookie, and that's enough to get any child's attention.
``Hanging around her as she cooked, when I was young, was a pleasant change from my mother, who never learned to cook, anyway.
``The public's taste for cookies has changed a great deal since the late '30s,'' he continues.
``In those days almost all the cookies were crisp, with modest but intense flavors.
``Sometimes they were filled with raisins or nuts, but usually they weren't really productions as they are now. Most were rather small, and they could always be made while you were doing something else.
``It also seems as if they were made in huge quantities, which meant that they must have lasted a long time - and of course those like shortbread and tea cakes even improved with age.''
Bailey's colorful book on country desserts includes old-fashioned cookies like Snickerdoodles and Jumbles, Blondies, Molasses, and Cracked Sugar Cookies. Also recipes for the current richer, more solid, cookies such as Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Texas-Pecan-Bran Cookies, and Outrageous Brownies.
``Today's cookies are almost a meal in themselves,'' he says, ``and they certainly dominate anything you have with them. So they're best with the simplest of drinks.
``I like both today's and yesterday's versions.
``But people who haven't tasted the flavor of an unassuming crisp little cookie have missed something very nice indeed.''
His book also includes recipes for all kinds of country desserts - from pies, cakes, and ice creams to puddings, custards, sauces, toppings, candies, and kids' desserts.
``Our pies and cakes and cookies are really very American; our own invention, I think,'' he remarks, ``like the musical comedy, which is something of our own, too.
``Cobblers are probably my second most-favorite dessert. I like to call them rustic American food, because I think the early colonial settlers must have eaten lots of them.
``Cobblers and crisps are among the simplest, most direct sweets - little more than fruit with a crust or fruit with a crumble topping. If there's any secret to making cobblers it's simplicity,'' he explains.
``Years ago I tried to make a blackberry cobbler for the first time in an effort to re-create the elusive flavor I recalled so vividly from my childhood,'' Bailey continues.
``By a process of trial and disappointment, it took me a long time to get around to leaving out everything except the fruit, butter, and sugar.
``It was finally Edna Lewis who made me see the light,'' he says, referring to the well-known American chef and food consultant. ``When I followed her cobbler recipe, it tasted just like the ones I grew up with. So do yourself a favor if you like cobblers. Stick to a few ingredients. If a fruit cobbler recipe has more than three ingredients, it's wrong.
``It should be very simple, with lots of fresh berries. I like blueberries and blackberries best, and I like Edna Lewis's trick of sprinkling crushed sugar cubes on top.
``I think there's tremendous confusion among people who cook at home. They try to cook restaurant food, and usually a chef's recipes are so labor intensive they just aren't practical.''
Bailey's books are beautiful picture books and at first glance might appear to have an emphasis on style. But when this man says simplicity, he does mean it. His recipes are very plain, and the photos (by Joshua Greene), although smashing, are of honest, real food.
``So many cookbooks today are not about food - they're about photography,'' he says.
But the photos of Bailey's recipes indicate that he's a realist when it comes to his home-cooked food.
The cakes and pies in his books are photographed exactly as they come out of the oven. Look closely, and you might see that some are a bit browner on one side than the other and not always symmetrical.
``I don't see food as art - in a restaurant that's OK. It's special, often like theater. But at home it's different. The food should be simple and freshly made and wonderful.
``People are eating more desserts, today. It seems contradictory, because people are so concerned about fitness, but perhaps it's more sensible in a way. Desserts today are a kind of reward for those who try to avoid sweets except for special occasions.''
Bailey is the also the author of ``Lee Bailey's Country Weekends'' and ``Lee Bailey's City Food,'' as well as ``Lee Bailey's Country Flowers.''
Blowout Cookies 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup chunky-style peanut butter, at room temperature 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 large egg 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup milk 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips 3/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts 3/4 cup coarsely chopped frozen miniature peanut butter cups (about 12)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Beat peanut butter and butter together until fluffy. Add sugars and beat until light and smooth.
Then add egg and beat about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and mix well.
Stir in flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Sprinkle milk over mixture and beat to soften dough.
Fold in chocolate chips and peanuts, then carefully add chopped peanut butter cups.
