250 Treasured Country Desserts

Mouthwatering, Time-honored, Tried & True, Soul-satisfying, Handed-down Sweet Comforts


By Andrea Chesman

By Fran Raboff

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 19, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Nothing beats chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven, freshly baked shortcake, or a perfect apple pie cooling on the windowsill. 250 Treasured Country Desserts is packed with tried-and-true recipes for the homey treats you’ve loved all your life, with practical tips on how to make gingery ginger snaps, clean-cut brownies, dreamily frosted layer cakes, and much more. You’ll turn to this reliable guide again and again for sweet, satisfying dessert classics. 


250 Treasured

The mission of Storey Publishing is to serve our customers by
publishing practical information that encourages
personal independence in harmony with the environment.

Edited by Margaret Sutherland and Nancy D. Wood

Art direction and book design by Mary Winkelman Velgos

Cover design by Alethea Morrison

Text production by Jennifer Jepson Smith

Cover and interior illustration by © Julia Rothman

Indexed by Andrea Chesman

© 2009 by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages or reproduce illustrations in a review with appropriate credits; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means — electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other — without written permission from the publisher.

The information in this book is true and complete to the best of our knowledge. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author or Storey Publishing. The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information. For additional information, please contact Storey Publishing, 210 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247.

Storey books are available for special premium and promotional uses and for customized editions. For further information, please call 1-800-793-9396.

Printed in the United States by Versa Press
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


Chesman, Andrea.

250 treasured country desserts/by Andrea Chesman & Fran Raboff.

    p. cm.

Includes index.

Based on the author’s Mom’s best desserts, 100 classic treats

that taste as good now as they did.

ISBN 978-1-60342-152-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Desserts. 2. Cookery, American. I. Raboff, Fran. II. Title.

III. Title: Two hundred and fifty country desserts.

TX773.C521975 2009




1 Cookies

2 Brownies and Bars

3 Fancy Cakes

4 Everyday Cakes, Muffins, and Scones

5 Pies and Tarts

6 Fruit and Nut Desserts

7 Puddings and Custards

8 Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts

Metric Conversions

Egg Information



Here is a collection of truly great desserts — chocolate cake and blueberry pie, cherry cobblers and apple pandowdy, lemon meringue and chocolate cream pies, chocolate chip cookies and gingerbread men, butterscotch pudding and baked apple dumplings. The classics, the originals, the best.

When you want a birthday cake, nothing but Mom’s tall devil’s food cake will do. And when strawberries are finally available locally, your first impulse is to make strawberry shortcake. Likewise, gingerbread brings a smile to a friend laid up with a broken leg, and a creamy rice pudding soothes the soul after a hard week at work. We all have eaten and enjoyed the elaborate restaurant desserts created by trained pastry chefs, but we love the good old, old-fashioned desserts best — the ones our mothers and grandmothers made. That is what this book is about.

One of the heirloom recipes we tested for this book was an old “receipt” for chocolate cake that came from a Hershey’s cocoa tin. At one time or another, probably half the households in the United States ate that cake. The saying may be “as American as apple pie,” but the truth is that the apple pie was invented in England. What America can proudly claim as her own is the layer cake, and the chocolate layer cake may be its best example.

Baking powder, the leavening agent in layer cakes, was an American invention. Before the days of baking powder, cakes were leavened with eggs, sometimes with yeast. The egg cakes required a phenomenal amount of beating. Old recipes can be found that begin with “Separate your eggs and beat for five hours …” Tall cakes were layers of baked sponge cake, sandwiched with sweetened creams and jellies.

As early as the Middle Ages, professional bakers knew that baked goods could be leavened with alkaline salts. They made something called pearl ash from refined wood ash and from a type of Spanish seaweed. In northern Europe, bakers used refined salts from the ash of deer antlers.

Native Americans added wood ash to their cornmeal cakes to sweeten the batter. (The wood ash also added essential amino acids to the corn, making it a complete protein.) American colonists took the innovation a step further by using sour milk to moisten the corn cakes. When the acid of the sour milk reacted with the alkaline wood ash, bubbles of carbon dioxide were formed, which made the cakes lighter. The colonists called the wood ash potash, and later changed the name to pearl ash. By the 1790s, America was shipping tons of pearl ash to Europe.

Pearl ash was eventually replaced by saleratus (an early version of baking soda), which was chemically similar. Both required an acid — sour milk, buttermilk, chocolate, or molasses — to work. Saleratus was sold in little envelopes with recipes printed on the back. Imagine what a vast improvement in the housewife’s life saleratus represented! She could make bread without long rising times, cakes without hours of beating eggs.

The development of the iron cooking range made the ready adoption of saleratus possible. The cookstove provided the intense heat needed for the chemical activation of saleratus, something that open fireplaces couldn’t provide. Besides freeing the housewife from the slow methods of hearth cookery, the iron cookstove enabled her to utilize timesaving ingredients — including saleratus and, later, baking soda — in her baking.

