Monday, July 16, 2007

Napoleon or Neapolitan?

Today, July 16th

Today is the feast day of the patron saint of Naples, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and a great excuse to indulge – or over-indulge if you wish, as tradition has it that no-one will fall ill as a result of celebrating her day. Anything from Naples will be very appropriate - pizza is the most obvious, or anything alla napoletana, or à la napolitaine, or Neopolitan ice-cream (layers of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla).

If you want some extra historical boost to your celebrations, you could have Naples Biscuits, which are an old version of sponge fingers, ladyfingers (which in Australia refers to a type of banana), trifle sponges, Savoy biscuits, or boudoir biscuits. I have no idea why they are called Naples Biscuits - presumably because the recipe was thought to originate there - but since the mid-seventeenth century they have appeared frequently in English cookbooks by that name. Neither do I have any idea why they are called boudoir biscuits, although it may have something to do with their shape, and both names may have some vague connection with ‘the evil of Naples’, which was syphilis, when it wasn’t called the French pox or the English disease. As that may be too much information for you on the innocuous little biscuit that is the basis of every jolly English trifle, I will probably be wasting my time giving you a recipe for them today.

If sweet treats are your preferred poison, and you are swayed by the assurance that you wont get sick on this day from eating more than your share, you could have a ‘Napoleon’ instead. I mean of course one of those delicious iced puff pastry ‘mille-feuille’ (which means ‘thousand leaves’) cakes filled with pastry cream and jam. I know, I know, don’t bombard me with emails, Napoleon came from Corsica, not Naples. In spite of some highly creative myths about his role in its origins, the pastry has nothing to do with Napoleon (who was long since dead before the pastry was invented), and everything to do with bad translation. Most historians are confident that the name is a corruption of ‘à la Napolitaine’, which means ‘in the style of Naples’.

Strangely, that good old Victorian standby, Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, gets the name right with its version of the recipe.

Neapolitan Sweetmeats (a Dish for a Juvenile Party)
Roll out some good puff paste to the thickness of a quarter of an inch. Stamp it out in rounds, diamonds, or any shapes that may be preferred, remembering only to have an equal number of each shape. Place these on a floured baking sheet, and bake in a quick oven. When cold, spread a thick layer of different coloured jams upon half of them, press the other halves on the top, and garnish with a little piping of pink and white icing.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Brambling we will go.

Quotation for the Day …

'Tis not the eating, nor 'tis not the drinking that is to be blamed, but the excess. John Selden 1584-1654

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