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New Year’s traditions abound-and many are centered on food. If your family is like mine, there are certain dishes that *must* be prepared on the first day of the new year, upon penalty of bad luck (if you believe in that kind of thing).

In 19th century New York City, women held New Year’s Day “open houses” and welcomed guests, who stopped in at their convenience for conversation, entertainment, and food. In New York, no open house buffet was complete without the New Year’s Cake, an Americanized version of a recipe for thick, crisp wafers called nieuwjaarskoeken, originating in the Netherlands.

This particular recipe is really more of a breakfast biscuit-sweet and hearty. It comes from “Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches” by Eliza Leslie, published in 1837. Here is Miss Leslie’s recipe:

• 1/2 pound of powdered white sugar
• 3 pounds of flour
• 1 pound of butter
• 1 grated nutmeg
• 1 tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon
• 1 wine glass of rose-water
• 1 tea-spoonful of pearl-ash

Take a half-pint or a tumbler full of cold water, and mix it with the powdered white sugar. Sift the flour into a large pan and cut the butter up in it; rub the butter very fine into the flour. Add nutmeg and powdered cinnamon, with the rose-water. Work in the sugar, and make the whole into a stiff dough, adding, if necessary, a little cold water. Dissolve the pearl-ash in just enough of warm water to cover it, and mix it in at the last. Take the lump of dough out of the pan, and knead it on the paste-board till it becomes quite light. Then roll it out rather more than half an inch thick, and cut it into square cakes with a jagging iron or with a sharp knife. Stamp the surface of each with a cake print. Lay them in buttered pans, and bake them of a light brown in a brisk oven.
They will keep two or three weeks. In mixing the dough, you may add three table-spoonfuls of carraway seeds.

There are a lot of crazy things going on with this recipe. First, three pounds of flour?!! That’s 12 cups! I suppose if you had to make enough for a buffet, that would be a suitable amount but I decided to reduce the recipe to one, modern sized batch. Also, most of us don’t have rose-water in our pantry. After some internet research, I think I came up with a suitable substitute. I am hoping to do a recipe for homemade rose-water later this year. Finally, pearl-ash, in case you’re wondering, is the old-fashioned name for baking soda!

Here is my version:

• 1 cup of powdered white sugar
• ¼ cup of cold water
• 3 cups of flour
• 1 stick of butter
• 1 ½ teaspoon of nutmeg
• 1 ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
• 2 tablespoons of brewed chamomile tea, cooled
• 1 ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
• ¼ teaspoon of baking soda

Mix cold water and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Add chamomile tea and vanilla extract, set aside.

Meanwhile, put flour into large mixing bowl. Cut butter into flour. Add nutmeg and cinnamon to flour and butter-mix well. Add nutmeg and powdered cinnamon.

Add sugar-water from small bowl into flour mixture and mix.

Dissolve baking soda in few drops of warm tap water and add to mixture. Work entire mixture into a stiff dough. It will feel a little like play-doh and look like this:

Take the lump of dough out of the pan, and knead it one minute on a wooden cutting board. You don’t need to use any flour on the board-it won’t stick. Roll it out to about half an inch thick (no less), again without using flour, and cut with a sturdy cookie cutter or biscuit cutter.

Placed on greased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes. Cool on waxed paper.

The recipe makes approximately two dozen cakes. I found these to be quite good with a spoon of homemade jam or a bit of honey. Each cake, with a spoon of jam, is only about 100 calories! It makes a great new tradition for your New Year’s morning. As the old saying goes, “What’s old is new again!”

To all of my blog followers, I wish a wonderful start to 2012-here’s to more vintage cooking!

Next blog post: Bite From the Past dines out at historic Mecklenburg Gardens in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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