Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Challenge: History Detective

The Recipe: Cinderellas or German Puffs From Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery

Sift half a pound of the finest flour. Cut up in a quart of rich milk, half a pound of fresh butter, and set it on the stove, or near the fire, till it has melted. Beat eight eggs very light, and stir them gradually into the milk and butter, alternately with the flour. Add a powdered nutmeg, and a tea-spoonful of' powdered cinnamon. Mix 'the whole very well to a fine smooth batter, in which there, must be no lumps. Butter some large common tea-cups, and divide the mixture among them till they are half full or a little more. Set them immediately in a quick oven, and bake them about a quarter of an hour. When done, turn them out into a dish, and grate white sugar over them. Serve them up hot, with a sauce of sweetened cream flavoured with wine and nutmeg; or you may eat them with molasses and butter; or with sugar and wine. Send, them round whole, for they will fall almost as soon as cut.

The mystery I hoped to solve regarded the name: why "German" puffs or for that matter, Cinderellas?

The Date/Year and Region: 1851, United States

How Did You Make It: 

Putting this together was fairly straightforward, as all the ingredients were normal pantry items.

What took the longest was grating the cinnamon - yes, I have grated cinnamon in the cabinet, but I was trying to keep this period, and fresh is better anyway.

All my teacups are antique, and I wasn't willing to put them in the oven, so I substituted 6 oz ramekins. I wasn't really sure what constituted a "quick" oven, so started at 375; after 15 minutes they were no where close to done, so I increased the temperature to 400 and they cooked for another 15 minutes.

Aren't they pretty?

And then they fell, immediately upon being removed from the ramekins!

Time to Complete: 

About 45 minutes, as I said previously, these were very easy to put together. They would have baked more quickly had I started with a higher temperature oven.

Total Cost:

Probably less than $2.00, I had all the ingredients on hand.

How Successful Was It?: 

I chose to serve these with the sweetened cream and nutmeg option; they were quite good, not the super-sweet typical dessert of today, but very pleasant and not as rich as might be expected given all the butter and eggs.

From a flavor and ease of making standpoint, these were a success. From the standpoint of solving the mystery of the names - FAILURE!

I found versions of this receipt in a number of different published cookbooks, over quite a range of time; the earliest was 1837, the latest 1896. All were remarkably similar.

These are obviously what would typically be called a popover today, but all the references I found consider popovers to be an American version of Yorkshire pudding and similar batter puddings made in England since the 17th century.

The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink does have a reference for Cinderellas, defining then as a muffin flavored with wine or sherry and nutmeg and claims the name derives from the muffin;s "fancy" appearance as Cinderella transformed from a servant girl to a princess - these don't look especially "fancy" to me!.

I am inclined to believe these derive from the traditional baked German pancakes or as they are commonly called today "Dutch babies", but I wasn't able to definitively confirm this.

How Accurate Is It?: 

All ingredients purchased at a conventional grocery store and baked in a modern electric oven.

I did cut the recipe in half, as I only had 4 eggs. It was just as well, as this made 6 good sized popovers and there are only two of us in the house.

I'm fairly certain that the wine for the sweetened cream should have been a sherry or Madeira, however, I did not have either, so I substituted a bit of apple ice wine.

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