Anatomy of a test run, chapter 1.
People contact us all the time looking for long-lost recipes. Not long ago we fielded an email from a customer who was looking to re-create a collection of family recipes. They’d found sources for everything on their list but a recipe called Tweedies, and wanted to know if we could help. I went on the hunt and found two different recipes with that name. One looked like a bar cookie similar to a Nanaimo bar, and the other was a mix, roll, slice and bake cookie. Besides the name, both recipes called for grated chocolate (whose appearance in the dough accounted for the name) but that was as far as the similarities went.
Both recipes looked pretty old. The bar version called for raw egg yolks in one of the layers, and the slice and bake version claimed to be from the Pillsbury Grand National baking competition in 1954. We’ll look at that one in a later chapter.
I started with the bar version. Here’s what the original recipe looked like:
1⁄2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 squares grated chocolate
2 egg whites
1/3 cup butter
2 egg yolks
2 cups icing sugar
2 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp butter
Base: cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients alternately with milk; fold in grated chocolate and vanilla, mix in swiftly beaten egg whites.
Bake in 9 by 13 pan at 350°F for 15-20 minutes; let cool.
Middle layer: Cream butter and egg yolks for second mixture; add icing sugar and beat well. Spread over cooked base and place in fridge to cool.
Top: top with melted chocolate and butter, keep in refrigerator.
When I test a recipe, I try to take it around the block pretty much as written. The only change I made on the first try for this one was to bypass raw egg yolks as a frosting ingredient; I decided to try an instant-vanilla pudding move instead. (More about those adventures in a minute.) That lead me to using a single whole egg instead of 2 random whites in the base. Ready? Here goes:
Cream butter and sugar, add the egg. It makes a nice slimy mess when it’s first added.
Which is why scraping your mixing bowl is so important. Otherwise there are lots of streaks of unincorporated butter in your final batter.
Time for some dry. You can see my notes about the pudding substitution on the recipe as I’m working. I use a small whisk to combine dry ingredients before adding them.
Now the wet.
Batter’s done, into the baking pan. So far so good. I’m using an offset spatula to even it out in the pan. I couldn’t live without my offset spatulas.
While the base is baking, I try to put together the middle layer. I creamed the butter and confectioner’s sugar, then thought I’d try adding 1/4 cup of instant vanilla pudding and 1/4 cup of milk to get something that would be thick enough to slice. Things started out fine:
But got ugly as soon as I added the milk. I got a broken mess.
Having already taken a wrong turn, I thought, maybe more pudding mix will bring it back together!
All I got was a lurid yellow, still broken mess. Fortunately, doing something with several components means that a mistake on one layer doesn’t mean everything you’ve done so far is down the tubes. By this time the base was baked. Here’s what it looked like after it came out of the oven.
Back to the middle layer. I thought that the reason my pudding idea didn’t work was that the milk was cold and caused the butter to break. So thought, let’s do melted butter and confectioners’ sugar, then pudding and milk.
Sometimes it takes me a little while to get the hint on things. Obviously the proportions weren’t going to hold, since the mixture was a nice greasy-looking puddle. I soldiered on nonetheless, and added the warm milk.
Now I had a warm lake.
“The pudding mix will bring it all together” I thought. And so it did.
Now I had a disturbingly yellow, not-really sliceable, really too sweet bowl of stuff. On it went over the base layer.
Next the recipe called for melting chocolate with butter.
I dutifully did so, and tried to spread the amounts given over the top of the pudding layer. Not enough to even come close.
So I melted more chocolate, and finished covering the top. Time to see what I had wrought. I cut a little corner out, and discovered to my dismay that while it looked just fine, it was so crumbly that the base couldn’t hold itself together. I had suspected that 2 teaspoons of baking powder was a whole lot for only 1 1/3 cups of flour, and now I knew for sure. I put it out to be devoured without a comment sheet, because I knew I’d be back for another round with this recipe.