Archive for the ‘Tradition of Deceit’ Category

Ginger Creams – 1929

April 22, 2015

Welcome to Cooking with Chloe! Alice and Elizabeth, another mother-daughter team, tested Ginger Creams for us, a Gold Medal recipe.

Ginger Creams

This cookie was named a Betty Crocker Prize Recipe in 1929.

The verdict:  The cookies were delicious, and got even better the next day. 

The notes and photos below are from Alice and Elizabeth:

image1 Ginger Creams

First step was to cream the shortening, adding sugar gradually. Key components to cookie baking include using mixing bowls that belonged to Alice’s grandma and the oldest wooden spoon in the house.

image3 Ginger Creams

We followed the directions exactly. Lots of flour!

image2 Ginger Creams

We chilled the dough for about 30 minutes. Chilling longer between batches did not make a difference—it’s soft dough.

We made the frosting and ate lunch while dough chilled.

image5 Ginger Creams

The frosting was delicious. We recommend sifting the powdered sugar, but it works fine if you don’t. Be sure to use heavy cream!

image4 Ginger Creams Check oven. Bake cookies at 400 degrees for about 7.5 minutes. (We started with 8 minutes but reduced the time.) It smelled like Christmastime while they baked!

image6 Ginger Creams

There was no difference between using parchment paper or greasing the cookie sheet. Make sure to remove the cookies from the sheet immediately after they come out of oven.

Frost while still warm.

image7 Ginger Creams

The cookies were delicious, and got even better the next day.  Elizabeth found them tasty with red wine.


Alice and Elizabeth were kind enough to bring these to a Chloe program I gave at a local library, so I can attest that these are delicious! The light glaze provided the perfect complement to the spices in the cookies, and the soft texture was a pleasant change from traditional gingersnaps.

Ginger Creams

Huge thanks to Alice and Elizabeth for trying the recipe, and sharing the results! These cookies would be the perfect accompaniment to a book group discussion of Tradition of Deceit, but your family will thank you for baking them too.

Apple Pie With Cheese Crust – 1934

April 16, 2015

Welcome to Cooking With Chloe!

I love collecting historic and/or ethnic recipes while working on each Chloe Ellefson mystery. Since Tradition of Deceit features the flour mill that gave us Gold Medal Flour and Betty Crocker—not to mention the Mill City Museum, which also celebrates the history of Pillsbury and other mills—I ended up with stacks of recipes.  Fortunately, some adventurous readers volunteered to test some for me.

The mother-daughter team of Jen and Brianna wondered if I might have a recipe that would connect both the Chloe Ellefson mysteries and an American Girl character. Well, in 1936, Gold Medal Flour celebrated Betty Crocker’s 15th anniversary with a special booklet featuring a single prize recipe for each year, 1921-1936.

Betty Crocker's 15 Prize Recipes

Jen and Brianna agreed to try the 1934 star recipe, Apple Pie With Cheese Crust, in honor of Kit, AG’s Depression-era character.

The verdict:  It turned out to be the best apple pie I have ever made.

Here’s the recipe, with Jen and Brianna’s photos and tips:

Apple Pie With Cheese Crust
2 cups Gold Medal “Kitchen Tested” Flour
1 t. salt
5/8 cup shortening (10 tbsp.)
Ice water (about 6 tbsp.)
½ cup grated Wisconsin cheese
2 tbsp. butter
7 large sweet apples
1 cup sugar
1/8 to ¼ cup water (depending on how dry the apples are)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. butter

METHOD: Sift flour once before measuring. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in shortening with two knives or a pastry blender leaving it in lumps about the size of large peas.

Cut In Shortening - Apple Pie

Add just enough ice water to make dough stay together.

Pat together and round up on cloth-covered board (using flour rubbed into the cloth to keep dough from sticking). Divide dough in half, and roll out one-half to fit the pie pan. Put into pan very loosely to avoid stretching. Let pan rest on table while cutting off extra dough beyond edge of pan. Put in refrigerator to chill.

Roll out other half of dough and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Dot surface with 2 tbsp. of butter.

Sprinkle Butter Cheese

Roll up like a jelly roll.

Jelly Roll Cheese - Apple Pie

Fold so that the two ends meet in the center and fold again—chill.

Fold In Sides

Peel apples and cut into thin slices. (Put in cold salt water to keep apples from discoloring.) Make a syrup of the sugar and water, add the apple slices and cook just long enough to soften and slightly glaze the apples—about 10 minutes. (Avoid stirring so that slices will hold their shape.)

