Baking with Grandma Duck

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Baking with Grandma Duck:  Apple Cakenonnapapera

An Italian interpretation of Nonna Papera’s apple pie is translated here below by the wonderful Francine Segan (Dolci: Italy’s Sweets). Francine has been a major fan of  Grandma Duck’s manuale of recipes since childhood, and now she has written a few of her own.  One of her favorites, and certain to be one of yours, is this rich and simple-to-make apple cake.  If you put it on your window sill to cool, attenzione!  It might just disappear.

NOTE:  Click on the sidebar menu under RECIPES for more cooking with Disney!

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photo by Ellen Silverman

Pareva la torta di Nonna Papera!
Looks like Grandma Duck’s cake!
Said of a particularly pretty cake or pie

A classic! At first glance it may seem like a huge ratio of apple to dough and you’re going to be tempted to cut down on the apples. Don’t! It looks like a lot of apples, but they magically meld into the batter. You’ll love the result. The top half of the cake is chock full of tender apples that float over sweet moist cake.
Deceptively simple, exceptional results.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, plus more for the pan
7 ounces, about 1 1/3 cups, whole wheat or all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
2/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, granulated sugar
2 large eggs or egg substitute
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Zest of 1 lemon
4 large or 5 medium apples, about 2 pounds total

Preparation
:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan. Beat 2/3 cup of sugar and the eggs in a large bowl, using a whisk or electric handheld beater, until creamy and light yellow. Beat in the flour, milk, baking powder, baking soda and zest. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Peel and core each of the apples. Dice one of the apples and stir the dices into the batter. Cut the remaining apples into thin slices. Spread the slices over the diced apples in the pan in a neat pattern. Press into the batter. Scatter thin pats of butter or drizzle olive oil over the apples and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for about 75 minutes, until dark golden and cooked through.

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Cooking From Comics: In the Kitchen with Disney Characters

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When Walt Disney was building his Disneyland empire in California in 1955, there was a growing fascination with all things Disney in post-war Europe, and particularly in Italy. Topolino, or Mickey Mouse, hit it big in Italy. By the 1960’s, a lively series of  paperback bound comics  emerged and were extremely popular.  The comics paralleled a fascination with American culture that was taking hold. Today, tees and sweatshirts and all manner of clothing are festooned with Topolino imagery, and a good number of grown men and women don this attire enthusiastically.  In Italy, Disney is not just for kids.

I have a large collection of  the Italian Disney comics, and I never fail to return from Italy without at least 3 or 4 new issues.  I am addicted. I learned a lot of my Italian and a multitude of colorful idioms from these illustrated books. And it turns out that many Italians learned a lot about “American” cooking from their Disney-Italian comic book characters.  You can thank Donald Duck and his extended family.

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A favorite series featured the adventurous tales of  Uncle Scrooge McDuck (Paperone) along with nephew Donald (Papernik) his three nephews (Qui, Quo, and Qua) and Grandmother Elvira known as Nonna Papera (Grandma Duck).  A rather distorted image of American family life was presented in these comics.  Picnics in the park, gold mining in the Rockies, cowboys wrangling cattle in the west, river rafting down the Mississippi, and trips to outer space were family adventure stories in the comics, all bankrolled by Unca Scrooge himself and in pursuit of some thief who was stealing his treasure chest.

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Thank goodness for Nonna Papera.  She kept the boys well-fed, the American way. The Italian comic book artists delighted in depicting her beautiful apple pies cooling on her window sill, and even several adventures involved mysteries around who swiped the cooling pastry. Italians  became fascinated with Nona Papera’s beautifully fluted pies–  and her cookies, sandwiches, and picnic fare, too.

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According to Barks’ and Rosa’s Who’s Who In Duckburg, “Grandma Duck is in many ways the head of the Duck-family. She is normally the one who arranges the family’s Christmas celebrations and she’s known as an excellent cook with pies as one of many specialities.”  It was Donald’s grandmother who made American pie popular in Italy.

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By 1970, a book of her recipes was published under the title Il Manuale di Nonna Papera (The Cookbook of Grandma Duck).  Many  Italian cooks will tell you today that this collection of recipes was their first cookbook and first venture into cooking.   Most of the recipes are an Italian interpretation of American dishes, but in reality, the recipes remain Italian in spirit. Sandwiches (or panini), a Chip and Dale Popcorn recipe, and lots of cakes and pies are included and are featured alongside traditional Italian sweets, finger foods, and several main dishes. Cleverly named, many recipe titles indicate that these are historical recipes handed down to Nonna Papera from very famous people of the past such as Queen Elizabeth or Christopher Columbus (appropriate personages for the settlement of America).

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I’m still reading Disney comic books.  I have recently acquired a reprint of Nonna’s recipe book and have yet to try out these “American” recipes. I am sure if I do, I will no doubt improve not only speaking in Italian but also cooking in Italian.  In time, I might even receive that fine compliment about my cooking from an Italian:  “Pareva la torta di Nonna Papera.” (“That looks just like a cake made by Grandma Duck!”)      –MELorden

NOTE:  Click on the sidebar menu under Recipes for more cooking with Disney!

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For a look at what the current world of Disney is offering in Mickey Mouse and Disney Princess cookbooks, check out these souvenir collections on Amazon:

Available Disney Cookbooks from Amazon.com

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Flora’s Fudge

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Disney Characters in the Kitchen:  Revisiting A Childhood Recipe

The Fantasy Behind Flora’s Fudge:  Almost As Easy As Magic  (SEE FOLLOW UP NOTE AT BOTTOM OF THIS POST)

I have spent decades yearning for a slice of fudge.  Not just any fudge.  I’ve wanted a hunka hunka burnin’ chocolate nut fudge that I made as a child on a snowy afternoon with my father and sister.  But the recipe was parts unknown, and I only held a faded memory of the comical source of that wondrous fudge recipe.

