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Any good cook will tell you a great dessert demands equally great ingredients. But you can’t ignore the power nostalgia plays in making something taste delicious.
For decades, we have been scooping, dipping and spooning on Cool Whip, the whipped cream knock-off introduced by the Birds Eye division of General Foods during the Lyndon Johnson administration. It’s so familiar and beloved by generations of dessert-eaters, that more than one-third of American households buy at least one tub of the frozen whipped topping at least once a year — to the aggregate tune of 200 million tubs a year.
Cool Whip turns 50 this year, and just as it was in the 1960s, “it’s still so relevant today,” says Molly White, Kraft Heinz Co.’s associate director of frozen meals and desserts.
That it’s time-saving and keeps a long time in the refrigerator has always played into its popularity. Calorie-counting dessert-ers love to use the fat-free whip as an ice cream substitute, and it makes for a wonderful. low-cal frosting because it spreads on so light and fluffy, making any cake look airy.
Actually, a little (or a lot of) Cool Whip makes any dessert appear spectacular, Ms. White says. That’s no small thing in this era of social media, when any dish that looks good on the plate and is easy to make is instantly shared.
“If you look on Pinterest, you always see a ton of recipes,” she says, both of the super-fancy variety and simpler ones that appear at a church dinner, bake sale or on Grandma’s Sunday dinner table.
Like every other kid in the ’70s, I grew up with Cool Whip. It just wouldn’t have been a holiday without my mom’s pineapple, lime Jell-O and Cool Whip salad, and it also was a favorite topping for her homemade pumpkin pies. My little sister, Posie, was such a devoted fan that more than once I found her hiding a stolen tub of Cool Whip under the bed.
The world’s first non-dairy whipped topping (milk and cream didn’t make it into the mix until 2010), Cool Whip is not a cook’s creation but rather a food scientist’s project. William A. Mitchell came up with the formula in 1966, when homemakers were all about speed in cooking. After World War II, with more women working, Americans turned increasingly to convenience food products such as instant mashed potatoes and frozen TV dinners. Cool Whip was an easy alternative to real whipped cream, which took time to prepare (OK, not that much time), and didn’t keep more than a few days in the refrigerator.
One of America’s foremost food chemists and inventors, Mr. Mitchell also invented quick-set Jell-O, the fruit-flavored drink Tang and Pop Rocks, a carbonated candy that gained urban legend status for allegedly causing kids’ stomachs to explode.
Talk about instant success stories: Cool Whip’s 1967 national launch was one of the best ever for General Foods, which became part of Kraft Foods in 1995 and the Kraft Heinz Co. in 2015. It hasn’t slowed down since, and sales were up one percent last year. The eight-ounce plastic tubs, sold in the frozen food aisle, are still made at the same Avon, N.Y., facility.
Why’d it take off? Because advertisers “did an unbelievable job of convincing people these were wonderful new inventions, and also necessary in making lives convenient,” says Alice Julier, associate professor and director of food studies at Chatham University. ”Trying it meant you were trying something new.”
Whereas in the ’60s and ’70s mom was looking for a time-saving alternative to whipped cream for formal dinner parties and family dinners, today’s cook is about enjoying everyday moments with family and simple dishes, say, something quick and fun to dip fruit in, Ms. White says.
One Kraft recipe that’s held onto the No. 1 status all these years is the green-looking fluff known as Watergate Salad. Also sometimes referred to as Pistachio Delight, it was created by the Kraft kitchen for the back of the Jell-O Pistachio Flavor Instant Pudding box. No one knows for sure how it got that name, but Ms. White theorizes the media came up with it in the ’70s because in a sign of the times, it was a “jumble of all different things, a cultural icon.”
No-bake recipes such as the Easy Southern Banana Pudding (made with vanilla wafers) and old-fashioned Gelatin Poke Cake, with its rainbow streaks of color, also remain popular with the Cool Whip crowd.
A leader in product technology in the ’60s, Cool Whip over the years has managed to stay ahead of food trends. In the ’90s, when dieting was all the rage, it launched its Cool Whip Lite and Cool Whip Free products. There’s also an Extra Creamy version that was launched in the 1980s that’s doing extremely well today with consumers who like to go all-out when it comes to treats and desserts, says Ms. White, along with a French Vanilla flavor.
To celebrate Cool Whip’s golden jubilee, here are some easy recipes that are sure to get the memories flowing and help build new ones of delicious goings-on in the kitchen. Enjoy!
