Sunday, March 20, 2011

As Much as I Can Bear to Write About Sprinkles

Really, what the fuck is a sprinkle? Value-wise? Like, over the course of your life, how much difference could be made by a single sprinkle on a cupcake? The answer should be none. In fact, if the answer is anything but, you’d better be an heir to some confectionery legacy, because sprinkles, ultimately, are nothing. They might as well not have names.

Of course, these things do have names. (The nerve.) While most English-speakers do just fine with sprinkles — for example, in contexts such as “I prefer not to eat sprinkles because I don’t appreciate pointlessness on my pastries” — not everyone makes it so easy. Technically speaking, sprinkles must be sprinkled — that is, dropped aimlessly. The tiny, pointless candies that get purposefully arranged on pastries go by other names, such as nonpareils and dragĂ©es, and even the randomly scattered ones can be ants or hundreds-and-thousands or jimmies or brucies, depending on the shape of the pointlessness and where you’re eating it. But by far the best alternative to sprinkles would have to be the one that also sounds like a mean name to call a woman you don’t like: hagelslag. Granted, the term comes from Dutch, a language that boasts a lot words that sound like mean things, but this is the one I’m latching onto. Hagelslag, as a culinary item, allegedly came about in 1936, in response to letters a little boy wrote to the Venz candy company requesting a chocolate bread topping. (It goes without saying that the lad was “mummy’s little candy boy,” a regular Agustus Gloop, so jolly with his candy-stuffedness.) Venz complied with the fat child’s demands and produced chocolate hagelslag, “tiny cylindrical candies” named for a Dutch weather phenomenon that literally translates as something like “hail-strikes.”

If it surprises you that such a complicated, region-specific vocabulary exists to describe something that itself might as well not exist, know that there’s some disagreement over the term among members of the hagelslag community. (Community known for choco-stains around mouth, pockets.) Apparently, if you want to get technical about it — and we all clearly do — true chocolate hagelslag must be made from at least 35 percent cacao. From Wikipedia: “If the percentage is under the 35 percent, it has to be called cacao fantasy hagelslag,” with the more elaborate name oddly going to the inferior product. Marketing ploy? Act of pity? Is the fantasy that you’re eating chocolate when you’re actually eating a product that is substantially more nothing than its more prestigious counterpart would be? I am unsure. But I don’t doubt for a moment that the distinction is addressed quite seriously by the Augustus Gloops of the world.

Finally, before I never talk about these things again: fairy bread. Is a thing, apparently. And while it sounds a little rude, the nature of it is more offensive than the name. Fairy bread, according to Wikipedia, is a common treat in Australia and New Zealand consisting of white bread cut into triangles, slathered with margarine or butter and covered with sprinkles (or whatever you feel like calling them now).

I guess by some people’s standards this would pass for dessert, but I can’t help feeling like fairy bread would suck only slightly less than, say, peanut butter smeared on playing cards, and that the moms serving it have probably just stopped trying. But perhaps fairy bread, in all its awfulness, is an appropriate destiny for a dessert component that just doesn’t have all that much going for it, no matter who weirdly complicated its nomenclature might be.

Digestibles, previously:

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