Fill pastry-lined pan with the drained cooked apples (save remaining syrup). Sprinkle with cinnamon and dot with the tbsp. of butter.

Roll out cheese pastry to fit top of pie.

Roll Top Crust - Apple Pie

Fold in half making several cuts through which steam may escape. Lay folded crust gently on top of filling, unfold so that entire surface is covered. Press the 2 edges together firmly and build up a fluted edge.

Cut Vent to Bake - Apple Pie

Bake. When baked pour the remaining syrup through the slits in the pie.


TIME: Bake 30 minutes.
TEMPERATURE: 350 F., moderate oven.
SIZE OF PAN: Deep 9-inch pie pan.

Here are notes from Jen:

I was extremely skeptical about this recipe from the start, and all the way through the process actually!  I have made apple pie many times from scratch, but this 1934 recipe was pretty different from any others I have seen.  It also turned out to be the best apple pie I have ever made.

My daughter, age 10, and I worked together on the recipe.  We prepared it 1934-style, with no food processor and our dishwasher was broken to make things even more realistic!

The crust came together easily and rolled out nicely.  We sprinkled the top crust with the required Wisconsin cheddar and diced butter, rolled the whole thing up jelly-roll style, and folded the ends in (think of a snake’s head meeting its tail) to make a new ball of dough.  We chilled it well.

When it was time to roll out the top crust for the second time, the cheese and butter integrated very well.

As for the apple filling, skepticism also reigned here.  I used a combination of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, as each were on sale for $1.00 a pound.  I was doubtful about fitting seven apples in my pie dish, but indeed, when cooked down that quantity works.  I had a lot of liquid released by the cooked apples.  I drained the apples with a slotted spoon.

The recipe asks you to place and crimp the top crust and then put the liquid back in through the holes cut in the top crust.  This was difficult and trying.  I would suggest letting your apples cool, and then adding them and whatever amount of sugary liquid you wish to add, and then put the top crust on.  I think that this would be difficult with hot apples, thus the need to cool them first.  I estimate I got about 1/4 cup of liquid in through the holes, and my filling was not runny or watery.

Thirty minutes might be too little time for some bakers. I baked my pie for an hour.

You must try this technique for the top crust!  It was flavorful, a bit savory, and vaguely like a cheese straw.  It would also be amazing as a top crust to a pot pie.

We are converts to this recipe from Kit’s era.  When I told my Grandmother, age 94, about it, she said she remembers dried apple pies being popular during Kit’s time.  Another recipe to track down!
Huge thanks to Jen and Brianna for kitchen-testing the recipe for us!  You may also want to check out their fun website, Dolls Between Us.

Cooking With Betty Crocker—and Chloe

April 14, 2015

When I was writing Tradition of Deceit, I marveled at the connections between the the Mill City Museum, one of the settings, and popular American culture. The museum was created within what was once the Washburn-Crosby A Mill. You may not have heard of Washburn-Crosby, but chances are good you’ve heard of Gold Medal Flour.

Gold Medal Flour

The company also created Betty Crocker, one of the most successful advertising personas of all time.

As early as the 1890s, the company published recipe pamphlets and cookbooks to promote their products.

1910 Cookbook - Version 2

1910 Cook Book


This one isn’t dated.

But things didn’t really get rolling until 1921, when an ad featured jumbled puzzle pieces. Anyone who arranged the pieces and returned the puzzle would receive a pincushion resembling a tiny Gold Medal Flour Sack. Advertising staff were astonished to receive 30,000 completed puzzles!

Gold Medal Flour puzzle

A facsimile of the original puzzle, now available for visitors to assemble at the Mill City Museum.

Many of the women who sent in the puzzle were looking for baking advice in addition to the token prize. The company made a decision to create a fictitious woman to reply to queries. Betty Crocker was born—a single face and name to represent the women of the Gold Medal Home Services staff.

In 1921, women were generally expected to know how to manage a kitchen and feed her family. Betty Crocker became a trusted source of accurate information, and soon became known for “kitchen-tested” recipes. In 1926, Betty offered homemakers a wooden recipe box filled with “delightful new recipes” for 70 cents.


A few years later, cooks could tune into the Gold Medal Radio Station to hear  “The Betty Crocker Service Program” and “The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air.” Both were huge hits.

Radio program ad

Mill City Museum exhibit.

Cooking School

Mexican Rice - Version 2

A few of the cards I’ve collected have this typewriter look. I’m not sure what that signifies.  (If you know, please share!)

