Now that we finally have a fully operational kitchen complete with a working oven, the Mr. and I have been bitten by the baking bug lately. The first baked masterpiece that graced our oven was a homemade streusel the Mr. decided to make last weekend. For those of you who don’t know what a streusel is, it’s basically a sweet bread on the bottom covered with a sugar/butter crumbled topping. It’s baked and the bottom is soft and chewy (as you would expect of bread), and the topping is also soft and chewy in the larger chunks or a bit crunchier in the smaller bits. You can even cover it in another sugar glaze once it’s out of the oven (which I did for my section because I quite like it), or leave it plain as the Mr. prefers.
A few nights later, the Mr. decided to make basically the same bread but minus the less healthy streusel topping. He even cut some of the butter and sugar, making small rolls that were slightly sweet as well as a braided hefezopf. We didn’t snap a photo of his, but it was similar to the one in the photo only with sliced almonds on top. The hefezopf was exactly the same as the smaller rolls, only braided. You can add all sorts of things, obviously, from raisins to nuts, but we both prefer a more simple hefezopf.
Now, with the Mr. having become such a baking fanatic in the last week, I figured it was my time to step up to plate and create something fantastic. Only I figured why make something German when I can buy all sorts of delicious breads and cakes from bakeries all over town? No, better to make something American or British that I really enjoy but can’t find here. My first thought was to make cupcakes slathered in thick buttercream frosting, but I’ve actually been craving chocolate chip cookies something fierce.
First step? Gathering the ingredients, of course. I begin going over our inventory of what we have. Flour? Check. White granulated sugar? Check. Salt? Check. Eggs? Check. Vanilla? Check. Butter/shortening? Check. Chocolate chips? No, but that shouldn’t be difficult – Germans love chocolate! Baking soda? Ummmm….nope. And brown sugar? Nope. I ask the Mr. if he thinks the store will have brown sugar. The conversation goes something like this:
Me: “I need brown sugar for the cookies.”
The Mr.: “Didn’t I see brown sugar in the pantry?”
Me: “No, that’s sugar that is brown. That’s not brown sugar.”
The Mr.: What do you mean, ‘sugar that is brown but not brown sugar?’ It’s sugar and it’s brown.”
Me: “Yes, but American brown sugar is different…it’s soft and clumps together.” [I show him a photo online of American brown sugar.]
The Mr.: “Yeah, they don’t sell anything like that here. I’ve never seen sugar like that before.”
Me: “Oh. Great.”
So I google “can you make chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar?” and got all sorts of interesting results from “no, don’t do it! They won’t taste right!!” to “yes, we only make ours with white sugar.” What I discovered is that brown sugar is actually white sugar (gasp!) but with molasses added. That rocked my world, let me tell you. The irony to this story is that we actually had molasses up until recently. Back in Scotland, the Mr. had bought a tin of it for some strange reason, opened it, realized it wasn’t something he wanted to eat so it sat on a shelf for a long time and was even packed up and moved over to Germany. As I was going through boxes I discovered the sticky tin and puzzled over what to do with it before finally tossing it. I have no idea if it would still be good right now having been open for so long and unrefrigerated, etc. but I was sort of cursing the fact that I had had some up until recently, and able to see absolutely no purpose for it I threw it out suddenly needing it now. It figures. Anyway, I get to store and I begin searching for the three things I need: chocolate chips, molasses, and baking soda.
I get to the baking section and call the Mr. For some reason, no one here in Germany has labeled the baking soda as “baking soda” in English. The nerve….
Me: “What do they call baking soda here?”
The Mr.: “Uh, ‘backpulver.’ Look for ‘backpulver.'”
Me: “Are you sure? You’re definitely sure that’s baking soda and not baking powder, right?”
The Mr.: “Don’t we have baking soda in the cabinet? I thought I saw some.”
Me: “No, that’s not baking soda. That’s baking powder.”
The Mr.: “Isn’t that also the same thing?”
Me: “No. I don’t know why, but I know that it isn’t.” [This time the Mr. googles it and discovers that baking soda is in baking powder, but no – they are not exactly the same. He then tells me the possible names it might be labeled under: “Speisesoda,” ‘Backsoda” or “Speisenatron.” But he warns me that Germans don’t really bake with it, so I shouldn’t necessarily expect to find it. Luckily, I do spot it. One brand and one size, but hey – they have it!
Moving on…molasses, molasses, molasses. No, nowhere can I find it. I search the baking section, and then the section with honeys and jams but no luck. Apparently most Germans don’t require molasses for anything. Come to think of it, I had never required molasses for anything until this very moment. I had noticed when I was googling it earlier that you could substitute honey for molasses, thereby making your own “brown sugar,” so the “honey” version it is, I guess….
And finally the chocolate chips. This surprised me the most. Granted, I wasn’t in a huge grocery store, but still – no chocolate chips! Chocolate bars? Yes. Chocolate chips – or even small chunks – nope. Undeterred, I bought several bars of dark chocolate and decided to make my own chips.
Once the ingredients were in hand, everything went pretty smoothly. It only took me maybe ten minutes to break up the two chocolate bars, and although the chunks weren’t exactly uniform they certainly didn’t taste any different. My other substitution was that I decided to do half butter, half shortening. No, Germans don’t sell or use Crisco here as far as I can tell, but I had brought some over from the US to Scotland a few years ago with the intention of making a pie but had never got around to it. Technically it was “best before” Oct. 2008, but I learned once on 20/20 or some show like that, that “best before” is really code for “this crap is so artificial it won’t ever really go bad.” Works for me. So yeah, what I like about doing 50/50 with the fat is that the butter adds flavor but the shortening helps insure the cookies aren’t as flat as pancakes, which is a pet peeve of mine.
All in all, I was very pleased with how they turned out. I told the Mr. that I thought they were probably a bit “drier” tasting than cookies made with brown sugar, but apart from that I couldn’t tell any real difference. I took a few to our upstairs elderly neighbors and advised them “eat them warm, and with a glass of milk.” The Mr. isn’t a huge fan of American baking and tends to prefer the German stuff, so who knows whether they will like them or not. Still, the Mr. has certainly been scarfing down a fair number of them with no complaints….