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.
This is an all-time favorite, and a colorful addition to any dessert table. I used a homemade graham cracker crust but you could use pre-made instead.
2 cups fresh strawberries, divided, plus more for topping
2/3 cup boiling water
3-ounce package strawberry-flavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
8 ounces Cool Whip Whipped Topping, thawed
For graham cracker crust
12 graham crackers, finely ground or crushed
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
Dash of salt
Make filling: Slice 1 cup strawberries; refrigerate for later use. Chop remaining 1 cup berries; set aside. Add boiling water to gelatin mix; stir 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Add enough ice to cold water to make 1 cup. Add to gelatin; stir until slightly thickened. Remove any unmelted ice.
Whisk in Cool Whip. Stir in chopped berries. Refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes or until mixture is very thick and will mound.
While filling is thickening in the refrigerator, make crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined. Firmly press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish.
Bake until crust is fragrant and edges are golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Spoon chilled filling into graham cracker crust. Refrigerate 6 hours or until firm. Top with sliced berries just before serving, and additional Cool Whip, if desired.
Serves 8 to 10.
— Adapted from Kraftrecipes.com
Homemade Cream Puffs
Yes, you can make cream puffs at home! This batter is extremely easy to work with, and bakes up like a dream.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
For cream filling
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups Cool Whip, thawed
3 cups powdered sugar, more as needed to reach desired consistency
1 teaspoon vanilla
For chocolate frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Make pastry: In a large pot, bring butter and water to a rolling boil. Stir in flour and salt, consistently stirring until the mixture firms up and forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl. With hand or stand mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg is added. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 17 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Centers should be dry. After puffs are baked, let cool completely then split each in half to make top and bottom pieces.
Make filling: Beat cream cheese, Cool Whip, powdered sugar and vanilla together until smooth. Use a pastry bag to pipe filling onto half the shells (I used a spoon and finger). Place remaining shell halves on top.
Make frosting: Heat butter and milk in microwave, until butter melts. Add sugar, cocoa, salt and vanilla. Whisk together and pour into a large ziplock bag. Cut a small corner off and drizzle chocolate over cream puffs.
Makes about 2 dozen.
Easy Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
This was my favorite of all the Cool Whip desserts, not only because it was so easy but because it tasted so delicious. It is not as hard as regular ice cream (think gelato) but it’s still scoopable.
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 can (about 13.4 ounces) dulce de leche
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces Cool Whip, defrosted
Sea or kosher salt, for garnish
Melt butter and brown sugar together in a small pan over low heat. Cook until butter melts, then add the pecans. Cook over low heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to cool.
Place dulce de leche in a large bowl. Stir to break it up a little. Add vanilla and Cool Whip and fold gently until almost combined (there will still be a few swirls of dulce de leche showing). You don’t want to over-stir or it won’t set up in the freezer. Fold in the brown sugar-coated pecans.
Place in a airtight container and freeze until semi-firm, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Sprinkle with a little sea or kosher salt before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Super-Simple Cool Whip Cookies
Count ’em — just four ingredients in these chocolate cookies. It’s so easy that your kids could make them.
1 box devil’s food cake mix
8-ounce container Cool Whip, thawed
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine cake mix, Cool Whip and egg in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Batter will be sticky and thick.
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drop cookie batter into the sugar by the spoonful. Roll the dough around in the sugar, forming a ball.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheet for 3 minutes then move to a cooling rack.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Orange Jell-O Cool Whip Dessert
It’s an easy, ambrosia-like dessert, just like Grandma used to make. Consider it summer in a bowl.
1½ cups hot water
6-ounce package orange Jell-O
12 ounces Cool Whip
20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
2 (10-ounce) cans mandarin oranges, drained
Coconut, chopped walnuts, or mini marshmellows, optional mix-ins
Add 1½ cups of hot water to Jell-O in a large bowl. Mix well until all dissolved. Once it is cool, place in the refrigerator; and chill for 15 to 20 minutes. You don’t want the Jell-O to set up — it should be just thick enough that when you stick your finger in it comes out with an orange coating.
Add Cool Whip and stir well until all the Jell-O is mixed in. Add the pineapple and mix well. Add mandarin oranges and optional mix-ins, and fold in gently so the oranges don’t break up. Chill for half an hour. Serve in a margarita glass with a slice of orange.
— Adapted from Epicurious.com
First Published May 10, 2016 12:10 AM