Flora’s Fudge

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Disney Characters in the Kitchen:  Revisiting A Childhood Recipe

The Fantasy Behind Flora’s Fudge:  Almost As Easy As Magic  (SEE FOLLOW UP NOTE AT BOTTOM OF THIS POST)

I have spent decades yearning for a slice of fudge.  Not just any fudge.  I’ve wanted a hunka hunka burnin’ chocolate nut fudge that I made as a child on a snowy afternoon with my father and sister.  But the recipe was parts unknown, and I only held a faded memory of the comical source of that wondrous fudge recipe.

It was 1959, and I was in a dream world having just seen Disney’s now classic animated film, Sleeping Beauty.  This obsession with medieval castles, a trio of fairy godmothers, and a prince of my own would eventually be eclipsed by a different Disney obsession with Peter Pan, the pirate-loving fella who could fly and preferred to hang out on an island with a team of really cool and furry friends. (I never understood that simpering Wendy.)

At about the same time that I was encountering these Disney role models, I became enamored with cooking with my father.  He loved to cook, and it was obvious in his joy over the stove when he boiled shrimp and stirred cocktail sauce to go with his highballs, much to my mother’s chagrin.  There were his amazing pancakes, eggs, bacon, and all manner of breakfast food.  “I could eat breakfast every meal,” he said.  And sometimes we did.  Having grown up in and around his parents’ bakery and then general store, Daddy was full of food stories about loading and butchering meat, stealing from the pickle barrel, and (my favorite) filling jelly donuts.

Sunday mornings we picked up the newspaper at the local journal joint on Pleasant Street.  The owner was a big cigar smoker and looked like a villain straight from Marvel comics, which he sold racks of.  I liked looking at the comic books (which oddly were displayed near all the dirty magazines). There, that Sunday, in the more PG of the spinning racks, I saw a shiny comic depicting Sleeping Beauty’s own private team of wish-grantors– those  pink, blue, and green Fairy Godmothers.  This comic book was our Sunday morning treat, and soon my sister and I lapped up all the silly adventures of the winged and glittering Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  But the added joy was on the back page of the issue where we discovered a recipe, written in a rebus code, called “Flora’s Fudge.”

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That afternoon, we convinced our father to create what was sure to be a magical confection in our own kitchen. We decoded the recipe together and followed the directions. It was made in a saucepan, and the comic book image of the pot showed a small saucepan shaped like one we owned. For years, every time we made the fudge, about halfway through the recipe, we transferred the melted base into a mixing bowl to add all the confectioner’s sugar and chopped nuts. Within moments of adding the sugar, and nuts, the fudge became impossible to stir.

Of course, I believed, it never would have been a problem for Flora, the fairy godmother.  All she needed was a flick of her magic wand to transform the ingredients into fabulous fudge. Only our father’s brute force could maneuver the spatula enough to combine the ingredients, and I remember looking forward to and giggling at the funny faces he made in the effort. Our father was great in a pinch.

What follows is the exact recipe for Flora’s Fudge from the vintage comic.  After 50 years of wondering, and a few wild goose chases, I finally tracked down the very comic of my youth on e-Bay. I mistakenly had been hunting for the Sleeping Beauty comic and not The Fairy Godmothers issue. 

Even though I found a posting of the recipe itself on-line, it would not do. I had to have that illustrated rebus in my hands. I had to know if it was really as good and still as hard to stir as I remembered. My imagined solution, then, is to begin with a larger pot to accommodate all the powdered sugar, keep it on the burner at low, and see if this makes a difference in the effort required to combine all the ingredients;

Let’s test my hypothesis.  

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The Process:

All ingredients assembled. Chocolate selected was 100% Cacao unsweetened chocolate bar by Hershey.

Then I thought that a deep, non-stick  soup pot was a sure bet for handling the large amount of sugar and would prevent any chance of burning. I actually had a roll of wax paper on hand– shades of the fifties when mom wrapped my sandwiches with it for school lunch.

