Thinking about pink

I guess with a little bit of imagination you can figure out what these are. Officially, they’re called minne di vergine or minne di Sant’Agata. That’s virgin’s breasts or Saint Agatha’s breasts respectively. I’ll spare you all the awful background behind these otherwise lovely Sicilian baked pastries stuffed with ricotta, fruit and chocolate; you can look up the tale yourself if you really want to. All I can say is that it takes a special group of people to decide that something barbaric needs to be commemorated with funny little cakes (and a certain demographic of my readers will know exactly the subtext there).

Maybe someone out there’s thinking, “You’re a bit late for Pinktober, Jessica”. And maybe these cakes are so appropriate for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October that they swing right back around into the “inappropriate” category. I’m giving the science a miss in this post, in favour of some sociology and some bona fide awareness. I hope.

I noticed throughout October that a lot of people on food blogs really got on the Pinktober bandwagon in an effort to increase breast cancer awareness – a lot of otherwise non-pink items suddenly became a soft shade of pastel pink wherever possible. Cupcakes, macarons, sugar cookies… if it could be made pink, it would be.

This all made me squirm a little bit. Do not get me wrong – I think it’s fantastic that people are showing support for a worthy cause and are trying to spread a health message through the blogging medium. But I couldn’t help but think – what is it really achieving? Is it making a difference, or just making us think it’s making a difference?

Because honestly – the people who have enough money for a computer and an internet connection, enough leisure time to run a blog or to peruse food blogs, and enough disposable income to spend on non-essential baking ingredients, are they the ones that really need to be told to do breast self-examinations regularly or to get a mammogram once a year? They also probably have enough money to afford to go to the doctor regularly, who would hopefully remind them about breast health. To put this in context: here in Australia, for example, breast cancer is the most common cancer in Aboriginal women, a socioeconomically and otherwise disadvantaged group that more often has limited access to healthcare service, which means a lessened likelihood of either being screened or receiving treatment for cancer. Are posting photos of pink macarons on a blog and saying “Don’t forget to get screened!” going to help them? Very probably not. But they’re one group that really needs the help and support.

So this isn’t to say “Don’t you dare waste your time making those adorable little cookies with pale pink icing!”. You can do whatever you want, and if you want to post pictures of pink baked goods and remind people to get screened, that’s great. Maybe that will remind someone reading your blog to phone their clinic and book a mammogram. But if you really want to make a difference, a guaranteed difference, maybe save up that money you would have spent on ingredients (even if it was, like, $7.84) and donate it to a reputable charity that supports breast cancer research or healthcare outreach to disadvantaged groups.

The other thing that is so important to keep in mind is the prolifation of pink products on the market. Everyone knows about them and has seen billions of them. But please, if you’re going to buy a pink product – read the fine print. You might think that some of the money from your purchase of a pink product is going to go to breast cancer charity, but it really quite possibly might not be the case. A lot of companies cap their donations; they’ll donate 50 cents from every product sold up to $100,000, say, but… maybe they’ve already reached that cap and therefore absolutely no money from the product you’re buying will go to charity, just into the pockets of a corporation. Nevermind the fact that some of the companies with pink products sell products that are pretty bad for your health and kind of contrary to the health support effort (see KFC’s “Bucket for the Cure” pink bucket campaign… try not to laugh and vomit at the same time).

In any case, please make an effort to be aware and be educated on the issue as a lot of companies are capitalising on the pink affiliation for not exactly altruistic reasons. Think Before You Pink has some interesting information about how companies have co-opted the breast cancer cause in order to make a financial profit, and there is a PDF of a list of questions you should consider before you buy something because it’s pink.

And finally… I have an issue with the pink, full stop. The pink colour connoting breast cancer support was a choice made almost 20 years ago, and I wish a different choice had been made. It was selected for its inherent association with femininity, for better or for worse in a world that insists on drawing an almost impermeable line between the genders and reinforcing rules for what is and what isn’t “gender-appropriate”. So in a huge proportion of modern culture, pink is essentially a symbol of femininity. As such, pink in association with breast cancer certainly marginalises the hundreds of men around the world who die of breast cancer each year. But just as critically, it marks breast cancer as a female problem, for females to deal with (a sentiment echoed by this writer who has been through a breast cancer health scare). There is nothing to be gained from gendering a cancer by colour-coding it.