Then it was discovered that baking soda plus cream of tartar could be used in a batter made with fresh milk, rather than sour milk or buttermilk. This signaled the start of the baking powder industry — and the American fascination with layer cakes. It also gave rise to the development of countless recipes for quick breads and muffins.

Pies were ever a standard in the American colonies. What better way to use fresh summer berries and cold-stored apples than to encase them in a crust made of flour and lard?

From the South come some of our most beloved pies. Sure, apple pie is a favorite, but southern states gave us pecan pie, chess pie, black bottom pie, and Key lime pie, to name a few. The South was the center of pastry innovations in part because granulated sugar was plentiful there while the rest of the country still relied on the more heavily flavored molasses and maple syrup. Skillful slave cooks contributed significantly to this period of culinary development. Also, after the Civil War, a shortage of dairy cows led to the introduction of canned condensed milk — the creamy base for Key lime pies and countless other chiffon pies. Pie, at any time of the day, even for breakfast, became the rage in the 1800s.

The history of American desserts, indeed American cooking, is a rich one. Following the Native Americans, who sweetened corn cakes, came the stern Puritans of New England, the industrious Quakers of Pennsylvania, and the prosperous colonists of Virginia. In the far North and again in the South, French colonists also exerted a profound influence. From these beginnings come our deep-dish fruit pies and cobblers, whimsically named fools, and sweet and creamy puddings.

A second wave of immigration brought Scottish-Irish, German, and Dutch cooking. Meanwhile, the African slaves can be credited with bringing both new foods and new techniques to what was to become American cooking. Into this melting pot of international cookery traditions, American foods — cornmeal, maple syrup, and an abundance of fruits and nuts — were stirred.

The very first American cookbook, Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, was printed in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742 and in New York in 1764. American by imprint only, the book was a best seller in England. A few more books followed, but until 1796, these cookbooks reflected the culinary arts of England.

We know, however, from diaries and handwritten “receipt” books that a distinctive American cuisine was emerging prior to 1796, but it wasn’t until that year that these new foods and dishes were committed to print — in Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery, which was published in Hartford, Connecticut.

Simmons described herself as an American orphan, suggesting that those who aren’t fortunate enough to be privy to the cooking secrets of mother and grandmother must rely on the printed word. And so began, perhaps, the whole tradition of American self-help books.

Mothers and grandmothers would have been a help in those days, even when the aid of a cookbook was available. Recipes in early cookbooks disdained measures and timing. All was approximate because ingredients and temperatures in fireplaces and woodstove ovens were hardly standardized.

Our culinary forebears invented recipes that fit the larder; they had no choice but to bake with what was at hand — flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and fresh and preserved fruit. To make things more interesting, they gave their creations whimsical names, including snickerdoodles, grunts, slumps, buckles, and dowdies. Not all the names can be explained, but all of these desserts can be enjoyed as much now as they were when Grandmother and Great-grandmother made them.

Basic Baking Tips

Experience is the best teacher when it comes to baking. Some of us were lucky enough to learn how to bake by watching our moms and grandmothers as they went about their busy days at home. Others of us have learned in classes and from books. For the book learners, here is a list of distilled baking wisdom we have gathered over the years. For further tips, see the introductions to each chapter.


Bring ingredients to room temperature. Soften butter by removing it from the refrigerator and letting it stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. You can speed this up by about 15 minutes by cutting the butter into chunks. When time is limited, grate the cold butter and let it stand for 10 minutes in a bowl set over (not in) hot water. A microwave will warm butter unevenly, but you can try it at 30 percent power for 30 seconds. Bring chilled eggs to room temperature quickly by placing them in a pan of very warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cream cheese takes about 20 minutes to soften at room temperature.

Don’t use imitation ingredients. Vanilla extract, high-quality chocolate, and butter (not margarine) do make a difference.

Buy ground spices in small quantities. They lose their pungency and aroma quickly, so label the date of purchase and discard them after 6 months. For instance, freshly grated nutmeg is incomparable in flavor to ground nutmeg, which is why we recommend purchasing and grating whole nutmegs.

Recipes often specify whether light or dark brown sugar will yield the better results. Dark brown sugar has more flavor, but feel free to use whichever type you have on hand. Brown sugar is usually pressed down firmly in a cup for measuring.

Although many baking books insist on using unsalted butter in all recipes, we do not. Whether you prefer salted or unsalted butter is a matter of regional and personal taste. The salt acts as a preservative and sometimes masks off flavors. So the choice is yours. If using salted butter, you do not have to adjust the amount of salt the recipe requires.

Toast nuts before adding them to the batter, to maximize flavor. Nuts should be toasted whole, then chopped. (It is a good idea to taste them before using to make sure they haven’t gone rancid.) To toast nuts, preheat the oven to 300°F. Spread out the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring once, until the nuts are slightly colored and fragrant. Let cool, then chop as needed.


The first step in most recipes is preheating the oven and preparing the baking pans. Unless otherwise specified, the oven rack should be put in the middle of the oven. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to preheat most ovens.

