Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts with Almond

Last year I was hired by Sandy Spring Museum and Maryland Traditions, the folklife organization for the state, to conduct an initial folklife survey in Sandy Spring, Maryland, 20 miles north of Washington, D.C. A historic Quaker and African-American community, Sandy Spring was a known stop on the Underground Railroad-- it was said to be on Harriet Tubman's route-- and the town also hosted lectures by Frederic Douglass and housed Dred Scott when he was awaiting trial. Today it is an increasingly diverse community with newer immigrant populations and families who've been there for decades.

My task in Sandy Spring was to identify traditional artists and tradition bearers and interview them, to assist the Museum in better understanding the cultural activity in the community, as well as explore ideas for future programming. Two such tradition bearers I interviewed were Beth Garretson and Louise Kriger Meganson -- both Quakers and members of the Women's Mutual Improvement Association, a local social club founded in 1857.

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts and Tea

At The Association's monthly luncheons, members are invited to share something that interested them that month-- a poem, an article,  bird calls, horticultural advice. Like any good club, though, this one seems to really revolve around food, namely cookies, and specifically, Sandy Spring Sand Tarts. The cookies that bear the town's name spurred quite a discussion in our interview, the gist of which is perhaps best relayed in the dialogue itself:
Emily: So you said you're into cookies-- are there any recipes that get passed down or continue to pop up among the group?
Louise: Absolutely! We have Sandy Spring Tarts-- they're about 20 versions. They're the best. But there are all kinds of different sorts. You know, people will make them a certain thickness or use a certain amount of flour, or you use eggs or you don't use eggs or you put an almond on top or you don't put an almond on top.
Beth: We had everyone bring their recipe for sand tarts one month and it was amazing. The difference in them.
Louise: They were tasty!
Beth: But of course I know that I have the right recipe!
Beth went on to explain that the sand tarts are not especially unusual, but have been made by Sandy Springers for Christmas cookies for generations. That's true in a broader context too. According to Food Timeline, sand tarts are likely descendants of simple sugar cookies, with "sand tarts" appearing in cookbooks in the 1880s, though absent of attribution or narrative. They're common Christmas cookies in Denmark and Sweden, and have similar ingredients to German sand tortes. Sand tarts are also popular in domestic scientist cookbooks-- there's a version in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook, from 1886.

Personally, I like them for their buttery simplicity, and,with their diamond shapes, potential for tessellation patterns (resembling quilt squares) in their presentation. They're also an ideal tea or snack cookie-- I took a tin of them cross-country skiing last weekend and they were the perfect warm-up treat with a nip of whiskey or hot chocolate.

Diamond Cookies with Almond

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts
Adapted from Beth Garrettson via the Sandy Spring Women's Association Cookbook

Makes 3-4 dozen, depending on size

1/4 lb. raw unsalted almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, reserving one egg white for finishing
4 cups all-purpose flour
Cinnamon sugar for dusting (1 cup granulated sugar + 2 Tablespoons cinnamon)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Blanch and split the almonds by pouring boiling water over almonds to cover. Let sit until the skins can be slipped off easily. Drain, then cut almonds in half and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and slowly add the sugar. Add the eggs, minus one white. Mix in the flour. Dough should be firm and not at all sticky, if it is too wet, gradually add more flour.

3. Divide the dough into 4 large balls. On a clean, floured surface, roll out each part about 1/4-inch thick and cut into diamonds. Beat the egg white with a whisk until frothy and brush cookies with egg white and generously sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

4. Place cookies on cookie sheet, fairly close together as they spread just a little. Press half almond on each one and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned and puffed. Store in metal box-- they keep for nearly a month.

Sandy Spring Sand Tart Cookies on Plate

Related recipes:
Almond and Grapefruit-Ginger Marmalade Crostata
Lemon-Lavender Meringue Pie Cookies 
Pea & Corn Cookies

Friday, January 23, 2015

Happy National Pie Day!