I have a similar issue with Movember – as fantastic as it is to support worthy causes such as fighting prostate cancer and depression in men (and it undeniably does raise money to support these causes), Movember inherently excludes females from participation because, hey, you’ve got to be able to grow a moustache to participate. Any woman whose genes mean that she actually is capable of growing a moustache would still be largely ridiculed for violating the gender expectation of not having any obvious facial hair, even if it’s for a good cause. I remember at one point that a rudimentary attempt was made for Movember to include women by allowing them to grow their knee hair in order to participate. This did an utterly fantastic job of again reinforcing gender roles by assuming that women must be constantly removing their leg hair anyway and that abstaining from doing so was worthy of money and plaudits (but only for one month of the year and only for charitable purposes). Limited participation by females in Movember means that it doesn’t have the impact it could have as a fund-raising effort, and it also means that men are active in trying to fight these diseases and disorders while women can only look on passively (and give affirmation in the form of a donation when required). Maybe it’s just me, but these are roles that seem, well, not exactly progressive or constructive. All in all, this makes prostate cancer and depression into male issues, rather than what they are – human issues that we all, as humans, need to help to fight.

So show your support for worthy causes, but please make educated and informed choices about the ways in which you do, so that your support is as constructive and effective as possible.

And that’s my tedious tirade on the topic. All because I made some morbid old recipe that reminded me of something else. Go ahead and make the little dome-shaped pastries because they really are delicious. But I hereby rename them igloo cakes and divorce them from their dreadful back-story. Go forth and make igloo cakes! I’ll be back with the regularly scheduled science chatter and bizarro recipes (trust me, the next few are going to be extra-bizarro, Francisco Pizarro) in the next post.

Igloo cakes (or minne di vergine, if you must)

75g caster sugar
220g plain flour
150g butter, softened and cut into cubes (you could also use lard, or some combination of butter and lard as I did)
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon

Put the flour and sugar in a bowl and mix. Add the butter and rub it into the sugar and flour mixture with your fingertips. Add the egg and lemon zest and continue to rub and press and knead the mixture until it forms a smooth dough. Once it’s a smooth pastry dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in cling-wrap, and leave it in the fridge for half an hour or so and get on with the filling.

200g ricotta
65g sugar
50g diced glacé fruit (I just used orange)
50g dark chocolate, finely chopped into little pieces

Beat the ricotta and sugar together until smooth (an electric mixer can be used here for quickest results). Fold through the fruit and chocolate. Refrigerate until needed.


Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Use butter to grease 4 ovenproof, dome-shaped moulds (I used Pyrex ramekins that are each about 10cm across, but any little appropriately shaped overproof dish would work – muffin tins with large moulds, like Texas muffin tins, can be used as well if you don’t have anything dome-shaped, although the final product will end up a tad angular).

Pinch off a ball of the pastry about the size of a golf ball and roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s big enough to line the mould and is about 3-4mm thick. Gently push it into the mould, leaving some overhang around the edges. Roll out another ball of dough, a bit smaller, to make a circle that will fit over the top of the mould like a lid. Fill the mould with the ricotta mix then place this piece of pastry on top. Pinch the edges of it into the overhang from the other piece of pastry, sealing the ricotta mixture into a mound-shaped pastry case. Do this for all 4 moulds.

Place the 4 moulds on a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for half an hour. Upturn the moulds one at a time and gently ease the pastries out. Put them flat-side down on a wire rack to cool completely.

White icing
(I actually hated this because I really dislike the taste of egg whites unless they’re totally cooked, so feel free to give this glaze a miss and make a difference icing instead or just don’t bother with a coating of anything at all!)
1/2 tbs water
1 tbs lemon juice
120g icing sugar, sifted
1 egg white

Heat the water and lemon juice over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the icing sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved. Transfer into a large bowl and leave for 10 minutes to cool.

Add the egg white and then whisk (preferably with an electric whisk) until frothy and sticky. Spoon the icing over the pastries and spread it on with a palette knife or the back of a spoon, trying to make it as smooth as possible. Leave for an hour or two to set.