It was 1959, and I was in a dream world having just seen Disney’s now classic animated film, Sleeping Beauty.  This obsession with medieval castles, a trio of fairy godmothers, and a prince of my own would eventually be eclipsed by a different Disney obsession with Peter Pan, the pirate-loving fella who could fly and preferred to hang out on an island with a team of really cool and furry friends. (I never understood that simpering Wendy.)

At about the same time that I was encountering these Disney role models, I became enamored with cooking with my father.  He loved to cook, and it was obvious in his joy over the stove when he boiled shrimp and stirred cocktail sauce to go with his highballs, much to my mother’s chagrin.  There were his amazing pancakes, eggs, bacon, and all manner of breakfast food.  “I could eat breakfast every meal,” he said.  And sometimes we did.  Having grown up in and around his parents’ bakery and then general store, Daddy was full of food stories about loading and butchering meat, stealing from the pickle barrel, and (my favorite) filling jelly donuts.

Sunday mornings we picked up the newspaper at the local journal joint on Pleasant Street.  The owner was a big cigar smoker and looked like a villain straight from Marvel comics, which he sold racks of.  I liked looking at the comic books (which oddly were displayed near all the dirty magazines). There, that Sunday, in the more PG of the spinning racks, I saw a shiny comic depicting Sleeping Beauty’s own private team of wish-grantors– those  pink, blue, and green Fairy Godmothers.  This comic book was our Sunday morning treat, and soon my sister and I lapped up all the silly adventures of the winged and glittering Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  But the added joy was on the back page of the issue where we discovered a recipe, written in a rebus code, called “Flora’s Fudge.”

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That afternoon, we convinced our father to create what was sure to be a magical confection in our own kitchen. We decoded the recipe together and followed the directions. It was made in a saucepan, and the comic book image of the pot showed a small saucepan shaped like one we owned. For years, every time we made the fudge, about halfway through the recipe, we transferred the melted base into a mixing bowl to add all the confectioner’s sugar and chopped nuts. Within moments of adding the sugar, and nuts, the fudge became impossible to stir.

Of course, I believed, it never would have been a problem for Flora, the fairy godmother.  All she needed was a flick of her magic wand to transform the ingredients into fabulous fudge. Only our father’s brute force could maneuver the spatula enough to combine the ingredients, and I remember looking forward to and giggling at the funny faces he made in the effort. Our father was great in a pinch.

What follows is the exact recipe for Flora’s Fudge from the vintage comic.  After 50 years of wondering, and a few wild goose chases, I finally tracked down the very comic of my youth on e-Bay. I mistakenly had been hunting for the Sleeping Beauty comic and not The Fairy Godmothers issue. 

Even though I found a posting of the recipe itself on-line, it would not do. I had to have that illustrated rebus in my hands. I had to know if it was really as good and still as hard to stir as I remembered. My imagined solution, then, is to begin with a larger pot to accommodate all the powdered sugar, keep it on the burner at low, and see if this makes a difference in the effort required to combine all the ingredients;

Let’s test my hypothesis.  

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The Process:

All ingredients assembled. Chocolate selected was 100% Cacao unsweetened chocolate bar by Hershey.

Then I thought that a deep, non-stick  soup pot was a sure bet for handling the large amount of sugar and would prevent any chance of burning. I actually had a roll of wax paper on hand– shades of the fifties when mom wrapped my sandwiches with it for school lunch.

Butter and chocolate melted nicely,  Some panic set in when adding the egg right into the pot– what if it scrambled?  Use a whisk and then spatula and take it off the heat for a moment when adding the egg. Then add vanilla. The liquids kept the mass moving easily.

Then it was time for half of the confectioner’s sugar–  things started to seize up and turn to oatmeal consistency.  A continuous mixing seemed to soften the combination, and it accepted the nuts easily.

Adding the second half of the sugar required patient stirring for it to combine , but the stirring was not sticky or stiff as I remember it.  Everything was sliding around the pan nicely…

So it was time to dump it into the glass dish and ready it for the fridge.

It had only a moderate sheen and did not stick to together the way I remembered it. It came out rather grainy.  Why…..?  In retrospect, I made errors:

1)  I am not sure I would use the same unsweetened chocolate I did.  It was Hersheys.  I chose it because it seemed like what we might have used then, but next time I will try Bakers Chocolate.  It just seemed to not have enough fat or cocoa butter in it.

2) I will not use a non-stick pan. I’m going for my mom’s old Revere Ware. The non-stick pot never seemed to heat up correctly on the sides, it was too wide, and it may have created sugar crystals. I beat the fudge before it cooled sufficiently which affected the crystals.

(So, what we did long ago with my father when we transferred the hot mess to a mixing bowl to add the sugar may have been the right step to take in retrospect.)

3)  I think that I stirred the butter too much. It should just melt into the chocolate on its own to avoid separating the water and fat in it.

The fudge tasted fabulous, but the mouth feel was definitely off.  Why don’t some of you give it a try out there?  OTK would love to know how fabulous was your version of Flora’s Fudge?

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FOLLOW UP NOTE:

So 24 hours later, I can say that this first attempt at recreating Flora’s Fudge was a FLOP. But I have not given up and will revisit the recipe in the near future.

Readers out there who know about making candy or working with chocolate might offer up some good advice here. It would be appreciated.

And do let me know,  folks,  if you have tried it, too. The recipe is rather thin on directions, but then again, the comic artists at Disney in1959 were probably not chocolatiers– just Mousketeers.

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