Those of you who read the last amazing issue of Mixed Mag (props!) will quite possibly recognize this as an appendix to my piece “Why I Will Never Throw Away My Vintage Cookbooks,” where I, ambitiously, discussed making one or more of the recipes found in one of my cherished (yet oft forgotten) vintage cookbooks.
Time is often our enemy when it comes to the kitchen—especially when it comes to recreating recipes from the past that don’t necessarily align with our contemporary nutritional needs (to put it mildly). And when you start to dig a little deeper into many of these recipes, you begin to realize it’s not merely an issue of nutrition—our collective tastes have changed over time, and to the modern reader, many of these recipes sound, to quote my partner, “disgusting.” (To be fair, I was trying to get him to consume a casserole featuring some slightly dubious ingredients, such as a jar of chipped beef and 1/2 cup of “salad olives,” so perhaps his assessment wasn’t too harsh.)
While this may be true to a certain extent—after all, who wants to cook with crisco, butter, and bacon fat?—I think it is somewhat unfair to judge these books by their covers; like any literary genre, cookbooks can run the gamut from timeless classics to niche content once adored and now abhorred (and everything in between). In fact, I argue that the appeal of these vintage beauties lie mainly in their historic and aesthetic value: they are snapshots of culinary history, whether on a grand scale a la Julia Child (timeless) or via a smaller, community outlet a la Lehigh Valley Couturiere Society What’s Cooking 1979 (niche).
Either way, these cookbooks offer us a glimpse into a bygone past; a taste of yesterday; a spoonful of ago (often with a side of extra butter).
As I began a deep dive into some of the masterpieces mentioned in the last issue, I naturally set my sights toward desserts. Perhaps the easiest recipes overall to translate to a modern audience, desserts quite frequently require very little tinkering to appeal to a modern palate. Eggs, sugar, chocolate, salt, butter, and sometimes milk; the backbone of the dessert world, the MVPs of “sweet stuff” for centuries. And yes, while we now have substitutes for most of these that are still high on flavor and allow both those with food allergies or intolerances and/or those seeking healthier/environmentally conscious alternatives to skip the classics—if you can, stick with the basics (at least for this recipe). After all, there’s a reason they’ve stood the test of time.
Here, I’ve opted to go with a classic chocolate pinwheel; a deceptively simple yet oh-so delicious grown-up cookie. No substitutions (I even splurged for regular milk even though I usually go with oat) and used all-purpose flour, though I usually use a combo of whole wheat/all-purpose for most of my baked goods. The only change is that I halved the recipe as the original makes 5 dozen(!) pinwheels. Below is the recipe as written (NOT halved), complete with instructions (slightly modified for clarity). Keep in mind this recipe does require chilling, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time—and for insider tips, be sure to consult the notes below before getting started so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Bon appétit and happy baking!
Recipe courtesy of Baker’s Favorite Chocolate Recipes: A Handbook of Chocolate Cookery (1950)
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or other shortening (softened) *I used unsalted butter though the recipe did not specify
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 square Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate (melted)
*this can be done in microwave or in double boiler, as I don’t have a microwave, I opted for DB
**as per the cookbook: recipes which call for “a square” of chocolate mean an unbroken full ounce
In medium bowl, add baking powder and salt to sifted flour, sift again and set aside. In the bowl of kitchen mixer cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and milk; continue to beat well until blended.
Next, add flour in small amounts, mixing well after each addition. Divide dough into two separate (yet equal!) parts. To one part, add the chocolate and blend. Wrap dough halves in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to roll.
Roll each half of dough on floured wax paper into a rectangular sheet approximately 1/8 inch thick (chill again briefly, if necessary). Place plain dough sheet over chocolate dough sheet, and roll as for jelly roll. Chill until firm enough to slice, up to overnight (see notes).
Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove dough from fridge and place on wax paper. Slice into 1/8-inch slices, and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until done (more on this below).
- Definitely use wax paper—I was out and didn’t have time to go get some; I used parchment paper instead with mixed results.
- I chilled the dough halves for over two hours before rolling, and the dough was still slightly less firm than I would have liked.
- Time permitting, I would recommend chilling the dough once more after rolling it out, as the dough is tougher to roll (and stickier!) as it comes up to room temp.
- For the final chill, I put the dough in the freezer for about 2.5 hours because I wanted to make them the same day—plus it was sunny and in the 70s and I had to get outside! This made the log super easy to cut into petite lil wheels.
- The cookbook recommended a 10 minute bake time—mine took about 11 minutes and they were fresh out of the freezer. I knew they were done because they were golden on the bottom and had puffed up nicely. I would suggest an 8-10 minute bake time, depending on your oven.
- Despite my best efforts to cut these as thinly as possible, I still only got 16 cookies (shrug). Either way, I’m happy with the results, as they are super cute and the perfect amount for two people. Not bad for an over 70 year old recipe with no pictures, no tutorials, and no helpful online hints! 🙂