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.
This is the biggest bag of flour I can get at the Albert Heijn.
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.
With a clothespin to show ridiculous size.
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.
Icing sugar in a tube!
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…
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