Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through Photoplay’s 1929 star recipe cookbook and you’re invited to join me. This week, an appetizer from an elegant leading lady.
Florence Vidor is more famous these days for the men she married than her film career but she was a pretty big star. (In case you were curious, she was married to director King Vidor and then legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz.)
A Texas native, Vidor specialized in playing ladies in the classic sense of the word. Her sensitive beauty and natural elegance made her a perfect fit for historical dramas but she also played modern roles, such as Adolphe Menjou’s estranged wife in Are Parents People? and the leading lady of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Marriage Circle.
Florence Vidor is sometimes categorized as a star whose career was killed by sound. True, Chinatown Nights is hardly a masterpiece but any flaws in the picture are due to awkward shoehorned sound sequences. Vidor was dubbed by another actress and was generally soured by the whole experience. I can’t say that I blame her.
The entire moviemaking process changed completely from late 1927 to around 1930. Many performers chose to make a graceful retreat but this does not mean that they could not act in talkies or that they had funny voices. It was as if a group of ballerinas declined to switch over to tap or a group of sculptors declined to take up watercolor.
Well, we know Miss Vidor was talented on the screen but how is her appetizer game? We shall see!
A dash of cayenne doesn’t seem like much but you heard the lady. I tried my best to make the dough as pasty as possible:
Okay, now it’s time for the moment of truth: how do they taste?
Recipe Score: 1 out of 5. The cheese straws tasted okay if a little bland but the moment they were any temperature below piping hot, they turned into diamond-hard tooth-breakers. The recipe tells you that it is “well to heat them before serving.” Yeah, no kidding, Florence. If you eat these things cold, you had best have your dentist’s telephone number close at hand.
What went wrong? Well, let’s look at the ingredients. Florence is holding her cheese straws together with a measly half-cup of fairly low-fat cheese, water, and one egg yolk. Most cheese straw recipes I have seen use fattier cheese (often cheddar) and measure butter in sticks. Fat is not just about flavor, it’s about tenderness (and, in the case of pie crusts, staying firm under a liquidy filling).
This is why those 90s low-fat recipes were so often dreadful. When you eliminate fat, you need something else to keep the resulting baked good tender, moist and generally not awful. For example, applesauce cakes use pureed fruit to retain moisture. It can be done but just cutting out a fatty ingredient is not the way to go about doing it. And there are just some recipes that require you to bite the bullet and consume a whole mess o’ fat. Flourless chocolate cake. Pie crust. Real cake frosting. Tamales. Do it right or don’t even bother.
Don’t worry, though, these cheese straws did not go to waste. As it turns out, humans have much weaker jaws than dogs and my lab mix went NUTS for this recipe. I just broke the straws into 2-inch pieces and he was happy for days. (He is a cheese addict but he runs it off at doggy daycare. He also likes carrots, strawberries, Korean pears, hot tea and anything with peanut butter.)
So, this recipe fails as an appetizer but succeeds as a puppy cookie! I would probably eliminate the cayenne, though.