Baking Abroad (+ a Fruit and Almond Cake)

[New kitchen, July 2013.]

So the way it goes when your husband works for the U.S. Foreign Service and you’ve been posted abroad is that you are allowed two shipments of your things, one that will arrive via air and one which will arrive via boat. The air shipment should come within a few weeks of your own arrival; the boat items preditably will take much longer. For me, this means that I won’t have access to my regular baking implements for quite a few months (I’m already missing my cookie sheet, loaf pan, small cake pan, etc. etc., not to mention having more than 2 pots at my disposable, decent knives, a food processor … ah well).

Still, this doesn’t mean that baking is impossible — fortunately I have discovered a Carrefour just 15-20 minutes (walking) away from our house; there, I can get sugar, flour, honey, and baking tins, the disposable kind. Sure they are not necessarily in my preferred sizes but this doesn’t mean I can’t use them. Nor does it mean that although baking powder doesn’t really exist here (a reason I loaded up on cans to be tucked into one of the air shipment boxes) you can’t focus on recipes that call exclusively for baking soda with wonderful results.

The other night we had dinner — white beans with garlic and roasted tomatoes, brown rice, spicy lamb sausages for DW, sauteed green beans — and listened to the birds settle down in the rather tropical-looking foliage outside the open kitchen window. When dusk seemed poised to descend we decided to take a post-meal constitutional to explore just how far of a walk the store would be from us (verdict: certainly very do-able). Upon entering it was clear to me this will be my main grocery store going forward: it has a wide variety of items, it’s not too large as to be overwhelming, there are even some organic products (!) if you take the time to ferret them out, there is a small bulk aisle. While there I picked up something I hoped was baking soda but feared was yeast (my Arabic being not quite up to snuff, I took a chance and it turned out to be a good one) and a few pans. I had thrown a few bananas into the freezer – things ripen much more quickly here than in San Francisco – and knew at the earliest opportunity I would bake a banana bread/cake.

I’ve just started a new part-time job that basically consists of planning events, trips, parties, dinners, coffee hours, etc. with the main function being to foster a community spirit within the office and within the larger U.S. population and families associated with the work here. To be honest, it gave me a physical pang that I was unable to bring in some sort of home baked goodie on my first day; perhaps I am totally insane, but this is what I like to do and what better way to introduce oneself that by proferring a slice of cake? I ask you.

One of my ideas is to have a drop-in coffee hour/s accompanied by a baked-by-me treat one morning a week … probably on Fridays (a la the old Tuesday Treat idea) because let’s face it, Friday is the best day of the work week. But — Ramadan begins tomorrow, which means many of my co-workers will not be eating during the day and I can’t bear to torture them with the knowledge of off-limits sweets; thus, I’m going to table the Friday thing for awhile.

And yet … the wish persisted to bake. Just a little something. Maybe — no, for sure — with bananas. And so today came, a day spent at home rather than the office, a day that was certainly perfect for baking. Wouldn’t you know, I forgot completely about using the bananas … good grief. I can’t really blame jetlag anymore, can I? Sigh. Instead, I made a yogurt cake with cherries, and it was OK, mostly fine, but darn I wish I’d had baking powder because I think I didn’t get the proportion of baking soda to lemon juice correct and thus the resulting cake had a rather spongy crumb. Not bad exactly, just not exactly what I wanted.

However, today’s endeavors reminded me of a gorgeous cake I baked in the week before we left San Francisco, full of ripe fruit and sliced almonds and with all of the wee stress of the days that had come before it fueling the desire to put it together. And the time has now come to share it with you.

Basically this is a catch-all cake. For summer, it couldn’t be a more perfect treat (OK, if it were also an ice cream cake it probably would be more perfect, but despite the lack of ice cream it’s still pretty perfect.). I threw in blueberries, raspberries, a peach, and a handful of cherries, because that’s what I had; blackberries in season would be divine, as would plums, or really any one fruit or combination that you fancy. I littered the top of the batter with sliced almonds and baked it in a 7-inch round cake pan; it took a bit longer than a more traditional size, but I loved the tall nature of the slices. Of course, it will taste lovely no matter how you bake it up. We ate it with tea, for breakfast, as a snack as we watched the movers haul out boxes and boxes of artwork and cake pans. I gave a piece away to my friend Lesli. I snuck another one into my ‘plane food’ bag for the journey. And I’m making it again just as soon as I get back to San Francisco.

After today’s experiment in which, yes, I did attempt to use baking soda in a recipe that called for baking powder, I think I’ll stick to recipes that require baking soda only until my shipment arrives (when, oh, when??). Which means: that banana bread/cake is coming up soon. Possibly some peanut butter cookies at the request of DW. Perhaps my trusty vegan chocolate cake, if I can locate cocoa powder. I have some practicing to do for Friday coffee hour, after all, and I best get to baking.

Join the Conversation

  1. This almond fruit cake sounds divine! Sometimes the best recipes/experiences come as a result of having to improvise without your regular kitchen tools. From the sounds of it, you’re adapting well, despite the hurdles and before long your boxes will arrive…

  2. You’ll get everything back eventually-and I admire your courageous spirit for trying out recipes without your usual arsenal of supplies. I know it would be hard for me, as well. And,, the cake looks delicious.

  3. Who knew that baking powder would be such a luxury? Since I have plenty of it, I have no excuse not to try this delicious-looking yogurt cake–maybe with a few plums from the tree for a variation. Hope your boxes arrive soon!

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