05 March 2009

Croquettes of Maize, part 1

This week started poorly and has not improved much, so today I am talking about cookies, as a distraction.

I think I have mentioned my ongoing love affair with 19th century manuals of domestic economy. In my searches for more examples of these (especially ones outside the Anglo-American sphere), I found a volume titled French Domestic Cookery (New York, 1846) on Google Books. The editor of this tome describes it as an adapted translation of La Cuisinière de la Campagne et de la Ville, then in its 30th edition. Despite the New York publisher, the translation seems originally to have been made by an English person for an English audience -- there are references throughout the preface to the availability of items or ingredients in England, and it is signed and dated in London.

In the chapter on Sweet Entremets, the English version includes a delicate little cookie recipe under the weighty title Croquettes of Maize. This recipe doesn't appear in the 1858 or 1893 editions of La Cuisinière (both also on Google books); perhaps it was inserted by the English editor or was removed from the later French editions, I don't know.

The recipe is very simple:

Take a quarter of a pound of grated sugar, a quarter of a pound of flour, half of maize, (Indian corn flour,) half of ordinary flour, and the same weight of fresh butter, with a little lemon peel grated, or orange flower water: mix the whole in a mortar to a paste; then roll it out very thinly; cut it into pieces of whatever form you like, and bake them on a tin. Serve with a little powdered sugar over them.

There are a few holes: how much is 'a little' lemon peel or orange flower water, how long / at what temperature to bake them, and what precisely the author understood by 'Indian corn flour.'

The lemon peel or orange flower water are flavouring ingredients and can be adjusted to taste. I'd go with a teaspoon of grated zest, or 1/2 tsp -- or even just 1/4 tsp -- of orange flower water. Orange flower water is one of those things I like well enough in concept but not so much in practice. It's intensely floral, and too much of it tends to make a recipe taste like it was soaked in something from the perfume counter at the department store.

How hot an oven and how long to bake them? These are members of the shortbread family, so an oven temperature around 325 F (165 C) for as long as it takes for them to turn pale gold is probably fine. Vigilance (so they don't progress past pale gold and into burnt) will be helpful.

And what does our translator mean by 'Indian corn flour'? I don't know. This, actually, is what sent me looking for the French versions in the first place, hoping for guidance which I didn't find. Most Americans would tend to assume that it means cornmeal. However, in the modern U.K., 'corn flour' means what Americans call corn starch. Was that the case also in 1846? Maybe. One could, of course, experiment and see what one likes best. It does seem to me that cornmeal might be too heavy and self-assertive in this recipe.

I have a batch of dough for these chilling in my refrigerator. I'll report on the actual making and baking soon.

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