Thursday, April 7, 2011

Delicious Dictator


     In France the Napolean is known as "mille-feuilles" (a thousand leaves). It is constructed of layers of puff pastry with pastry cream, whipped cream, fruit or jelly and iced with fondant, chocolate or confectioner's sugar. The Napolean as we know it is believed by many to have been developed in France during the latter part of the 19th century. The Danish people have been told for generations that a Danish royal pastry chef invented the dessert in the 1800s on a state visit between the Emperor Napoleon and the King of Denmark, in Copenhagen. Apparently some sources think that the chocolate lines on the pastry appear to form the letter "N" for Napoleon, I don't see it. Some people believe that the dessert was actually a French invention after all, and that it was indeed Napolean's favorite sweet treat. It's been said that he ate so many of them on the eve of Waterloo that he lost the battle distracted by his dessert, maybe feeling too stuffed to fight.

    Most food historians would disagree believing that the name is the result of a misunderstanding of the French word "Napolitain" which should have been translated as "Neopolitan" pertaining to Naples but it sounds like Napoleon when your mouth is full of cake. "Napoleans" in design, are very much like the French "mille-fueille" or the Italian "mille foglie" both of which mean "a thousand leaves". Marie-Antonin Careme, writing at the end of the 18th century, considered it of "ancient origin." Interestingly, I found that the similar layered Italian dessert Tiramisu is said to have been invented by Sienese chefs in the late 1600's to honor the Grand Duke Cosmo III de' Medici who also was known for his sweet tooth, much like the Danish legend of the precious Napolean and the French mille-feuilles, only 200 years earlier.        -K.C.C.

Napoleon was known for riding his Ducati to get dessert

source: François Pierre de La Varenne "Cuisinier françois"  1651.
source:Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricial Bunning Stevens (p.202).
source: Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 586-7)

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