Monday, July 16, 2007

Cream Puffs and Twinkies

I blogged on the Twinkie Deconstructed book the other day. I've had maybe one Twinkie in my life but I fondly remember my mother's cream puffs. Mom wasn't a good cook but she did do a lot of good baking. Her cream puffs were great--light, with real whipped cream filling.

I'm no baker, and the book is back to the library, so my comparison is top of the head. Mom's cream puff has to taste better than any Twinkie, that is, at least on the evening of the afternoon she made them. Her batches probably ran 8-10, so we never finished them all. (Good Calvinists avoid gluttony.) So we'd finish them the next night. By then the whipped cream had lost its air, the crust of the cream puff was getting stale, and the whole thing was just a sad memory of the glory of the night before.

Thinking about what went into the cream puff--the whipped cream was probably whipping cream from local dairy farms--Crowley's or Dairylea (i.e., "Dairymen's League--the co-op) pasteurized and processed. But it contained vanilla extract, as do Twinkies and perhaps a little powdered sugar. (Vanilla and sugar are two of the chapters in the book tracing the route traveled.) The cream puff itself had flour, milk (ours), sugar, and baking powder. (Baking powder is one of the ingredients from mines--the author get good mileage from following that ingredient from its origin in mines to the shelf.)

So mom's puffs were, in part, the product of industry and manufacturing processes and don't fit comfortably into the concepts of the "slow food" movement. Twinkies, as the book's author makes clear, is that they have to stay fresh on the grocery shelves for weeks, not just last 6 hours in mom's kitchen. That difference requires a lot more science, a lot more additives, more globalizations and a lot more industrial processes. (I've started Bill McKibben's new book and have Barbara Kinsolving's one on hold at the library--I'll be interested to see how strictly they hold to local food.)

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