Category Archives: history

Pastry Post Doc: Fa Gao for Chinese New Year

chinaSaturday is Chinese New Year – kicking off the year of the horse! Chinese Fa Gao 发糕 aka “Prosperity Cake” is a delicious part of Chinese New Year festivities, and is said to bring good luck. So what makes this cake so “prosperous?” Turns out wordplay is part of it – “fa” means both “prosperity” and “raised.” The recipe for Fa Gao is super simple – and consists of not much more than sugar, rice flour, water and baking soda (hence the “raised”). The rice flour imparts a a more sticky, dense texture, which comes through during the steaming. The individually-sized cakes, baked in cupcake tins, have a distinctive split at the top. Even if they are not flavored, the cakes are often dyed in bright colors for the festive holiday. Check out the Fa Gao recipes from Kirbie Cravings, Random Cuisine and Yes to Cooking to add to your Lunar new Year Table.

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Fa Gao / Huat Kueh by Tobym

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Marcus Samuelsson’s recreation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Meal That Never Was

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In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Chef Marcus Samuelsson will attempt to recreate a meal that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to have on the day he was assassinated. On April 4, 1968, MLK had planned to have dinner with Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles in Memphis. The dinner, to be prepared by women in Kyles’ congregation, included Southern favorites like fried chicken, ham, sweet potatoes, and sweet potato pie, and was later known as “The meal that never was.” Today at his restaurant in Harlem, Red Rooster, Samuelsson will pay tribute to MLK with a meal based on that menu.

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Make America Cake Again with Election Cake

USA-flagToday is election day in the US, and while the eaters voted early in Ohio last week, it has still been a stressful day watching the news and the polls. I think we, and anyone else who voted, deserves some cake – maybe even some “Election Cake.” Though it has been out of fashion for over a century, Election Cake used to be an election day staple. Election Cake represented the most popular flavors of the time: it  is a leavened sourdough cake with molasses, cinnamon, dried fruit and nuts. In the past, when people actually had to travel distance to the polls, election day was something of a celebratory affair.  The election cake hails from a time before refrigeration, and when this type of stable cake would be necessary to last through a long day at the polls and the celebration after.

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Nourished Kitchen has a great Election Cake recipe (pictured above). But if you want to get a little more historical, here’s a recipe from the Washington Post from 1796. This was long before women could vote, so making these kinds of cakes was one way to participate in the electoral process. Election Cakes are making a comeback thanks in part to Old World Levain Bakery, in Asheville, N.C., who started the “Make America Cake Again” project, encouraging knowledge of historical cakes, and encouraging bakeries to sell Election Cakes and donate the proceeds to the League of Women Voters. You can check out more recipes on the OWL page, and to see if there is a bakery selling Election Cakes near you.

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The history of Chow Mein in Calcutta

chinaIndia FlagThis fascinating Telegraph India article weaves the long and winding history of Chinese Chow Mein noodles in Calcutta (seen below), which was first popularized in Calcutta’s Chinatown and has now become one of the city’s most iconic and popular street foods. If you don’t have a trip to India in your future, here is a recipe for Indian-style chow mein.

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The Mexican Roots of Modica Chocolate

Mexico FlagItalyThe story of Modica chocolate is one of our favorites, and we are looking forward to bringing it to you in advance of of the most visible Mexican holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo. So we know that chocolate is a new-world creation, and was popular among Aztecs (where it was known as Xocoàtl) for centuries. So now that chocolate has spread the whole world over, where can you still find the most traditional Aztec recipes? Sicily! No, I am not joking. It turns out that Sicily, conquered many times over, was under Spanish rule while the Spanish were also colonizing the new world, and these colonizers brought back the Aztec recipes for chocolate to Sicily. These traditional recipes are still made in certain parts of Sicily today with nothing but cacao, sugar and (maybe) spices.ModicaChoc

The process of making the chocolate by grinding it on a metate (as it was originally in Mexico) imparts a pleasantly gritty, natural texture to the chocolate, which is delicious and completely unique. A historical and picturesque Sicilian town in the province of Ragusa, Modica, is known for its expertise in all things chocolate, and is home to several longstanding chocolate shops producing chocolate the traditional Aztec way, which has become known in Italy as “Modica Chocolate.”AnticaBonajutoOn our trip to Sicily, we took a visit to Modica to see this piece of chocolate history for ourselves, and stopped at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy), one of the more famous chocolatiers, in operation since 1880. This shop in particular is known for their wide variety of Modica chocolates made on the premises. The chocolate bars here come in almost every cacao percentage, plus unique flavors like lime, marjoram, almond and orange peel. Fortunately they let you sample, so we were happy to taste a bunch of varieties before we arrive on our two favorite picks: sea salt and hot chili.ADBCannoliWhile you can find good traditional Mexican chocolate in Oaxaca and other places in Mexico itself, what Sicily has to offer is on par with these treats. And truth to be told – we could see that this chocolate and that found in Oaxaca were cousins, maybe even siblings. If you are unable to visit Modica itself, you can get the Modica-made Sabadi chocolate bars at Eataly. P.S. If you visit the Bonajuto shop they also have the best cannoli ever!

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Louis Armstrong: Red Beans and Rice-ly yours

NOLAFlagWe are going to New Orleans at the end of this week, one of our favorite food destinations! To prep for our journey we’ve been doing a lot of of research into what food we want to eat, and what music we want to hear (answer: EVERYTHING). Appropriately, we unearthed a food story at the junction of food and music that involves one of New Orleans’ favorite sons, Louis Armstrong. It turns out that along with being the lauded musicians that he was, Louis Armstrong was a major foodie. In fact, he often signed his letters, “Red Beans and Rice-ly yours,” after his favorite dish. In 1971, Louis Armstrong gave one of his final performances, which was then released as an album, also called Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours  with a booklet of his favorite recipes. The rare album has been recently reissued with recipes intact: red beans and rice and all.

RedBeansandRicelyRed beans and rice have long been an iconic part of New Orleans cuisine, and every cook makes them a different way, though ham hocks and the holy trinity of onion, celery and bell peppers are the traditional flavorings. NPR details Armstrong’s international food adventures, including finding the only Chinese restaurant in Nairobi, and also provides and transcribes his original, personal recipe for red beans and rice, which you can see below. It turns out the Armstrong isn’t the only one musician who loved Red Beans and Rice, other New Orleans musicians and residents have adopted the dish as their favorite meal to share for yearsRedBeansandRice.jpg

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