Glass bakeware conducts and retains heat better than metal, so your dessert may bake more quickly in glass pans than in metal ones. If your baked good seems to be browning too quickly, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

To figure out if you have the correct-size baking dish for a specific recipe (if it’s not marked on the pan), use a ruler to check the dimensions from inside edge to inside edge. Measure the depth from the inside. Measure the volume of a pan (for example, a 1½-quart baking dish) by filling it with water and then pouring off the water into a measuring cup.

Use nesting dry measuring cups to measure most dry ingredients (such as flour and sugar) accurately. A set usually contains ¼-, 1/3-, ½-, and 1-cup sizes. Spoon the ingredient into a dry measuring cup, then level off the top with the straight edge of a knife. Don’t tap the cup or press down on the ingredients.

Use clear, spouted measuring cups when measuring liquids. Hold the cup at eye level and fill to the appropriate line. To measure maple syrup, honey, oil, or other sticky liquids, rinse the measuring cup in hot water first. The liquid will pour out more cleanly. If you can, measure oil first, then sweeteners.


Planning ahead is key. Read your recipe and line up the ingredients on the counter, preferably in the order called for in the recipe. As each ingredient is used, set it aside. When the phone rings or the kids shout from another room, you can come back to the mixing bowl knowing whether the salt has already been added.

To grease a pan, put a little butter or solid shortening in the pan. Use a piece of butter wrapping, waxed paper, or paper towel to spread the butter over the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

Measure shortening or softened butter by packing it into a measuring cup, then leveling it off with a knife. The wrapping on sticks of butter shows where to cut for tablespoon measures. One stick of butter equals ½ cup or 8 tablespoons. Do not use whipped butter in baking; it contains 30 to 45 percent air and won’t measure accurately.

Before beating egg whites, make sure that your bowl and beaters are clean by rinsing with vinegar, then clean water. Dry carefully.

You can use either a flour sifter or any fine-mesh sieve to sift flour.

When you are baking in more than one pan at a time, leave space between the pans and make sure there is at least 6 inches of space between oven racks. Rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom when halfway through baking.

If your baked goods are baking too fast or too slowly, check to make sure the oven temperature is accurate. Oven thermometers are available at kitchen supply stores.

Always cool baked goods completely, on a wire rack, before storing. This includes cakes filled or frosted with whipped cream, cheesecakes, cream pies, and puddings. Perishable desserts should be stored, well wrapped, in the refrigerator and eaten within 3 days.

Generally speaking, most baked goods, well wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in an airtight bag, can be frozen for 2 to 3 months. Unfrosted cakes freeze more successfully than do frosted cakes.

Basic Equipment

Having a well-equipped kitchen makes baking easier. For the majority of recipes in this book, all you will need are the standard assortment of baking pans, mixing bowls, and utensils that most kitchens have. Here are the ones we use most frequently.

Measuring cups for liquid (these are see-through and have pouring spouts)

Measuring cups for dry measures (these have flat tops for leveling the ingredients)

Measuring spoons (two or more sets will be handy)

Mixing bowls in assorted sizes (a heatproof metal bowl can double as the top of a double boiler)

Rubber spatulas, for scraping bowls

Flour sifter

Rolling pin

Pastry brush, for applying glazes

Handheld electric beater or standing mixer

Baking sheets

8-inch square baking pan

8-inch round baking pans

9- by 13-inch rectangular baking pan

9- by 5-inch loaf pan

9-inch pie pans

9-inch square baking pan

9-inch round cake pans

10-inch Bundt pan

10-inch tube pan with removable bottom

Standard 12-cup muffin pan

Kitchen timer

Wire cooling racks

Baker’s Wish List

If you love to bake and have the space, here are additional tools you might want to acquire.

Pastry wheel

Pastry cutter

Assorted cookie cutters

Pastry bag and tips

Pie weights or bakers beans, for baking unfilled pie shells

Pastry scraper, to lift dough

Offset spatula or palette knife, for spreading frosting

8- or 9-inch springform pan

Angel food cake pan

Half sheet cake pan (11 by 17 inches)

Scissors, for cutting dried fruit

Metal microplane, for grating chocolate and citrus zest

Small (1½-ounce) trigger-style ice cream scoop, for measuring cookie dough or scooping up small ice cream balls

Flour shaker, for sprinkling work surface or baking sheet

Confectioners’ sugar shaker

Oven thermometer

Candy thermometer


On Sale
Aug 19, 2009
Page Count
416 pages

Andrea Chesman

About the Author

Andrea Chesman is the author of The Fat Kitchen as well as many other cookbooks that focus on traditional techniques and fresh-from-the-garden cooking. Her previous books include The Pickled PantryServing Up the Harvest101 One-Dish Dinners, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and gives cooking demonstrations and classes across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.

Michael Ruhlman is the author of The Elements of Cooking, The Soul of a Chef, and The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, among others.

Learn more about this author