Chocolate Orange Pie with Mascarpone Cream

Happy National Pie Day! Every day is pretty much pie day around here, but I won't turn down an excuse to indulge. Celebrate with a slice-- perhaps of this Chocolate Orange Pie with Mascarpone Cream-- and a pie playlist from Smithsonian Folkways (where I spend my work days), featuring songs from Pete Seeger to Lord Melody. Of course you can always find more pie songs here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Salted Butter Apple Galette for a Local Dinner Party

Table Setting with Plant

The summer after I graduated college, I moved to Burlington, Vermont. I'd wanted to live in New England for a long time, had a job lined up, but other than my future boss who'd I'd talked to on the phone a few times, I didn't know a soul. I was excited about a new adventure, but was sad and scared to be leaving the close creative community my college friends and I had formed.

On the first day of my job in Vermont, I met my soon-to-be-good-friend Angela, who that night brought me to an event that just about immediately overhauled my Vermont life-- The Seamonster Potluck.

Sliced Bread on Tray

I don't know the exact details of how it started, but I do know it had always been hosted by my other soon-to-be-good-friends Meghan and Gahlord, occurred on the third Thursday of every month, and would quickly become a foundation for my entire social life and serve as the gateway to best friends, the forming of multiple bands, a shared studio space, and many, many epic parties.

The Seamonster Potluck taught me the power of a small, simple gathering of people coming together to break bread. It's a lesson I can sometimes forget in the chaos of daily life, but one I've kept coming back to since I moved away from that fair city on Lake Champlain.

Local Dinner party in DC

A few weeks ago, my friends Morgan, Dalila and I hosted a similar simple potluck, with the help of some local businesses and a very game group of guests. From the Farmer generously donated boxes of local produce to all attendees who were up for cooking a homemade dish to share, and other guests were charged with bringing a local product of their choice, whether it be DC Brau Public Ale, Gordy's pickles, or Dolcezzo Salted Caramel Gelatto. West Elm DC offered their place settings and mercury glass table décor while DeVinos lent a hand on the wine-front.

Morgan and Mitchell graciously offered to host the gathering in their cool Adams Morgan apartment, already well-stocked with 2 essential mood makers-- Christmas lights and good records. Guests' dishes complemented each other for a hearty winter meal-- we had French onion soup and mushroom-almond tapenade, parmesan celery spread and a local baguette, marinated broccoli with soft-boiled farm eggs, a butternut squash and apple tart with stilton and quinoa, sausage-pumpkin-spinach salad, and much more. I made a savory mushroom-gruyère tart, and a simple salted butter apple galette with maple whipped cream, adapted from Bon Appetit.

Wine on Dinner Party Table
Salted Butter Apple Galette

Salted Butter Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Nothing in the House pie crust
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 pound (about 3 large) baking apples, washed and sliced 1/8-inch thick
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, grade B

1. Prepare Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough in the fridge at least one hour. Meanwhile, prepare the salted butter glaze.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place butter in a small saucepan and scrape in vanilla seeds; add pod. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (be careful not to burn), 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and remove pod.

3. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough 14x10-inch rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange apple slices on top, overlapping and leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Brush apples with brown butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Lift edges of dough over apples, tucking and overlapping as needed to keep rectangular shape.

4. Beat egg with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl and brush crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake, rotating once, until apples are soft and juicy and crust is golden brown 40-50 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet before slicing.

5. Beat cream in a medium bowl to medium soft peaks. Fold in maple syrup and serve with galette.

Wine and Candles on Table

The dinner party was reminiscent of those best Seamonster potlucks-- really the way all dinner gatherings should be-- relaxed, delicious, and oh so cozy, with an overall feeling of warmth-- from the conversation, candles, AND red wine.

Big thanks to Morgan Hungerford West and Mitchell West for hosting, Dalila Boclin for coordinating, Cortney Hungerford for photography, all our awesome guests, and local partners-- From the Farmer, West Elm DC, DeVinos, and DC Brau.

Head on over to Panda Head for MORE.

Salted Butter Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream and Beer

Related recipes:
Apple Galette
Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Glaze
Cranberry-Lime Galette
Satsuma Orange Galette with Cream Cheese Crust

Cranberry Chess Pie

Fig Pistachio Tarte Tatin

Peppermint Pattie Tart

Whiskey & Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

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