Cookies are universal…

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Yesterday started out as one of those days where everything seemed overwhelming and hard.  Thankfully these days are few and far between here.  But when I do have a day where a) I am pursuing my thousandth job lead and have to hike thirty minutes to get there only to find that not only is the man I’m supposed to be meeting with not there, but the whole place is shut up tight due to an electrical problem on the whole road, and b) just as I am at the farthest point from home it starts to pour, thereby soaking my one decent outfit for such interviews, I decide to do what I do best when I’m stressed, worried, or abbattuta, my new favorite word, which means beaten down.  I bake.

Of course, as I discovered when I baked my first batch of brownies a few weeks ago, baking dolce Americana is not easy here because it’s hard to find some of the ingredients we take for granted.  It took three stores to find baking soda, scouring the internet to find a substitute for brown sugar, and sampling of four different types of butter to find one without salt since they are not labeled this way.  And perhaps the most exciting find, locating chocolate chips after numerous requests.  I actually thought this would be the easiest ingredient since I am close to Perugia home to Perugina chocolate, but since the gocce di cioccolato are mostly used at bakeries, they are harder to find in a grocery store.  The grocery store baking aisle usually consists of two shelves with some cake mixes, chopped nuts, and decorations.

I decided to bake my chocolate chip cookies and some banana bread to give to all the girls who have been helping me day after day with my job hunt.  Work is not abundant here right now and my task is made harder by trying to find some jobs that aren’t through the local work office since I can’t do that until my citizenship application is finished.  But Gabriella, Laura, Antonella and especially Caterina have been telling everyone that I’m offering English lessons and basically keeping their ear to the ground for opportunities.

As the rain poured outside, my apartment filled with comforting smell of baking banana bread.  I wasn’t able to bring my mixer with me so I’m beating everything by hand.  The consistency isn’t perfect but thankfully I had enough built up frustration from the morning to beat the butter into submission. As the banana bread baked, I peeked through the oven door to see that one was bubbling uncontrollably.  I then realized that it must be something to do with the altitude and the baking soda I used.  After a quick conversion I discovered that although I’m not over the three thousand foot mark, which normally requires recipe alteration, my recipe was definitely reacting in a way that it didn’t normally.  I adjusted the temperature as a website suggested since it was too late to decrease baking soda and this seemed to quiet things down.  With the chocolate chip cookies, my only worry was the brown sugar.  Multiple forums had said that you can’t find anything close here.  I found something called zucchero di canna demerara and decided to take a chance.  It looked brown and smelled strongly of molasses which our brown sugar has in it, but it’s consistency was granular and didn’t have the “packing” humidity of the sugar I’m used to working with.  But other than the fact that I probably lost three pounds as I tried to incorporate its graininess into the butter, the end result was fine.   It would be even better with a mixer, I think.

Around four o’clock just as I finished putting cookies and slices of banana bread into small packages for my new friends, the sun came out.  I took it as a good sign.  I spent the remainder of the evening hanging out with Caterina and Antonella outside their shops.  They sit on a stoop when it’s not busy and reluctantly go see to a customer when someone wants something.  They both have long days and I think the final chunk after pranzo must be hard. We chatted about our backgrounds and at their request, I translated a couple of Italian swear words for them.  This didn’t go over so well with some passersby as both women were excitedly repeating “dickhead.”  As they munched their goodies, Antonella told me I should start my own pasticceria, or bake shop.  I was heartened by her words and felt my confidence flow back to me.  It was a dolce (sweet) end to the day.  I still don’t have work, but I’m starting to have friends and for right now I think this is the more important thing!

First loaves of banana bread in Italy

First loaves of banana bread in Italy

I begin to panic when I see banana bread bubbling over...

I begin to panic when I see banana bread bubbling over...

Happily they looked... and tasted good

Happily they looked... and tasted good

It's not your grandmother's brown sugar...but it works

It's not your grandmother's brown sugar...but it works

Italian chocolate chips

Italian chocolate chips

It takes a lot of strength to beat chocolate chip batter by hand

It takes a lot of strength to beat chocolate chip batter by hand

They look normal, but what will they taste like?

They look normal, but what will they taste like?

Hooray...they look, smell and taste pretty close to perfect

Hooray...they look, smell and taste pretty close to perfect

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2 thoughts on “Cookies are universal…

  1. I adore the simple everyday information – to bake
    is surely a massage for the soul…

  2. Hi, I love your story, it reminds me of my many frustrations trying to bake here. I might be able to be of help on the brown sugar front. There is a small chain of stores called Altro Mondo (Bottega Solidiale). Here in Genova there are three of them. They sell brown sugar from Equador etc calling it zucchero di canna, but its got the rught humidity. Another place you can try if you are lucky enough to have an ethnic quarter nearby is a Chinese or East Indian food store – you’d be surprised at what they have.. Welcome to Italy and… good luck!

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