Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Bodil Rosing’s Berliners (Four o’Clock Tea Cookies)

Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through the 1929 edition of the Photoplay cookbook (150 recipes of the stars, you can catch up on my past taste tests here) and today, we’re going to be trying out some tea cookies!

Bodil Rosing is not a household name but it’s doubtful that she ever was. A Danish character actress, Rosing played maids and cooks and housekeepers in silents and talkies. You can spot her in Sunrise, Why Be Good?, Hotel Imperial and You Can’t Take it With You. Her characters have names like Maid, Ma, Nurse and Ratty Old Woman. Hey, it’s a living.

Rosing’s recipe is for a European-style cookie. While it is listed here as a tea cookie, most online versions consider it to be a holiday treat. It’s a pretty standard shortbreadish thing except for one interesting detail. Can you spot it?

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The recipe calls for cooked egg yolks to be included in the batter. There is a sound reason for this as the texture of the yolks prevents the cookies from forming gluten, which keeps them tender. Considering the number of yolks required for this recipe, it would be an ideal time to make an angel food cake as well. Or give your dog a treat, as I did. (Dogs are egg addicts.)

Side note: The recipe makes it clear that butter and eggs were not the cheapest ingredients in the world. I did a bit of research and found a U.S. government report from 1924 that lists the prices of staple foods in the American diet. Butter is listed at $0.48 a pound ($6.79 in modern cash) and eggs are listed at $0.44 a dozen ($6.22 today). As I pay about $4-5 for butter and $1.50-2.50 for a dozen eggs (or would if my neighbor didn’t give me eggs from her chickens), I would say that this recipe is considerably more economical for the modern baker. (Obviously, this comparison uses standard grocery store brands, not magic organic eggs.)

Here is the dough before the dry ingredients are added:

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And here is the dough proper. Classic sugar cookie stuff and very easy to work with.

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I didn’t do my research before starting on this and so the instructions regarding the shaping of the dough are a bit obscure. Online recipes generally call for the dough to be shaped into snakes and then formed into wreaths or ribbons but I just cut mine with a biscuit cutter. Shh! Don’t tell the Scandinavians!

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I baked the cookies for 12 minutes at 325 degrees but be careful with these, every single recipe warns that they burn easily. If you’re not certain about your oven, start with a small batch and experiment.

And here are the finished cookies:

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Score: 3 out of 5. While the cookies are indeed very tender, they are just a bit dull for my taste. Don’t get me wrong, they’re nice sugar cookies but I think I would like them better with a maple glaze or some raspberry icing on the top. I tend to prefer punchier cookies (gingersnaps, oatmeal spice, snickerdoodles) and so I have to say that these are a bit… boring.

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Obviously, this is just my opinion and the cookies are perfectly nice as they are. I’m just a spice junkie.

8 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Bodil Rosing’s Berliners (Four o’Clock Tea Cookies)”

  1. I see there is no vanilla in these, let alone anything to spice it up a bit like a little nutmeg. Add those two ingredients and you’ll have a very nice cookie indeed! Very interesting look at “historical” cooking (to me this seems like yesterday, but that’s me!).

  2. Love the idea of maple glaze on these ok-but-blando tea cakes. Maybe a nice touch of cardamom and nutmeg in the glaze, even the batter, this time of year 🙂

  3. Adore the possibility of maple coating on these alright however blando tea cakes. Possibly a decent touch of cardamom and nutmeg in the coating, even the hitter, this season of year

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