Raspberry truffles
(The traditional recipe uses glacé cherries to top the pastries, but I’m not a fan, so I substituted them with something I prefer.)
40g white chocolate
2 tbs thickened cream
2 tbs raspberry jam
red food colouring (optional)

Place the white chocolate and cream in a bain-marie (a bowl sitting on a saucepan of simmering water, such that the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the raspberry jam and a few drops of food colouring (if you’re using food colouring). Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for a couple of hours until firm. Scoop out about a teaspoon of the mixture and roll it in your hands to make it into a ball. Make 4 of these and place one on top of each pastry. Done!

  13 comments for “Thinking about pink

  1. November 8, 2010 at 1:46 am

    I completely agree with you on the pink and Movember issues. Couldn’t have said it better myself. (Also, I really love your blog. Great writing!)

    • Jess
      November 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm


  2. November 8, 2010 at 11:05 am

    I love your post Jess, and agree with every word. It’s also a subject very close to my heart at the moment because my Grandmother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy for following a mastectomy.

    I thought about doing a post to highlight breast cancer, but I thought about what it would really achieve in the end and that would probably be not that much, and to be honest it was probably also a little too close to home at the moment too. I’d much rather donate money to a reputable breast cancer charity (which I did) and support my Grandmother through her treatment. Whilst I think it’s great that breast cancer has so much media coverage and that there are companies out there supporting it (although, as you say read the fine print and find out exactly how much money will be donated before you buy a “pink” product) there are a lot of other charities that don’t get the same coverage or media support.

    One of those charities that I support and that is very close to my heart is Juvenile Diabetes for Type 1 diabetes sufferers, as a little over 2 years ago I lost my 19 year old cousin to this horrible disease. For me and my entire family, it’s important to highlight this disease which is so often misunderstood. It’s often confused with Type 2 diabetes which relates to diet and lifestyle choices. People also don’t realise how serious the disease is and how life threatening it is, which sadly I didn’t until it was too late. I actually did a post on the second anniversary of my cousins death to highlight the wonderful works of the JDRF and explain to people what Type 1 diabetes is and provide a link for people to donate and support me in attending the JDRF Walk to Cute diabetes, and while people may have learned a little about Type 1 Diabetes from reading the post and a few people commented and on the cupcakes, I really wonder how much good it did.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble on. I started out by wanting to tell you I agreed but ended up writing an essay!

    By the way, I love the igloo cakes and I am so going to have to try the raspberry truffles!

    • Jess
      November 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      Of course, yeah, I remember the jelly baby cupcakes from that post you did. I think that sort of blog post is incredibly valuable – letting people know about things they might not be aware of (and might get confused with something else) and improving their knowledge of the causes and symptoms and the need for support.

      I don’t know the numbers, but I have to say that breast cancer awareness (in terms of knowing whatt it is and what you can do to try to prevent it) is probably quite widespread compared to awareness of other cancers or other diseases and disorders in general, e.g. there are plenty of people who think that schizophrenia involves having multiple personalities, which is completely inaccurate, but if the disorder had a massive and pervasive awareness campaign like breast cancer does then I’m sure people would have a much better knowledge of schizophrenic symptoms, and have a better idea of how debilitating the disorder is and how research and support is so important. I can’t remember the last time I saw a blog post about schizophrenia awareness, or bowel cancer awareness (a cancer that kills more people than breast cancer), or ovarian cancer awareness (a cancer for which you can’t do a self-examination so your chances of successful treatment are reduced and that places even more importance on funding research in order to improve treatment or prevention).

      There’s a huge power to disseminate important information through blogs, but it takes thought and effort to do it in a constructive way rather than just hopping on a bandwagon!

      The truffles are the simplest things ever – it’s fantastic. Truffles are my go-to thing to make when I want to do something that looks or tastes impressive but requires absolutely minimal effort. ;)

  3. November 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Don’t you dare call this post of yours tedious! It’s beautifully, eloquently written, and is so ridiculously on the money that I kinda want to parade you around Australia. Also… SOCIOLOGY! YAY! Also… secret shout-out… YAY!

    I got my students talking about gender norms in relation to the Breast Cancer Awareness stunts recently, and someone brought up that at a private boy’s school in Canberra this year, the “awareness raising” was done by every boy painting their nails pink on that one day. What we were talking about at the time was how closely that was related to social sanctioning, as this nail-painting stunt was a bounded, single day in which boys could be “feminine”, and yet if any of those boys had painted their nails pink on any other day, the full wrath of non-masculinity would have descended on their shoulders. I think what worries me is that by “allowing” this for one day as a novelty, it (as with the knee-hair-growing) reinforces the overarching socialised belief that men can’t wear pink or paint their nails unless they want to be emasculated.

