Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hallie: Savoring soup dumplings and lost jelly donuts

HALLIE EPHRON: Happy Holidays, everyone!! This last week of the 2014, we're regifting! Each reprising a favorite blog from the days of yore. Lest auld should be forgot.

Here's mine... on food, of course.

HALLIE: Sharing my favorite foods is one of the guilty pleasures of writing. In THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, Evie Ferrante has my passion for Chinese soup dumplings. Evie's boyfriend (aka Mr. Wrong) is all about steak. Which, by the way, I also love, but given a choice between soup dumplings and steak? No contest.

When I eat at the aptly named Gourmet Chinese Dumpling House in Boston's Chinatown, I order rack of those succulent babies just for me. Anyone who encroaches on my share gets stabbed with a chopstick.

Often I find myself writing about fondly remembered foods -- the ones I can no longer get. In THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, it's jelly donuts. When Evie returns to the little the grocery store near the house in the Bronx where she grew up, she discovers that the kind of jelly donuts she remembers are still there...along with a man who could easily learn to love soup dumplings.

Sadly, my favorite jelly donuts have gone the way of the dodo. They came from a Van de Kamps next to the Thriftimart in Beverly Hills -- back when Van de Kamps was just a bakery and Beverly Hills was just an upscale neighborhood. 

In my memory, those jelly donuts were light, puffy, powdered sugar-coated cakes. Literally jam-packed, front to back, every bite risked spurting some of the filling out the other end. The filling was in a league of its own, thick and tangy and intensely raspberry -- not that pallid, sugary-sweet, gelatinous stuff that finds its way into jelly donuts these days. And there was none of that palate-coating greasy finish that today's donuts deliver.

Though I love to cook, I'd never attempt to make my own jelly donuts. I'm not good with yeast or deep fat. And forget soup dumplings.

Fortunately, I've discovered a great recipe for another gone-but-not-forgotten treat -- chewy, caramel-colored hazelnut biscotti that were once but are sadly no longer available at my local Italian bakery. This recipe is a close approximation.

Hazelnut Biscotti

3 c. whole hazelnuts (or almonds) (skin on)
1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 c. flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon
3 T soft unsalted butter
2 beaten eggs
2 T vanilla
1 beaten egg mixed with 1T water for egg wash

Preheat oven 350

1. Roast nuts
-In a single layer on a cookie tray in the oven - check after about 8 minutes but keep roasting until lightly browned and (if you are using hazelnuts) the skins are coming loose.
- Dump them onto a dish towel and roll them around to rub off most of the skins (if using almonds, leave the skins on).

2. Prepare dough
- Cream the butter with the white sugar in large mixing bowl.
- Add brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and blend.
- Add beaten eggs and vanilla and BEAT with mixer on low speed until dough holds together.
- This makes a VERY STICKY DOUGH.
  Fold in the nuts.
3. Make 2 logs of the dough
- Put dough on floured surface. Cut in half. Roll each piece into a log.
- Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and flatten slightly.
- Brush each log lightly with egg wash.

4. Bake 30 minutes OR until ***firm*** to the touch. (Go by touch, not time)

5. Remove from oven. Cut diagonally into biscotti. Turn each piece sideways (cut side up) and return to 300 degree oven to dry out and crisp--about five minutes.

My question: What are your "lost" food favorites, and have you been able to recreate them?

THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is the story of a young woman, Evie Ferrante, who reluctantly returns the house where she grew up on the waterfront in the Bronx in order to deal with the chaos left behind by her gravely ill, alcoholic mother. She renews a friendship with Mina Yetner, the 91-year-old woman who lives next door. Mina helps Evie figure out the meaning of her mother's last message: Don't let him in until I'm gone. And Evie helps Mina figure out whether she's losing her mind.


  1. When I was in high school we lived less than a mile from a doughnut shop that had only one kind of doughnut. They made the cake kind, using a machine that was right in front of the window, so you could watch the steaming hot circles of deliciousness falling off the belt. They iced them with either vanilla or chocolate buttercream, and they were fabulous.

    When I moved to this area when Steve and I got married, the local doughnut shop had almost the exact cake doughnuts. But they went out of business several years ago, and I can no longer eat such yummy treats, alas.

    You can keep your glazed doughnuts, and even the jelly-filled kind. Maybe they'll serve those lovelies in heaven. :-)

  2. Love that there used to be a Thiftymart in Beverly Hills....

  3. Lost food... I have the opposite, that I can't believe some things I thought were good--as a little girl--are, actually, awful. Beefaroni. Orangey sauce and mushy mac? I LOVED it. Those packets of Lipton soup, dehydrated everything and just add hot water? LOVED. Let's see--oh, frozen turkey diners the kind with the brick of mashed potatoes and iron-clad peas. Our favorite.

    Childhood memories better left unrevisited.