Butter and chocolate melted nicely,  Some panic set in when adding the egg right into the pot– what if it scrambled?  Use a whisk and then spatula and take it off the heat for a moment when adding the egg. Then add vanilla. The liquids kept the mass moving easily.

Then it was time for half of the confectioner’s sugar–  things started to seize up and turn to oatmeal consistency.  A continuous mixing seemed to soften the combination, and it accepted the nuts easily.

Adding the second half of the sugar required patient stirring for it to combine , but the stirring was not sticky or stiff as I remember it.  Everything was sliding around the pan nicely…

So it was time to dump it into the glass dish and ready it for the fridge.

It had only a moderate sheen and did not stick to together the way I remembered it. It came out rather grainy.  Why…..?  In retrospect, I made errors:

1)  I am not sure I would use the same unsweetened chocolate I did.  It was Hersheys.  I chose it because it seemed like what we might have used then, but next time I will try Bakers Chocolate.  It just seemed to not have enough fat or cocoa butter in it.

2) I will not use a non-stick pan. I’m going for my mom’s old Revere Ware. The non-stick pot never seemed to heat up correctly on the sides, it was too wide, and it may have created sugar crystals. I beat the fudge before it cooled sufficiently which affected the crystals.

(So, what we did long ago with my father when we transferred the hot mess to a mixing bowl to add the sugar may have been the right step to take in retrospect.)

3)  I think that I stirred the butter too much. It should just melt into the chocolate on its own to avoid separating the water and fat in it.

The fudge tasted fabulous, but the mouth feel was definitely off.  Why don’t some of you give it a try out there?  OTK would love to know how fabulous was your version of Flora’s Fudge?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FOLLOW UP NOTE:

So 24 hours later, I can say that this first attempt at recreating Flora’s Fudge was a FLOP. But I have not given up and will revisit the recipe in the near future.

Readers out there who know about making candy or working with chocolate might offer up some good advice here. It would be appreciated.

And do let me know,  folks,  if you have tried it, too. The recipe is rather thin on directions, but then again, the comic artists at Disney in1959 were probably not chocolatiers– just Mousketeers.

MOUSEKETEERS6

The Mother of All Mixers: The Sunbeam Mixmaster

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The Mother of All Mixers: The Sunbeam Mixmaster

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     In 1950, my mother was a new housewife with no cooking experience but plenty of will to learn.  Rheta had been exiled from her own mother’s kitchen, never taught to cook. On the eve of her wedding, the story goes, my grandmother Lena’s remark to her was: ”You’re so smart? If you can read, you can cook. Go buy a book.”

My newlywed mother took her mother’s advice along with a wedding gift from my uncles and aunts–  the hottest, do-it-all appliance of the day–  the Sunbeam Mixmaster. In time, she would set up a tasteful pink and gray formica kitchen with a chubby Frigidaire and a pushbutton GE stove to complete the suite of modern appliances.  Her Mixmaster model was the Cadillac version, complete with all the bells and whistles.  Unfortunately, its bells hardly ever rang, and its whistles rarely blew.

“You now have the finest mixer ever made,” said the manual written by the Sunbeam Home Economics department. The accompanying booklet welcomed home cooks to their “family of nearly five million homemakers” who now were, as owners of this extravagant but necessary device, “saving time and arm-work, and enjoying more delicious foods.”  Claims that “the more you use it the more helpful it will become”  would fall flat in my mother’s kitchen.

In those days, my mom’s cooking repertoire was limited. “I was a creative cook,” she asserts today, decades after her Sunbeam Mixmaster was shoved into the back of a cupboard, first in her home and now in mine.  Her efforts in the kitchen consisted mostly of timid experimentation and moderate success with various jello “salads” and “molds”;  however, her one claim to fame among the Wayne Avenue mah jongg-ers was her Orange Chiffon Cake. And the Sunbeam Mixmaster was the reason why.

