Saturday, November 21, 2009

Baking - Wednesday, 11 November 2009

We woke up this morning to two wonderful things: (1) warmer weather and (2) snow!

In South Carolina that would be a contradiction, but here it was a fact. How nice it was to have light, powdery snow and at the same time not feel like you're freezing to death! Our autumn clothes can handle -5 degrees Celsius just fine.

So after school we played in the snow and then went to the grocery store to buy butter, sugar, and eggs, amongst other things. Then we returned home and I set about to baking.

I had recipes from the States and ingredients from Kazakhstan. I had one liquid measuring cup--from the US--and to measure teaspoons and tablespoons I had a small liquid measuring cap--one that came with a Children's Liquid Tylenol in the US. I thankfully had the internet and was able to figure out how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, as the measuring cap only did teaspoons.

First, I attempted pancakes. My frying pan is crummy and the handle is a bit wobbly; my only spatula is a "skimmer" (at least that's the English translation of the Russian word that Sophia learned). I have no mixer. I had to guess at which kind of butter and flour to use.

My first pancake tasted fine, and that gave me encouragement to continue. In the end, even Sophia liked them, and my only mistake was putting the burner on too hot. The outsides burned while the insides remained runny. That's a mistake I can easily fix in the future!

I posted my results on facebook, describing the equipment & ingredients I had used to make these pancakes. "Hooray for pancakes in Kazakhstan!" I wrote. I was surprised to see that so many people were interested in my pancake-making attempt, and soon my friends were having a discussion about the kind of flour I had used. Eventually, my cousin asked a Russian friend, who translated the kind of flour I was using as a kind of wheat flour, what the Russians use for "all-purpose flour." Hooray--because "all-purpose flour" was the kind of flour I had wanted.

Encouraged by my success, I decided to attempt an American-style yellow cake. Sophia, ever the picky eater, has yet to find a cake in Astana that she likes--and she's had plenty of tastes of different cakes, due to so many birthdays. So I decided to make her one.

Christie had a cake pan from Canada that she let us borrow, and then I set about to making the cake. First, of course, I had to wash & dry dishes, as I don't have extra bowls or measuring cups and they were dirty from the pancakes.

I had baking soda, and an on-line search informed me that while butter can be substituted for shortening (I had no shortening), baking soda cannot be substituted for baking powder (unless you happen to have cream of tartar and soda on hand, which of course I did not). Luckily I had bought a little packet of "разрыхлитель" (razrikhlitel). Several weeks ago, I bought Sophia a Barbie magazine, and in the magazine I noticed a recipe for cupcakes. "разрыхлитель" was one of the ingredients and google translated that as "baking powder." So I when I saw that in the store, I bought it.

So I did my best with the cake, and after a while of stirring by hand I was beginning to doubt whether I'd ever bake again. But when the cake was finished, I was quite happy to have attempted baking. I also made buttercream frosting, following a recipe I much adored in the States. Half a pound of butter, half a pound of shortening (for which I substituted butter), a pound of powdered sugar, a dab of vanilla, and a couple tablespoons of milk. The key to this recipe is texture--whipping it to death. Again, my arm got extremely tired. And some of the blue paint from the cheap plastic bowl got into the frosting.

After you make a cake, you need to decorate it, and luckily I remembered that we had gummy bears lying around. So I got out the gummy bears and let Sophia make a "7" on the cake out of the bears. She used only red ones, and she made a European 7 (crossed at the middle).

How hard it is not to try the cake before her birthday! I just hope it tastes good!

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