Editor's Note: Please welcome Stella Parks (aka BraveTart) to Serious Eats! We're huge fans of her gorgeous blog and excited to see what sweets she'll be baking up here.
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I attended the Culinary Institute of America, studied classic French technique and graduated with a degree in, I kid you not, Baking and Pastry Arts. Up in Hyde Park, they don't teach what I'm about to share with you: the secrets of Culinary Time Travel.
It will take equal parts science and magic to make foods that can power the flux capacitor of the mind. Leave the DeLorean in the garage, preheat your oven to one point twenty one gigawats, and rev that Kitchen Aid to eighty eight mph. We're going back to the Eighties.
First stop, Oreos, circa 1981.
Americans have enjoyed Oreos since 1912; yet our generation seems to have a uniquely powerful nostalgic yearning for them. Perhaps we feel this way because not only did we grow up with Oreos, they grew up with us. From 1912 until 1978, Oreos existed as a static product.
But in 1978 Nabisco made a genius move. They licensed Oreos for use in other products. With this legal decision, their sexagenarian biscuit transformed from a mere cookie into an ingredient. A game changer for Pop Cuisine. In 1981, Oreos stood on the cusp of their future greatness.
By 1983, as an ingredient in Cookies 'n Cream, Oreo ice cream became one of Baskin Robbins' top ice cream flavors, second only to vanilla and chocolate. Just a few years later in 1985, Oreo joined forces with Dairy Queen at the Blizzard's debut.
After that, Oreos dominated the snacking scene, whether in restaurants, on store shelves, or in the recipes we made at home. Before macaron madness, the cupcake craze, the bacon bandwagon, we had Oreo obsession. Oreos chopped into cheesecakes and brownies, mimicked in layered Jell-O pudding snacks, crushed into pie crusts, and sprinkled on sundaes. Our generation grew up not simply loving Oreos as a cookie, but as a flavor in its own right.
If opposites attract, attraction to the Oreo has the strength of gravitational pull. Chocolate + Vanilla. Crunchy + Creamy. Bitter + Sweet. Natural + Artificial.
If not for the last of those pairings, making Oreos at home would be superfluous. But sketchy ingredients like palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, and vanillin tarnish their greatness. Copy cat recipes abound, clogging the pages of TasteSpotting and popping out of every oven from Smitten Kitchen's to those in our own hometown bakeries. Thomas Keller underscored the seriousness of this pursuit by weighing in on the matter personally.
I've made TKOs before and I must say those cookies have an off-the-charts yum factor. Epic win of deliciousness, but...all around Oreo fail. T-Money, buddy, you can't make water out of wine. Vanilla bean and white chocolate do not an Oreo make. Oh, I get it. Oreos: transfigured. Not as they are, but as they could be. Except I don't want the sanctified Oreo, I want the timeless one.
The first secret of Culinary Time Travel: attention to detail. The spell is cast with a glance.
A Fauxreo has to look like a flippin' Oreo. No one would ever describe this legendary product of the industrial process as rustic. Toss all those recipes yielding puffy, crinkled cookies out the door. Likewise, those resulting in smooth surfaced wafers. Nothing defines an Oreo more than its iconic face. This translates into a physical texture. Your tongue knows the grooves of an Oreo, can read its pattern like Braille to spell out, "l-o-v-e." You needn't buy a brass Oreo stamp, but if you want to time travel, you do need to invoke the power of design.
Oreos built a reputation by touting the unique ways we can enjoy eating them, so likewise a Fauxreo must deliver Oreo magic no matter the snacking style. When this culinary time machine takes off, no one gets left behind.
For the sake of Chompers, that means snappy, crisp wafers. For Dunkers, a sturdy cookie that can withstand multiple lactose baptisms, absorbing just the right amount of milk. Twisters require a filling strong enough to provide a satisfying hint of resistance when the cookies twist apart. Lickers need a sweet, neutral filling; free of pretentious upgrades (I'm looking at you, white chocolate).
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Next week, while we've still got Oreos in the flux capacitor, we'll pay a visit to their frozen incarnation, Cookies 'n Cream. Cones? Where we're going we don't need cones.
Unless they're Clown Cones. See you in 1983.
About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com.