Betty Crocker proved herself able to change with the times. During the Great Depression, she helped cooks prepare thrifty meals for their families.  When World War II brought rationing, Betty was ready to provide appropriate recipes.

In the beginning, Betty Crocker’s “identity” was a deep, dark secret. Many home cooks assumed she was a real person. In time, as media changed, the company revealed that Betty was a fabrication representing the collective wisdom and practical experience of the company’s home economists.

Betty’s look also evolved over the years.

Betty Crocker exhibit

The changing faces of Betty Crocker. Mill City Museum.

The Mill City Museum includes a Baking Lab, open daily, where guests can learn more. Special events often feature particular recipes or trends.

Baking lab, Mill City Museum

If you’d like to read more about the history of Betty Crocker, I recommend Finding Betty Crocker:  The Secret Life of America’s First Lady Of Food, by Susan Marks (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). If, like me, you grew up with Betty Crocker cookbooks, you’ll likely enjoy discovering the backstory as much as I did.


I’ve always looked for relevant ethnic and/or historic recipes while researching and writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and love hearing from readers who shared the dishes with family or friends. Well, I collected a lot of old recipes while working on Tradition of Deceit. With help from some wonderful reader-volunteers, I’ll be sharing more recipes here. The first “Cooking With Chloe” post will go up later this week.  Enjoy!

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

April 7, 2015

I had not heard of the Tunnel of Fudge Cake until I began doing research while writing Tradition of Deceit (the 5th Chloe Ellefson mystery), which celebrates Minnesota’s flour milling history and the Mill City Museum. As soon as I heard the name, I knew Chloe would love it. When I heard it was probably the most popular recipe in the history of Pillsbury’s famous Bake-Off, I knew I wanted to include it in the book.

The recipe was developed by Ella Helfrich of Houston. In 1966 it placed second in the Bake-Off, but was chosen to grace the cover of that year’s recipe booklet.  Baked in a bundt pan, the cake emerged with a molten center. The recipe was a sensation.

BakeOffCover Cake - Version 2

It also made the bundt pan, invented in 1950 by H. David Dalquist (who with his brother founded Nordic Ware) a sensation. His lightweight version of a heavier European ceramic version had seen disappointing sales, but after the Tunnel of Fudge Cake became a phenomenon, sales boomed. Pillsbury alone received 200,000 requests for the pan.

2015-01-24 09.36.41 pm

Original cast-aluminum bundt pan, now in the Smithsonian Institution collection.

The original recipe called for Pillsbury’s Double Dutch Frosting mix. Great consternation ensued when, some years later, Pillsbury stopped production of the packaged mix.

Pillsbury has produced an updated recipe, available HERE on their website. Their photo (below) shows a gooey center completely surrounded by chocolate cake.  That’s the recipe I decided to try.



DSCF1213 - Version 2

I of course used Pillsbury BEST flour.


As directed, I did not skimp on the nuts.

DSCF1219 - Version 2

I baked the cake the allotted time, and let it cool as directed.

DSCF1221 - Version 2

I finished it off with glaze—a new twist in the updated version.

All seemed good, so at long last and with great anticipation I cut a slice of cake.

The expected tunnel of gooey fudge was not in evidence. At all.

I reviewed the recipe. I’d measured ingredients exactly. I’d even checked the oven temperature with a thermometer.

However, I had strayed in one regard. The recipe calls for using an electric mixer to blend butter, sugars, and eggs, and then stirring in flour, cocoa, and nuts by hand. I have limited hand strength, and so always use my mixer on lowest speed when recipes call for stirring something in by hand. It’s never presented a problem before.

Since I couldn’t see where else I might have gone wrong, however, I started over. This time the appropriate ingredients were duly stirred by hand.

tunnel of fudge cake

Cake #2 cooling in the pan.

tunnel of fudge cake

I decided to skip the glaze this time.

The recipe calls for cooling the cake in the pan for 1-1/2 hours, then on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Bloggers don’t agree on the best route to true gooeyness—some said the rest time is essential; others, that the fudge factor is highest if the cake is not allowed to cool completely. I was impatient by this time, so I decided to cut the cake after it came out of the pan.

tunnel of fudge cake

This time there definitely was a gooey center surrounded by a cakey edge. It didn’t look nearly as pudding-like as the photos showed, but it tasted good.

Would the tunnel have been more pronounced if I’d let the cake cool for another two hours? Perhaps. I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry involved. Pillsbury’s test bakers say the nuts are essential; a few bloggers claim success without including nuts. The cake is very rich and sweet, but I didn’t tinker with the quantities (I often cut sugar in recipes by as much as half) because that, too, affects the chemistry.

