Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Linda Arvidson’s Chocolate Cookies

Welcome back! Today, we’re going to be baking some chocolate cookies from Linda Arvidson, a Biograph actress more famous today for her crumbled marriage than her acting roles. This recipe is from a 1916 charity cookbook. You can catch up on all the taste tests in the series here.

This cookie recipe has an important silent film figure in the mix, namely D.W. “We call it the War of Northern Aggression!” Griffith. (That last sentence works best if you say it in a Foghorn Leghorn accent.)

At the time this recipe was published, Linda Arvidson was signing her name as Mrs. D.W. Griffith. Casual movie fans would be forgiven for not realizing that he was married; Arvidson does not often come up in conversation. When she is mentioned, the modern perception of her is often colored by the mean girl shade Lillian Gish threw her way. Why, the wretched woman was receiving a very healthy and regular chunk of cash due to the nature of their separation agreement. The wicked vampire!

I am almost always on the side of the spouse who stands by their partner in the lean days and then gets dumped the moment fame and fortune come knocking. Surely there must be more to the story.

Arvidson in "The Unchanging Sea" (1910)
Arvidson in “The Unchanging Sea” (1910)

I don’t normally like to delve into the private lives of silent film personnel but, as it was in the cases of Mildred Harris and Natacha Rambova, nasty gossip has taken over the memory of a woman who is not alive to fight back. The real story of the “cruel” separation agreement? Griffith wrote when he should have telephoned, you see, and admitted in a letter that he had stepped out on his wife many times. You hear that sound, Mr. Griffith? That’s your bank account saying buh-bye.

Come on, if your significant other confessed to serial unfaithfulness and was also making a mint as a famous film director, wouldn’t you be tempted to make them pay through the nose? Don’t get mad, get everything!

Okay, who is with me in wanting Linda, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford and other silent era women with horrid exes to form a 1910s First Wives Club? (This gives me an idea for a poster!)

I strongly recommend heading over to 11 East 14th Street and reading their excellent and highly detailed article on this maligned woman. You will learn the real story of Linda Arvidson, which proves to be much more interesting than the fiction.

So, we know that Arvidson was not too happy in love, will she be happier creating sweet treats? That’s what this taste test is all about!

linda-arvidson-chocolate-cookies

I took “the usual way” of mixing to mean: Soft butter is creamed with the sugar and then the egg and milk are added. Once these are mixed well, fold in the melted chocolate. The remaining dry ingredients are mixed in a second bowl and then added to the chocolate mixture.

The "usual way"
The “usual way”

(Per the 1918 edition of Fannie Farmer’s iconic cookbook, one square of baking chocolate is one ounce, the same way it is packaged in the modern United States. I melted the chocolate in the microwave, which is terribly anachronistic of me. Promise not to tell?)

Where's the chocolate?
Where’s the chocolate?

The texture of the dough was nice but I was concerned about the light color. Could these anemic-looking cookies live up to their chocolaty name?

Roll, roll, roll!
Roll, roll, roll!
Excuse my baking sheet, I realized too late that I was out of parchment paper.
Excuse my baking sheet, I realized too late that I was out of parchment paper.
I had some raw sugar on hand so I sprinkled it on.
I had some raw sugar on hand so I sprinkled it on.

As for oven temperature and timing, keep in mind that oven technology varied and temperature was very much a matter of opinion. I just used my go-to temperature of 350 degree Fahrenheit. The cookies were firm and had browned bottoms in about twelve minutes but do keep an eye on them if you are trying this recipe for yourself.

Taste Test Video:

Score: 2 out of 5. The cookies are not bad but they are certainly not chocolate. They are basically sugar cookies with the tiniest hint of chocolate flavor; there simply is not enough chocolate in the recipe to give it suitable oomph. A better use for the chocolate would have been to make a glaze for the tops of the cookies or shave it and sprinkle it over them. (Chocolate chips were invented in the 1890s but the chocolate chip cookie was not invented until the 1930s.)

Pretty but chocolaty? No.
Pretty but chocolaty? No.

The cookies do have a nice, tender texture and they hold the shape of the cookie cutter very well. It’s a shame that they didn’t deliver on flavor as every other element of these cookies is a success. Alas for Linda Arvidson, Sidney Drew remains the silent film cookie champion.

Alas, looks aren't everything.
Alas, looks aren’t everything.

Try this instead: Chocolate chocolate chip cookies with chocolate icing. Hey, we were promised chocolate, right? Alternatively, perhaps substituting white chocolate in the original recipe would create a creamier, less disappointing treat.

10 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Linda Arvidson’s Chocolate Cookies”

  1. The light color sure wasn’t promising. Is it possible to put twice as much chocolate in the recipe or would that affect the cookie in some other way? What is a “scant cup” of flour?

  2. Thanks for the link to my essay on Linda Arvidson! Too bad her chocolate cookies were a disappointment. My favorite recipe for a really intensely chocolate cookie is one that I found in Gourmet magazine about 15 years ago.

    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    5 oz. fine-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped.
    1/2 cup hazelnuts or sliced almonds, finely chopped
    1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar for coating.

    It is pretty much a basic butter/sugar cookie recipe, creaming the butter and the granulated sugar, then beating in the egg & vanilla, and adding the mixed dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking powder) to make the dough. The chopped chocolate and nuts are then added until just combined (I’ve made them without the nuts, and they are just as good). Cover with plastic wrap, chill 30 mins. Roll a tablespoon of dough into a 1 inch ball, the flatten slightly to form a 1/3 inch thick disk, then coat with confectioners sugar. Place them 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets (I used parchment, if I remember correctly) in upper third of preheated 325 oven. Bake 8 to 10 mins total, switching position of the baking sheets halfway through baking, until they puff up and the tops crack slightly. Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Recoat cookies with confectioners sugar.

    These cookies have an intense chocolate flavor, and are not very sweet, especially if you choose to omit the post-baking confectioner’s sugar coating (but I think the thin layer of powdered sugar adds just a little moisture and sweetness). I’ve made them using other flavorings too, using mint, orange or almond extracts, with good results, (although the mint worked the best). I’ve also made them with additional larger pieces of chopped chocolate added to the dough, which adds a little moisture without drastically altering the texture or baking time.

  3. I have to give these cookies a try but with some more chocolate:) This lady deserves more compassion than she got-D.W. is not what I would call a gem

Comments are closed.