Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Texan Bakes in Germany...

Over the past weeks, I have been on a steep learning curve about the many differences between American and German baking ingredients, measurements, and tastes.  You may think baking could be a simple, straightforward way to express hospitality, but you'd be wrong.  One has to navigate a complex sea of groceries, measurement conversions, and adequate ingredient substitutes.

We have had a number of parties and events around the library lately to celebrate Advent, people leaving or arriving, and Christmas.  I decided that I would make peanut brittle and fudge-- a couple classic Christmas staples in my family at the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  I set off to the Edeka (the grocery "supermarket") in town to gather my ingredients.


4 cups sugar for fudge, 1 cup for brittle
1 stick of butter for fudge, 1 tbsp for brittle
1 large can evaporated milk (not skim)
1 pint Kraft marshmallow cream
2 small (or 1 large) bag of chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract for fudge and 1 tsp for brittle
2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup peanuts
1/2 cup Karo light corn syrup
1 tsp baking soda

Zucker/Sugar-- The sugar in Germany is a little coarser than in the States, but overall that is not the main problem.  So I bought sugar as one normally would in the States.

Butter-- Butter comes in a different shape here.  A "stick" is not an actual measurement that means anything here.  Their butter is a rectangular block that weighs 250 grams.  I chose an amount of butter based on what I thought was the visual equivalent of a "stick" of butter and moved on.

Kondensmilch/Evaporated Milk-- This is one is tricky.  The word Kondensmilch looks like it should mean "condensed milk."  And I stood in the aisle and thought about it long and hard, and was pretty sure evaporated was not the same as condensed.  After going around in circles in my head, I made the wrong decision and chose "gezuckert kondensmilch" (sweetened condensed milk).  Wrong.  This will lead to a disaster later in our journey.

Marshmallow Cream-- I had a feeling this would be a difficult item to locate.  After basically giving up and starting to think about what I could use as a substitute, I accidentally stumbled upon "fluff" in the nutella/honey/jelly aisle.  When making fudge, the name brand actually does make a difference here, but I had no choice.  And how bad could it be?  The label claimed that "fluff" was "the delicious American marshmallow spread," and proudly displayed a recipe for fluffernutter sandwiches on the back.  You may not know this, but fluffernutters (peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches) are "the most popular sandwich in the USA" according to the label.  Yikes.

Special note on marshmallow cream:  I was saddened and dismayed to learn that many Germans find marshmallows disturbing in their processed nature and their intense sweetness.  But at least they know what marshmallows are.  The amount of people here that had never heard of or seen such an atrocity as marshmallow cream was shocking.

Zartbitter Schokolade/Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips-- Funny thing about the "bag" of chocolate chips measurement.  There are no chocolate chips in the German grocery store.  None.  Not a thing.  Instead, you buy this brick of chocolate, and have to cut it up yourself.  I googled how many grams of chocolate chips were in "small" and "large" bags of Hersheys chocolate chips, and bought the equivalent in chocolate bricks.

Vanille/Vanilla Extract-- Again, no such luck.  I did manage to find something labeled "Vanille Aroma" on a seasonal baking rack, and decided that was close enough.  On further inspection, Vanilla aroma is a clear, oily vanilla flavoring, seemingly very different from what I was expecting.  But I think it was a viable substitute.

Pecannüsse/Pecans-- Nope.  Another strike-out.  I have seen pecans in Germany, so I know they exist.  But my grocery store doesn't have them.  Luckily, Germans do love walnuts.  I figured walnuts are a perfectly acceptable substitute for pecans, so this wasn't a big deal.

Erdnüsse/Peanuts-- Also no.  Germany isn't a big peanut place.  I perused the nut selection at the store, and decided to get hazelnuts.  They are a similar size and shape to my desired peanuts, so I figured they would work.  Make it a German spin on peanut brittle-- hazelnut brittle, kind of festive right?

Karo syrup-- Not a chance.  Germany isn't into the whole corn syrup thing.  In fact, there are very few corn products here at all.  I was told that corn doesn't grow in Germany.  Instead, they use the sugar from sugar beets for many of their sweetening needs.  I had never heard of sugar beets until arriving in Germany, but it is quite common in this area.  I found sugar beet syrup, and decided this was as close as I was going to be able to get!  Turns out, it is thicker, darker, and a little less sweet than Karo.

