The Next Vogue in Comfort Food? Flummadiddle.
Discomforted by “trendy” comfort food
The recent comfort food fad is often attributed to the general movement towards comfort, value, and simplicity, in response to the depressed economy. But when food becomes “trendy”, it also becomes more expensive. Not only does it increase overall demand, but it subjects the food to the most pretentious chefs, critics, and food snobs, thus generating a flood of frou-frou makeovers.
Comfort food is comforting because it is yummy without over-intellectualization, served and consumed in big-ass quantities, and cheap. And this is because many comfort foods were conceived or first popularized in less than fortunate times, often by those with limited resources in less than fortunate circumstances.
Comfort food is my favorite cuisine, and I love it as is. So I was discomforted by the idea of it becoming “trendy”. I feared that its essence would be lost, and that its rich culture and history would be discredited.
The Trendy Trinity(s)
Fried chicken : Britney Spears
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, slaves in the American South were forcibly limited to the “off” cuts of most meats, but could often raise their own chickens. So on special occasion, the slaves fried their chicken using saved/re-solidified lard and flavorful spices, not only making the chicken more palatable, but also more economical (calorie dense) and longer lasting (fried chicken is “sealed”, giving it a longer shelf life without refrigeration). The physically and psychologically nourishing treat survived the fall of slavery, and ultimately became a staple in the south.
Fried chicken is like the Britney Spears of trendy comfort food. People have indulged in it in secret in past times because of the negative stereotypes that have been attached to it. But in very recent times, people have come to embrace it openly because of its uncontainable, undeniable goodness. Thankfully, fried chicken and Britney Spears are not bitter. They welcome appreciation from even those who belittled them before they gained mainstream respect.
Big name chefs, such as Andrew Carmellini, David Chang, and Thomas Keller, have all incorporated their interpretations of the southern fried delicacy into their fine-dining menus.
Want a piece of chicken? A piece of Britney?
Macaroni and Cheese : Beyonce
During World War II, the government implemented a national food rationing program that limited the consumption of meat and fresh dairy products. Prior to the war (1937), Kraft auspiciously launched a boxed macaroni and processed powdered cheese dinner, called “Kraft Dinner”. Since the product was a meatless yet filling entrée, tasty, inexpensive, and easy to prepare, it received nationwide popularity. As a result, the concept of macaroni and cheese became a staple in the American household.
Macaroni and cheese is like the Beyoncé of trendy comfort food. Unlike fried chicken, people have always proudly indulged in it, and although it has been a hot item for quite some time, it shows absolutely no sign of losing momentum.
To give you an idea of just how “upscale” macaroni and cheese has become, the mac and cheese at the Waverly Inn in New York City costs ~$95 (the truffles in it run at about $1,900/lb), vs. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese which costs $1.29/box!
Meatballs : Lady Gaga
Although the concept of ground meat rolled into a ball has been around for centuries, meatballs didn’t become an American food staple until after the Great Depression. The meat grinder, patented during the Industrial Revolution, allowed the general population to make use of left-over, and/or tough cuts of meat. During the Great Depression, Americans combined this inexpensive ground meat with even less expensive “fillers” (grains, breads) to “stretch” their meat, while making use of stale bread.
Meatballs are like the Lady Gaga of trendy comfort food. They are the “it” of the moment, and have a knack for pulling off a vast range of looks and flavor profiles. They are also quite ballsy. We can only anticipate seeing more of it.
Restaurant Editor Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appétit magazine proclaimed the meatball as the dish of the year for 2010, while Perez Hilton proclaimed Lady Gaga as “bigger than Beyonce” in pop star status. Watch out mac and cheese! Meatballs are on the rise…
Staying happily in vogue
I was kind of excited to be opposed to something mainstream, because I am always naturally in vogue. But contrary to my assumptions, the comfort food trend has made comfort food more delicious, and has a great overall affect on NYC. And I’m sure as hell’s kitchen not going to let my pride get in the way of good food. Sigh. I guess I’m just destined to be trendy.
First of all, you can now find good fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, grits, greens, and bread pudding in all parts of NYC. In five-star restaurants, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, in-between restaurants…. on brunch menus, dinner menus, drunk 4 am diner menus…. And regardless of the type of restaurant, the comfort food dishes have the tendency to offer greater relative value. But the best part? The stiff competition is constantly improving its taste and authenticity!
Secondly, the over-intellectualization and fancification of comfort food has not taken away from its simplicity. Most of the changes involve subtle substitutions with higher quality ingredients, and the addition of ingredients that enhance the original dish’s flavor. The changes in taste have been small, and positive. Excluding the excessive incorporation of truffles. Blech.
Anyways, I believe this is because everyone agrees that the most comforting element of comfort food is its familiar taste, and its capacity to “bring us back”. Therefore, rather than transforming comfort food into something different, many of the finest chefs have focused on finding ways to creatively capture the dish’s original goodness.
For example, Chef Andrew Carmellini first prepares his fried chicken “sous-vide”, but only to achieve optimal juiciness upon frying. Chef David Chang prepares his southern fried chicken with a traditional buttermilk batter with the goal of creating a “pomme soufflée-like” crispy skin, and serves it with his Korean style comforting thrice fried dark meat chicken. Both Carmellini and Chang serve their fried chicken “family-style” to bring back a traditional Sunday dinner feel.
Bread pudding, like many other comfort foods, originated from “making do” with left-overs. By softening old bread with milk, eggs, and sugar, clever cooks discovered that they could bring stale bread back to life in the form of a warm, baked, custardy confection.