The Mixmaster’s design is distinctive.  It is streamlined like the fins on a 1950‘s cadillac, and if it had doors, they would close with the same solid Caddy clunk. It sports a grill like that of a Ford truck– and weighs about as much. Shaped like the fuselage of a WW II Spitfire, the old Sunbeam helped my mom to win the dogfight that she faced in the kitchen when it came to Orange Chiffon Cake. (See recipe below.)

With over fourteen pages in the owner’s guide dedicated to multiple attachments, the booklet reads like a plumber’s manual with illustrations of couplings, joints, screws, and washers. An auxiliary motor drives a meat grinder, food chopper, can opener; a potato peeler, juicer, drink mixer, a knife sharpener, and– I kid you not– a silver polisher and buffer. And did I forget the butter churner, bean slicer, and huller for peas?  The homemaker of the 1950’s obviously had lots of time on her hands to use her time-saving appliances.   A miniature hardware store, this entire collection of geegaws constituted an enormous amount of crap that took up space and was just more mechanical stuff to break.  But it was this cumbersome electric mixer which built my mother’s confidence as a baker. While everyone else’s version of chiffon cake was, according to my mom, wet on the bottom and weeping citrus goo as it collapsed upon slicing, hers remained tight, firm, and dry. ( Dry? That was good? )  It was the one thing that came out well in her Mixmaster, she said.

My mother most certainly never read the first cardinal rule of the Mixmaster manual on page four:   “Do not overbeat.”   Since “more is better” was always one of her key cooking principles, the secret to her “success” was clear. If the recipe called for beating eggs whites for 5 minutes, Rheta, I can assure you, with the help of her fancy Sputnik era machine, beat them longer–  well past the glossy-and-stiff stage into the dry-but-not-separated realm.  Then, with her over-folding and over-baking, the fate of the cake was sealed.  Her orange juice laced chiffon cake may have been springy and held its form, but the women in her mah jongg club were more than likely enjoying a tasteless and arid confection which induced immediate thirst.

Today, Rheta has become a much more sophisticated and skilled cook than she ever was as a mother and housewife, and I am proud of her knowledge and interest in good food. But she still has no use for an electric mixer.   At best, she was more of a social baker who took her turn baking for activities at the synagogue, and I do remember enjoying a good many boxed cakes she beat to death in that mixmaster in honor of each of our birthdays.  I have no memory of ever eating her Orange Chiffon cake.

Rheta’s  Mixmaster just celebrated its 64th birthday last week. I take it out from the bowels of my lower cupboards occasionally for a test drive and just for nostalgic reasons. The smell of the overheating electric motor and bakelite finish are both a memory of my youth and a clear indication that the mixer could use a good overhaul and oil change.  In my childhood, I was not allowed to ever use the mixer. I did sneak using it once to make brownies for my Girl Scout troop and ended up with globs of chocolate batter dotting the kitchen cupboards and ceiling. The strenuous clean up and panic of being found out pretty much cured me of my fascination with the mighty mixer. To this day, I prefer whisks, stainless steel bowls, and wooden spoons.

 Happy 64th Birthday to my mother’s Sunbeam Mixmaster!

I don’t even own a KitchenAid stand mixer, though I am tempted to purchase one as a symbol of my foodie status and as a colorful embellishment to my kitchen countertops. (I’ll take pistachio or a burnt orange, thank you.)

The Good Housekeeping Institute boasted in the Mixmaster manual that “…you can’t overwork the Automatic Mixmaster.”  My mother took to heart the advice of the Sunbeam company in her one and only baking achievement.

 ORANGE CHIFFON CAKE

 The following recipe is from about 1956.   While chiffon cakes first appeared in the late 20’s, they became all the rage in the 50’s. Recipes were passed around, and that’s where my mother got her recipe.

 The key to a successful chiffon cake is properly beaten egg whites and a correct ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. Baking in an aluminum tube pan in an even baking oven is also going to give the best result.

