Up there with life and liberty, Americans cherish their right to the pursuit of sweets. The national palate is conditioned by sucrose as surely as the Founders’ wigs were powdered (coincidentally, the way they preferred their doughnuts). Benjamin Franklin wrote about the virtues of honey in Poor Richard Improved (1748). Guests to Monticello often enjoyed pastry-wrapped ice-creams at the conclusion of dinner. Two of the tax acts that got the revolutionary ball rolling were on molasses and sugar, for crying out loud! Patriot-brewer Sam Adams led the opposition to the Sugar Act nine years before Bostonians started getting sassy with all that tea. It’s no coincidence that the first sundae parlor opened in New York in 1776, a year that other important things happened in American history.
But the fancy-pants puddings, treacles and tarts served up on crystal, china and silver (check out Jefferson’s pretty silver dessert spoons here) during the Colonial period are hardly the stuff for the twenty-first century American, who has about as much time and patience to prepare a crème anglaise as he does to tie a cravat. America’s craving for sweets is no less strong than it was back in Ye Olden Times, but now it’s modified by the expectation that dessert, like life and liberty, be served up on demand. The same way we like our Bruce Willis movies.
Thus the following list of Most American Sweets. Their achievement as “most American” is judged by a complex matrix involving ease, comfort, immediate gratification, fat grams and carbs, all of them virtuous truthful things guaranteed in our Constitution or Declaration or something. Behold:
Hailing from the Beautiful South (where those two words rhyme), this treat brings together three of the things that Americans love most: syrupy fruit, flaky pastry and frying. It provides the summery delight of pie (for people who like that sort of thing) without the hassle of a pie–why bake something for an hour when you can flash-fry it for a few minutes? And, unlike (baked-) pie (and those other fruited American standbys: Bettys, Buckles, Crisps and Cobblers), the Fried Pie requires neither plate nor fork: clearly the superior way to deliver one (or more) daily serving of fruit and veg into the American’s welcoming gob.
Bowl-Free Ice Cream
During America’s founding, ice cream was available only to elite and privileged citizens due to its requirements for expensive ingredients, costly access to year-round ice, and significant expenditure of labor. Because those days of the haves and have-nots are behind us, ice cream (just like health care, child care and a sound public education) is easily within reach of all tax-paying Americans. So much easier than getting your servants to slave away over a few dishes of iced peach cream, now you can have a great assortment of flavors of different pre-packaged qualities and , the best part, to go, right there in the gas station. Although ice cream bars and sandwiches, cherry dilly bars and orange pop-ups are in the ballpark, the factory-made ice cream cone is the winner here for its perfect simplicity. Call it a Drumstick, King Cone, Cornetto or whatever, it’s the ideal delivery system of ice cream and cookie-like cone, leaving nothing left over once you’ve tossed the wrapper in the back seat or let it fly out the window as you speed down the highway. This land is your land, this land is my land, and it’s ours to litter with Good Humor wrappers.
The two-fold beauty of the brownie is found in both its preparation and consumption. The latter, like all other treats on the list, is a matter of absolute ease. It’s a one-handed matter, leaving the other free to grab milk out of the fridge and gulp straight out of the quart. But in its preparation, too, the brownie shows its excellence. A distant relative in the family of cakes, it is much easier, since there’s no leavening, and even if it’s made from scratch, everything happens in the same bowl. (We don’t need to to go into the beauty of the box-mix here, one of America’s great gifts to the culinary world.) But let’s say you get all high-falutin’ and make brownies without the assistance of Duncan Hines: you’re looking at unwrapping a stick of butter, a few squares of chocolate, stirring in flour and sugar and some eggs. Boom. Done. That’s it. And then, further brilliance: the brownie is totally adjustable and suit any taste, and by taste, we mean Americans’ right to have what they want, exactly how they want it. Add marshmallows, nuts, chocolate chips, peanut butter, beef jerky: it doesn’t matter. There’s no police coming to stand between you and the way you know God intended you to enjoy it. Brownies are the official snack of the Bill of Rights.
The Whoopie Pie hails from southeastern Pennsylvania and is a monument of Amish baking, no matter what those lumberjacks in Maine say (and if you don’t believe us, believe the Wilkes-Bare Times Leader, man!). Whoopie Pies are not pies at all, but rather discs of awesomeness that accomplish the same goal for cakes as Fry Pies do for, well, pies. The best cakes are frosted cakes, but eating them requires first rooting around for a fork and plate (or a midnight trip to the kitchen, where only you and the dog know what happens). And who wants to bother with that? Whoopie pies conjoin the fluffy, spongy goodness of chocolate cake with a filling that is a beautiful marriage between sweet buttercream frosting with marshmallow for a little beefier structure, in a size perfectly suited for the American paw. Really, they’re just about perfect. Whoopie pies are the food world’s equivalent to Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cookies bring together the strong points of many of the honorees on this list: they’re one-handed, wrapper-free, utensil-free, flexible and adaptable to personal preference. One particular kind of cookie rises from the pantheon of ice box, cut-out, molded, rolled and pressed biscuits: the drop cookie. This is the final, most-American sweet in its ease of mixing, flexibility for creativity (or forgiveness for sloppy kitchen technique) and especially the way the home citizen-cook just wallops a spoonful of dough at a baking sheet and calls it a day. Among drop cookies, the chocolate chip cookie reigns supreme. First, do not waste our time with gingerbread and lemon and snickerdoodles; chocolate is the superior sweet flavor above and beyond all sweet flavors. Fact. The cookie is a medium for delivering chunks of the good stuff with the greatest ease and simplicity. On top of all that, these cookies come with a great history, too. They were invented by some dame (she probably had a name like Suzannah Yankadoodle) who was looking to save some time, in particular by avoiding the tedious melting of the chocolate. Instead, she just tossed those chopped morsels in the batter and, faster than you can say “two if by sea,” an American treasure was born of Yankee innovation (which some might call general American laziness, but we won’t). You can almost hear the Founders in their Founders Walhalla, making sweeping bows to ol’ Suzannah: our tricorne hats are off to you, madame, to which she would reply, in conjunction the first recorded use of the We’re-Number-One Foamhand, heck yeah!