My grandmother cooked professionally. I may have mentioned this before on these pages. She was not the "trained in culinary school" type of cook, she was a professional in the sense that a poor woman would be paid to cook in the home of a wealthy woman. As part of the whole "American Dream" experience for my family (a belated American dream perhaps as my ancestors were in America before the War for Independence) she cooked for many years in the home of the president of the university from which my brother and I obtained our undergraduate degrees.
But as I have also said before, there are cooks and there are bakers and my grandmother was most definitely a baker. Curiously, she never baked bread during the time that I knew her. She may have spent her youth churning the stuff out and by the time I was inhabiting the planet she was pretty enthusiastic about the stuff that she could buy from the bread man. Interestingly, though, she did a lot of work with the 4-H and county extension office and was a well known judge for bread. In fact, when I was just a kid, every bread attempt I made was subjected to her expert judging. (I've discussed this with the doctors at "The Place" and they feel this explains a lot of things.) I always appreciated it.
She was a stickler for measuring ingredients. I have a perfectly clear memory of making a simple frosting with her and she poured in a "smidge" of vanilla directly from the bottle. She warned me quite sternly that I was NOT to do that until I was as old as she. I am now that old.
She also was the kind of person who enjoyed writing recipes. She wrote them to the very best of her ability to the standards of the day (at least the standards for writers for home cooks) so as my exploration of old recipes continues I realized that I had some long neglected recipes written by the very best source of all. No "butter the size of an egg" or "handful of flour" for her - these were all written with precise volumetric measurements and instructions that anyone with a reasonable grasp of basic baking skills could follow. The apple didn't fall from tree, eh? I cannot calculate a baker's percentage without wondering what she would think of the kid now. She enjoyed learning new things and I'm sure she would have embraced the whole thing as eagerly as I.
When I retired her mixer (which is almost as old as my mother and which is still carefully stored in my house) about 20 years ago to buy the Kitchen Aide I couldn't help but think that she would have been pleased that I could go out and buy whatever mixer I wanted. I wonder what she would think of My Precioussss (which is the only mixer I have owned that can tackle her "Brown Christmas Cookie" dough) - I bet she would have gotten a big kick out of it.
While "my teacher" is the voice in my head, she is the beat of my baking heart.
She died too young - a victim of the lingering effects of bovine tuberculosis. She never saw my brother or me graduate from that university whose president she fed. So all of you who judge me harsh when people speak with near religious fervor of the goodness of un pasteurized milk must grant me some leeway. You now know what that stuff cost me.
So I present one of her yeast based recipes. With volume measurements and no fancy modern techniques. As she wrote it.
I'll give a warning though, this is real Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and has been condemned by the American Heart Association. But it is good...
Moravian Sugar Cake
2 pkgs. Active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 F. to 115 F.)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (well beaten)
1 ½ cups melted butter (use ½ cup for top of cake)
1 cup hot mashed potatoes
5 to 6 cups sifted flour
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon (more or less)
Soften yeast in the warm water (my note: see, she even knew that you didn't need to "proof" the yeast - just dissolve it - remind you of anyone?), let stand 5 or 10 min. Mix together the sugar, salt, eggs and 1 cup of the melted butter. Gradually beat in the mashed potatoes, add 1 cup of the flour, beat until smooth. Stir in the yeast and beat enough of the remaining flour to form a light dough. Cover. Let rise in a warm place until doubled. About 2 hours. Divide dough into 3 portions and press evenly into 3 9-inch square pans. Cover, let rise until doubled. Make indentations about 1 inch apart in dough in each pan and spoon sugar mixture into each depression. Drizzle remaining ½ cup butter over top of dough. Bake at 350 F. for about 20 minutes.
The picture below shows the finished cake. They do have a sort of "craters on the moon" look (which is how they are supposed to look.) They taste best if one makes sure to get that extra butter in the holes filled with sugar.
The pans that I baked in were my grandmother's - still doing yeoman's work in my kitchen.