Suffice to say, I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on French customs and culture before I leave. I’ve been to Paris before, but never for this long and not on my own, and I want to acclimate myself as quickly as I can to avoid being the ugly American in the supermarket, pawing through the canned goods in search of Doritos. Many of the ways of living are out of convenience and basic mannerisms. I’m still reeling from the fact that in all of Paris, there are only six membership-based health clubs that I can find. Wherever shall I tone my pecs and strengthen my abs, I say? The bulk of changes should be easy to adjust to, with the exception of one killer Achilles’ heel that seems to come up on every site: peanut butter and chocolate.
According to my research, the French aversion to peanut butter comes from a combination of respect for an already refined product, chocolate truffles, as well as a natural apprehension against fattening, caloric products like the PB&J. Nutella, seen as a snack on its own versus a condiment in a many-layered ‘wich, is in another class entirely outside of chocolates you’d find in a shop. That being said, it was this classic combination that inspired me to think of a few other things that might be harder to find outside of the US, one of them being the iconic s’mores flavors.
So I’ve been whittling down the days that I have left (9!!) enjoying some of the classically American flavor profiles I know and love. I was sent the new Frosting Combinations from Duncan Hines a month or two ago and decided to give them a whirl with some cupcakes this evening. The frosting comes in a container slightly larger than most canned frosting with ample room for stirring in the flavor powder, available in 11 varieties. I went for the slightly tamer chocolate marshmallow, but bubblegum and chocolate mint are also available. The base is gummy and sticky, with a texture similar to Elmer’s glue, a dull sheen, and a pasty, powdery aftertaste. Again, also strangely similar to Elmer’s glue. It’s not flavorless, it’s mildly vanilla tasting and smelling, so inevitably, whatever you make will have undertones of vanilla frosting. If that’s a bad or a good thing, I’m not sure.
The flavor packets are sparse, but pungent. Chocolate marshmallow was intensely scented, smelling not of chocolate or sugar, but of dirt, black tea, and plant matter. Definitely not what you’d expect out of a frosting enhancement. I can’t say that the base flavor of the frosting was drastically enhanced by the powder one way or another. It vaguely resembled chocolate and marshmallows in the same way that knockoff Coach bags resemble the real thing. Both smell strange and are slightly sticky and are fairly far removed from their original inspiration. It also takes a lot of elbow grease to mix this. Three minutes into stirring, the frosting was still granulated and streaked. Five minutes later, it was brown and shiny and smelled like baking cocoa.
You can see here that my cupcake-making quest was successful. What you can’t see is that the inevitable passage of time, in this photo, approximately sixteen seconds, wrenched these cupcakes from the land of Twee, Adorable Things on Pinterest to Hashtag Blobby Baking Failures. Even after 45 minutes cooling and a stint in the fridge, the frosting slip-slid off these cupcakes both naked and anchored by graham cracker crumbs, into a sad pile on the counter. The flavor was muted in comparison to the cupcakes, the toppings, and the counter it sat on, and had all the edgy appeal of a 3PM television premiere on TNT. I didn’t like it. I think the ratios are off, and while the idea is in the right place, the intensity and accuracy of the flavors isn’t enough to make me want to try this again. You’re probably better off tinting plain frosting with extracts and natural coloring.