Monday, April 15, 2013

Dinner Train: The House of Mirth Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies

A fair warning: I’m going to spoil the end of The House of Mirth in describing why I chose to make these cookies, so if you don’t want to be spoiled and only care about the recipe, scroll down to the recipe, which contains no spoilers, just recipe.  You’ve been fairly warned!

Arsenic?  Or sugar?

As those of us who have read The House of Mirth are well aware, it doesn’t exactly end well for our girl, Lily Bart.  While there’s some controversy as to whether she meant to overdose on sleeping pills or if it was accidental, she tragically does, right before George Selden comes to propose.   Ice cold, Edith Wharton.  (But as I note in my review, I doubt it would have made difference to Lily anyways; I believe she was just done.)  Needless to say, short of like, tea and finger sandwiches, I wasn’t quite sure what to make for this that wouldn’t be kind of expected or appropriate to the book and time, or that was something I’d kind of already done (see the ladies tea party/picnic menu for The Anne of Green Gables).  There is so much opulent elegance that I initially thought I’d do something like Madeleines, but that just also seemed too obvious.  And then it struck me: Lace cookies.  These ladies love them some lace!  And this is an old book!  Even better, I could be inappropriate and make them a little trite, and go all out for The House of Mirth by filling them with “arsenic,” and call them Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies.  It’s a little tongue in cheek, but you know you liked it. 
Bashing the bejesus out of sugar cubes: strangely satisfying.
My secret ingredient: arsenic.  MWAHA. 
 There are a ton of recipes out there for Lace Cookies; they seem to tend to be primarily comprised of butter, sugar, and some sort of oatmeal/flower starch to bind the sugars.  I set my stomach on this one, and then, as per, went a little off the rails.  I chose to use almond extract to give mine a little bit of flavor that struck me as ladies who tea appropriate.  In order to channel the arsenic, I knew I needed a white crunchy sugar.
These Arsenic and Old Lace cookies are ready for a hot date with the oven.
I mean, I think…having never actually seen arsenic in the flesh.  I’d heard of this magical sugar called Pearl Sugar; it allegedly holds both its shape and opacity as it cooks, giving whatever it is added to a nice white crunch.  I went to three grocery stores to attempt to get the mythical pearl sugar I’d heard of, and struck out three times.  When I realized I was up a creek without a paddle, I decided to go rogue and use lightly crushed sugar cubes to get the same effect.  I cut the sugar in the recipe, and used the same amount to be stirred in as arsenic chunks.  It turned out mostly okay, but I may have been a little over zealous in my crushing efforts, so the chunks didn’t hold as well as I’d envisioned.   I’d still recommend the pearl sugar, which I have since learned can be ordered online.   SIGH.  Anyways, give these plenty of time to dry out, cool, and crisp up, and enjoy them with a nice cup of tea.  I think Lily Bart would agree that they’re kind of addictive (too soon?).
Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies and a 1905 illustrated copy of the book
Dinner Train Book Club recipe for The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies
(makes about 2-3 dozen)

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup Old Fashioned oats
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted 
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup Pearl Sugar or sugar cubes crushed into large pieces


1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and oats in a bowl, stirring with a large spoon to combine.  
3.  In another, larger bowl, mix the butter, cream, corn syrup and almond extract until combined
4.  Slowly begin to stir in the dry ingredients until just combined.
5.  Gently fold in the Pearl sugar or chunks of sugar cube, mixing only a few times to distribute them throughout the mixture.
6.  On baking sheets lined with parchment paper, drop about a teaspoon of the batter for each cookie.  Leave approximately 2 inches of space on all sides; these cookies spread considerably as they bake.
7.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.  
8.  Place on a wire cooling rack for at least an hour to allow the cookies to full cool and crisp up.  
9.  Enjoy!
Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies
Dinner Train Book Club recipe for The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...