My Favorite Recipes from The Little Women Cookbook

Announcement: I’m pleased to say that The Little Women Cookbook came in Fourth Place in the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Cookbooks. Thanks to all who voted for it!

Now, on to today’s post:

Ever since The Little Women Cookbook was published in October, friends, readers, relatives, and interviewers have been asking me what the best Little Women recipes are.

That’s hard to answer! The great thing about a cookbook with only 50 well-chosen recipes is that I can honestly say there’s no “filler.” I like (and continue to cook!) every single recipe in this book. In fact, I had to leave a couple faves out for space.

A few I’ve been making a lot lately include Jo’s Gingerbread (I adore the deep molasses, brown sugar, and baking-spice flavors contrasted by the bright lemon icing), the Fruit-and-Nut Trifle (hot milk spongecake makes this especially true to the era), Garden Pot Pie (a vegetarian recipe inspired by Bronson Alcott’s love of gardening), and the Spice Trade Deviled Eggs, which speak to the fact that the spice trade was going strong in the March family’s time — remember, Laurie’s grandfather was a spice trader.

However, if I were to choose one recipe that I’m most pleased with, it might be Hannah’s Cheese-and-Jam Turnovers. Not only do I love the flavor (the savory and buttery-rich flaky crust surrounds a dot of sweet jam), but I just love the story behind the turnovers, as it truly speaks to the way the family cares for each other through food. Here’s a quote straight from the text of Little Women:

I’m pleased to say that this book made it to Round Two of the Goodreads Choice Awards. If you’re so inclined, I would be thrilled if you’d help it go to the final round. Vote here.

“These turnovers were an institution, and the girls called them ‘muffs’ for they had not others and found the hot pies very comforting to their hands on cold mornings. Hannah never forgot to make them, no matter how busy or grumpy she might be, for the walk was long and bleak.”

I just love that story of affection shown through food — and it’s just one of the may ways food weaves its way throughout Alcott’s masterpiece.

If you’d like to give these little guys a try, below is the recipe. There are so many ways to enjoy them: They’re great snacks at mid-morning or tea-time; they’re terrific as part of an appetizer spread. I also adore serving the with a warming bowl of soup for a Sunday night soup supper (if you go that route, might I recommend the New England Fish Chowder, on page 51 of the book?)

May these little pies warm your friends and family in the way they warmed the Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy — through and through.

Hannah's Cheese and Jam Turnovers
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
One of my favorite recipes from Little Women. Note that this is one of the more advanced recipes in the book, which also includes plenty of easy-peasy starter recipes for younger cooks.
  • 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons [112g]) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
  • 1 cup (114 g) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons (44 to 60 ml) 2% or whole milk, plus additional for brushing pastry
  • ¼ cup (80 g) fruit preserves or jam, such as apricot or blackberry
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Using a pastry blender or two table knives working in a crisscross fashion, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the cheese. Add the milk, stirring until the flour is moistened and the mixture starts to come together. Knead the flour mixture gently against the side of the bowl to make a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the dough is easy to handle.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough about ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick. Using a 3½-inch (9 cm) round cutter, cut out dough circles. Gently press the scraps of dough together and reroll as needed for additional circles. Work quickly so the dough does not become soft.
  4. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of jam into the center of each circle.
  5. Brush the edges of the circles with additional milk and fold the circles over to enclose the jam. Press the tines of a fork around the edges to seal. Cut three small slits on the top of each turnover with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Arrange the turnovers on the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Bake until the turnovers are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. The jam centers will be hot.



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Goodreads' First Round of Best Cookbooks 2019 Nominations Includes The Little Women Cookbook

Well, here’s some news. Goodreads announced its first round of Goodreads Choice Awards 2019, and I’m thrilled to say that The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family made it into the first round of nominees in the category of Best Food & Cookbooks.

The Little Women Cookbook made the cut. And I’d be thrilled if you’d consider casting your vote for it.

Yes. I’m pretty surprised, too. There are some kingpins on the list, including Ruth Reichl, Rachel Ray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Maida Haetter, and others. But, I suppose it shows just how much people love the enduring story of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and are moved (as I am!) by the way food weaves its way in and out of the novel as part of affection given, lessons learned, and love made visible.

Cooks (and those who sit at their tables) seem to be responding to the book’s “comfort food with a literary twist.” Of course, the fact that there’s a new movie version coming out in December, with Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, and Emma Watson, isn’t hurting things, either.

And even those who don’t necessarily adore the novel still appreciate — as one reviewer on Amazon put it — the book’s “comfort food with a literary twist.”

So … I hate to even ask (this does not come naturally to me), but I would be thrilled and honored if you would vote for my cookbook in the Goodreads Choice Awards. It’s incredibly easy — you simply go to this page and cast your vote (while you’re at it, it would be great if you rate the cookbook, too; it takes just one click). Oh, and if you’re not already signed up on Goodreads, it only takes a few seconds to do so (no rigamarole!).

