Carols and baking. Two of my favorite things about the holiday season. Before we moved to Rabat, I used to spend every weekend in December baking dozens upon dozens of cookies to package up and share with friends, colleagues, and family. Last year I took a break from the tradition but this year, I’m baaaaaacck!
Baking in Rabat is not an easy task. First, my oven. There’s no thermostat, so the oven temperature fluctuates like crazy. This means I stand like a hawk with a flashlight into the oven, staring at the oven thermometer and opening and closing the oven door in feeble attempt to regulate the temperature. Most of the time, the oven gets too hot, too fast, and burns the bottom. Second, it’s hard to find some of the baking ingredients I took for granted in the US. And, third, well, let’s not even get to my 120V Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer that’s sitting in storage with all of its other 120V friends, refusing to play with our 220V sockets. Tear.
This all got me thinking about the baking substitutions I’ve started making in Rabat so I can still get by. I’m also sharing the essentials that I still bring back with me from the US (we aren’t here on government work, so we don’t have access to the commissary or an APO/FPO/DPO for online ordering–those lucky ducks!). This is all part of my calculation as I search for recipes and make a plan for my December baking!
1. Chocolate Chips.
Chocolate chunks are a pretty good substitute. I just take solid chocolate bars and chop them up. Forget uniformity and go rustic!
These are chocolate chip nutella and peanut butter cookies I made a while back. The Nestle chocolate chips, brown sugar, and the peanut butter were from the US. I made a big batch and froze the dough, which works well for holiday baking or the midnight munchies!
I often substitute buttermilk with plain non-fat yogurt (not Greek yogurt). The other substitute is a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar into some warm milk. I do this by warming up the milk for 20 seconds in the microwave, squeeze the lemon juice in, and then let it rest for a few minutes. It’s about 1 cup of milk to 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Et viola!
3. Sour cream.
Plain yogurt. Preferably, full fat. It’s not a substitute that works perfectly for baking, but I’ve been lucky for the most part. I am still working up the courage to try a yogurt substitution in the delicate balish I made for my Christmas 2012 baking extravaganza.
4. Cream Cheese.
This is a tough one. Sometimes, I can find Philadelphia Cream Cheese at the grocery store. When I do, it throws me for a loop and I’m weary of the expiration date. I’ve seen Neufchâtel at fancier shops near the ex-pat heavy neighborhoods, but we don’t live in one of those areas. I’ve read online that it is possible to substitute with ricotta and yogurt. Problem is, ricotta isn’t readily available either so I’d have to make my own, which isn’t so hard, but for the purposes of baking, it’s just too involved. This is sad for me because I love cream cheese pie crust and cream cheese frostings. Wah, wah.
5. Corn Syrup.
I didn’t use corn syrup often when I lived in the US, except for a pecan pie I made exactly one time (it was not a success). I’ve read that you can substitute light corn syrup for ½ cup water with 1 cup sugar, but I think I’d sooner reach for some honey.
ESSENTIALS I BRING FROM THE US (anyone visiting soon?)
1. Baking power
2. Baking soda – Here, they sell ambiguous packets of “levure” which is apparently a mix of baking soda and “amidon de pero” which is a starch of somekind?
3. Brown sugar – Leave the bottle of wine at home. If we have embassy friends with access to the commissary over for dinner, brown sugar is the perfect hostess gift for me!
4. Vanilla extract – Until two days ago, I thought this one was a no-go. I’d bring a bottle back to Rabat whenever I went to the US. Then I discovered a recipe for homemade vanilla extract from Averie Cooks, and then many more recipes when I finally thought to google it. Vanilla beans are available from time to time at my local store. Problem: home made vanilla apparently takes a few months!
JUST CAN’T GET IT AND NOT WORTH PRECIOUS SUITCASE SPACE
1. Peppermint candies – This isn’t something I miss…until December holiday baking time comes around. *sigh*
2. Pumpkin – It’s tragic. I love pumpkin. All of the pumpkin recipes on my site were either made in the USA or cobbled together from 2 cans of pure pumpkin puree I brought here when we first moved. Canned pumpkin is heavy, and with those strict baggage weight restrictions vs. my love of shoes, it’s hard to allocate suitcase space for canned goods.
3. Almond extract
4. Cranberries- Another tragedy that we won’t talk about today.
5. Molasses – ARGH! I’ve substituted with honey, but the flavor profile is all wrong. One of my all-time favorite cookies, the chewy triple ginger, relies heavily on molasses, so sadly these won’t be on my 2014 baking list.
6. Shortening? I’ve never actually tried to find this.
7. Butterscotch chips, or any baking chips
8. Maple syrup
11. Cornstarch? I haven’t looked for this either.
12. Marshmallows – No, I can’t make them myself. See corn syrup and gelatin above!
Lavender – Readily available. It’s funny to think of the hunt for dried lavender I went on back in Washington, DC for my lemon lavender tart!
Rose water – this stuff is everywhere!
Orange blossom water
These are my baking substitutions, what are your tricks for substitutions in baking?