The Infamous Tennis Shoe Pastry.

Ok, Julia... this one's for you.

After reminiscing about the Spanish Bar Cake (Applesauce Cake) last week, which itself was a response to What Julia Ate's Applesauce Cake recipe, she commented about the tennis shoe coffee cakes of my youth. The mere mention spurred me on a mission to remember to get the recipe from my Mom. Since I was there over the weekend, I asked her for the recipe. It didn't take much prompting to "might as well just make it", and using the last half pound of butter in her fridge, I did just that. Julia will also be pleased that it is fairly almondy, since another thing that she and I have in common is our passion for Almond Extract. Perhaps she will make it using her homemade butter, something that's also on my list to do!

Driving up Friday afternoon, I was able to catch part of Food Friday on Wisconsin Public Radio (Radio Without Borders). The hour was devoted to Gourmet's Cookie Book, and featured Sarah Moulton, the longtime executive chef of Gourmet Magazine. The book highlights one cookie recipe for every year of the magazine's life, from 1941-2009. (You can listen to the hour in the archives from Friday 11/12/10.) I always like "vintage" recipes, and noting how things have changed over time. This book shows the fascinating progression of cookies from wartime rationing to luxury chocolate decadence. When my Mom found the yellowing card in an old recipe box, I knew right away that this must also be one such rationing recipe. I read and reread to be sure that there was no sugar in it - and there isn't. The only sweetener comes from the powdered sugar glaze drizzled over the top.

My Mom received this recipe when I was young (so likely, the '70's), from a woman named Ruth Peterson. It's technically called Danish Puff, but my Great Aunt always said they looked like a couple of tennis shoes. Maybe, but they are so good that they won't be around long enough for anyone to notice.

I'm actually glad that I was able to make this recipe at my Mom's house. Had I made it here, I would have employed the food pro to cut the butter into the flour and then how vintage would it have been? I love being reminded that the hands are my most valuable asset, and they served me just fine. In fact, I think they are key to the recipe, since the warmth of them aids in the formation of the base dough layer. Without warm hands, the dough would not come together with a mere 2 T. of water. Remember that when you are working the dough together the bowl, and you start to think that you need to add additional liquid.

"Tools were made, and born were hands." William Blake

When the dough (very sticky eventually, due to those warm hands) is formed, the tennis shoes are made:

It's easiest to roll the equal portions of dough into longish snakes and then use the heel of your palm to coax it into flat submission. And, try to use parchment paper, since it will make your life easier - though I'm fairly certain that it would not have been a necessity at the recipe's birth. The dough certainly has enough butter in it that it would not stick to a sheet pan.

The layer, or puff, part of the Danish Puff comes from a pate a choux type application. Mine didn't raise as much as my Mom remembered it raising, but she thinks perhaps she used a hand mixer to incorporate the eggs. I did not; I just stirred with a wooden spoon in classic pate a choux style. I may try the electric mixer next time and see what happens.

butter and water melted.

flour added.

eggs added.

Spread the "puff" over the dough base, close to the edges.

I will write the recipe as it is on the card. As the radio show pointed out, recipes used to assume that you knew how to cook and bake. But, that said, I know how to cook and bake, and I still asked my Mom how she used to do it. I'm betting that a fair number of vintage recipes are vague because one had someone to ask. Isn't that the best part of baking? Sharing... it's not just for kindergartners.

Danish Puff (Tennis Shoe Pastry)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 t. almond (extract)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 3 eggs
"Measure first cup of flour into bowl. Cut in butter. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp water. Mix with fork. Divide in half. Pat into 12"x3. Place 3" apart on ungreased baking sheet.

Mix second amount of butter and water (in a small to medium pot). Bring to boil. Remove from heat: add almond (extract). Beat in flour, stir quickly to prevent lumping. When smooth, add one egg at a time, beat well after each one. Divide in half, and spread evenly on each half of pastry.

bake 60 min.

Frost with a confectioner's sugar icing and sprinkle with nuts.
8-12 servings "

My icing also had almond extract in it, and next time, I'll probably add a bit more to the puff part. The baking time was exactly one hour. It turns a golden brown, and is puffed up when it's ready. Cool it completely before frosting, and sprinkle it with chopped nuts, in our case walnuts, before slicing into it. It really is a great coffee cake recipe, and after not having it for maybe 20 years, I can say that it is as I remember it: flaky and buttery, the center custardy and not so sweet, and gone by the end of the day.

Well, actually it was gone by the next morning, when just 3 little pieces remained. Somehow, my family adheres to the credo that little bites don't matter. At least, I do, and cut most desserts into smaller and smaller pieces until the "row is straightened" accordingly. This method is most often applied to our fudge making, when those rows just will not be straight, and a sharp knife deftly tries to even it out, scraps going directly to my hips...

Ahhh, the trappings of a dessert-eating family. We do what we can, right? And if we want to cut back on sugar, we just don't make dessert, because if it's there, it needs to be eaten.