INGREDIENTS:

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ABOUT THE EGGS: IMPORTANT

–Separate the yolks form the whites while the eggs are still cold.

–Cover each bowl of yolks and whites with plastic wrap and bring to room temperature (about 30 minutes).

PREHEAT OVEN to 325º and PREPARE PAN, a 10” tube pan UNGREASED.

In your ELECTRIC MIXER:

–place flour, sugar minus 1/4 cup, baking powder, salt, and orange zest and combine.

–Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg yolks, oil, orange juice, and vanilla extract and beat until smooth (about a minute). Scrape the sides of the bowl during beating.

In a CLEAN, GREASE-FREE, SEPARATE BOWL in your ELECTRIC MIXER:

–Beat the egg whites until foamy. Then add the cream of tartar.

–Continue beating until soft peaks form.

–Beat in, gradually, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, until STIFF PEAKS form. (You should be able to invert the mixing bowl and the egg whites will not slip out).

–Then FOLD the beaten egg whites into the first batter gently using a LARGE RUBBER SPATULA.  Fold until just blended. Avoid deflating the batter.

POUR BATTER INTO THE UNGREASED TUBE PAN:

–Lightly drop the filled pan onto the counter to release air bubbles..

–Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean.The cake should spring back upon light compression.

–Remove cake from oven and cool UPSIDE DOWN. (You can suspend the pan on a bottle).

–Cake must COOL COMPLETELY before removing it from pan (1-1/2 hours).

After removing the cake from the pan using a spatula run along the edges, set it on a rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle an orange flavored glaze on top.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. 

Kitchen Forkup: Fermented Foods

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Kirsten Mortensen Says:

Okay, I’ll go!!!

Yesterday evening I threw out a gigantic pile of sliced cabbage that was supposed to have turned into sauerkraut . . . not sure what happened but after 10 days it still wasn’t sour . . . not even particularly acidic. I may have over-salted . . .

I admire your effort here, Kirsten. Eating fermented foods is getting a lot of praise recently: lactic acid-fermentation like this breaks down the carbohydrates in the cabbage and is supposed help digestion as well as fight cancer. And sauerkraut is loaded with nutrients, calcium being one of them. (Ladies– take note. Eat pickled cabbage for strong bones!)

This happened to me once with quarts and quarts of sour pickles. I had to toss most of my cucumber harvest. Heartbreaking. Why? I didn’t rinse/pat them dry after the salting stage– the long, kosher-salted slices must sit in a large bowl with a plate or weight on top and “weep” out their liquid, and I failed to rinse and dry.

So you may be right about too much salt. Or too much liquid. What kind of salt did you use? Kosher or pickling salt is really required.

Was this “raw” pickled sauerkraut, or the old traditional cooked recipe? Did you add whey? Pound it? Was it supposed to sit for 2 weeks, 3 days, or was this a quick preparation that was ready in a few hours? I’d love to see the recipe.

Moisture, amount of oxygen, and temperature are all important factors in determining the outcome. For a great scientific explanation of how sauerkraut ferments, see:
http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2012/05/15/the-science-behind-sauerkraut-fermentation/
(scroll down page)

Optimal Heat Source for Optimal Cooking: Gas or Electric?

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Home on the Range

Chef-friends and the clients for whom I cook have home kitchens which showcase heavy-duty cookstoves, stainless steel and copper-ornamented behemoths.  They dominate the kitchen landscape and are the altar where the culinary clergy worship in the apse of their high-end kitchen. Their owners tell amusing stories about the nightmare installation involved in building their cathedrals of cooking, making for great table talk, but my romance with professional gas stoves ended a long time ago.

