The Best Dessert Mom Made for Us, but Better

March 11, 2024
Dining & Wine
, , ,

Once you start asking, you realize that nearly everyone has a version of this pan in his or her life — and an exalted recipe to go with it. A midcentury aluminum Bundt-style pan that defines a friend’s mother’s simple sour-cream poundcake is stashed in some kitchen cupboard in Florence, Ala. One specific skillet, the vessel for a perfect clafoutis that another friend’s elderly French uncle has made since the ’60s, hangs above a stove in a Maine farmhouse. My uncle’s pizza pan is already being secretly fought over as an inheritance — even though he’s still baking his famous Brooklyn pies in it.

We didn’t need a special occasion for our pan to be put into action. On a standard weekday, I might see it sitting on the kitchen counter before school, hinting at my mother’s plans for the evening. I was always delighted when I would come home to find that it wasn’t in the oven, which meant it was in the refrigerator, stacked with four layers of the most common store-bought ingredients — resting, becoming something that, to me at that age (and currently, quite honestly), was just about as good as things got.

That era of my childhood was the absolute heyday for newfangled processed products that didn’t exist in our parents’ early years. And I had a mother, a veritable doyenne of dignified ’80s desserts, who surely did revel in this modernity. Instant puddings, marshmallows, premade whipped cream, packaged graham crackers, vanilla wafers, cornflakes: All were in a majority of my childhood desserts and snacks. Kids flocked to my mom’s kitchen for things like chocolate-covered, peanut-butter-filled Ritz crackers and various cereals turned into snacks we would call muddies or trash. I must say, though, upon my recollections, I don’t remember our ever sharing her four-layer surprise with a crowd. That dessert always seemed to be just for us. A recipe with many different names across state lines — Better Than Sex, Layered Lush, the Delight — my mother only vaguely remembers finding it in a women’s magazine and, after making it just once, honoring it by writing it down in her meticulous penmanship and transferring it to her recipe box.

These days, it’s certainly more common to see desserts made with less processed, more “natural” ingredients than it was when I was coming up. But I still hold that era of brilliant dessert play as an important part of how people cooked and baked once upon a time. These recipes — at least in my memory — helped create spaces where people didn’t take themselves too seriously, where it was easy enough that little hands could help, where equipment needs were minimal (but those pans became legendary). It was a dynamic time for cooking, which feels worthy of rebirth, maybe with just a little less packaging but the same amount of absolute delight and pleasure. This version of four-layer surprise, originally made with store-bought sundries like chocolate Jell-O pudding, Philadelphia cream cheese, Cool Whip and the star, my mother’s chestnut pan, is a nod to my favorite dessert to date and to the woman who showed me just how wonderful, fun and joyful food can be.

Link Us To Social Media

Related Posts

Leave Comment