Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The shortometer

The shortometer: "a device used by commercial bakers for testing the shortening power of various fats in dough" (Webster's Third New International).

The above images come from a home economics textbook, a booksale leftover, Ruth Griswold's The Experimental Study of Foods (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962). Griswold describes the shortometer as a device to test "the breaking strength of pastry, cookies, and crackers." The device in Figure 16-5 is a commercial product. Figure 16-6 shows a do-it-yourself device made with a postal scale. Griswold explains: "In either instrument, the pastry or other wafer is put across two horizontal bars, the single upper bar is brought down by means of a motor until it breaks the wafer, and the force is recorded with a maximum registering hand." Imagine, going to work to smash graham crackers.

My brief acquaintance with shortometers has cleared up a line from The Honeymooners episode "Alice and the Blonde" (1956) that always puzzled me. Ed Norton to Bert Wedemeyer: "I do like a short cookie, Bert, and you do make 'em short." The Third New International explains it all: "easily broken, crumbling readily (as from shortening content)."

Note the name Kroger in the caption for 16-5. The Kroger Co. is still going strong, not crumbling readily.

Related reading
By Glen Baxter
The penetrometer
The tenderometer
All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

comments: 2

JuliaR said...

I knew about "short" pastry because I remember my mother complaining one day that she had made her pie pastry too short and it was cracking all over the place. It's a fine line between a short, tender and flaky pie crust and adding too much water and making the crust tough.

Genevieve Netz said...

Short cookies generally contain a high ratio of shortening (fat) to flour. The same is true of shortening bread.

That accounts for the greasy feeling in your mouth after you've indulged in a few Keebler Pecan Sandies.