Friday, July 20, 2012

A Baking Story

Baking in Japan
Not cookie ingredients.
After about a month in Japan, the glamour of eating milk cakes, Meltykiss and Pocky all the time was starting to wear off and I began craving the kinds of sweets I enjoyed back home. I was starting to get a little homesick, too, so thought maybe I'd bake the chocolate chip cookies that my cousin used to make for us.

I was out at the time and knew I wouldn't be able to get many baking supplies at the convenience store, so I tried to recall the recipe from memory as I hopped into a grocery store, well past 9:30 in the evening. "Hmm...chocolate chips...brown sugar...uh..."

I went to an aisle that had sugar, and I found something that was the correct consistency and colour to be brown sugar, and got it. Then I found the baking aisle and picked up the most expensive bag of mini chocolate chips (500 yen for about a cup and a half) ever. I bought the items knowing I was missing stuff, then, as I went to leave, thought... "Oh. Vanilla."

So I went back and got a little bottle of vanilla. While paying for that (I was down to 400 yen now) I remembered, "Butter."

So I bought "cake margarine" from the dairy aisle. I was down to 206 yen. My train fare home was 200 yen. Then, on the train...

..."Flour. Damn."

I went home for money, then to the conbini at the train station, bought flour. Returned home and dug out the recipe. Which, of course, called for eggs...and baking soda...and salt. Oh. Went back to the conbini, but they didn't have baking soda. I figured I'd do without. I was pretty sure there had to be salt somewhere in my kitchen; I had gotten a reasonable amount of pantry supplies, but hadn't actually done much cooking since I arrived. I bought eggs, went home, started to mix it up...

And realized I also needed white sugar. Also, I didn't actually have any salt. So, I was missing 3 ingredients, it was past midnight...I had to give up.

The next day I went out and found something that could possibly be white sugar and something that was probably table salt and bought them. Then I went to look for baking soda. I knew it existed because I confirmed with a co-worker. However, I didn't think to ask her if the name of the item was different. I picked up the item in the aisle that most closely resembled what I wanted, brought it to an employee, and asked, "Is this baking soda?"

Well, he didn't know what baking soda was, and whatever I was holding was used for bamboo....something. So we went through everything in the baking aisle while I tried to describe in Japanese, the various functions of baking soda. "You put it in cookies," resulted in him producing baking powder, then I said "it takes away bad smells," and "when you put it in vinegar, it explodes." None of this helped. In the end the employee used his cell phone to look it up on Google. Surprise, the first thing I'd picked out was baking soda after all. Amazing.

Baking in Japan cookies
Baking in Japan: always an adventure.
Back home, I mixed everything up and it seemed to smell and look like the items I'd found really were sugar, brown sugar, salt and baking soda. However...most Japanese don't have ovens, and do their baking in toaster ovens. Unfortunately, my toaster oven doesn't have a temperature gauge. As such, I was stuck staring at my bowl full of cookie dough and an oven that only had a single setting: 1000W. I assumed the W was for watts. Or something.

It also seemed as though my predecessor didn't use the toaster oven much. As a result, I didn't have a cookie sheet or pan of any other sort. So I put the cookies on aluminum foil and laid them on the oven rack. This is the point where I discovered that the cheap tinfoil from the 100-yen shop is flimsy and useless.

Mere moments later, I discovered that using the rack placed the cookies an inch and a half from the top element, and as a result, they began to burn. I tried using the drip pan as a makeshift cookie sheet, but they were still burned a bit too severely to eat. Batch one was undercooked on the bottom, overcooked on the top. And super-greasy; I suspect my Internet conversion of cups to grams for the butter wasn't completely accurate.

The second batch was on the drip pan for just five minutes before they started to scorch on the top.

At this point I gave up; I put the dough for the third batch right in the fridge to eat raw!

Cooking in a tiny kitchen is certainly an adventure. I don't know how Emily managed!