I drummed my fingertips on the kitchen counter as I waited. one-two-three-four. one-two-three-four. one-two-three-four. As the only light inside my otherwise dark kitchen, the hot coils inside the toaster slowly illuminated, morphing from a dull, matte black to the brightest of orange. I stood there and stared; hypnotized by the glow. My right foot was now tapping along with my drumming fingers; the portrait of pure impatience. It was 3:30 in the morning. I was 33 weeks pregnant. I wanted some cinnamon toast.
In my haste, I preemptively snatched the slices of wheat bread from the toaster before the tell-tale “DING!” even had the chance to sound, signaling their doneness. Insufficiently toasted bread would just have to do and luckily, our definitions of what is “sufficient” and what is not are mercurial, changing in accordance to our level of hunger. I was ravenous, and these would do just fine. In fact, I’m not sure I’d ever experienced a brand of hunger quite like I did on that peculiar night during my first pregnancy, nor have I since. I woke up with a start and headed straight to the kitchen without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t that I just really really wanted the cinnamon toast, it actually felt more like a necessity. It was a need it-have to have it-can’t live without it-move it or lose it sister kind of thing. A sad state of affairs, really.
As a total stranger to the world of midnight snacking, I felt a bit like a fish out of water – an awkward newcomer. Am I really walking to the kitchen right now? Just to eat toast? In the middle of the night? I tripped over Henry the cat in my blurry-eyed exodus from the bedroom, and he seemed genuinely shocked to see me there. On the bright side, I already knew exactly what I wanted and therefore had no need for dilly-dallying or rummaging around or shivering in front of the cold refrigerator with the hope that something would appeal. No, I had a target in mind and acquiring it was only a matter of going through the motions.
I slathered the hot, albeit only partially-toasted bread with butter and reached for the little jar of cinnamon that lives in my spice drawer; first jar on the left, bottom right corner. My fingers, however, came up empty. It wasn’t there; the cinnamon jar was missing. Hmmmm. Must’ve used it all up on the oatmeal that I’d been eating each morning, I thought to myself. Ah well, I’ll just improvise. At this point, I’d flicked on the lights, creasing my brow and closing my eyes momentarily as the room lit up around me. Henry the cat was perched on the counter now, watching me with a look of happy amusement.
After sprinkling the slices with a good layer of sugar, I grabbed the jar of pumpkin pie spice and shook it with abandon over the sweetened toast. No time for mixing sugars and spices – no time. Satisfied with my creation, I leaned back against the counter and took a bite. This was what I’d gotten out of bed for. Did I just create pumpkin pie toast? By jove, I think I did! This was going to be good.
I had such high hopes for that toast. What with my bizarre yet intense middle-of-the-night craving and my valiant attempt at resourcefulness, I really wanted to love it. But as it turned out, that first bite was also regretfully my last. I sent the two pieces of toast straight into the trash with a sigh and a heavy heart. It all sounded so good in theory (pumpkin pie toast!), but when I tasted it I was inundated with the flavor of cloves. Just cloves! cloves! cloves. I don’t know if that specific jar of pumpkin pie spice was poorly mixed or if pregnancy had made me particularly sensitive to cloves, but what I had just created was nothing short of repulsive to me … and down into the trash it went. Sigh. What a royal disappointment this midnight snacking venture had become.
I trudged back into my room, amazed and in a state of disbelief over how epically bad that whole snacking endeavor had just been. Did that just happen? Maybe I dreamed it all …
But alas, the jar of pumpkin pie spice was sitting innocently and unassumingly on the counter in the morning, evidence of my wasted efforts at midnight snacking just a few hours prior. I scribbled a reminder on my “note to self” pad to buy cinnamon on my next trip to the store and made a firm mental note at the same time: When it comes to toast, there is no synonym for cinnamon – no replacement, no equal. At least not for purists like myself. No, imposters and substitutes need not apply.
I haven’t run out of cinnamon since.
Apple Napoleons with Cinnamon-Speculoos Mousse and Toasted Pecans RECIPE
1/2 of 1 package of puff pastry sheets (they usually come with two sheets; I use Pepperidge Farm)
1 package of vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix (about 3.5 ounce box)
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (in a mixer for 2 – 3 minutes, or until soft peaks form)
3/4 cup speculoos spread (or more, as this is absolutely up to you; this ingredient can be found in most supermarkets by the peanut butter and Nutella)
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
2 large apples, thinly sliced (you can peel your apples, but I like to keep the peel on because the color looks so pretty)
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Unfold the pastry sheet onto a clean, floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the creases/fold lines to smooth them out and to create a square. Cut the squared sheet into four smaller, equal-sized squares. Place these squares onto the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove them from the baking sheet and allow them to cool for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until easily handled. Split the pastries in half, creating 8 pieces in total.
Prepare the pudding according to package directions, using 1 cup of milk. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Fold the whipped cream into the pudding, and add the speculoos spread, and cinnamon. Spread a thick layer of the cinnamon-speculoos mousse onto all 8 pastry squares, topping with some of the apple slices. Place four of the these pastries right on top of the other four, creating double-layered napoleons. Sprinkle with some of the toasted pecans and serve.
Note: I made mine topless and square-shaped, but if you prefer, you can build longer, rectangular napoleons with three layers of pastry, rather than two. Simply divide the uncooked pastry sheet into three strips, cutting along the fold lines. Bake, cool and then split in half. Top 4 of the strips with cream, apples and pecans. Place two of these pastries on top of the other two, and then top with the remaining two strips of pastry. In this case, I would dust with powdered sugar.