Sunday, January 22, 2012

80 ingredients. Chemistry degree preferred.

Someone gave us some "bear claw coffee cake". Someone, I suspect, who does not know I'd rather not stick the output of several chemical factories in my face and call it food.

The package contained one gooey, sticky, and very puffy long roll liberally decorated with some kind of icing. It  was light, as it should be with both yeast and chemical leavening agents working to puff it up. It was also light in the flavor department, lacking that rich, buttery, flaky quality punctuated by a bit of almond crunch that people used to associate with bear claws.

I imagine that anyone buying these things is not too worried about flavor. Nor are they likely worried about toes.

Bear claws normally have toes. They're just cuts in the dough, but still. This thing had none. Not only was it chemical-laden, it was toeless, too.  Maybe adding "coffee cake" to the name eliminates the need for toes, but still. Couldn't they call it "almond coffee cake" and skip the ursine references altogether?

I'm starting to think that "coffee cake" is a synonym for "flavorless things dunked in coffee so you don't know they're flavorless." Therefore, anything with this term in its name is automatically suspect. But that's another topic. Back on subject!

A toeless bear claw! Imagine! Someone actually bought the thing. What were they thinking?

Wait. Many people must buy the things, or they wouldn't be there in the supermarket, arriving daily to sully the image of Danish pastries. No toes, little flavor, wrong texture, yet purchased no doubt by the thousands by people across the nation whose taste buds have gone on permanent holiday.

Really, though. What's with this toeless thing? This is America, dammit! We could put a man on the Moon, but we can't put toes in our bear claws? What has happened to our once-great nation? Can nobody find a cost-effective way of toeing bear claws in a factory?

Have we degenerated so much that we don't even know that bear claws have toes?  Has this puffy toeless tribute to chemically-dependent foodstuffs become the new bear claw norm? Have we become a nation of sheep, passively herded by multinational agro-corporations in whatever culinary direction they choose?

Does no supermarket shopper remember that these things were invented by chefs proud of their craft, who carefully crafted simple, natural ingredients into something truly worthy of eating?

Yet, some do remember. The craft of Danish pastry is still taught in cooking schools. My textbooks list eleven or thirteen ingredients for bear claws. Their formula uses laminated, or folded dough to create zillions of layers alternating butter and yeast-leavened flour. Well, maybe only about 512 layers, but still that's a lot. This is done by sealing a block of butter into the dough and then folding, folding, folding. Each fold creates more layers - the same technique used for croissants. The result is heaven. Puffy sheets of dough that practically float in the air, backed by a rich, buttery flavor. Real almonds, butter, sugar and egg for the filling.

Bear claws I would eat:
(yes, they would have "toes"!)

bread flour
instant dry yeast
almonds (almond paste)
cake flour
apricot glaze

(optional: almond extract, vanilla extract)

These are the ingredients used in the industrial strength bear claw coffee cakes
These things had eighty ingredients, unless I missed a repeating ingredient that threw off the count.

Enriched bleached wheat flour
(wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)

Palm oil
Whole eggs
Yeast (how does the yeast survive in all this stuff?)
Soybean oil
Mono and diglycerides
Invert sugar
canola oil
wheat gluten

Enriched wheat flour
(niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid. Again.)

Corn flour
Guar gum
Artificial flavor
potassium sorbate
dried egg white
sodium steryl lactylate
natural flavor

Bleached enriched wheat flour
(niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid. Again.)

Calcium propionate

(sodium aluminum phosphate, baking soda, aluminum sulfate, fumaric acid, monocalcium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate)

Dried egg yolk

Calcium disodium EDTA


Vitamin A palmitate
Sodium bicarbonate
Sodium acid pyrophosphate
calcium sulfate
polysorbate 60
Citric acid
Xanthan gum
Wheat starch
Silicon dioxide (A.K.A. sand)
Sorbitan monostearate
soy lecithin
Dried whole egg (already got the yolk & white, so why not the whole thing this time?)
Modified food starch
Enzyme monocalcium phosphate
Ammonium sulfate
Azodicarbonamide (ADA)
Beta carotene
High fructose corn syrup (had to be in here somewhere, didn't it?)
Stearic acid

caramel color
(contains sufites, Water, Sodium benzoate, Citric acid) No actual caramel was used, apparently.

Nonfat milk powder
Vitamin E

Vegetable shortening
(palm, canola and/or soybean oil)

mono and diglycerides (can you ever have just one of these?)
polysorbate 60
TBHQ - preservative
cellulose gum
ascorbic acid (good old vitamin C)
natural and artificial flavor
sodium hexametaphosphate
sodium benzoate
propylene glycol (not to be confused with ethylene glycol)
mono and diesters of fatty acids with BHT as preservative (my favorite ingredient here, really sounds chemical, and there are preservatives for things that don't themselves sound very appealing!)
Calcium acetate.

Contains: Wheat, Milk, Soy, Egg, Almonds. (how did those things get in here?)

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