Snowflake cookies sparkle at bake-off

Treats are a favorite in AVAM's contest

December 10, 2003|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Its delightful history alone could have propelled Granny's Lemon Snowflake Sugar Cookie recipe to top honors at the recent bake-off sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum and Joy America Cafe.

But as it happens, the recipe was the hands-down favorite at the event, billed as the "culinary complement" to the museum's current exhibition, Golden Blessings, which features artists who discovered their creative selves late in life.

Elsa Emma Burgtorf Albright, aka Granny, was something of an artist, herself. She used to sew "costumes for her children to wear at home so that when they sat down to oatmeal for supper -- again! -- their imagination would take them away from the table to a banquet feast of the mind," Joy Hare, Albright's granddaughter, wrote in her contest submission.

FOR THE RECORD - A recipe for Dewey's Jewish Apple Cake, which appeared in Wednesday's Taste section, contained incorrect information about the kind of pan to use. The cake should be baked in a 10-inch tube pan. The Sun regrets the error.

The cookies received their name because Granny "used to flatten the sugared dough balls on the cookie sheet with the bottom of a cut-glass tumbler, leaving a design that looked like a glittering snowflake," Hare wrote.

The cookies, Hare added, "have a bit of a sweet-sour bite but are terribly addictive, just like Granny."

Bake-off prizes were awarded in three categories: cookies, cakes and pies. Winners, chosen from three finalists in each category, received a $100 gift certificate for the Joy America Cafe. And their winning recipes will be served in rotation at the cafe through Christmas.

Dewey's Jewish Apple Cake, submitted by Betty Henderson of West Baltimore, won in the cake division, and Grandma's Pumpkin Torte, entered by Jackie Knipp of Catonsville, captured the pie division.

In the first stage of the contest, Spike Gjerde and Ian Stanford, the cafe's chefs, winnowed 30 entries down to nine. Then on the gusty Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, contest finalists, their families and museum visitors sampled the baked goods and voted. Gjerde and Stanford also cast their votes, which were weighted more heavily than those of their civilian counterparts.

In making their decision, the two chefs considered presentation, originality, history, taste and texture, among other criteria.

Meanwhile, the contestants, intent upon preserving the honor of their ancestors, tried in jest to sway the judges in their favor with jokes and compliments. Some, Gjerde jokingly contended, were "talking trash" about their rivals.

After the crowd fidgeted nervously for about half an hour, Gjerde, who was delayed by making a pot of coffee for his cafe staff, announced the victors.

It turns out that Granny's Lemon Snowflake Sugar Cookie recipe was the only winner that Gjerde and Stanford agreed upon. "When we first read the recipe, I was intrigued by the technique of using a glass to give them a snowflake pattern," Gjerde says. "Then when we tasted them, I just thought they had an amazing texture ... a really delicate, almost ethereal texture. That's really kind of the acme of that kind of cookie."

And after reading Granny's capsule life history, it would be difficult to find anyone who wouldn't vote for the feisty yet dignified woman. As her granddaughter related, she "never got past the seventh grade as she had to tend the family store and feed the calves," but she "managed to soak up so much education that upon her death in 1983 at age 93 she was a licensed real estate broker, a poet, a song writer ... and a public author of terse letters critical of city, state and federal government."

Not to mention the fact that Granny baked a mean sugar cookie.

Granny's Lemon Snowflake Sugar Cookies

Makes 80 cookies

1 cup softened butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling and dipping

1 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon lemon extract

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream first four ingredients together. Add the eggs and lemon extract. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt and add to the other mixture.

Form dough balls the size of a quarter. Roll in granulated sugar. Place them on a cookie sheet and flatten with a glass bottom dipped in sugar. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let the edges brown. Cool on a rack.

Dewey's Jewish Apple Cake

Makes 20 servings

10 (or if large, 8) apples

2 1/4 cups sugar (divided use)

3 teaspoons cinnamon

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

7 tablespoons orange juice

3 teaspoons baking powder

3 cups flour

confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peal and slice apples. Combine them with 1/4 cup of sugar and the cinnamon. Save until later.

Beat eggs and add ingredients in the following order: remaining 2 cups of sugar, salt, oil, vanilla, orange juice, baking powder and flour. The dough will be thick.

Grease and flour 2 cake pans. Layer dough, then apple mixture, more dough and apples until all ingredients are used. When finished, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Bake for 1 3/4 hours.

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