Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Bake a Chocolate Cake

Tomorrow we're having company for lunch. So today I needed to make dessert for tomorrow. I thought that a loaf of pumpkin bread from the freezer would be nice (because let's face it, it's more like cake than bread), and that to ensure we got dessert dessert, I'd make this:

Chocolate cake. From scratch.

As I began to pull out the ingredients it occurred to me how different baking is here than in the U.S. For starters, some of my ingredients for the cake look like this:

Ayran, baking soda, powdered sugar, cocoa, and margarine.

You can't find buttermilk here, so I use ayran, a salty yogurt drink that Turks like to just drink. It's totally nasty, but seems to work just fine for baking. Baking soda comes in little packets or a huge bag, so I store it in an old pasta sauce jar. No familiar yellow box for me! Powdered sugar comes in a 250-gram (about 8 ounces, or 1/2 pound) package. Cocoa comes in a 100-gram package (about 3.5 ounces, or 1/4 pound). And butter or margarine also comes in a 250-gram package, with markings on the package dividing it into 50-gram segments. You can't just cut the stick at the 1/2-cup mark, because there isn't such a thing!

Flour, sugar, salt, and eggs are basically the same here, although eggs do come in packages of ten, not 12, and might still have chicken poo on them. Sugar is finer than in the States, and it must be a different kind of sugar, maybe beet sugar? It makes our semi-sweet tea syrupy if we don't drink it within three days.

Anyways, there are a few things that we just can't find here. I came prepared for at least one of them:

Can you see how much I've used in just 2 1/2 months? Good thing I had someone bring me another bottle...maybe I'll make it through the holidays!

My years in Poland prepared me for the fact that you cannot find vanilla extract in Europe, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to find it here either, so I brought a bottle. I was right: only vanilla sugar is available, and I never did figure out how to get my recipes to taste right using that stuff. So, vanilla extract it is.

Then there's this:

Yes, I brought it from the U.S. I brought my food processor too.

I felt kind of silly for bringing my Kitchen Aid mixer all the way across the world. It weighs 25 pounds and cost about $100 to check in an extra bag (if you figure the whole 50-pound bag cost $200 and it was 1/2 of the weight). BUT. I felt justified when one day we were out and saw a Kitchen Aid for sale, checked the price, and it was a little over $800. Eight hundred dollars!!!! I actually use my Kitchen Aid mixer and food processor regularly, so I'm glad I brought them, especially after seeing how much they cost here.

Finally, when it comes to actually baking the cake, I deal with this:


While 150° Celsius is not quite 350°Fahrenheit, I've found that in this particular oven, things tend to burn if I set the oven at 175°. The dial on the left determines where the heat comes from. With some things I have to turn the bottom on first, then turn it off and turn the top on, and then finally turn them both on to finish it off. It's complicated! Fortunately this is extremely nice compared to the oven I had in Poland, which I had to light with a match or lighter every time. Plus, it had no temperature gauge, so I learned to cook based on the size of the flame!

So, there you go: how to make a chocolate cake if you live in a different country! You never knew it involved so many differences, did you?

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