For the moment I’ve declared victory, but I do intend to try again. If you try the recipe, or have memories of it, I hope you’ll let me know!

The Mill City Museum occasionally features the recipe in their baking lab. I’ve never been able to visit on Tunnel of Fudge day, but I expect that many question could be answered there. The next Baking Memories:  Tunnel of Fudge Cake event is coming up on Saturday, May 2, 2015.



March 30, 2015

Folk art plays a role in most of the Chloe Ellefson mysteries. Since Tradition of Deceit features bits of Polish culture, I decided to include wycinanki—the Polish form of paper cutting.

Wycinanki (pronounced vee-chee-non-kee) originated in the 1800s when shepherds passed quiet hours by snipping designs from leather or tree bark. Soon people were making intricate designs from paper, and pasting them on the walls or roof beams of their homes.

phoca_thumb_l_cottage interior

The Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce.

The Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce

The Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce.

In the way-back days, folk artists used sheep shears to cut their designs.

sheep shears

Distinct styles emerged from different regions of Poland. Cuttings from the Kurpie region are often quite intricate, and usually a single color.

Polish Paper Cutting (Wycinanki), early 20th century The tree of life motif and monochromatic scheme suggest that this paper cutting represents the Kurpie or Lasek regions of Poland. Gift of Mrs. Maria Laskowski.  Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.4630a

Early 20th century.  The tree of life motif and monochromatic scheme suggest that this paper cutting represents the Kurpie or Lasek regions of Poland. Gift of Mrs. Maria Laskowski.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.4630a

Wycinanki from  Łowicz in central Poland is made by layering different colors. The example below most closely matches the wycinanki I imagined Magdalena making in Tradition of Deceit.

Polish Paper Cutting (Wycinanki), early 20th century This paper cutting reflects the Lowicz region of Poland, famous for its multicolored paper cuttings. Separately cut pieces are pasted atop a basic design, creating a layered effect. Gift of Mrs. J.J. Gostomski.  Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.4624

Early 20th century. This paper cutting reflects the Lowicz region of Poland, famous for its multicolored paper cuttings. Separately cut pieces are pasted atop a basic design, creating a layered effect. Gift of Mrs. J.J. Gostomski. Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.4624

Circular or star-shaped medallions are called gwiazdy.

sheep shears

c. 1950.  Gwiazdy incorporates geometric designs with circles, stars, polygons, and snowflakes. Gift of Irena Epler. Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.1051

South Side Settlement Museum

Floral pattern, Old South Side Settlement Museum, Urban Anthropology Inc., Donated by Konkel Family.

Old South Side Settlement Museum, Urban Anthropology Inc., Donated by Konkel Family.

Two examples of bird patterns, Old South Side Settlement Museum, Urban Anthropology Inc., Donated by Konkel Family.

Artists have continued to develop the art of wycinanki.  Masters produce amazingly intricate designs.

wycinanki RoosterPapercut0064_500

Rooster papercut by Magdelana Gilinsky Jannotta. American Folklfe Center, Library of Congress.

While writing Tradition of Deceit I enjoyed several workshops with artist Kasia Drake-Hames, seen here with her grandmother (left) and mom (right).  Kasia’s grandmother makes exquisite traditional wycinanki…

Poland Under Glass wycinanki

Poland Under Glass, Milwaukee Domes, 2015.

..while Kasia often adds a modern twist.

wycinanki kasia drake-hames

From simple cuttings made with sheep shears to amazingly detailed pieces painstakingly snipped with scissors, wycinanki has a rich history—and colorful—history.

The Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest

March 11, 2015

Although housed in the former Gold Medal Flour mill, the Mill City Museum interprets the broader story of flour milling in Minneapolis. The old Pillsbury Flour mill sits right across the river.

View from the observation tower at the Mill City Museum.

View from the observation tower at the Mill City Museum.

And you can’t talk about Pillsbury history without mentioning the famous Bake-Off (R).

In 1949, Pillsbury celebrated its 80th birthday by sponsoring a “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest.” Thousands of home bakers sent entries. The one hundred lucky finalists were invited to bake their original creations at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Eleanor Roosevelt was the honored guest.

The Waldorf Hotel back in 1893.  (Wikipedia)

The Waldorf Hotel back in 1893. (Wikipedia)

Can you imagine how exciting (and nerve-racking) the experience must have been for women (and a few men) who’d never  received any acknowledgment for their skill? The Grand Prize when to Theodora Smafield for her No-Knead Water-Rising Twists.

