Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the most iconic performers of the silent era.
A few months ago, I conducted a poll to see which silent star recipe I would cover in March and Lon Chaney won by a comfortable margin. This is a testament to the enduring popularity of a most unusual talent.
While he is famous for his makeup skills, Chaney’s greatest talents were his acting ability and his talent for generating sympathy for his dark and often evil characters. He loved to play wounded monsters, denied love but not necessarily undeserving of our empathy.
So, Chaney’s talents are legendary. Can we say the same about his baking skills? We shall see.
The first question I had was this: what is a “large potato” by 1929 American standards? The potatoes I had were about five inches long and about two and a half inches in diameter. Pretty large today but what about then?
I consulted my father, who was born in 1941, and he felt that home cooks wouldn’t have potatoes that large. He only remembered them being that big at steakhouses. An internet search of potato harvests seemed to confirm that a large potato of the 1920s would have been considerably smaller. I ended up using a potato and a half (about two and a quarter cups mashed) for the recipe but even that yielded a loose dough. I think that a cup and three-quarters to two cups would have been better.
I had never cooked with lard in my life, having spent my entire childhood in the fat-averse 80s and 90s and being hopelessly devoted to butter. Fortunately, my grocery store had an entire lard section. Whodathunkit?
I rolled out the dough on a well-floured surface and experimented with thicknesses. The recipe said to roll the dough “rather thin” which I assumed to mean thin in comparison to regular biscuit dough. I soon found out why. (By the way, this recipe makes 10 billion biscuits. Well, a lot anyway.)
Due to the density of the dough, these things take FOREVER to bake! I can only imagine how long they would have taken had I rolled them to regular biscuit thickness of about half an inch. As it was, the quarter inch thick biscuits took just shy of 30 minutes to bake in a 400 degree oven!
At last, they were brown enough to eat.
Taste test video:
Score 3 out of 5: I had heard that lard yielded tender baked goods and this proved to be true here. The texture was quite lovely and the thinness of the biscuits made them easy to slather with butter and jam. The biscuits must be eaten hot as they taste really horrid cold and their dense texture precludes you from eating too many.
However, I didn’t find much to recommend this recipe over a classic buttermilk biscuit. Boiling the potatoes and waiting for them to cool prevents this from being a true quick bread and the long baking time makes the wait even longer. While this recipe is nice enough, there is a reason why the classic biscuit recipe endures.