When word of Davy Jones’ death hit the internet last week it took only moments for women of a certain age to express their collective grief over the loss of one of their first crushes. Facebook was filled with RIP’s, grainy videos of Monkees’ concerts and most importantly, clips from the pint-sized heartthrob’s appearance on The Brady Bunch. Talk about a pop-culture mash-up! When I say that every woman I know remembers the episode when Marcia tried to get Davy to perform at her prom I would not be exaggerating. We all know the words to “Girl (look what you’ve done to me)” and remember when Marcia said, “I’ll never wash this cheek again!” after Davy gave her a peck. And I’m sure none of us had thought about any of this in years. How funny that all it took was the news that Davy was gone to bring it all back as if it were yesterday.
I try to stay away from too much nostalgia because it doesn’t lead you anywhere. Not that there aren’t insights to be found when we moan about the past. The problem is I find it turns my head backwards instead of forward -- a really unproductive place to be if you’re trying to attack the future. But certain triggers make memories unavoidable and it can often be comforting to take a (very) short walk down memory lane. Just make sure your path is not a slippery slope into the quicksand of reminiscence.
One questionable thing that keeps growing as we walk towards the future is the proliferation of choice. Sometimes I think you can feel as imprisoned by choice as by the lack of it. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement. I’m sure if I asked someone serving a life sentence if they’d rather stand in front of the cookie aisle and choose just one from among the 100 varieties or opt to eat whatever gruel is slapped onto their metal tray they’d go for the trip to Stop n’ Shop. (I think I’ve seen too many movies. Do they even allow metal anything in a prison?) I’m just saying that when you are bombarded by options how do you narrow them down to one? That’s what came to my mind when I noticed how many people had the same Davy Jones memory. When I was a child we had seven channels to choose from on TV and all your friends watched and talked about the same shows. In one sense I guess there was a sort of vacuum, but in another it’s nice that a generation has shared experiences that elicit a nod and a “Yes! I was there too! I remember that!” In a way it creates a sense of community. And I wonder if that happens as much today. Did Marcia Brady and Davy Jones make such a lasting impression because they were so special or because there wasn’t much competition? With so much more cultural clutter today how does anything or anyone have a chance to become an icon?
This week marked the 100th birthday of the Oreo cookie. Between that and the fact that the Marcia and Davy prom-date occurred 40 years ago, I feel really old. I never knew Oreos were born in 1912 and I kind of get a kick out of thinking that my grandmother may have unscrewed everyone’s favorite sandwich cookie and licked the crème just as her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter have. I bet you sang the “Do you know exactly how to eat an Oreo?” song. I did. (And the felon serving the life sentence probably did too.) And now my nieces do. (Don't remember it? Click here and it's the 6th song on the list.) Good luck finding someone who has never eaten one. Did you know there are over 95 million Oreos sold every day in over 100 countries? How did they last for so long and how is it they too stayed so iconic?
Of course I had to buy some to see if they were still noteworthy and the fact is, they are really good. Dip one in milk and you’ll have lots of memories, I’m sure. But with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, they aren’t what I’m looking for in any cookie, even one that’s made it to 100. So I made a version myself from Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery cookbook. They were great. The cookie itself has a really intense chocolate flavor and a gentle crumbly snap. The crème, which we can now call "cream," doesn’t leave a greasy film in your mouth because it’s made with butter and sugar, not an assortment of processed oils, and provides just the right amount of sweetness to counter the slightly bitter chocolate. But I needed my favorite six year-old to weigh in. Which version would she prefer, store-bought or home made? And what’s more fun than a blindfolded taste test?
First Number One, the home made:
Then Number Two, the Oreo:
Then the verdict:
“Number one was much better!” Taking off her bandana she reached for a second one. “Why? What about it was better?” I probed. “I don’t know. It just was.” She said with her mouth full. Considering I got the answer I was looking for I decided on no further questions.
Thankfully, this is a girl whose mother has exposed her to The Brady Bunch, Free to Be You and Me, the Muppets and other important touchstones from our youth. But will her generation ever have the kind of shared experience that comes with the sort of collective icons that mine had? Will a cookie created by a corporate food giant today last 100 years into the future? Somehow I don’t think so. So I’ll be sure to sing “Daydream Believer,” “The Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” and keep on baking her the "better" Oreo.
Thinking About Icons Homemade Oreos
from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery & Cafe, Joanne Chang, 2010
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1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch kosher salt
In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla and chocolate then add the egg and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda until well mixed. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. The dough will be quite stiff. Set aside the dough for about an hour to firm up.
Turn the dough out onto a 15-inch square sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Using your hands, shape the dough into a log about 10 inches long and 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
Place the log at the edge of the paper and roll the paper around the log. With the log fully encased in paper, roll it into a smoother log no more than 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm. The log will settle and flatten along the side that rests in the fridge. One way to avoid this is to cut an empty paper towel roll down the long side and place the log into the little cradle. (The dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month. If the dough is frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.)
Preheat the oven to 325°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Slice the dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the slices about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are firm to the touch. After 17 minutes start checking to see if the center of the cookies are firm. Keep checking every two minutes of so and take the cookies out as soon as they feel firm. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet. While they cool, make the frosting.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until completely smooth.Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Add the milk and salt and beat until smooth. (The filling can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.)
Using a mini ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop about 1 rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the flat side of half of the cookies. Top with a second cookie, flat side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges.
Yield: 15 sandwich cookies
NOTE: Maybe I sliced my dough too thinly but I wound up with a lot more dough than expected. If you wind up with more than 30 or so cookies, you might want to double the frosting recipe. The frosting yields only enough for 16 sandwich cookies.