The response was so great that company executives decided to make the contest an ongoing event. The media called it a “bake-off,” and the company adopted and trademarked the name.

In the early years, the only required ingredient was Pillsbury’s BEST Flour. Scratch cakes dominated the entries for a decade or so. Other favorites included muffins, pies, and cookies.

Pillsbury Bake-Off Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Mrs. Verna Phelan’s first-prize winner, 1958.  Pillsbury Bake-Off Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

As the years went by, the contest reflected social changes. In 1969, as more and more women juggled family life with careers, a recipe using convenient refrigerated dough won the grand prize for the first time. Later themes included Regional American Foods, Family Favorites, and Ethnic Recipes.

Mill City Museum Bake-off Exhibit.

In 1996, the contest began celebrating “quick and easy” dishes. That year also saw the first male winner claim the Grand Prize. In 2014, for the first time, judges narrowed the field to four finalists and invited the public to vote for their favorite.

2014 Bake-Off cookbook

A few of the recipes that missed Grand Prize status went on to become part of American food culture. Freda Smith invented Peanut Butter Blossoms in 1957, when she realized she had no chocolate chips in her cupboard and decided to improvise. She baked her cookies and placed a Hersheys Kiss in the center of each hot cookie when it came out of the oven. Her family proclaimed the invention a hit, and ultimately Hersheys promoted the recipe.

Probably the most famous Bake-Off recipe is the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, Ella Rita Helfrich’s second-place winner of 1966.  (I found that so intriguing that I included it in Tradition of Deceit.  I knew Chloe would love it.) More on that one later.

Pillsbury celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Bake-Off by creating a Bake-Off Hall of Fame within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “We wanted to recognize the most popular of our Bake-Off recipes,” said John N. Lilly, President of Pillsbury North America. “…These are real recipes from real people.  They are as terrific today as they were when they were first developed.” (Press release, May 25, 1999)

Ten recipes were chosen, “based on enduring consumer popularity,” to be inducted into the hall of fame:

1. Chocolate Praline Layer Cake (Julie Konecne Bengtson, MN)
2. Crescent Caramel Swirl (Lois Ann Groves, CO)
3. Dilly Casserole Bread (Leona Schnuelle, NE)

Dilly Casserole Bread


4. French Silk Chocolate Pie (Betty Cooper, MD)
5. Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie (Millicent Caplan Nathan, FL)
6. Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs (Edna Holmgren Walker, MN)



7. Peanut Blossoms (Freda Smith, OH)
8. Poppin’ Fresh Barbecups (Peter Russell, CA)



9. Salted Peanut Chews (Gertrude Schweitzerhof, CA)
10. Tunnel of Fudge Cake (Ella Rita Helfrich, TX)

For more Bake-Off history, check out the photos, video, and recipes on the Pillsbury site.

You can also spend some happy hours with one of the many Bake-Off cookbooks.

Best of the Bake-Off

Want to learn more?  At 2 PM on March 29, 2015, the Mill City Museum is featuring “Pillsbury Bake-Off Through the Years.”  See how history is revealed in a demonstration of Chocolate Cherry Bars, a Bake-Off winning recipe from 1974. Learn about the 60-year history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, sample treats, get baking tips and take home a copy of the recipe.

I grew up eating Peanut Butter Blossoms, and only recently discovered the recipe’s origin.  Are there any Bake-Off favorites at your house?

Pączki – Polish Doughnuts

February 19, 2015

In Poland—and Polish communities—Fat Thursday is observed on the Thursday before Lent.  People traditionally celebrate by eating pączki (pronounced POHNCH-kee), fried rounds of sweet yeast dough often filled with jelly. The doughnuts are eaten in such quantities that the day is called Pączki Day.

Polish culture and baking are two important themes of my 5th Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery, Tradition of Deceit.  I wrote the doughnuts into the historical plotline, which involves several generations of Polish immigrants. A young widow runs a boardinghouse in Bohemian Flats, Minneapolis, to make ends meet: Frania became famous for her poppyseed cakes, gingerbread, and especially pączki, the filled doughnuts Poles held dear.

Needless to say, I had to try them.

I turned first to one of my favorite cookbooks, Wisconsin’s Folkways in Foods. The Wisconsin Home Economics Association produced the collection in 1948 to celebrate the state’s Centennial. All of the recipes were contributed by cooks from around the state, and organized by ethnic group. The Polish chapter included two recipes for Pączki.

After studying those—and a few others—I was ready to go.