Thank you so much for your consideration, and as always, thanks for reading Chez Bonne Femme.


P.S.: Love podcasts? Here are some links to some beautifully produced podcasts about the role of food in Little Women, and how I chose and adapted the recipes for my book.

Public Radio Podcast with the amazing Charity Nebbe, host. She teased out some great insights into how this book was put together and the choices I made about what to include and how to update the recipes (while keeping them true to the spirit of the Louisa May Alcott’s masterpiece).

• Another lovely podcast from the Des Moines Public Library. A good 30-minute listen, with host Aaron Gernes getting to the heart of what the cookbook is all about. (He described it as “a love letter to Little Women.” So apt!)

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Chocolate Drop Cookie Recipe from The Little Women Cookbook

Chocolate drops were a popular goodie in the days of Little Women. Good news: Hershey’s still makes these delightfully old-fashioned candies. And they’re terrific in cookies.

Hershey’s Chocolate Drops. Smaller than a Hershey’s Kiss, larger than an M&M — i.e., a great size for cookies!

I loved researching the recipes for The Little Women Cookbook. One of my favorite “finds” was when I read about the chocolate drops that Professor Bhaer always gave Meg’s children whenever he visited:

Demi . . . soon discovered that his sister like to play with Mr. Bhaer better than she did him,
but though hurt, he concealed his anguish, for he hadn’t the heart to insult a rival who kept a
mine of chocolate drops in his waistcoat pocket.

(In case you’ve forgotten, Mr. Bhaer is the German immigrant/language teacher whom Jo eventually marries).

I scoured 19th century cookbooks to find a recipe for chocolate drops, and I did find a few. Yet, while I started developing the recipe for today’s cooks, I thought: Wait a minute. How likely is it that the “philosophically inclined” Professor Freidrich Bhaer actually made the chocolate drops? Surely, he bought them from a candy shop, right?

From “The American Pastry Cook.” Recipes “Especially Adapted for Hotel and Steamboat Use” (Steamboats? Is it any wonder I loved researching the recipes for this book?)

So, I looked around for purchased chocolate drops, a candy that I really had never heard of. I was afraid that they’d be something obscure, something you’d have to mail-order from afar. And I didn’t want any ingredient in my book that had to be mail-ordered!

Lo and behold, I found that Hershey’s still makes these delightfully old-fashioned chocolate drops. And I’ve found them in the packaged candy aisle (not the baking aisle) of every supermarket I’ve looked for them in my midsized Midwestern city. I bet if you look, you’ll find them, too.

A little smaller than chocolate kisses, these little goodies are a little like large M&Ms, but without candy coating.

My next task was to figure out how to use these little delights in a recipe for my cookbook. I immediately thought of the famous Peanut Butter Blossoms cookies, but … that wouldn’t have been true to the era (peanut butter really wasn’t a thing during Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s time).

Butter cookies, however, were very popular. And that’s how I came up with my Butter Cookies with Mr. Bhaer’s Chocolate Drops recipe.

Chocolate Drop Cookies from The Little Women Cookbook

Chocolate drops make an excellent addition to butter cookies. Nothing against chocolate kisses, but I personally prefer the cookie-to-chocolate ratio of chocolate drops. I also think the flatter drops are easier to bite into than the kisses.

What happens when you don’t chill the dough long enough before baking.

I’ve made this recipe a few dozen times since I developed it last year for the book. Each time, they came out perfectly, except once: One day, when I was in a hurry to make these, I didn’t chill the dough long enough before baking. And look what happened. They cookies spread out. Oh, they tasted great, but they weren’t really the thumbprint-esque butter cookies I had in mind. So, be sure to chill the dough as recommended … unless you like a more thin, spread-out cookie. (Please try it my way first — it’s better!)

P.S.: To find out more about The Little Women Cookbook, and get a peek at some of the beautiful professional photos of the recipes (which are so much better than the ones on this page!), read this recent post on Five Favorite Photos from The Little Women Cookbook.


Chocolate Drop Cookie Recipe from The Little Women Cookbook
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 dozen
Be sure to let the dough chill as indicated, or your cookies will spread out too thinly as they bake.
  • 1½ sticks (12 tablespoons [167 g]) unsalted butter, allowed to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes to soften
  • ¾ cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 dozen chocolate drops or stars
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar, egg, vanilla, baking powder, and salt and beat until combined. Beat in 1 cup (125 g) of the flour with the mixer, then stir in the remaining ¾ cup (95 g) flour with a wooden spoon. Gather the dough into a large ball; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  3. Shape the cookie dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls. Place the balls 2 inches (5 cm) apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Center a chocolate drop on each cookie, pushing it down to flatten the dough—the chocolate drop should be level with the surrounding dough.
  4. Bake the cookies until they are just starting to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Let the cookies remain on the cookie sheets for 1 minute. Then, use a thin metal spatula to transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. To store, layer the cookies in an airtight container, separating each layer with waxed paper. Store at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family, is available on Amazon.


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