The tompouce (or tompoes) seems to essentially be a sandwich of puff pastry and thick cream, with pink icing glaze on top. The icing is turned orange for King’s Day, and sometimes it is topped with whipped cream. Tompoucen are usually served with coffee or tea or eaten at parties. The brittle puff pastry is notoriously hard to eat.
It’s a Dutch and Belgian variant of the mille-feuille, a French dessert dating back to at least the 17th century, with worldwide variants. It’s more commonly called tompoes (or tomcat) in the Netherlands, and tompouce in Belgium. You may also hear of it under the name of custard slice or Napoleon.
So why’s it on this website?
The story goes that it was created by a baker from Amsterdam, who named it after a stage performer. This performer went by the name Tom Pouce (Tom Thumb).
The English Wikipedia says this was Jan Hannema, (1839-1878), a Frisian dwarf who was 28 inches tall. He began performing at fairs when he was only seven and went by the stage name Admiral Tom Pouce. When he was a child, his brothers called him Lyts Tomke, the Frisian name for Thumbling. He also had a cigar named after him.
However, other sources, including the Dutch and Polish Wikipedias, say that the performer in question was Charles Stratton, or General Tom Thumb (1838-1883). While performing in Europe, he used the French name General Tom Pouce, which would have then inspired the name of the pastry. Jan Hannema came along using the name after Stratton, and may have taken inspiration from him.
Anyway, Tom Thumb or Tom Pouce had become a generic term for a little man or for anything miniature. The name was given to little carriages, a geranium, an American steam locomotive, and a type of women’s parasol in France. I think the parasol was named with Charles Stratton in mind, though.
I’m not sure whether size had anything to do with the tompouce’s name. It seems to be smaller than a mille-feuille—at least, it has only one layer as opposed to a mille-feuille’s two.
As mentiond earlier, the pastry’s also known as a Napoleon in some places, when made with almond-flavored paste. It does seem significant that Napoleon is famous for being short, and Charles Stratton even played him a few times.
However, the name may actually stem from napolitain, as in “from Naples.” The dessert definitely predates General Napoleon and there’s no obvious connection between the two.
The Russian Napoleon is triangular in shape, with slightly more layers. This variant apparently does have connections to celebrating Napoleon’s defeat in 1812. Perhaps this was part of the corruption of “napolitain” to “Napoleon.”
I'd need much more information to find out if any of these connections are real, and how the pastry was actually created. That information may be lost to time. However, this makes for another interesting bit of trivia on how the fairy tale leaves impressions on modern culture. And it puts the swallow cycle in a whole new light.
I was going through “Catalogue Raisonn des Contes Grecs Types et Versions AT 700,” when I noticed one that stood out. The summary of a story titled "Η γυναίκα και τα παιδιά της" or “The woman and her children” basically goes:
“A childless woman pours beans into the chimney and they become children. The mother burns them because she doesn’t know what to do. Yannis and Maria [“Jack and Mary”] survive.”
Sooooo . . . Maria. That’s a female character. I may have just found a Greek Thumbelina – from Halkidiki, to be precise.
However, I can’t find the story myself to be sure. It was cited as being from a Greek folklore database, Κέντρο Ερευνησ της Ελληνικής Λαογραφίας της Ακαδημίας Αθηνών – the specific number being cited ΛΑ 1179, (ΣΜ 9), 13. I don’t know if this is digitized. Even if it is, I may not be able to find it.
Incidentally, this would be the second Thumbelina named Maria.
This website is based on my research into folklore. Home to the Thumbling Project, collecting different versions of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina from around the world.