2 c. milk
2 packets yeast
3/4 C. sugar
5-6 c. white flour
1 whole egg + 3 egg yolks
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. salt + 1/4 t. salt
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil for frying (or your choice–peanut oil, canola oil, lard, etc.)
1.  Warm the milk. If you are not used to using scratch baking, use a thermometer to achieve a good temperature for the yeast, about 110 degrees. Pour the milk into a mixing bowl. (Note: you can mix everything by hand, of course, but a mixer works just fine.)
2.  Stir in the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let stand for 10-15 minutes. You should see bubbles starting to form.Polish doughnuts3.  Add 2 cups of flour to the milk mixture and stir gently (or at lowest speed) until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and set in a warm spot for the first rising. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Polish doughnuts

Since I, alas, do not have a nice woodstove with warming oven, I heat my electric oven to 100 degrees, turn off the heat, and put the bowl in there.

Polish doughnuts

After 30 minutes the sponge has risen nicely, with lots of bubbles.

4.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolks until smooth. Add sugar, vanilla, and salt, and whisk again for at least a minute. Mixture should be light and frothy.

5.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until smooth. If using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the melted butter. Add three cups of flour, one at a time, mixing after each addition.

6.  If necessary, add additional flour, 1/4 c. at a time, to make a soft dough that is just starting to hold its shape.

Polish doughnuts

Here the dough is beginning to pull away from the bowl, but it is not thick enough to form a ball.

7.  Lightly grease a second mixing bowl. Transfer dough to the new bowl.

Polish doughnuts

Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let rise in a warm spot for 20-30 minutes.

Polish doughnuts

This is what happens when you don’t keep a close eye on your dough. In 30 minutes it was overflowing the bowl. No harm done!

8. Use a wooden spoon to push dough down in bowl. Transfer a portion of dough to a clean, well-floured surface. Sprinkle with flour. Roll to about 1/2″ thick. Use a glass or biscuit cutter to cut rounds. Add more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Save the scraps to roll out again. Scrape the surface of any dough residue before rolling out the next batch.

Polish doughnuts

9.  OPTIONS FOR FORMING: Some recipes all for adding jelly before frying, and some don’t. Of those that do, some call for using one round, and some two. I decided to try each kind.

Polish doughnuts

The two dough balls on the left were formed by putting a dollop of jelly on a single round of dough, sealing the edges with my fingers, and rolling them between my palms to get a ball shape. For the other six rounds, I placed a second round of dough over the first and pinched the edges closed.

One of the 1948 Pączki recipes didn’t call for rolling the dough at all: “Pull off small pieces size of large egg. Stretch dough with hands to 1/2 inch thick. Put T. cooked, seeded prunes in center. Draw dough over filling, making ball, and pinch together.” (This woman’s recipe also called for 10 cups of flour, so she was making a whole lot of Pączki.)

I liked that cook’s style, so I decided to try a few that way. It worked best with the dough scraps that had already been rolled, and so had incorporated more flour.

Polish doughnuts

(Some people also form balls of dough, fry, and then add jelly by piercing a hole in each doughnut and piping it in. I did not try that version.)

10.  Transfer the doughnuts to baking sheets. I don’t usually use parchment paper, but with this sticky dough it did help.

11.  Let rise in a warm spot for 20-30 minutes. They will puff up a bit.

Polish doughnuts

Bottom row: single, unfilled rounds. Middle row: jelly-filled balls made from a single round each. Top row: jelly-filled doughnuts made from 2 rounds, edges pinched together to close.

12.  While waiting, pour about 2″ of oil in a heavy kettle or large skillet with tall sides and place on stove over medium heat.  You’ll want the oil hot when the doughnuts are ready.

13.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the doughnuts into the oil. If you have trouble getting transferring the dough to the spoon without it losing shape, it might be helpful to invert the doughnut over the spoon and slowly peel back the parchment paper. The hardest doughnuts to transfer were the unfilled ones. which tended to crinkle and lose their shape.

Polish doughnuts

14.  The oil is hot enough when a bit of dough dropped into the kettle immediately sizzles, about 350 degrees. Use a thermometer if in doubt. Let each doughnut cook until the bottom is golden, then carefully turn and cook other side.

Polish doughnuts

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain for a moment against the side of the pan. Transfer to a pan lined with paper towels to drain further. Repeat until all doughnuts are fried.

15.  Roll the warm doughnuts in granulated sugar. (Some prefer powdered sugar.)  Pączki are best served warm, but they will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

The prettiest doughnuts were the ones I had not rolled on a board, but instead just formed into balls in my hands. I was least satisfied with the unfilled doughnuts. I rolled the dough too thinly.

