Historic Recipe of the Month: Chocolate Macaroons
February is upon us – the shortest month, although in Michigan it seems long and cold. Valentine’s Day, however, breaks the month neatly in the middle, and cheers us up with its signature food: chocolate. There’s a long fascinating history of how chocolate came to be identified with love, seduction, and indulgence, from the perquisite of Aztec royalty, through the fashionable European beverage Dickens used to symbolize aristocratic excess, all the way to that heart-shaped box you may be thinking of buying.
The first chocolate cake recipe in an American cookbook (as far as we know) is from 1847, The Ladies Receipt Book, by Eliza Leslie, but it seems to be an isolated instance. Brownies start to show up in American cookbooks in the ‘teens and ‘twenties, and that American classic, the Chocolate Chip Cookie, was invented by Ruth Wakefield at her Toll House Inn sometime in the 1930’s.
Historic American recipes for chocolate baked goods are much less intense than modern ones. Flourless chocolate cakes and dessert names like “Death by Chocolate” are a relatively recent development.19th and early 20th century American recipes for chocolate cakes and cookies are quite mild. Moreover, “Chocolate Cake” sometimes means a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.
This month’s recipe, from Emma Frances Voris’ New Columbian White House Cookery, ca.1893, originally called for just three ounces of chocolate to a pound of sugar. Leslie’s book has a recipe for “Chocolate Puffs” with even less chocolate.
Ca. 1893 recipe
Put 3 ounces of plain chocolate in a pan and melt on a slow fire; then work to a thick paste with 1 pound of powdered sugar and the whites of 3 eggs; roll the mixture down to the thickness of about one-quarter of an inch; cut it in small, round pieces with a paste cutter, either plain or scalloped; butter a pan slightly, and dust it with flour and sugar in equal quantities; place the pieces of paste or mixture, and bake in a hot but not too quick oven.
I increased the amount of chocolate in these, because I found the original proportions tooth-achingly sweet.
4oz unsweetened chocolate
1 lb. powdered sugar (~3 3/4 c before sifting)
3 egg whites, from large eggs
Preheat oven to 375°
Grease cookie sheets and sprinkle lightly with equal amounts of flour and granulated sugar.
Melt the chocolate in a large bowl over hot water
Beat the egg whites just enough to break them up
Let chocolate cool briefly and beat in egg whites
Sift powdered sugar, and beat it into the chocolate mixture to form a soft dough.
Form balls of dough 1 1/2t each. (A 1 1/2t scoop is perfect for these.)
Place on prepared cookie sheet, leaving 1 ½” between cookies.
Bake 11 minutes until puffed and set.
Let cool on baking sheets before depanning.
Makes about 75 cookies
For something more like the original, use only 3 ounces of chocolate, roll the dough out on powdered sugar ¼ “ thick, and cut with a 1 ½” or 2” cutter.