“Nut roll was the dessert on which Great-aunt Johanna literally based her reputation,” wrote Phyllis McGinley in her winsome book Sixpence in Her Shoe, which the publisher called “the book that talks back to the Feminine Mystique.”
“I remember as a child how we looked forward to being given a taste of[Great-aunt Johanna’s nut roll] once or twice a year after a party . . . It was a delicacy requiring too much labor and exactitude to be wasted on children. It is ironic that I can now make it in not much more than half an hour and with little fear of failure, simply by virtue of the tools I own.
“The recipe calls for six eggs, with the yolks and whites beaten separately; for three-quarters of a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder, a few grains of salt, and a cup and a half of pulverized walnut meats (or of pecans or hazelnuts, the last being my preference). One must also have on hand a cup and a half of heavy cream and vanilla or rum for flavoring it. Think of the labor involve din preparing those ingredients in 1900! Aunt Johanna had first to shell the nuts, then chop them with a knife and afterwards crush them underneath a rolling pin. The eggs she had to beat by hand. She had no waxed paper with which to line the pan, as I do; and her oven could not be accurately set at 325 . . . . When the roll was baked, she had still to beat up the cream and sugar with which to fill it. All told, it was a morning’s work.”
Mrs. McGinley goes on to contrast her great-aunt’s 1900 experience with her own, circa 1960:
“But I buy the nuts already shelled, pop them into my blender, and out they come, ready to substitute for flour in the cake. My eggs go into the mixer, the whites first, then the yolks; are deftly blended with the sugar; and in a matter of minutes they emerge, frothy or creamy as required, without my having done more than attach the cord and press a button. The oven takes care of the baking, so long as I set it correctly and watch the clock. Again, when I am ready to roll the pastry, I whip the cream in the beater which arranged my eggs. I scarcely deserve credit for the success.”
Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) produced nine volumes of verse, fifteen books for children, and a collection of essays. In 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for a book of poetry, Times Three, although she was criticized by other poets for writing “light verse.” She was married and had two daughters.
Here’s Phyllis McGinley’s recipe for Hazelnut Roll (with her own notes):
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups chopped hazelnuts; hazelnuts are the best for this dessert, but walnuts or chopped pecans will do
1 teaspoon baking powder
Few grains salt
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
Rum or vanilla to tastePowdered sugar (optional)
Separate eggs and beat whites until they stand in soft peaks. Beat half a cup of sugar into mixture and set aside. Without washing beater, beat yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Beat into them the remaining sugar. Mix chopped nuts, baking powder, salt. Stir into egg-yolk mixture. Fold in the beaten whites. Spread batter evenly into a jelly-roll pan about 10 x 14 inches which has been buttered, lined with waxed paper, and rebuttered over the paper. Place in center of preheated oven set at 350 degrees. Bake twenty minutes. Take out of oven and cover with damp towel. Chill.
When you wish to add cream, take cake out of the refrigerator, peel off the waxed paper and cut off crisp ends. Spread whiped cream (to which butter and vanilla or rum have been added) evenly over cake. Roll like a jelly roll. Wrap firmly in waxed paper and rechill. This can even be put into the freezer and used later. Cut in slices or bring to table on long platter. I have now and then tried frosting the whole roll with whipped cream but it really is too rich that way. A little powdered sugar is all that is n necessary by way of garnish.
Photo source: Wikipedia