Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011
It had once been the site of Wilshire Bowl and the notorious Slapsy Maxie’s Night Club, a reputed Mickey Cohen gangster hangout. During the 1950s it was transitioned into Van de Kamp’s Restaurant. Van de Kamp’s was this great chain of coffee shop-bakeries in Sothern California founded by Lawrence Frank (Lawry’s family of restaurants) and Theodore Van de Kamp (The Van de Kamp families—related to the Franks through marriage).
The Van de Kamp’s restaurant we use to go to was on the Miracle Mile on the corner of Masselin Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. It was the largest of their restaurants that had a separate bakery and candy store. It had a rotating blue windmill sign above the front door and a big take-out menu on the side of the building.
At eleven years old, I thought they made a “killer” open-face hot roast beef sandwich with whipped mashed potatoes and a black-and-white sundae (marshmallow sauce and chocolate sauce over premium vanilla ice cream) served with a sugared Dutch Girl Cookie—the subject recipe of this week’s blog.
Not only did we go there to eat, but my mother often brought food home to heat and eat later. They had a thriving take-out business (way before Joan’s on Third) when this was considered pioneering by restaurateurs and seldom done. All the Van de Kamp’s take-out foods were chef-made in the restaurant and sold fresh, never frozen. My two favorite take-home meals were the deep fried halibut and the cheese enchiladas with one slice of black olive on the top.
The restaurant had two of the large rotating baking ovens that you could see near the kitchen where they baked pies and cookies. Take-out wouldn’t have been complete without a small tray box of just-baked Dutch Girl Sugar Cookies. Everyone loved them! These were the thinnest, butteryest of cookies coated on both sides with crystalline sugar. If you were addicted to these and have a hankering for a taste of yesteryear, then give these a try. If you have never had them, you’ll never forget your first bite.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooling Time: 2 hours (or overnight)
Bake Time: 45 to 50 minutes
Ready In: 3 hours
Yield: About 30 cookies
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup Choclatique Rouge Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated orange zest
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
11/2 cups crystalline or coarse sugar
- In a large bowl mix together the flour, cocoa powder, milk, orange zest, yeast and salt until combined. Using an electric mixer, add butter one piece at a time, beating for one minute after each piece is added. Dough will be very smooth and elastic.
- Remove the dough from the mixer, place it in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate it for at least two hours. The dough can be refrigerated overnight.
- Sprinkle a work surface heavily with the coarse sugar. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time (keep the other half refrigerated) using a rolling pin to roll out the dough on the sugar covered surface as thinly as possible (less than 1/8-inch thick), adding additional sugar to the work surface when needed. Halfway through rolling, turn dough over to coat the other side with coarse sugar.
- Preheat oven to 250° F. Using a rolling pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into squares about 2-1/2 inches in size. Don’t make the cookies any larger or the edges will brown before the middle is baked.
- Transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet about a half an inch apart and away from the edges of the pan. Repeat process with remaining refrigerated dough. Keep refrigerated until ready to bake. Bake cookies for 45-50 minutes or until a deep, golden brown (but not burned).
- Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a cooling rack immediately, so as not to stick to the parchment.
ChefSecret: No, I didn’t forget to add sugar to the basic dough. There is enough sweetness from the crystalline sugar the dough is rolled in. I know 45-50 minutes seems like a long time to bake a thin cookie like this, but you want to drive all the moisture out of the dough to create a crisp, long-lasting cookie. That said, keep an eye on them while baking to make sure the edges don’t get too dark.
Los Angeles Past: Max Everitt Rosenbloom, known as Slapsie Maxie, was an American boxer, actor (The Joe Palooka Story) and television personality. In 1930, he won the New York light heavyweight title and in 1932, he won the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World. Meyer Harris “Mickey” Cohen was a gangster based in Los Angeles with strong ties to the American Mafia from the 1930s through 1960s.