June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Last week, The Jewish Link published a Letter-to-the-Editor that questioned the wisdom of eating hamantaschen on Purim. The letter implicitly argued that eating a cookie named after a villain is a peculiar (and possibly inappropriate) way to celebrate a holiday. In other words, on Purim, shouldn’t we be eating Estertaschen and Mordechaitaschen instead? Even Shushan sheet cake perhaps would be more appropriate.

It is an interesting ethical question whether a baked good is good if it’s in memory of someone bad. For example, would it be wrong to eat scones named after a scoundrel, biscotti named after a bandit, muffins named after a malefactor or eclairs named after an evil-doer?

For example, the Spanish Inquisition was a devastating tragedy and for this reason alone nobody would ever consider baking or eating a Torquemada torte. It might be perfectly reasonable to celebrate one of King David’s victories by eating a Stone-Throwing Strudel but it probably would not be a good idea to eat Goliath gundain. Obviously, no one in their right mind would bake or eat Sodom sufganiyot and Gomorrah graham crackers.

In the secular world, naming delicious baked goods after those with less than savory traits is not uncommon. The best example might be Devil’s Food Cake, named after one of the least savory characters of all-time, Satan. The naming of the cake, however, is not as nefarious as it sounds. Devil’s Food Cake is a dark chocolate cake and most experts agree that its name is based on its appearance being the polar opposite of the often yellow or white Angel Food Cake. According to some experts, one of the earliest recipes for Devil’s Food Cake appeared in an 1898 edition of the Hagerstown Exponent, a newspaper published in Hagerstown, Indiana. Of course, it would make more sense for Devil’s Food Cake to have originated in Hell, Michigan (this is a real town), on Lucifer Peak in Oregon or at Devil’s Landing in Zion National Park. It would make far less sense for Devil’s Food Cake to have been created in Los Angeles.

Some experts contend that the Napoleon pastry is named after Napoléon Bonaparte, the French Emperor (1769—1821) who was a controversial political character. As legend has it, the pastry obtained the “Napoleon” moniker after Napoleon consumed an inordinate amount of cream-filled puff pastries the day before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Apparently, the puff pastries gave him indigestion, which perhaps foreshadowed the pain the French would feel on the battlefield. Some experts insist that it was the victorious English who mockingly named the puff pastry a “Napoleon,” thus adding insult to injury. Legend also has it that Napoleon, while eating the puff pastries, was arrogantly bullish on his chances of winning Waterloo. Thus, the French newspapers probably ran the following headline the next day: “Waterloo: Puff and Puffery.”

For the record, other experts insist that the naming of the Napoleon pastry had nothing to do with Waterloo. Some believe it was invented by a Danish chef and was first served when the French emperor made a state visit to Denmark. Others believe that the pastry was created by an Italian chef who named it “napoletano” in honor of his hometown, Naples. Regardless, a strong argument could be made that given the accounts of Napoleon’s diminutive stature, it would be more fitting to remember him by eating shortbread or strawberry shortcake.

Some desserts may not be named after villains, but their names nevertheless refer to things that are less than pleasant. For example, Mississippi Mud Pie is a thick chocolate cake that in color, texture and density resembles the thick mud along the banks of the Mississippi River. It probably is best not to think about mud when eating this dessert just like it’s best not to think about dirt when sipping a dirty martini.

In the United States, there was a dessert known as “Depression Cake,” which became popular during the Great Depression following the stock market crash in 1929. It truly was a sad treat, made from minimal ingredients that were expensive and elusive. The only dessert with a sadder name can be found in Belgium, where the locals enjoy “miserable cake,” an almond sponge cake filled with pudding and bearing a most unfortunate name. Then again, perhaps the Belgian bakers coined the name because those who ate the delicious cake were truly miserable when it was finished.

Final thought: One could argue that eating a dessert dedicated to a villain is totally outrageous and thus really takes the cake.

By Jonathan Kranz

 

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