    I’m also interested by the “cap” system, as I wasn’t aware of that. Probably because I’ve always regarded those promotions with cynicism. If you want to donate, donate, don’t think that 5c from your water bottle (on that… DRINK FROM THE BLOODY TAP) is going to make a difference.

    Hmm… I wonder how many bloggers thought “I’ll make something pink so it’ll get on tastespotting?” :P

    • Jess
      November 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      Yeah I’d like to know the details of the cap system. It’s certainly very common and I get the feeling that not enough information about each cap arrangement is disclosed on the product. I think the Mt Franklin water (by lovely Coca-Cola Amatil) donates however many cents per bottle capped at $250,000 a year, and I don’t think they have to recall the bottles or change the labelling once they reach that cap. Maybe they reach it by February each year and then anyone who buys a bottle after that is not having any part of their money go to charity.

      It seems particularly cunning in terms of bottled water, since basically nothing distinguishes the different brands from each other, but if you can get people to buy your water because they think they’re doing a good deed by doing so… you’ve got a distinct advantage in the market. I remember that Coca-Cola increased its share of the bottled water market in Australia by something like 4% when it introduced its affiliation with breast cancer support. I looked up the value of the market in Australia – $400 million per year. 4% of that is $16 million. So for an investment of $250,000 per year, they gain $16 million per year. Sigh.

  4. Caitlin
    November 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Finally someone else pointing this out! Thank god. I am sick to deaf of all these awareness campaigns, I can wear all the pink or purple or green or whatever I want, it won’t actually do anything. Unless the awareness days are “be aware to donate money” day
    And for some reason I only just now found out that you’re Australian too? That is very exciting somehow.

    • Jess
      November 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      I’ve started seeing a few things that also suggest that this pure “awareness” stuff can maybe have a negative effect overall – I’ve seen a few behavioural economists and psychologists mention that people might be buying the awareness products (a ribbon, a bottle of water with a pink lid, etc) and then basically thinking to themselves “Well then! I’ve done my good deed for the day!” and then use that as an excuse to either not engage in further charitable behaviour or to engage in somewhat negative behaviour (like “Oh a bought a pink ribbon, so that cancels out the fact that I’m buying a pair of shoes made in a Chinese sweat-shop”). I haven’t seen the actual papers (and I’m having trouble finding them – there’s plenty of published research on charitable behaviour but I can’t find anything about the immediate consequences of engaging in a charitable act) but it’s an interesting theory/hypothesis. Wonder how close to the truth it is.

      Good to know there’s another Australian out there reading the blog. According to my site stats, about 90% of my total visitors are from the USA. If past experience is anything to go by, I’m probably annoying them quite a lot with my general insistence upon using metric and weight measurements in my recipes rather than volumetric and US measurements…

  5. November 11, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Far from tedious. I was thinking about the Movember thing the other day, how it’s a shame that I couldn’t get involved (well, I guess really it’s a good thing that I can’t, in a way, but you know what I mean) but then I realised that I have donated money because I couldn’t participate in another way. Which kinda proves your point really, which definitely proves that I agree with you, which leads me to this spiralling sentence I’m now not sure how to end. There.

  6. November 11, 2010 at 6:48 am

    I completely agree with you Jess, which is why I don’t tend to take part in such things even though I completely and wholeheartedly support the cause. I wonder whether someone would really see my pink cookie or cake or whatever and say, “Oh yeah, I should get a mammography”. doubtful. But I do like these cookies a lot. Quite provocative :P

  7. November 13, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Great points all around, Jess. I’ve been getting a bit sick of the “pink-washing” by companies, too. Thanks for opening my eyes even more with the details about some of them putting caps on how much they donate. And I do think it’s with great intentions that bloggers (including myself last year) are trying to raise awareness. As for these treats, they are a riot ;p.

  8. Christine
    November 17, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I agree with everything you’ve said. Very well put! It’s nice to hear someone else’s take on these issues and know that I’m not a crazy PC activist weirdo like I feel sometimes. Or at least, that I’m not alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *