Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"A Masterpiece Of Culinary Skill" (...Or Not)

There's something about any book or retro item that came out around the time you were born that makes it seem significant in a weird way, even though it is not at all significant. You can't get any less crucial information than that found in Sweet Moment Desserts of 1963, which appeared courtesy of the Jell-O and Dream Whip people. In 1963 I was about to turn one. My sweet moments mainly consisted of trying to get out of the perambulator in Carl Schurz Park. There's a snapshot of my parents on a bench with this enormous Mary-Poppinsesque black carriage next to them - looking strangely unoccupied.

Perhaps I had gone off in search of a little Coffee-Scotch Pot de Creme, just one of the many desserts you can make with Jell-O pudding. I almost chose this as the day's offering, but alas the second element is butterscotch, as in pudding. I first thought it was sort of an Irish-coffee deal, replete with booze. My kind of sweet moment dessert.

But the title of this booklet is not Lousy Day Liquor Cookery or Whisky Sour Moment Snacks. So I'm going with their instructions for making napoleons. Napoleons, as you probably know, are mille-feuille pastries (very thin layers of pastry, i.e. 'thousand leaves') interspersed with pastry cream, or, in France, almond paste. The name came either from the small Corsican leader or from 'Napolitain' as this confection called in France (and in my Larousse Gastronomique) - i.e., pastry from Naples.

Larousse says that they were originally made large, but nowadays are small. It suggests that you use apricot jelly as well as almond paste, and to pipe royal icing on top.

But Larousse recipes are time consuming. And how sweet a moment are you going to be having when the pastry goes wrong and the jam gets all over the countertop?

Jell-O and Dream Whip to the rescue! Here is the "easy-to-make version of a delicate, flaky French pastry." This version is flaky, all right. And as you'll see, by the end of the whole thing, the cookbook writer was clearly feeling - delicate.

I'm going to paraphrase if you don't mind, this is a long-winded item in the book. Oh, and there's a picture of them with some of their fancy Dream Whip friends, up at the top of the post.


1 package Jell-O vanilla pudding & pie filling
1 cup milk
pastry for 9" pie shell (or use 1/2 package of prepared pie mix, they don't care)
1/2 cup Dream Whip
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 - 2 Tbs water
1 square Baker's Semisweet chocolate
1 to 1 1/2 tsps of some more water

1. Combine the pudding mix and milk, cook it - bring to full boil, cover with wax paper and chill.

2. Roll the pastry into a 10" x 14" rectangle, cut into three equal strips, stick on baking sheet, prick with fork. Bake at 425 for about 1o minutes, until the proverbial golden brown.

3. Beat up the pudding and mix it with Dream Whip. Layer the pastry strips with this mixture, stacking them up as you go. But leave the last strip out!

4. Mix the confectioner's sugar and the first bit of water up there, and slap it all over the lone pastry strip.

5. Melt the chocolate, mix it with last bit of water, and dribble that over the top of the sugary strip. Now run your knife through it - gently! - to make the ridgy design to fool your guests into thinking you went downtown and bought this at La Grande Patisserie.

6. Everybody chill now - you and the pastry. For at least 2 hours. And then "with quick strokes of a sharp knife cut into six 2-inch pieces." (Samurai Jell-O Pudding Chef!)

That last bit sounds like there was a certain amount of subliminal stress going on. Maybe we should chill some more. And then we'll all have Coffee-Scotch Pot de Creme - the alcoholic version.

1 comment:

Tarrant said...

No...this couldn't be the recipe my mother used for her "homemade Napoleons" that I chase through bakery after bakery trying to recreate the half remembered taste of my youth...could it? Because I have tried and failed a dozen or more Napoleon recipes.
oh no...it could. My mother...dream whip...pudding...pastry...it all fits. No wonder I never was given the recipe.