Eat & Drink

Food of Yore: Fred Harvey’s innovations influenced all the restaurants that followed

Chow Town readers can get the recipe for Harvey House Chocolate Puffs free until Jan. 27.
Chow Town readers can get the recipe for Harvey House Chocolate Puffs free until Jan. 27. AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN

Why can you count on every Big Mac to be identical, whether you eat them in Taipei or Topeka? In part, you have Fred Harvey to thank.

Fred Harvey started the first chain of “fast food” restaurants in the United States along the rail lines of the Southwest. His obsessive Fred Harvey system, followed throughout his famous Harvey House restaurant chain (what else?) profoundly influenced the restaurants that came after. As Stephen Fried wrote in “Appetite for America,” a book covering the history of the chain (1875 to 1948), “He wanted there to be a ‘Fred Harvey way’ of doing everything.”

Harvey insisted that each slice of bread at every Harvey House be precisely 3/8-inch thick, that orange juice be hand-squeezed only after it was ordered, that water for coffee have a meticulously spelled-out alkali level, and that recipes be followed with exactitude across the 60-plus, cross-country restaurant chain.

Come to think of it, our own insistence on precision at America’s Test Kitchen has more than a little in common with Fred Harvey’s high standards.

The original recipe for Harvey House Chocolate Puffs (from “The Harvey House Cookbook”) was baked in a shallow muffin tin and had no chocolate flavor. A blob of strawberry jam and a dollop of whipped cream were sandwiched in the middle of this otherwise dull, dry pastry.

To start, we wanted a pâte à choux pastry shell with solid chocolate flavor, which we achieved by adding cocoa powder to the dough. To fortify the flavor and texture of the filling, we made a quick strawberry jam and then married it with fresh whipped cream. Finally, we topped the puffs with a glaze to reinforce the chocolate flavor.

Chow Town readers can get the recipe free until Tuesday, Jan. 27, at


Choux paste relies on steam in order to puff. But the steam that lifts the puffs can also make them soggy and flat. To help your puffs avoid that fate, follow these two steps.

Cut a 1/2-inch slit into each puff to allow the steam to escape.

Dry the puffs for 30 minutes in a partially open, turned-off oven.