Photoplay Cookbook: Pola Negri’s Banana Trifle

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes that I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.)  This time, we are trying a recipe from a much-maligned actress who was also a pioneering star in both Polish and German cinema.

Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch rose to fame together as one of the most popular director-actress teams in German cinema. While Lubitsch continues to be deservedly praised, Negri is reduced to a historical footnote. Why the difference? Well, it all has to do with the relative availability of the films along with a heaping dollop of sexism.

While Pola Negri deserves a place of honor in history for her role as one of the first international superstars, her personal life has taken over the narrative. When she arrived in America from Germany, she immediately scoped out the most eligible men in town and demanded the best scripts and roles. There is a definite flavor of “who does she think she is?” in many contemporary articles and the reminiscences of other actors.

They were just jealous that she had a borzoi.
They were just jealous that she had a borzoi.

Of course, the great irony is that when pressed, many of the modern Pola bashers admit that they have never seen her in a movie. Alrighty then. (May I give up on humanity now? Please?)

Pola Negri’s versatility and her talent for working with an ensemble cast make her work on the screen a delight to behold. If you have been holding back from seeing this remarkable woman on the screen because of petty rumors, please give her films a try. I think you will be impressed.

But enough of that! We know Miss Negri can act but can she also whip up a tasty dessert?

Pola-Negri-Banana-Trifle

I used small bananas (better flavor and probably more accurate) and bought ladyfingers from the grocery store bakery. If they are hard to find in your area, ladyfingers are pretty easy to order online. Given the popularity of tiramisu, you shouldn’t have any trouble locating them.

Most of the trifle recipes I have tried use either an egg custard or instant pudding. Pola Negri’s variation is the first I have seen that uses more of a blancmange for the custard. Blancmange is not terribly common in the U.S. compared to other puddings (not sweet enough, I suspect) and when it is served, it’s usually a molded affair. Negri’s version dilutes the milk, which makes it even lighter than it would be otherwise.

I followed the recipe exactly, layering everything in a glass bowl slightly larger than a soup bowl. This is not a huge dessert but trifle has a way of expanding and it would easily serve four as a light course.

Bananas on ladyfingers...
Bananas on ladyfingers…
Ladyfingers on bananas
Ladyfingers on bananas
And blancmange on top
And blancmange on top

The recipe ends with an odd caveat. Pola Negri laughs at calories! Laughs, I tell you! Take this GIF, in which Pola tries to see if Harry Liedtke’s recipe for hasenpfeffer has enough calories to warrant a good belly laugh. And Harry’s like, “No, get your own recipe to chortle at, Pola.”

gypsy-blood-read-over-shoulder

The funny thing is that this recipe is not all that caloric. I mean, it’s not diet food but it’s hardly the calorie bomb that Photoplay seems to think. Ladyfingers are low in fat and about 50 calories per cookie. The blancmange is diluted milk and cornstarch. There is quite a lot of whipped cream but that is the main source of calories.

I ran a calorie analyses (assuming that the recipe serves 4 and uses small bananas) and the whole shebang resulted in 275 calories per serving if the cream is heavy and 240 calories per serving if it’s light. If you follow the recipe’s advice and substitute meringue for whipped cream, it’s only 80 calories a serving. Eliminate both the cream and egg and the calories go down to a mere 40 per serving. As far as desserts go, this one’s a bargain. (I used the Calorie Count recipe analyzer, if you are interested.)

Plus, another recipe in the cookbook is a breaded lamb chop wrapped in bacon and drenched in butter. No calorie warning there. Apparently, only sugar has calories.

The Result:

The ladyfingers around the edge looked silly but we must follow the recipe, mustn’t we? I didn’t split them because I had a few extra. I’m not sure if it looked better or worse for it. Next time, I think I shall just decorate with a twist of candied lemon peel and a few shreds of coconut.

Ta-da!
Ta-da!
Mmm, creamy goodness!
Mmm, creamy goodness!
And more creamy goodness.
And more creamy goodness.

Taste Test Video:

Score: 4 out of 5. If Pola was dishing this up at chez Negri, it’s no wonder she was able to win over the gentlemen of Hollywood. The simplicity of the recipe results in a refreshing dessert that would be an ideal end to a light summer meal. The bananas went a bit brown but I will fix that next time with some lemon or other acidic juice.

I took off one star because of Prohibition. You see, when making trifle there is one cardinal rule that must be obeyed:

Don’t be stingy with the booze.

While the trifle is so light that it nearly floats away and is quite tasty, it is missing that very important ingredient.

All in all, though, I was very happy with this trifle variation.

Variations: Booze it up! I can see a bit of coconut rum splashed over the ladyfingers. Other alcoholic options off the top of my head include Kahlua, Frangelico and creme de banane.

If you’re watching your calories, this could be a great dessert if you cut down on the whipped cream or use the meringue option. I can see the recipe easily being made vegan (aka dairy-free) with the right cookies and coconut milk with coconut whipped cream.

6 Replies to “Photoplay Cookbook: Pola Negri’s Banana Trifle”

  1. Ahh, I knew Pola Negri wouldn’t steer us wrong. While not really accurate to the recipe, I like that Pola laughs at calories. It goes well with the boldness of her personality.

  2. I’ve been following a low carb regimin and have successfully lost a bunch of weight. Twenty more to lose and I’ll be in my appropriate range for my 5’7″ height. Anyhow, a book I have read on why America is Fat, mentioned that historically, prior to WWII, doctors in the US, Canada, and Europe all told their overweight patients the same thing, to lose weight, cut out the carbs-aka starches and sugar. After WWII the weight loss mantra changed to what we still see promoted by the govt.: low fat, lots of starches(whole grains-still starch laden), fruits(some lower carb than others), and veggies(most low carb, but not potatoes!!). That is why, I think, the magazine probably warned about Negri’s dessert, or sugar in it, but ignored the lamb chop-which to a low carb dieter, only has a breading to watch out for; meat, bacon, and butter are fine on a low-carb diet, so perhaps that’s why the magazine didn’t comment about that dish’s nutritional value. Negri’s dessert has the starch-ladyfingers and cornstarch, high sugar fruit-bananas, and the sugar-though only 1 tsp. isn’t a lot. The cream would be fine, as well as the eggs. No booze, though-lots of carbs there! 🙂

    1. Congratulations on your weight loss! Your theory has merit but the lamb chops were heavily breaded and the book doesn’t issue calorie warning for much sweeter, carb-ier confections. Cakes, candies, muffins, pies, ice cream… All without calorie warnings. Very strange indeed.

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