A popular treat
A Scandinavian pastry traditionally made only for winter holidays is putting a local restaurant on the radar of lovers of sweets all over the country.
Laurel and Don Feist of Don’s Drive In have turned out thousands of dozens of rosettes, a thin deep-fried cookie, since 1986 when they ran a restaurant in Esmond.
“My brother-in-law called to ask if I knew how to make poofy cookies,” Laurel remembers.” ‘You know,’ ” he said, ” ‘those cookies with the powdered sugar that go poof.’ “
Laurel had a recipe for rosettes in her trusted cookbook, but no one in Esmond had a rosette iron, the intricately shaped metal template necessary to create the crisp shells.
Someone told Laurel she should try C&G Hardware in Rugby. “Sure enough, on a bottom shelf there lay a single very old box of rosette irons,” she said. “The gentleman at the counter advised me to buy something else because these cookies gave the ladies a lot of grief, and you only make them at Christmas,” she added.
Laurel bought the irons anyway, thinking she would try just a few to make her brother-in-law happy. She practiced at the restaurant where customers gamely volunteered to eat the samples. They also volunteered suggestions and soon the rosettes were judged good enough to sell.
In 1989 the Feists moved to Rugby and opened Don’s Drive In. To complement their sandwich line Laurel started making basic cookies for sale. One day she remembered her rosette iron, and that Christmas, painstakingly making one rosette at a time, she produced about 50 dozen. They sold really fast and customers even placed orders for the next year. Laurel and Don knew something would have to be done to speed up the process, so Don devised and built a multi-headed rosette iron. Now, using three of these special irons, Laurel can make 36 rosettes at a time.
Using her time-tested recipe, Laurel mixes the batter while the cooking oil heats. She then heats the iron to a very high temperature in the oil, lifts it out, dips it in the batter and re-immerses it in the oil to form a crisp shell around the metal. Surprisingly, the batter doesn’t slide off the iron before being put back in the hot oil, but Laurel says, “You gotta be quick and you gotta pay attention. It an unforgiving cookie.”
When the rosettes are cooked the iron is removed from the oil and, with a whack from a wooden spoon, the rosettes are separated from the iron. Traditionally the warm rosettes are dipped in sugar only, but Laurel has had great success dressing them up with chocolate, caramel and other toppings.
Any cook who has attempted to make rosettes will agree they can be a very frustrating pastry. “I would get so upset when they wouldn’t turn out,” Laurel says of her early attempts, “that after a while everyone would leave when I started to make them so they wouldn’t be blamed.” At first she had all sorts of self-imposed good luck rituals to help assure a good result: she had to make soup before she could make rosettes; she had to use a certain pan; no one could open an outside door which could change the room temperature. “Now I know exactly how to make them turn out, and it doesn’t involve any of those things,” she noted.
Apparently acquiring the cooking skill hasn’t come as easily to other would-be rosette makers. “I’ve had a couple of ladies storm into the Drive In and drop their irons on the counter and ‘gift’ me their irons, saying they never want to make rosettes again, ever!” Another woman told her she received an iron from her husband. She got so irritated trying to make them, she threw the iron at the door, missed, and imbedded it in the wall.
Soon after Laurel mastered the technique of making rosettes she was asked to make them for the wedding of a friend in Leeds. California relatives of the bride were so impressed they asked her to make 300 dozen for an upcoming family wedding.
She shipped the pastries via UPS and was worried that they might crumble in transit. So she made another 50 dozen free of charge and sent them, just in case. To her delight only eight dozen were damaged, and she now feels confidant shipping cookies all over the country. Several guests at the wedding have become repeat customers that Laurel ships to every year. “That’s how we got to the west coast,” Laurel said.
A few years back a couple from New York stopped at Don’s Drive In for lunch. They liked to take driving vacations across the country stopping at small town restaurants. As Laurel and the couple visited, they told her they had observed many eateries had a specialty and asked Laurel, “What’s unique about you?”
After thinking a few seconds, Laurel said, “Well, I make rosettes.” The couple had never heard of the pastry, but, as luck would have it, someone had placed a large order for delivery that day and Laurel had some leftovers for sale. The couple loved them at first bite and are now faithful customers.
Not long ago a political campaign organizer from Velva took some of the pastries to Washington, DC, for a ladies tea. Guests were so impressed orders soon started coming in from the nation’s capitol.
Area natives who have moved to eastern states and return on vacations often take rosettes home when they leave, so now, mostly by word of mouth, the pastries’ fame has spread up and down the eastern seaboard and orders have come in from North Carolina all the way to the Trump Tower in the Big Apple, New York City.
The middle of the country is covered also, with customers in Texas and Colorado. Don and Laurel even have loyal fans in Minnesota, probably the epicenter of Scandinavian cookery in the U.S. “Two women from Minneapolis take 40 or 50 dozen every Christmas,” Laurel said.
The treats aren’t just for the holidays, however. Laurel is busy with
special orders at least nine months a year. Humid weather is not conducive to turning out crisp pastries, and they don’t hold up well in warmer weather, so summer is usually her slow season.
The Feists have been approached by grocery and candy stores to make the rosettes commercially, but new restrictions would make it necessary for them to have a chemist evaluate the product and they haven’t yet taken that step.
As satisfying as it is to know there is a larger demand for her goodies, for now Laurel is content to make the rosettes mainly for local residents and repeat order customers. She gets a kick out of her customers’ enthusiasm when it comes time to make them during the holidays. “I had one grandma burst into tears because she hadn’t had rosettes since her grandma made them,” Laurel said. “This year I had two eight-year-old girls pool their money so they could buy rosettes for their dads and two dozen for themselves. I like the idea of keeping an old family tradition on the table during the holidays and special family occasions, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
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