Foreign Influences

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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In the 1920s the first and most influential cookbook was published in Athens. It was written by Nicholas Tselementes, a chef who had worked in European and American hotels and who was determined to pull Greek cooks toward French cuisine and as far away as possible from their Eastern Mediterranean traditions. His book became the bible of the rising urban middle class, and “Tselementes” is still synonymous with “cookbook” in Greek. Half of the recipes—more than 250—are for desserts, but only about one fifth describe fruit preserves and a few traditional sweets. Tselementes’s recipes for trifle, tarte à l’orange, and English Christmas pudding did not seem to inspire Athenians, but the rich layered cakes with whipped cream and chocolate became the envy of home cooks. They tried to reproduce them, copying the elaborate cakes the new posh patisseries were offering, undoubtedly following Tselementes’s instructions. But one could not buy cream. Only evaporated milk was available at the grocery stores, and attempts to whip that milk with the newly invented hand-cranked egg beater proved impossible. Eventually, someone had the idea to use margarine for the creamy filling, and many cooks followed suit. Margarine was the common “butter” in Greece, since cow’s milk butter was not traditionally produced, and the strongly flavored sheep’s milk butter was used only occasionally in baking. Instant-coffee–flavored margarine was used for the “mocha” layered cake and cocoa powder for the chocolate. In the 1970s tins of Morfat, a new “whipped cream” for pastry, became an instant sensation. Produced from skim milk and vegetable oils, the white blob is fluffy and stable, and it is still used by many cooks who have no idea that they can make real whipped cream in the blender, in seconds.