Cultural Differences VII – Baking

With our kitchen having been installed for a week it was time for Christmas baking. Past time really; in Canada I would be on to my second batch by this point. But could I pull it off? Baking requires more than just an oven…

I have heard it said that a good workman never blames his tools if the job doesn’t go right. So I won’t. While the end result was tasty, baking these cookies yesterday was challenging and took twice the time it should have.IMG_20171213_1713251

I have probably baked these “candy cane” goodies fifty times, maybe more. They were a Christmas staple when I was a child. I bake them every year, because I like them and also because they are great to bring as hostess gifts at this time of year. People are impressed by their looks.

I knew before moving to Germany that baking would be different here. I thought I could work around that, find substitutes for products I am used to and things would be fine. After all, if I could just convert the baking temperature from my recipes from Fahrenheit to Celsius then I could also convert the teaspoons and cup measurements to millilitres. I’m used to working in metric; it is no big deal.

Except they don’t use millilitres here to measure dry goods. They use grams. Every German kitchen has a scale to weigh things like sugar and flour. You can’t buy a measuring cup or measuring spoons. I know, I looked everywhere. I finally resorted to Amazon. The measuring spoons arrived, but the measuring cups have been in transit for more than a month now. If I wait for their arrival, it might be Christmas 2018 before I do any baking.IMG_20171213_1656536

So I decided to go ahead with baking cookies. I did have one measuring cup, the only one I could find. It holds a litre. That’s more than an American quart. And it has different markings on the side; the quantity apparently is different whether you are using flour or sugar. I never worried about that at home; a half-cup is a half-cup, liquid or solid. Never had any problems.

The measuring cup has no marking for powdered sugar, which I was using for the cookies. The sugar box said it held 250 grams. If a gram and a millilitre are more or less the same, which is how I bake in Canada, the box was the perfect amount. Except, when I poured it into the measuring cup to make sure, it showed as 400 millilitres.

At least I didn’t have to do any substitution for the sugar. Powdered sugar is the same here, just packaged differently. And I did find vegetable shortening in the store, in a one-kilogram brick, twice the size it is at home. And refrigerated too, not on the baking shelf.

Vanilla is powdered here, not a liquid. Food colouring comes not as a liquid in a jar but a type of paste in a tube. Makes it tougher to figure out if you are low on the stuff. There are multiple different types of flour, identified by number. I haven’t tried to figure those out, I just went with the one that seemed the most popular, figuring that was the equivalent of Canadian “all-purpose” flour. Baking powder comes in little envelopes, just like vanilla.

It took me a while to get the dough to the right consistency. Maybe I didn’t get the amount of flour right using that big cup. I wound up making changes on the fly, adding more shortening and butter and then some water (there is none in the recipe). It seemed to take forever to get it how I wanted, but that I suppose is to be expected for a first attempt. I’m not going to blame the unfamiliar ingredients for the delay, tempting as that may be.

In the end, the cookies turned out fine. I might tweak the recipe a bit next time –  though I am hoping those measuring cups come in the next few days and maybe I won’t have to.

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