Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Domestic Sell-Out (aka Pudding Cookies)

I feel like an American housewife from the 1950's who has just discovered how to cut corners with a secret little box. Of course, coming out of an era in which everything was made painstakingly from scratch without due credit, it's easy to imagine how ready-made little secrets began to penetrate traditional baking. Adding Jell-O pudding mix to cakes and cookies made them moist and fluffy, who cares what those funny sounding ingredients are! Preservatives? Bring 'em on! Of course housewives embraced a faster, easier way to cook. They were expected to slave away in the kitchen all day without recognition. Today, a cake made from scratch gets a round of applause...who even knew they still made those?!

But can you imagine the revolution of food that took place? It ruined wholesome consumption and created the unfortunate system of eating today, but it must have been so liberating for women. Here's how it plays out in my mind:

1950's dude - "What's for dinner tonight honey?"
His cool wife - "Your salisbury steak dinner is in the oven and there's a cake on the table - I'm going out for drinks with the girls!"

So, I realize that processed food was once considered a good thing. But I had mixed feelings about using a boxed pudding mix in my own homemade cooking (you have no idea how much I loathe 'semi-homemade' - like it's okay to lie to your friends so that they think you're some kind of Donna Reed. Who pretends to cook something from scratch?? Perhaps someone who wants other women to feel envious of her homemaking skills, or rather her ability to find a chemically-engineered secret). But aside from this rant, I had a box of chocolate pudding that my mom brought down so I thought I'd put it to the test. And it worked. Those housewives found moist fluffy goodness in a tiny box. I'm not sure how it works and I'm not sure what all of those ingredients are but it made a lovely cookie (aside from the distinctive alkaline flavor).

(photo from my new iPhone cam...now I can work from anywhere...eeeee...mixed feelings)

Still, I felt guilty so I looked up the ingredients on FoodFacts, which gives you the pros and cons of food. How funny is it that it says 'This product contains controversial ingredients"??? That's exactly how I feel about all processed foods. Controversial. Is BHA a bad thing because it's potentially cancerous or a good thing because it's an antioxidant and it keeps food from spoiling? Honestly, science hasn't been able to answer these types of questions about our food. So should we stop eating it? Maybe. But here's the recipe in case you feel like throwing caution to the wind!

Chocolate Pudding Chip Cookies
adapted from Nestle Toll House
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 package (4 servings) instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 113 g. (1/2 c.) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 3/4 c. chocolate chips or chunks (original recipe calls for 2 cups, which just seemed ridiculous)
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (my addition)
Combine flour and pudding mix in a small bowl. Beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Beat in brown sugar and baking soda until well combined. Beat in egg and egg white. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chips. Drop dough by rounded teaspoon 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 180C, 350F for 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool on baking sheets 2 to 3 minutes, remove to wire racks to cool completely.

These are best eaten immediately, while the obvious flavor of Jell-O pudding mix is less noticeable than when completely cooled. Also, if you put these in an airtight container they'll lose their outer layer of crunchiness so it's best to leave them out.

I feel that many women today are trying to find something that was perhaps lost in American cooking over the past 50 years. Something that our grandmothers replaced with quick fixes in order to take back their own lives. Before the world changed, cooking was mandatory for many housewives, whether they enjoyed it or not, at the expense of a woman's precious time. We can't blame Betty Crocker for making 'homemade' a thing of the past because it set a lot of people free. Rachel Ray probably doesn't want to admit this, but it's nearly a full-time job to feed your family 3 home cooked, unprocessed meals every day. Not just to prepare and cook it, but to schlep to the store often enough to have fresh produce on hand.

As American women re-enter the kitchen by choice we can't blame our mothers for a lack of organic recipes and neither should we be pretentious about our choice to be more in tune with nature. Instead we should understand why this gap exists and seek to fill it ourselves. Our mothers and grandmothers made it possible for us to have fulfilling and successful careers. What we can craft for our children is a balanced method for incorporating food into life.

Will I make these again? Sure, with organic pudding mix. We'll see if the proof is really in the pudding or in the chemical additives. (PS - yeah, I can't actually buy organic pudding here so someone else will have to try it and tell me how it goes!)


Julia said...

this is well thought out. it is true that history paved the way so i have the freedom to both work and cook from scratch because i don't already have a million babies or laundry to do by hand.

Katie said...

You raise some good points in this post. When I lived in the U.S., I mostly stayed away from processed foods for health reasons, but I find that I do miss certain convenience items. It's amazing how much smaller the grocery stores are here because they're not filled with aisles of processed foods and ten options for every single product. Living here has forced me to make many more foods from scratch that otherwise I would have bought pre-made (like blue cheese dressing!).

Speaking of semi-homemade, I despise that Food Network chef Sandra Lee. Ack!