Drop in 2-tablespoon clumps onto ungreased cookie sheet. Leave enough space between them so they can expand slightly (about 1 inch).
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just browned. Do not overbake or cookies will be too dry. Remove with spatula to cooling rack.
Repeat with remaining batter until used up.
Makes about 30 cookies. Blackberry Cobbler
During blackberry season I always pick extras to freeze so I can have at least an approximation of this, my favorite of all cobblers, after fresh berries are gone. Admittedly, it is not as tasty when made with frozen berries, but in the dead of winter, it comes close enough.
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt 5 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, frozen 1/4 cup (1/2 stick unsalted butter, frozen 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water 6 cups fresh blackberries, washed and drained 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into bits Sugar for sprinkling, or crushed sugar cubes Whipped cream or ice cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Have ready a 9-inch round ovenproof dish that is 2 or more inches deep.
Combine flour, salt, and frozen shortening, and butter in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
Process until mixture is rough textured. Add water slowly, and process until dough begins to cling together.
Gather into a ball and place between two sheets of wax paper, flattening ball slightly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll dough out on floured surface into a large, ragged circle about 15 inches in diameter. Then roll circle up onto rolling pin, window-shade fashion.
Unroll crust over baking dish and line bottom and sides, allowing excess crust to drape over the edge. Mound berries in the middle, sprinkle with sugar, and dot with butter pieces.
Bring pastry crust up over berries. It will not quite cover fruit, but use any pieces that have fallen off to patch.
Sprinkle top of dough with a little more sugar or, like Edna Lewis, sprinkle crushed sugar cubes on top.
Bake 45 minutes, or until crust is brown and filling bubbling. Serve 6 to 8, with whipped cream or ice cream.
Lemon Meringue Pie
Jim Fobel came up with this recipe, and of all the versions I have tried and eaten over the years, this is the very best. It's hard to improve on something that is so good to begin with, but he has.
Pastry 1 1/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in thin slices 1/4 cup lard or solid vegetable shortening 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 3 tablespoons ice water
Filling and Meringue 1 1/2 cups superfine sugar 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature, plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 2 cups cold water 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 5 equal pieces
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter, lard, and zest until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Sprinkle on ice water and toss with a fork to blend. Gather dough into a ball. If excess flour remains, add a few drops more ice water. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.
To assemble pie, preheat over to 425 degrees. Roll out pastry into a 12-inch circle. Fit into a 9-inch pie pan, and fold edge under. Crimp.
Line pastry shell with a sheet of foil and fill with dried beans or aluminum pie weights.
Set pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, until the edge is set. Remove weights and foil.
Return shell to the oven for about 5 minutes, until bottom is firm and light golden. If bottom should bubble up, tap it lightly with a spoon. Let crust cool on a rack to room temperature.
Make the filling in a large, heavy saucepan. Combine 1 cup of the sugar, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 egg yolks, and lemon juice.
Add 2 cups cold water and whisk until blended. Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute, then remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and butter.
Stir until butter is completely melted.
Pour mixture into pie shell, cover with a round of wax paper pressed directly on surface, and let cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine 5 egg whites and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Beat until soft peaks form. Then gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form.
Remove wax paper from top of filling and pile on meringue. Spread to slightly overlap and seal fluted edges of crust. (This seal is important. If meringue does not overlap, it will shrink inward over filling.) If desired, make decorative swirls with back of a spoon.
Bake in center of oven until top is pale golden, about 10 minutes.
Cool to room temperature on a rack, then refrigerate until just chilled and set, about 2 hours. Slice with a sharp knife dipped in hot water. Serves 8 to 10.
Peppermint Candy Ice Cream 2 cups half-and-half 3 1/2 ounces red-and-white-striped peppermint candies, crushed until fine with a hammer or rolling pin 1/2 cup superfine sugar
Scald half-and-half in a large saucepan over medium heat, then remove from heat.
While still hot, add candy and sugar. Stir until candy and sugar are dissolved. Allow to cool; then chill.
Pour mixture into an ice-cream maker and freeze until firm according to manufacturer's directions.
Makes about 1 1/2 pints.