Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Since I’ve lost weight and turned on to a more healthy lifestyle, my tastes have definitively changed.
I no longer crave (and no longer look forward to baking) saccharine-sweet things like I used to, piled deep with the butter and sugar that is cornerstone to pastry as a whole.
Instead, my tastes look toward more European recipes. When I was in culinary school, the running joke was “Take a European pastry, triple the sugar and fat, and you’ve got an American recipe.”
The joke is more true than you might think. European pastries and sweets tend to be considerably less sweet than American counterparts, and focusing on natural sugars like fruit- or more complex sweetness like that of dark chocolate- for their appeal.
That said, my sweet tooth may be diminished, but it’s still strong- though not always for pastry.
For reasons I can’t always eloquently explain, where elegant pastries in a case won’t always seize me…
a bag of rainbow-colored gummi frogs will not fail.
A Remembrance of Days Past
Back when I was a kid, I used to raid my own piggy bank- and even my parents loose change jar- for quarters to more efficiently “go for a walk” (said the overweight Jersey kid) down to the nearest Wawa to buy candy.
As far as childhood sins, I think this rates profoundly common.
I was a chewing gum aficionado, for the most part. Chocolate tended to come with fewer pieces in a package (and thus be gone more quickly,) and at that age I loved fruit flavors and chewy textures more than the warmth and intriguing fillings that chocolate offered.
“Now and Laters,” “Starbursts” and other taffy-like choices were my go-tos- grumbling with mild frustration as the individually-wrapped pieces proved more-or-less difficult to denude of their waxed paper.
Some time ago, I heard an interview on NPR where it was theorized that enjoying bitterness as a taste defies evolution- that children, in particular, have an unusually strong sense of taste, and that the common dislike of bitter flavors was developed as a survival mechanism. Poisonous things often tasted bitter.
Similarly, bright coloration is thought to be especially appealing to our appetites for a similar reason. Bright colors resemble fruit- meaning sugar and calories our bodies needed to live and found easy to process.
Sweet, bright-colored things that would draw a child toward them?
That’s practically the DEFINITION of your local candy aisle.
“Growing Older, But Not Up”
A couple decades later, and I am still thrilled and amused by candy stores- the more bizarre or rare the selection, the better. The old-time, historic charm of Shane’s in Philadelphia, the mad curated collection of Rocket Fizz, or the bubbly neon flash of It’s Sugar– all elicit a curious grin.
My tastes have changed since those days, of course. With age, evolution has done a good enough job that I can give it a gustatory middle finger and enjoy bitter flavors.
Dark chocolate is a recurring pleasure for me, and black licorice is similarly more welcome. In addition, with my weight loss, my craving for sweets diminished- and frankly, being surrounded by sugar my whole working life has contributed as well.
Every now and then, however, that little kid in me wakes up and leads me to the bins of familiar penny candy, the brightly-colored pieces of salt water taffy, and the jelly beans.
My God, the colonnade of Jelly Beans. They are my absolute weakness. The day after Easter, I practically have to be tied back to keep from buying up every designer jelly bean I can get my hands on.
Now you know the nature of my sweet tooth… but that doesn’t answer the question of “why?”
Why does a baker, who has the availability of fine pastries and the knowledge of how to make his own, still crave CANDY?
Well…. because it’s FUN.
To Everything A Season
While my favorite baked good, in general, is pie- my current favorite pastry is the Kouign-Amann (pronounced “kween ahmahn-“) a Breton pastry made of caramelized puff dough, butter, and flaky sea salt.
It is my personal philosophy of a simple thing done elegantly, taken to the extreme. Sweet and fatty, but not SO sweet. There is no icing or chocolate- just the caramelized sugar from the baking. Anything more would be overkill. It would be gilding the lily, and breaking what’s not broken.
The mood I am in when I am eating a kouign-amann is NOT the mood I am in when eating candy.
As I pull apart a kouign, examining the layers and hearing the crunch of the sugar, it is almost always a meditative experience. A moment of peace and serenity, between me and the pastry. The same for fine chocolate, or any other elegant dessert.
“Slow down. Savor this tasty moment.”
When I am eating candy, especially jelly beans, my thoughts are a little different:
“YAAAY FUN FRUITY THING! Mmmm… that’s good! Ooh, new flavor!”
There are times we want to taste more than a memory- we want to dig into a younger state of mind for a moment. A time when our time was our own, there was so much fun to be had, and you could be forgiven for being a little crazy.
If it’s a little bag of Swedish Fish that does that for you, or a fun size Snickers- then enjoy it.
Being an adult doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you loved as a kid.
Just don’t touch the jelly beans in the cabinet. Those are mine. I’ll cut you.
Drop your favorite candy (and, if you’re feeling it, your favorite “grown-up” indulgence) in the comments!
Current Reading: A Dreamer’s Tales by Lord Dunsany. “Carcassone” is one of the best parable/short stories I’ve ever read.