When my sister moved into her arts and crafts manse, she inherited an enormous Wolf range with six large burners, a griddle, and extra large oven.  I fell in love with those red knobs and the clickety-click of lighting the blue flame, but soon held less affection for the required overhead vent– a monstrous and whirring dirt-attracting hurricane-inducing steel dynamo which still makes cooking there an unpleasant experience. Without fail, the smoke detector goes off, not from any smoke but from the shear heat output of simply boiling an egg, so the vent must always be used when cooking.   The stove complex keeps her kitchen uncomfortably warm all year, the griddle pilot light cannot be turned off so the griddle surface remains very warm to the touch, and this professional machinery does not even have a broiler.  Thoughts of removing the range and expert advice about doing so demanded a major de-construction and destruction of said stove just in order to get it out of the door. So she lives with it and has mastered its idiosyncrasies. It looks amazing in her large kitchen and never fails to impress as does her food.

Other reasons for my objection to such fancy fire sources are somewhat embarrassing, though logical: I am a bit of a neat freak.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do a lot of home cooking, experimenting in the kitchen and entertaining; I enjoy making big time messes on a regular basis as I cook with abandon and on the client’s clock.  But I accomplish all this on a flat-top ceramic electric model. (Please stop laughing now.) It comes with some nice bells and whistles, like a warming burner, convection oven, and more. When it comes to cleanup, I prefer a quick wipe of the sponge, a little scrubbage, and a few spritzes of Windex after which I can admire my reflection in the gleaming ceramic glass top.

I have no desire to pull apart heavy cast iron elements, to clean out blocked burners, or watch blackened grease build up on enamel and iron. When I had gas (usually in rented digs), I was constantly sniffing the air for leaks, fearing that I might blow myself up to smithereens out of carelessness or  set the house aflame while I was away for long periods of time. I burned up my share of paper towels and oven mitts as well as ruined pots and pans in the early stages of learning to cook with gas. I watched mice scurry in and out of the burners en route to their nests under the sink. So when I bought my own home and had to make a choice, I chose a sophisticated electric model and had the gas line to the kitchen removed.  Take that, mousies.

I know what they say: Electric heat is slower and less responsive. The direct heat of gas is best. You can’t cook with a wok on a flat-top. How can you char peppers? What about cast-iron skillets? Forget simmering at low temps on an electric stove!  The best chefs use gas.

To this I say pish-posh. These points can all be argued.  I admit, when storm Sandy hit the east coast, those lucky ducks with gas stoves still had a modicum of warmth and the ability to cook inside their homes.  But we are talking about the art of cooking here, not cataclysmic concerns.  Why is speed so important? Unless you are in an industrial restaurant kitchen setting, why should speed be at the top of the list.  If you want speed, use a microwave.

Here’s my workhorse. Oo-la-la? Hardly.

I also admit that working with the flame of a gas stovetop has a nice primitive feel to it. It’s fun to play with the flame’s intensity.  Bring out the marshmallows and peppers. Heck– why not a steak on a stick for that paleo vibe?  There is a great joy in messing about with a direct heat source.

In the end, heat is heat, and once understood on your personal cooking device, can be controlled optimally.  Learn to move pots and pans around.  Take the numeric settings on your stovetop seriously and learn what they really deliver. Facts of cost, safety, and cleanliness depend on the individual.  So why not try out different technologies throughout your cooking education?

I will always enjoy my charcoal Weber grill.  I now can cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner on a wood-burning cast iron stove circa 1908 that lives in a shed in my backyard.   And I will always prefer that iron monster to a high-end gas stove.  Go figure.

Oh, and did I mention the cooking elements of the future?  Induction? That’s right. A flat top burner that never feels hot to the touch due to the magnetic transference of energy directly to the pots and pans.  You can put a towel under the pans to catch the splattering grease.  Looks like the classic quandary may already be old hat.  Then again, induction might just require an entirely new suite of cooking vessels.  But that is another blog post.

–MELorden

So what do you all think?  Share your experience and knowledge by leaving a response (Just click on the brown postage stamp in the upper right hand corner of this post).

Which is the optimal heat source when it comes to cooking? Gas or electric?