A Taste of Honey

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….

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About bittenbythebug

I love travel and have always been fascinated by other cultures. Back in 2004, I began my life as an expat in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fast forward 5 1/2 amazing years later to 2010 and the new chapter in my expat adventure: Würzburg, Germany.
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12 Responses to A Taste of Honey

  1. Bonnie says:

    Those look great! I’m glad you guys have a fully-functioning kitchen now. I didn’t know that about brown sugar either.

  2. cliff1976 says:

    Check your local Chinaladen for brown sugar of the sort you’re expecting! ours carries Tate & Lyle brand, along with other even molassesier stuff from Thailand. Both are good options, depending on whether your American recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar. Plus, you might find other essentials there you can’t get at regular German groceries.

  3. fenella says:

    I would totally eat them!!

    They look really good. A lot better than any choc chip cookies I’ve produced here.

    So now is there anything you want M&I bringing over with us at Easter besides (you have a pile now) your cadbury eggs, Mia’s toy we found, and the wine you left behind with us for safe keeping when you moved to Germany?

    By the way, the Brits also don’t do choc chips. It stuns me. If they do, they’re small wee pathetic bags, not proper chocolate like Nestle Tollhouse. It’s one of the few things I ask people from the US to bring me.

    F

  4. No brown sugar! There are some things that just don’t quite turn out right if you don’t use brown sugar. Too funny, yeah, un-bleached sugar isn’t quite the same…

  5. Lindsey says:

    I still don’t think I understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder. All of the baked goods looked – and sounded – delicious. I don’t bake myself, but I did just finish off some frozen Thin Mints….

  6. fenella says:

    Hey, you’ve been silent for a while! I’ve been bored at work and stalking your blog a couple times a day.

    I stumbled upon this blog when looking up what schmunzelhase meant. http://justcallmemausi.blogspot.com/2007/06/language-week-day-2-deutsche-sprache.html
    I enjoyed the entry and there may be more scope for bonding for you two.

    see you in less than a week!!

    F

  7. cliff1976 says:

    Hey Holly, with any luck, if you attend WEBMU 2011 in Cologne this year in October, you’ll meet JustCallMeMausi there!

    • Thanks for the head’s up, Cliff! I hope we can make it to Cologne for the meet up this year. We’re still hashing out what we’ll be doing around that time, but I’ll try and have a look at the info and flag it on my calendar.

  8. Cookie says:

    Hello,
    you will find some baking supplies in German grocery stores:
    for brown sugar please check the flour-sugar aisles – there is

    Rohrohrzucker – or Rohrzucker, like these:

    For baking soda check

    Haushaltsnatron or plain Natron:


    German Backpulver is sodium bicarbonate (pretty much the same as baking soda) plus an acidifier and parting compound – maybe because of the humidity in Germany? I don’t know.
    Each package goes for 500 g flour (mostly).

    Good luck with your next baking adventures!

  9. Cookie says:

    I forgot:
    try Palmin Soft http://www.edeka-direkt.de/images/articles/92bc2e47d745ddd5247f554e2a882e54_5.jpg
    as a substitute for Crisco!

    🙂

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