Natron/Baking Soda-- This was tough, because even in America I get baking soda and baking powder mixed up.  I knew I wanted the stuff in the orange Arm & Hammer box, but that was little guidance here.  They actually sell baking powder and baking soda in small single-serve packets, rather than a box or cylindrical tub.  One is labeled Natron (what does that even mean?) and one was labeled Backpulver (literally, baking powder).  By process of elimination, I decided Natron must be the soda, since Backpulver was "powder."  Got lucky, and was right!


What should be very obvious by this point, is that most of the ingredients I needed were not easily accessible, and I made a lot of substitutions and converted a lot of measurements!  Germans mostly cook by weight, specifically grams.  I did a lot of "how many grams are in a "stick" of butter" type google searches to make these recipes German-kitchen-friendly.

First, I made the brittle.  This all seemed relatively simple once I converted measurements and figured out all of my substitutions.  It was a little thinner than I would've liked, but perhaps Natron is less pungent than good ol' American baking soda.  The good news is that it set up properly, and I was able to break it into pieces and it tasted pretty dang good to me!

Result:  Everyone really liked the brittle!  They were delighted by its salty-sweet-nuttiness, and it was devoured within two days.  This sure makes a girl feel good!  I must say, it did turn out delicious.  A little harder than American peanut brittle (I think the German Natron doesn't fill the brittle with as much air, so it isn't is airy and light).  The sugar beet syrup makes it a little darker in color and a little stickier, but otherwise doesn't have a negative effect on the taste.  The Germans helped me name this new creation Hasselnuss Krokant.

Then, it was time to face the fudge.  This was harder.  Here it is important to remember that German sugar is coarser and that I made the major mistake of buying sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk.  As I boiled the sugar, butter, and milk together, instead of getting meltier and smoother, it got thicker and grittier.  Not good.  I forged ahead and added the chocolate (now chunked up after much wrestling and knifing), walnuts, vanilla, and "fluff."  The mixture remained entirely too dark, gritty, thick, and sweet.  I spread it out on a cookie sheet and decided to wait and see....

Result: Not good.  This was basically a non-edible sugar block.  It was too dark, too gritty, too sweet, and totally wrong.  We managed to salvage some of it by adding it to a basic cake batter and baking it for a bit.  With the help of my brilliant parents, we named this cake "Fudge Miscake."  The result was actually not bad, and it did manage to get eaten throughout the week.

Attempt #2:

I made another batch of brittle, using even more Natron this time and it turned out PERFECT!  This batch was also consumed at record speed!  Success!

For Fudge 2.0, I went back to the store to analyze my mistakes.  This time, I bought a small carton labeled "Kondesmilch," but this time I did not get the "gezuckert" variety.  Better.  I also used an entire cup less sugar.  Still the marshmallow cream couldn't be stay-puff Kraft brand, but I don't think that was the main problem the first time.

I set up shop in my little dorm kitchen (Fudge 1.0 was prepared in the larger community kitchen at the library), hacked at the chocolate bricks, chopped the walnuts, and prepared my ingredients.

Problem: I do not have a large pot.  I started the sugar, butter, and evap milk to boil in the biggest pot I have, but it became obvious after about 2 minutes of boiling that this would not work.  I poured the mixture into a larger sauce pan for the last 5 minutes of boiling.  After adding chocolate, vanilla, walnuts, and "fluff," I was nearly overflowing this larger pan.  I managed to mix it all together, and pour it into the cookie sheet before spilling fudge all over my entire kitchen...  It seemed much better this time, so I set it in the windowsill to cool.

In the morning, I started cutting the fudge and realized it was a bit sticky and gooey still, so I cut up the squares and flipped them all over to try to dry out the bottom side.  This basically worked, and this batch of fudge was edible!  I think the glitch in my boiling process led to the sugar still being a bit gritty,but it was much better this time!  The main problem with Fudge 1.0 was the sweetened condensed milk.  I am proud to report that just three days after Fudge 2.0, it is all gone!  Success again!

I hope you all enjoyed this exhaustive review of my baking experiences with Texan recipes in Germany!  Guten Appetit!

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