Polish doughnuts

Top: jelly-filled, made with two rounds of dough. Right: jelly-filled, formed by hand. Bottom: unfilled. Left: jelly-filled, formed from one round of dough.

I finally had the chance to sample real Pączki at Poland Under Glass, a wonderful event held at the Milwaukee Domes each winter. A Polish baker from Chicago provided hundreds, and sold out mid-day. They were much bigger than I’d made—next time I’ll know—and gloriously good.

Polish doughnut

In the name of scholarly research, Scott and I had to try different flavors.

Rosehip filling, From Olympia bakery, Chicago

Toward the end of Tradition of Deceit, Chloe makes Pączki to serve at a reception. “Oh – my – God,” says one of her friends, after trying one.  “The guests will love them.”

Curious?  No need to wait for Pączki Day. Make someone happy!

Polish doughnuts

Roelke Goes To Prison

January 6, 2015

When writing Tradition of Deceit, I needed to include a set scene at a prison. Waupun Correctional Institution was the logical choice. The prison is one of the oldest in the country. It is listed on the Wisconsin register of historic places, and in 1992 was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the “Wisconsin State Prison Historic District.”


This maximum security prison was established in 1851, just three years after Wisconsin achieved statehood. A temporary structure housed inmates until the first permanent building was completed in 1854. Prison workers helped build that stone structure. It held both men and women until 1933, when a separate women’s facility was constructed.


Many additions have been made over the years, adding separate structures to the 22-acre facility. In 1940 the original building was remodeled, but the exterior walls remain, and the structure is still in use.


One of the old turret-style guard towers is visible through the fence.

I had the opportunity to tour the prison and hear from the wardens and several staff members before Tradition of Deceit was published. (One poignant detail of my visit—Waupun is only about 20 miles from the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge, and each time we walked outside I saw and heard geese flying overhead.)

Visiting a maximum security prison is inherently sad and grim, but I was also very impressed with the work the prison staff is doing to assist the different populations incarcerated there.

So…what would Roelke’s experience at Waupun been like? Then as now, he saw the prison surrounded by a beautiful neighborhood with many gorgeous old homes.

Waupun home & prison


Waupun home

No one I spoke with had worked in the prison in 1983, but some changes are obvious. One of the warden’s main goals is reducing idleness among the prisoners. New programs mean the men are much more likely to engage in work, hobbies, or educational activities. In 1983, more men would have been staring at the walls.

Roelke’s visit also happened to come in a tumultuous period at Waupun and other Wisconsin prisons. One of the critical factors was severe over-crowding; in 1983, the prison intended to hold 810 prisoners held over 1,200. Tiny cells intended to house one man held four.

Inmates and guards felt tension rising, and some in both groups felt that threats against their safety were not being addressed. In January, 1983, prisoners at Waupun rioted, and managed to take 15 hostages.

Waupun - Version 2

AP/Milwaukee Sentinel photo taken during the stand-off.

After 10 tense hours, 200 officers managed to resume control of the buildings where the inmates involved with barricaded.



AP/Milwaukee Sentinel photo.


Milwaukee Sentinel Photo by Sherman Gessert.

I briefly considered incorporating that story into Tradition of Deceit, which is set in February, 1983. In the end it went into the “interesting but not relevant” pile.

Instead, I focused primarily on the area where inmates received visitors. Visitation has actually declined since 1983, due to rising gas prices and declining phone service prices. The visitation room of 1983 no longer exists, in part because pillars blocked guards’ visibility. My description is an amalgam of what I saw in 2014 and what I heard about the former setting. (Photography is not permitted inside the prison, so I can’t show it.)


Waupun Correctional Institution holds a unique position in Wisconsin’s prison system, and is a reminder that historic places come in all varieties.

Meet Pawel

December 8, 2014

Often in the Chloe books, a very minor character ends up being among the most memorable. I discovered this when The Heirloom Murders (the 2nd Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery) was published. Many readers wrote to me about Johann and Frieda, even though the elderly couple were only briefly onstage.

In Tradition of Deceit, the 5th volume in the series, a Polish immigrant named  Pawel appears in the historical plotline. Pawel lives in The Bohemian Flats neighborhood in Minneapolis. He works at the Washburn-Crosby Mill, one of the loaders who move packed barrels of flour to the rail corridor within the mill.

Pawel 1

This illustration from a 19th-century article shows a packer at work. Once each barrel was filled, the lid was nailed on top and it was ready to go.

