Have you ever thought about why cake is synonymous with birthday parties? Wondered why we all jam those little stubs of wax deep down into the frosting, light the wicks, make a wish and blow them out before we eat the cake?
Jessie Oleson Moore, otherwise known as Cakespy, has. She explores the history and folklore behind many of our favorite desserts in her new book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods. One of her favorite stories is about the sticky sweet, German Chocolate Cake.
"No, it is not named after the country Germany. It is actually named after Sam German, who is the inventor of German's Sweet Baker's Chocolate. He invented this type of chocolate, but it wasn't until about 100 years later that this cake came to be. It was called German's Chocolate Cake, but as time went on the possessive was dropped. So now it's called German Chocolate Cake." "
Jessie, who recently moved away from Seattle, unearths stories about classic desserts like Carrot Cake and gingerbread men to more modern, processed favorites like animal crackers, Oreos and the Pop Tart.
"They are so interesting! One of the things that I thought was really funny about them, is that the packing for Pop Tarts, you know that signature, foily, crinkly, packaging? It was originally invented as a way to store moist dog food. Who knows how it got adopted by the Pop Tart but it's really a big part of the experience now."
She says doughnuts show up in some form in nearly every culture, and even Native Americans made a version.
"It was from the Smithsonian Magazine that there were fossilized, what appeared to be, doughnut confections found in long ago campgrounds."
Each story is served up alongside a recipe, including one for the only chocolate chip cookies I ever bake. She calls them Urban Legend cookies.
"A woman and her daughter were dining at Neiman Marcus' restaurant. They were very impressed with a cookie they were served so they ask for the recipe. They are informed that it comes with a charge of two-fifty and they're like, "Oh, two dollars and fifty cents? Put it on the bill.' When they receive the bill it's actually $250. So in a state of outage this woman decides no one will ever pay for this cookie recipe again and she shares it, chain letter style. So it's been called the Revenge Cookie, the Neiman Marcus cookie."
Jessie reminds readers that this is not a dessert text book. When it comes to food and recipes, the history is always up for reinterpretation.
"So many of these stories, it's kind of like playing telephone. At a certain point, you're not sure what's true, what's not. But, gosh, it makes a good story."
Here's the recipe for those delicious Neiman Marcus cookies:
Yield: 96 cookies
2 cups butter
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
5 cups blended oatmeal
24 ounces chocolate chips
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 (8 ounce) Hershey Bars (grated)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups chopped nuts (your choice)
Measure oatmeal and blend in a blender to a fine powder. Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and soda. Add chocolate chips, grated Hershey Bar and nuts. Roll into 1 inch balls and place 2-inches apart on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes at 375° or until golden.
I usually halve this recipe, or roll the extra dough into logs and freeze them. Then you can cut off slices and bake a cookie or three when the mood strikes.