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Royal comfort food

Posted May 13 2011 12:00am
Photo by T. Yoshizawa
At the royal wedding a couple weeks ago, while everyone else obsessed over Kate’s dress and the hallucinatory hats, my attention was snagged by a somewhat peripheral detail: the groom’s cake. Prince William - who could have had any cake he wanted, prepared by any pastry chef in the world - chose a childhood favorite, a chocolate biscuit cake.

(Okay, I drooled over Kate’s dress, too.)

A chocolate biscuit cake is made of crushed packaged shortbread cookies, butter, Lyle’s Golden Syrup (or sugar, for non-Brits) and cocoa powder. Mix well. Pour melted chocolate on top. Refrigerate. That’s about it.

It’s the kind of cake an 8-year-old would ask his mom to make for his birthday party. It’s the kind of cake you’d pull out of the fridge and eat in front of the TV at the end of a tough day.

In other words, pure comfort food.

What do you think: did it seem like Wills might have been having a stressful day? With his wedding being televised live around the world and all?

Maybe a few people gravitate toward broccoli or artichokes when they need shoring up, but most of us automatically reach for stuff like ice cream, cheesecake, Oreos: those simple, sweet flavors we remember from childhood.

For me, the quintessential comfort food is Pop-tarts . Yeah, I know - they’re just slabs of flour, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated shortening and artificial flavors. Doesn’t matter. They take me right back to elementary school, when I used to eat one for breakfast every day. (It’s okay, I don’t do that anymore.)

A friend found a recipe for William’s chocolate biscuit cake online and made it at home. She emailed me that even though she used less sugar than the recipe called for, it turned out “crazy” sweet.

It must be added that my friend is Japanese and so did not grow up pounding sugar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the way we Westerners do. Most Western confections are too sweet for her palate, and lately, I tend to feel the same way. If you’ve been avoiding sugar for a while and then have an unplanned encounter with a good-looking dessert, you know what I mean.

(By the way, home bakers: you can usually reduce the sugar in a cake or cookie recipe by up to one-third and no one will notice the difference. I do this whenever I bake anything.)

I don’t believe in food addiction per se, but I do think you can become dependent on the morphine-like chemicals your brain releases when you eat comfort food. Eating sugar makes you happy for a good reason. In nature, high-sugar foods, like fruits, starchy vegetables, and unprocessed grains, also tend to be high in the nutrients that give you a quick shot of energy. This comes in handy if you’re a hunter-gatherer on the brink of starvation and need to keep on hunting or gathering for a while in order to survive.

Of course, few of us are starving anymore, and modern high-sugar foods are not only devoid of nutrients, they actually cost your body to metabolize. Ever wonder why eating sugar just leads to more cravings? Your body is searching for something to replenish its resources. I always say sugar has negative nutritional value.

This doesn’t mean you have to settle for a lame bubble bath at the end of a tough day when what you really need is something to eat. But if you consciously choose a food that contributes to your health instead of unconsciously reaching for one that will break it down, your body will thank you! 

What are your comfort foods? Can you think of healthier substitutions?

© 2011 Make Friends With Food
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