Today, sweet bread puddings are composed of cubed/sliced bread soaked in custard made with egg, milk and/or cream, sugar, and spices. But like the trendy trinity of comfort foods, bread pudding has also turned fancy. It is now commonly dressed with exotic liqueurs, candied citrus peels, gourmet chocolates, nuts, and sauces. Ain’t a bad thing.
Puddings, such as plum pudding, have been associated with the holidays for hundreds of years. And since I had been meaning to come up with my own bread pudding recipe, I figured I could use the upcoming holiday brunch as an opportunity to create and test one. **I’m not trying to be a jerk by posting this bread heavy entry at the beginning of Passover. Just an unfortunate coincidence. Sorry :(. I’ll make pignoli cookies for you to make up for it.
After conducting research on the components of bread pudding, I came across some useful information that will help us make our very special one:
1. Egginess comes from egg whites
The eggy flavor in eggs comes from the sulfur compounds in egg whites, and the sponginess comes from air whipped into the egg whites. So by using only egg yolks in our custard, we can make a creamier, silkier, and tastier bread pudding!
2. Stale bread ≠ Dry bread
Although stale bread is certainly drier than fresh bread, the process of staling is independent from the loss of moisture. Bread stales because the starch “retrogrades”, or moves back to its original crystalline state prior to baking (“retrogradation”), making the bread dense and harder to chew. The rate at which this occurs is dependent on the temperature at which the bread is stored. Bread stales most rapidly at 41º F, so it should never be store in the refrigerator. Staling stops at 23° F, so freezing is a good way to suspend the aging of bread. However, to freeze and thaw bread, it must pass 41º F twice, which is roughly equivalent to a day’s staling at room temperature. So only freeze bread (and other starch heavy foods) if you know you won’t be using it for more than a couple of days!
Stale bread is good for making meatballs and bread pudding because it is typically also dryer than fresh bread, and can therefore absorb more moisture. However, it is possible to have dry fresh bread that can absorb even more moisture than stale bread. How so? Toasting! If you happen to have a stale loaf sitting around, by all means use that. Otherwise, buy a fresh loaf and toast it!
What is flummadiddle? According to Wikipedia.com, “Flummadiddle is a baked main course pudding consisting of stale bread, pork fat, molasses, and spices including cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. It was a part of early American cuisine, especially of New England fisherman.”
I came across flummadiddle in one of my searches (likely something on stale bread? couldn’t find it again!). But there is virtually no information on Flummadiddle online, aside from Wikipedia’s description. And there are no recipes! Since we are making bread pudding for brunch, let’s also make it flummadiddle by incorporating the necessary ingredients. Besides, I have a great tub of leaf lard that I picked up from Dickson’s Farmstand in Chelsea Market that I’ve been meaning to use. And I also love cloves :).
**Flummadiddle also means “nonsense” and “something worthless”. But our flummadiddle will not be flummadiddle!
Let’s bring some stale bread back to life!
**or kill/toast some fresh bread.
This recipe can be served for breakfast/brunch or dessert. As a breakfast/brunch, you can skip the caramel rum sauce. Without it, it tastes like a super moist, custardy cinnamon raisin Cinnabon!!! YUM!
HHC’s Cinnamon Rum Raisin Flummadiddle
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
• ½ cup raisins + 2 tsp dark rum
• ¼ cup toasted bread crumbs + 1 tbsp granulated sugar + 1 tbsp butter, melted (breadcrumb topping)
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 1 loaf of fresh or stale italian or french bread (~6 oz), cut into ¾ inch cubes
• 5 large egg yolks
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ tsp salt
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 cup milk
• 1 tbsp leaf lard, melted
• 1 tbsp butter, melted
• ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
• Pinch of ground cloves
• Pinch of ground allspice
• ½ cup pecans
1. Heat the ½ cup of raisins with 2 tsp of dark rum in the microwave on high power until hot (~20-25 seconds). Set aside.
2. Combine the ¼ cup toasted bread crumbs, 1 tbs sugar, and 1 tbsp of melted butter. Set aside. This topping will add some great textural contrast.
3. Preheat the oven to 325º F.
4. Spread bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake until the cubes are hard and lightly browned (~15 minutes).
Before and after toasting. You can’t see the difference from the photos, but you will surely feel the difference!
5. While waiting for the bread crumbs to cool, whisk the egg yolks, ½ cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl.
6. Whisk in the milk, cream, and melted lard until well combined. Add the spices, rum raisin mixture and pecans.
7. Add the cooled bread cubes, and gently fold into the custard (using a spoon or spatula).
9. Transfer the mixture into your baking dish of choice (I chose ceramic), and sprinkle it with your toasted bread crumb/sugar/butter mixture.
11. Cool until set (~30-45 minutes).
Rum caramel sauce
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 2 tbs molasses
• 6 tbsp heavy cream
• 2 tbsp butter
• 2 tbsp dark rum
1. Combine sugar and heavy cream in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk in molasses, and bring the mixture to a boil.
2. Add butter, and whisk until completely combined. Remove from heat.
3. Add the rum, and cool just to warm.
This is the part when the crowd goes wild! Bam! (1 tbsp of rum) Bam! (another tbsp of rum)
4. Drizzle the warm sauce over the flummadiddle and serve.
OMG it smells like the mall (Cinnabon), only without the smell of bourbon chicken and lo mein. Heaven. Let’s eat!!!!!!
We also have a little bit of rum left. Shall we each take shots to celebrate the return of flummadiddle?!
No? That’s flummadiddle. I’m getting the shot glasses….
Until next time….