That Nostalgic Bakery Smell: Flashbacks in a glass case

Almond-tinged Rainbow Cookies strike a chord of nostalgia

There is something about those pretty, almond-tinged Rainbow Cookies that strikes a chord of nostalgia.

We know quite well that certain smells have the power to transport our memories back to people, places, or items in a powerful way.  Knowing this, it can be fun to deliberately take a stroll down Memory Lane by seeking out and savoring particular scents that evoke your “greatest hits” moments.  For some reason, the childhood-related smells seem most potent and precious, if for no other reason than they hold the key to reliving moments that have forever passed us in all other ways except the artificial captures of photos and recordings.

Though I am generally quite the carnivore, I have a sweet spot for specific desserts. But more than the sweet-tooth factor here, there is more of a “psychological hot fudge” going on here. I will forever associate the warm, sweet, festive smell of a bakery – hints of creamy icing, vanilla, sprinkles, and fudge – with childhood moments of joy: when my mother used to take me to the French bakery next door to my ballet lessons, and the smell of freshly-baked chocolate croissants soon translated to buttery smears of cocoa across my face; or when I accompanied my father on errands, and the deli owners always let me pick a “free” cookie. I thought I was on top of the world (though I was nudged not to choose the most obnoxiously large ones).

Playful cupcakes make for creative adults. Go ahead, no one's looking!

Playful cupcakes make for creative adults. Go ahead, no one's looking!

Many of these memories originate from back East – like from New York City’s “Top ZZ’s” (that is, Zabar’s and Zaro’s, beacons of deliciousness for commuters at Grand Central Station)—so I was particularly excited to find that here in Phoenix, Chompie’s  has quite an extensive collection of nostalgia-worthy goodies behind their gleaming glass cases.

I know many of you (especially you New Yawwkers) are partial to those Black and White cookies. But for me, I am forever partial to those moist, almond-tinged rainbow cookies; large, flaky elephant ears with just a hint of caramelized sugar at the edges (these are also known as angel’s wings or palmiers); and above all, a GOOD Napoleon (a.k.a., millefeuille), with its hardened sugar shell, layers of flaky pastry, and –most importantly—a custard-like filling (not layers of buttercream, like some hapless supermarket versions I’ve seen).

And finally, under the “How old are you, Gilat?” category: I’ll admit that, at first glance, I still gravitate towards the most colorful, cutesy, “novelty” items in a bakery case (is this an evolutionary relic? “Ooh! Shiny, fun, colorful thing. It must taste good!” I’m not sure. Usually, that psychology is reserved for the victims of poisonous mushrooms). So why the fascination with cutesy goodies and bakery smells? There is certainly the nostalgia factor I mentioned earlier. But other than that, I just like them. They are happy items that make us all smile, and promote good will. After all, could you really sustain an argument with someone who is busy licking a froggie cupcake?

© Gilat Ben-Dor, 2010. All rights reserved.

These froggie cupcakes may not help broker world peace, but they can sure take the hostility out of any situation.


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