Texas Toast. Boston Cream Pie. Chicago deep-dish. Any time a food and a geographical location get married, there’s bound to be a little bit of drama. Emotions come into play over whether the food that’s claiming to be Chicago-style pizza can rightfully wear the crown. Suddenly, the food in question isn’t just a slice of pizza, bread or pie–it’s a slice of Chicago. (Or Texas, or Boston.)
So instead of is this food a tasty food, the question becomes does this version of this regional food accurately represent who we are as people? Which, uh, gets pretty loaded.
Such was the fate of the mostly-forgotten Bedfordshire Clanger–a hotly-debated hand pie from Victorian-Era England.
These days, political drama is always, always, always high-stakes, life-changing, and emotionally exhausting. So take a moment to waltz with me, hand-in-hand, down this delightfully low-stakes memory lane in which a bunch of Bedfordshire residents once got real up in arms about whether or not their beloved pie officially had jam in it.
“That’s $12.50,” said the woman behind the counter.
Sarah and I exchanged a look. We had just spent the last several minutes poring over the long glass pastry cases in her neighborhood Chinese bakery, scrutinizing the fluffy rolls and imagining all their possible fillings. In the end, we’d selected 10 pastries, hoping to cover all our bases. We carried the goodies back to her apartment in paper bags.
“$12.50 wouldn’t get you ten pastries anywhere else,” I remember saying. “At a French bakery, it would get you, like, two. Maybe three.”
Sarah shrugged. “That’s one great thing about Chinese bakeries.”
But once I started digging into it, “Chinese bakery” started to feel like an oxymoron. Historically, Chinese pastries weren’t baked–they were steamed. But all the treats in our paper bags had definitely seen the inside of an oven. So if traditional Chinese pastries aren’t baked, what are these pastries and where are they coming from?
Puff pastry isn’t JUST for croissants. Arguably, it’s the foundation of many, many pastries as we know them today. It’s a technique that lets you enjoy warm, flaky layers of dough instead of literally everything being a biscuit.
But if you Google “Who invented puff pastry?” right now, the answer you get is Claudius Gele. And that’s SUPER wrong. Like, wildly wrong. Because Claudius Gele didn’t exist.
Insisting that a dead white guy didn’t invent puff pastry might seem like yelling at a cloud. Who cares, right? Isn’t that just…croissant dough? Dressler, we have bigger fish to fry here.
But here’s the thing–puff pastry is a majorly important technique, not a one-off party trick. We see it in bakeries, coffee shops, store-bought dough. It’s a huge part of our culinary landscape, so whoever pioneered the technique has influenced the way we eat today to a mind-boggling degree.
How in the world did a technique like this get so badly misattributed? And who is ACTUALLY responsible for that happy little pain au chocolat you’re eating while you read this at a cafe?