After living here for over half of a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that most Dutch people are not really all that into baking. I’m sure there’s got to be a few that are, but I don’t really think it’s as much of a hobby here as it is for some people in North America.
Being a person who likes to ‘get their bake on’ rather frequently… well, pretty much daily… problems can arise when certain ingredients are seemingly nowhere to be found. There are two main grocery stores where we live. One is the Lidl (like the “No Frills” of Canada) and the other is the Albert Heijn (like “Loblaws”). I think the only baking ingredients you can find at the Lidl are sugar, eggs, and cinnamon. That ain’t gonna get you very far. But the plus side of Lidl, though they don’t have much selection, is that what they do have is nice and cheeeeeap.
As for the Albert Heijn, they do have a small baking aisle. You have 1 or 2 types of flours, an array of vastly expensive nuts/seeds in ridiculously tiny containers, and a crapload of mixes, mostly for pancakes (Dutch people love their pancakes). You also have baking powder, yeast and vanilla. Let’s stop for a moment and talk about the vanilla. The photo to your left is the absolute biggest container of vanilla extract I have been able to find. I buy like 5 at a time. I don’t know whether to blame this on the fact that baking isn’t popular here, or the fact that most items in the grocery store are smaller than I’m used to. Bulk or economy sizing just doesn’t happen here. But maybe (definitely) I’m just spoiled since I grew up with Wal-Mart.
It took me a long time to figure out where the other essential baking staples are. Things like cocoa powder and sugar are just in completely different aisles. They don’t put this stuff together in one aisle because people don’t use it for the same things. Sugar, even brown sugar (called “basterd” sugar here) and icing sugar (which comes in a tube, believe it or not!) is to be found near the coffee. Cocoa powder is with the chocolate. I guess that’s logical. But not if you’re baking cake, like I was, for Michiel’s birthday last month. I also wanted to write “Happy Birthday” in coloured icing on top of the cake, but that was not easy since they don’t do food colouring here. I asked a girl in the baking section if they had it, and she looked at me like I had 5 heads and said “oh… no… that would be very hard to get here.” It was as if I had asked her to find me a rare and exotic black market delicacy.
Then there’s the elusive baking soda. This tricky little ingredient evaded me for the entire first 6 months I lived here. It is not in any grocery store, and trust me, I’ve asked. (even using my iPhone as a translator, in case there was a Dutch word for Baking Soda I was missing). It’s not at the drug store either. At first, I gave up. I decided to live with the fact that I wouldn’t have light, fluffy muffins. And it wasn’t so bad, they weren’t too dense, they just didn’t rise during baking. Eventually I forgot about it all together.
And then came the banana bread disaster of July…
I should have known better than to bake a quick bread without baking soda. It didn’t rise at all, it turned out as just a soggy, brick-like hard pile of muck. Not. Even. Edible. Never have I had a baked good go so wrong. In a fit of rage I consulted the internet, scouring expat forums for a trace of baking soda like a crack addict searches for cocaine. Finally, a few people mentioned that the ingredient can be acquired at an obscure little Asian supermarket. I asked Michiel to pick some up on the way home from work. It wasn’t Arm & Hammer, but it was glorious. And now I make light and fluffy zucchini bread!
Now, with all that said, I don’t mean to be complaining. I really don’t have anything to complain about, since living in the Netherlands is awesome. But there are a couple things that take some getting used to, and that’s what moving to a new place is all about. I love finding ways to adapt. It just takes a little thinking outside the box sometimes. Take, for example, trying to find a rack to cool your cookies on. Which doesn’t exist here either. After trying grocery stores and cookware stores, as a last resort we made the trek to Ikea, since they HAD to have cookie racks. Ikea has everything. Except, apparently, cookie racks. Frustrated, I said to Michiel “Let’s just look for ANY mesh-like-thing and we’ll buy it” as I eye-balled the store’s wire display shelving units. After walking around aimlessly, Michiel pointed out: “Hey, what about THIS?”
It was genius. It was brilliant.
It was a 3-level office letter stacker.
It saves a ton of counter space in our tiny kitchen, and I can cool 3 levels of cookies, muffins or breads at once! I never want to use a regular cookie cooling rack again. This thing is awesome. Gotta love those small triumphs in life. It was one small step for cookies, and one giant leap forward for baked goods in the Netherlands.