Devil Dog Memories

img_4732Following Christmas and the new year celebrations I live a little on the edge of darkness. It revolves around the facts that during the last 5 years of William’s life (in the Navy) that I often only got to see him for brief periods during the holidays. I treasured those days and so looked forward to them. There are times I still feel he is just “away” and I will see him again. It’s a disappointment when the visit doesn’t actually happen. Camp LeJeune got the best of him in his final days and I resent that a bit. He should be here.

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A visit with long-time friends, Chrissy & William

So I close my eyes and ask for strength. My grandpa Matino greets me on the front porch of his house with his green alligator change purse. His old, calloused hands gently shake and the jingling of coins opens my eyes to a nickel in my palm and a kind smile on his face. “It’s enough to buy a devil dog down at the corner store.” At 7 years old I can stop in to Mr.Ortlip’s grocery before or after school, all by myself, and buy that devil dog or maybe some candy. It’s powerful. It’s sweet. It’s love and a kind reminder from my grandpa that I am stronger than I think at this moment in time. Just close your eyes. Take a deep breathe.

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It was very early 1900’s when my grandfather left Sicily and landed penniless at Ellis Island. The story goes that the Italian mafia attempted to entice him into “the family” by offering him a gun and a “job”. Scared out of his mind he boards the first train out of New York City and hops off an hour later when out the window he spies a sign for an Italian restaurant. “Ah, Italian people must live here.” Westfield, NJ was where my grandfather landed a job hauling coal and lumber by horse and wagon. By 1920 he was building his first home. My dad was born and I was raised in Westfield thanks to grandpa’s courage.

I wish I had that old green change purse. I wonder if one of my siblings or maybe a cousin inherited it and treasure it as much as I do. Who knew the power of a nickel? Some day, when she is older, I will give my grand-daughter “a nickel” every time I see her.

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Now for a sweet treat to bring back reality. It’s baking therapy 101. This recipe is pretty close to what I remember an authentic snack cake to be. The recipe was handed down to me from a patient’s mom many years ago. I googled it, but could not find an original source. I tweaked it a bit amping up the cocoa flavor with some salt, vanilla and espresso powder and changed a raw flour buttercream to a cooked flour version. The buttercream is kind of amazing even though the addition of shortening kind of freaks me out. I think shortening is used for its pure white color only.

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Just a couple of baking tips before we get to the recipe. First, I know you want to skip the sifting of the dry ingredients, but don’t do it. Not only does it aerate the mixture, but it also gets rid of lumpy baking soda and cocoa powder. No lumps allowed. Second, room temperature ingredients do make a difference for a light and fluffy cake. Finally, gild that lily with some melted dark chocolate or dusting of powdered sugar. Who says devil dogs can’t be fancy?

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Devil Dogs

2 cups all purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup milk, room temperature

Heat oven 425F. Line baking sheets with parchment. In large bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder and salt; whisk it to blend and set aside. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients, at a time, alternating with half the milk beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Spoon filling into a zippered plastic bag; seal bag. Snip off a 1/2-inch piece of one corner. Pipe batter into 3-inch logs about 1½ to 2-inches wide and 2-inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 8 minutes. Cool. Turn half the cakes over and pipe or spread flat sides with cream filling. Cover with remaining cakes, flat side down. Makes 20 devil dogs.

Flour Butter Cream Filling

½ cup all purpose flour

½ cup milk

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

½ cup shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat whisk flour, milk and salt until blended and no lumps remain. Cook mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it thickens, pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball. Transfer dough to a bowl. Add powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. In another bowl, beat butter and shortening until blended. Add vanilla and beat well. Gradually add sugar mixture beating until mixture is smooth, thick and fluffy. 

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17 thoughts on “Devil Dog Memories

  1. I officially love these! I especially love the history and story behind them. It’s funny, but I don’t end up making many of the recipes that I see on blogs (don’t know why). HOWEVER, I will be trying this one out and tweaking it to make it gluten free. Thanks for sharing.

    • My memories help me a lot with cooking. Many recipes simply come from my heart. I’d love to know more about the gluten-free version you come up with as my niece is GF and loves chocolate. Keep me posted and thanks for trying my recipe.

  2. Didn’t know the “family” story. I had Ava read it too so she knows more about her ancestry. Ava is planning on baking these today. Will let you know how we make out.

  3. Very nice story.  I remember grandpa Matino pretty well.  He would make me use a siphon to fill up a bottle of his nasty home-made wine for him.  I would get a mouthful to get the siphon going, and I have hated alcohol ever since.  He was smart.  He knew it would ruin me for drinking.

    • That’s a great story and one I had never heard. I can see the grapevines behind his house and remember the barrels in the basement. I think his wine was not the best. Daddy said after a few glasses grandpa liked to sing.

  4. Unfortunately, I now completely understand what everyone was saying about being affected by the holidays. I don’t even celebrate Christmas, but I definitely cried all day on new year’s eve. When does the reeling out of control feeling stop? Or does it. Thinking of you.

    • I don’t think the reeling stops but the episodes get less frequent. There are certain triggers that get me every time—a favorite song has me convinced I should stop listening to the radio. Close your eyes and take a deep breath and remember how much he loves you my friend

    • I was very young when he died and funny how he spoke no English–at least that is what I remember. Can you imagine how he valued that nickel?

  5. Lisa thank you so much for the memories of long ago. I too, remember grandpa singing when he came up from the basement. He would walk to our house on Pierson St. and knock on the window. He was fun, no worries and enjoyed that nasty wine. Those were the good old days when we all lived so close together. Its funny, the simple things in life made us happy. I am lucky that I remember both grandma and grandpa. Life was simple – uncomplicated!

    • We were very lucky to live so close and grow up together. Love hearing your grandpa story. Maybe we should gather as many stories as we can and add them to that family cookbook we did years ago.

  6. My daughter, Lis sent me this post. She knows how much I used to love devil dogs. As a child going to parochial school, my mother sometimes put one in my brown lunch bag. Many years later when I was going through a tough time in my life and things got really hard sometimes I would stop and buy a package of devil dogs. I must’ve raved about them one too many times to a friend of mine. She went out and purchased a box and tried them. She later told me that they were horrible and full of junk and not at all good. She couldn’t understand why I liked them so much and what power they held for me. She just chalked it up to my craziness. But I knew it was some kind of link to Iove for me. And a bit of kid fun when I could stop being an adult for a moment and put my struggles aside. I don’t eat devil dogs anymore and I eat a plant based diet now, but it sure sounds appealing to try your recipe and make my own!

    • of course devil dogs are a love-link for you….Why deprive yourself of something so good for your soul? Many of my recipes link me to loving ancestors and it fills my heart….switch the animal products to a suitable vegetable based ingredient and go for it. Earth Balance makes baking butter substitutes and maybe almond milk in place of dairy. I am guessing the local health food store has some kind of an egg substitute, too

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