A full barrel of flour weighed 196 pounds. In 1882, the mill produced 1,500 barrels a day; that increased to 10,000 by 1900. Loaders also hauled sacks of flour weighing up to 100 pounds. This exhausting, entry-level work often went to immigrants.

Pawel 2

General Mills included this engraving from the 1880s in a 20th-century ad.

In Tradition of Deceit, Pawel’s story begins in the spring of 1878. Magdalena, who runs the boarding house where Pawel is living, notes of the men coming home:

The men looked like ghosts. Flour dusted their hair, their skin, their clothes. Tiny balls of sweat-caked flour caught on the hairs along their arms.

Pawel was a big man with massive shoulders and corded muscles. He spent his 12-hour shifts rolling 196-lb. barrels of flour from the packing machines into train cars. He was part of the Polish Eagles, a six-man crew that usually bested other packing teams when challenged to a race.   No one would pick a fight with Pawel.

But unlike some of the other laborers, Pawel had a gentle manner. His face was broad and plain, his hair the color of dried mud, his hands huge. No one would call him handsome, but Magdalena liked him. She thought he liked her. Maybe, she thought, just maybe…

Pawel pulled a rag from his pocket and dabbed at his eyes. “Was the dust bad today?” Magdalena asked. The men often came home with red-rimmed, watering eyes.

“As bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Pawel admitted. “So thick in the air that I couldn’t see my hand at the end of my arm.”

Mill City Museum - loaders

Illustration from an interpretive panel at the Mill City Museum

It’s difficult to find primary source material for characters like Pawel, but as I thought about those early loaders, two things struck me. First, the work was incredibly difficult.

Second, many of the men who stuck it out made the best of it.  They formed teams, and the loading competitions became legendary.  I love imagining these burly men not just loading the barrels or sacks into train cars, but doing it as fast as humanly possible.

Mill City Museum exhibit

Mill City Museum exhibit.

If you visit the Mill City Museum, you can walk through the rail corridor, and peek inside an original train car.

Mill City Museum Rail Corridor

Exhibits preserve some of the machines once used in flour mills…

Mill City Museum

and make it easy to imagine the many men who once worked so hard to keep flour moving out of the mill.

Mill City Museum

Old-Time Cinnamon Jumbles

November 12, 2014

Like Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my historic sites mysteries, I love to bake. Historic foodways are most fun of all. Tradition of Deceit sees Chloe visiting the site destined to become the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, which is all about historic baking. Since I’m an experiential kind of author, I’ve been busy in the kitchen.

The Mill City Museum is located in the former A Mill of the Washburn Crosby Company. Washburn Crosby Company began publishing cookbooks in the 1890s. In the 1920s-1930s, the Gold Medal Home Services Department made recipe boxes filled with cards available as premiums to home bakers. The cards were wildly popular.

I purchased a set online, and after thumbing through, this is the recipe I wanted to try first.




I planned to follow this recipe exactly. I used Gold Medal Flour and dutifully beat the eggs before adding them.

beating eggs

I even got out my vintage sifter.

As directed, I baked the first pan for 9 minutes, then removed the pan to add the cinnamon/sugar mixture. However, the cookies were already so set that most of the sprinkling didn’t bake into the cookies, and instead fell off when I removed the pan again 3 minutes later. (Perhaps my oven doesn’t match what was in the test kitchen.)

version 1 jumbles

So I felt compelled to tinker. On the next pan, I sprinkled the topping onto the cookies prior to putting the pan into the oven. That worked better, but wasn’t quite right either.

version 2 jumbles

These cookies don’t spread much while baking, so the rough contours of the dough after being dropped from the spoon remained. Most, but not all, of the topping stayed in place.

Finally I sprinkled the cookies and then flattened the cookies slightly with a spoon before baking. This pressed the cinnamon/sugar into the dough, and removed the rough contours from the cookie. (The dough was so soft that it was impossible to flatten slightly before adding the topping.)

versioni 3 jumbles

The third pan.  Much better.

versioni 3 jumbles

Ah—a perfect cookie.

3 sample jumbles

For comparison: first batch on the left, second batch on the top, and the final batch on the right.

The only other discrepancy was that I ended up with 4 dozen cookies, not 5 dozen. I’m sure that’s because I automatically dropped dough based on modern norms, instead of paying more attention and making smaller cookies as directed.

These cookies are light, moist, and delicious however you handle the topping. I suspect that your family—or book discussion group—will love them!


PS – The recipe for Rolled Sour Cream Cookies sounds good too.  If anyone tries it, let me know how they come out!