  4. Hallie, your three favorites sound so delicious. The perfect jelly donut must be a big loss indeed. And, now I'm going to have to go back through There Was an Old Woman to check for the Chinese soup dumplings.

    My lost foods include a couple from growing up. Beaten biscuits are a Southern biscuit, harder than the soft dough biscuits, and we ate them with country ham. They were always served at special events around the area, and we had them, made by one of the renowned beaten biscuit makers in our area, for my after wedding, after reception send off light meal. They require a lot of work and skill to make, so their popularity has somewhat faded as those wonderful women who made them have passed on and future generations haven't picked up the tradition. Another item is a more localized item, too, and is the scrumptious, to-die-for transparent pudding (actually little pies/tarts) that came in individual servings and were made by a local bakery in Maysville, KY. I remember the delivery man bringing an order of those pies and other delicious goodies to our door in boxes tied up with string. There is still a place around my hometown that makes the transparent pies, but I'm told that they're just not the same. I have a recipe for the pies, and I've made it, but it seems the taste is so much tied up in my memories growing up that it isn't quite the same either.

    The other item that I miss is one that my husband and I shared in college at a little place in Lexington, KY called Taco Tico. They were called Sanchos. From their menu description: "Sancho
    A large soft flour tortilla loaded with our specially seasoned taco meat, 100% cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and your choice of sauce." And, now the good news. I thought that there was no longer a Taco Tico in Lexington, but in looking it up for my comments here, I found that there is one alive and well. My son just happens to live in Lexington, so I will be visiting there even sooner than planned. Hahaha!

  5. Kathy, I wonder if those transparent pies were the same as chess pie? We served chess pie at the diner where I waited tables in high school.

  6. Dunkin' Donuts has a blueberry donut to die for! try it! T. Straw in Manhattan

  7. Trying to think if there is anything I miss from childhood and not coming up with anything. We ate mostly home-cooked food, and the occasional Hostess Twinkie I wouldn't touch now with a ten-foot-pole. Yuck.

    My favorite store-bought treat was Swanson's Chicken Pot Pies. My grandmother and I had these when my parents were out of town and I LOVED them. Still like then, and you can still get them!

    Hallie, your biscotti recipe sounds fabulous. I'm going to try it when I'm not already way over my sweet limit from Christmas excess...

  8. Debs, the pot pies you can get now hardly have any meat in them. Marie Callander's is a lot better.

    Steve and I both love chicken pot pie, but we were so disappointed with the ones from the store. I started making my own a few years ago, and while I don't make them often, a big casserole of pot pie lasts the two of us long enough to satisfy our whims for a while.

  9. Buttermilk doughnuts (raised, cake) with powdered sugar topping. Long gone, along with the devil's food cake covered with what I think was a layer of seven minute frosting, and then covered with what I think they now call a chocolate ganache, then studded with walnut halves. Both from Heinemann's bakery near my house when I was growing up, and not seen in fifty years.

    And my grandmother used to make a cookie with everything in in-- nuts, chocolate chips, raisins-- and it was mounded up, like half a baseball, but not a soft cookie, and not rock hard. And covered with a chocolate frosting that was semi-hard. She'd mail them to me in the dorms at college, and my friends would line up when a box came. I have not been able to duplicate them.

    Nor have I been able to duplicate her unsweetened blintzes. If your background is Lithuanian, you NEVER put sugar (or fruit, or jam) in a blintz. I wish I had the recipe.

  10. Karen, sorry that I didn't see your comment about the pies until this morning. It's a common mistake for people to equate chess pie and transparent pie, but they aren't the same thing. The main difference is that chess pie contains cornmeal and transparent doesn't.

  11. Oooooooo how I loved the "old fashion" raspberry jelly donuts - powder sugar Stayed on the donut
    and as Hallie said, lots of filling oozing everywhere - they were sooo yummy and a treat

    Every Sunday after church, we would go to IGA and get donuts - Daddy would get us each 2, I always had 2 raspberry, powder sugar donuts YUUmmmmm

    I have never tried to make the jelly donuts

    I have made eclairs though and they were incredibly good

    Hank - yup to the frozen Turkey dinners with brick of taters and some spongy dessert

    other than occasionally tv dinner, we ate home cooking

    fridays was fish or spaghetti - plain sauce since, at the time I grew up, you could not eat meat on Fridays if catholic

    Occasionally, Daddy would bring home a cheese pizza

    sidetracked as usual

    I miss Fizzies - the little round tab you dropped in glass of water and you got a fizzie drink - rootbeer was the best.

    wax coke bottles and penny candy
    Jell-O 1-2-3

  12. Kathy and Karen, I've never heard of "transparent pie" but I do have a chess pie recipe that Minnie Pearl (anyone else remember her?) gave me about 30 years ago. It didn't have any cornmeal in it. But it was delicious.