Blast from the past: Minnesota Alumni Cracker Pie.

Talk about popular: The "Requests" column ran in Taste from 1971 to 2001. Thirty years is a long time in any business, but in the publishing industry it's nearly a millennium. Over the course of those three decades, thousands of readers wrote in, asking Taste editors to seek out recipes from their favorite restaurants. 

I was paging through the May 17, 1978 issue when the words "Ovens of Brittany" caught my eye. In all the years that I have been visiting Madison, Wis., I can't recall a single trip where those words have not been hovering in the air, the name of the long-closed bakery (the place went dark in 1995) whispered like a some kind of holy shrine. Imagine how pleased I was to see someone use the "Requests" column to conjure up a little Ovens of Brittany magic in their home kitchens.

The recipe was too long to reproduce in the paper (find the recipe for Minnesota Alumni Cracker Pie here instead, which was published that same spring week). That's another change between 1978 -- when the section routinely ran 22 pages  -- and today, when Taste averages 8 pages. Skinnier pages at that.

The headline read, "Big hit -- butter-rich Madison croissants." Here's the rest of the story:

“We had the wonderful good fortune of eating at the Ovens of Brittany, 305 State. St., Madison, Wis.,” wrote Tudie Ross of Minneapolis. “While waiting for a table, we were entertained by watching the fascinating process of croissant, bread and other goodies being made. Fun to watch and smell but fabulous to eat! Can you possibly get the recipe for the croissants?”

OVENS OF BRITTANY CROISSANTS

Makes about 3 dozen.

Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. Adapted from the May 17, 1978 issue of Taste.

3 c. plus 1 to 2 tbsp. warm water, divided

2 pkg. (2 tbsp.) active dry yeast

1/8 c. sugar

1 tbsp. salt

1/8 c. nonfat dry milk or nonfat dry buttermilk

7 ½ c. flour, divided, plus extra for rolling dough

¾ lb. (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature

Directions

In a large bowl, combine ½ cup warm water with yeast and let sit for 10 minutes. Add 3 cups water, sugar, salt and nonfat dry milk (or nonfat dry buttermilk) and stir until solids are dissolved. Add 7 cups flour, all at once, and mix gently with your hands until flour is absorbed. Do not overmix. Cover bowl and store on countertop or in refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight. While dough is rising, place remaining ½ cup flour and butter in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, combine flour and butter, cutting until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer dough to a sheet of waxed paper and spread dough into a square of ½-inch thickness. Cover dough with another sheet of waxed paper, place on a baking sheet and refrigerate.

When covered dough has risen and is bubbly, pour dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Using your fingers, spread dough into a large square shape slightly larger than the shape of the butter square. Unwrap butter square and place it in center of dough. Fold dough flaps over butter square, onto the face of butter square. Using your fingers, make a separation in the center of the butter square and fold dough and butter square as if you were closing a book.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. On a well-floured surface, using a well-floured rolling pin, roll dough into a rectangular shape of about ½-inch thickness. Using a pizza cutter, croissant cutter or knife, cut strips about 5 inches in length. Next cut each strip into triangles; there should be 3 dozen. Starting with one point, roll triangle twice, forming croissant shape. Place croissants on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise, at room temperature, for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and bake croissants until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* * * * *

“The Char Ket restaurant on Hwy. 212 near Buffalo Lake, Minn., serves an especially good apple dessert with a delicious spooned-over topping,” wrote Mrs. Alfred Jarvis of Buffalo Lake, Minn. “Could you prevail upon Ken and Jan Anderson, owners, to share the recipe? You might say it’s the talk of the town – it’s so very good.”

Co-owner Jan Anderson replied. “I am sorry, but I would like to keep the apple dessert recipe, “ she wrote. “But I will share another favorite.”

LEMON BARS A LA CHAR KET

Makes about 2 dozen bars.

Note: Adapted from the May 17, 1978 issue of Taste.

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ c. powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish

2 c. plus 4 tbsp. flour, divided

4 eggs, beaten

2 c. granulated sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

¼ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, add flour and mix until just combined. Pat dough into a 9x13-inch baking pan. Using a fork, prick dough in about a dozen places. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 4 tablespoons flour, eggs, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon juice. Pour mixture over baked crust and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. When ready to serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut bars into squares.

* * * * *

“A Minneapolis reader requested the recipe for raised apple pancakes from the Pannekoeken Huis,” wrote the byline-less Taste staffer who managed the Requests column. “R.D. Halbrook, purchasing agent for the chain of Dutch pancake houses, sent the following.”

PANNEKOEKEN HUIS RAISED APPLE PANCAKES

Serves 2.

Note: Adapted from the May 17, 1978 issue of Taste.

3 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 c. heavy whipping cream

2/3 c. water

Pinch salt

4 eggs

¾ c. flour

8 apple slices, cut 1/8-inch thick, divided

2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

1 tbsp. powdered sugar

Directions

In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon and reserve. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together cream, water, salt and eggs. Add flour and whisk until just combined. Place 4 apple slices and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in an 8-inch ovenproof skillet. Pour half of batter into frying pan. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over top to taste. Bake until edges rise up sides of pan about 2 inches, about 20 minutes (the middle should be firm). Remove from oven and invert pancake onto a platter. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining ingredients.