Last week I had the great idea I wanted to start doing some baking. Sure, there are patisseries on nearly every corner, but they’re mostly making tarts and eclairs and things like that. I was looking for a little chocolate comfort. I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies.
We only brought three cookbooks with us to France (Cook’s Illustrated Meat Cookbook, The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook, and The Juice Solution), so I cracked open The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook and found a recipe for a smaller batch of chocolate chip cookies, enough for two people to eat within 3 days before they go stale. Amazing, I thought. I wrote down the ingredients I’d need: (1) all-purpose flour, (2) butter, (3) baking soda, (4) vanilla extract, (5) eggs, (6) brown sugar, (7) granulated sugar, and (8) chocolate chips.
Seems simple enough, right? No.
I started my journey in the baking aisle of the Monoprix (a French grocery). I didn’t do a lot of pre-planning, as I figured flour is flour, sugar is sugar, baking soda is baking soda. This was foolish. When I got to the store, I spent at least 30 minutes translating ingredients and packaging. I was able to procure the flour (farine), butter (but only demi-sel), eggs, sugar (sucre cristal), and brown sugar (cassonade, which doesn’t really look like brown sugar, more like brown granulated sugar). I was a bit surprised vanilla, chocolate chips, and baking soda were no where to be found. I had also picked up some baking powder (which I needed for brownies). Not too bad, I thought.
Before continuing my search, I returned home and did a little Google investigating. My query, “Chocolate Chips in France” returned results for a David Lebowitz blog post, “Ingredients for American Baking in Paris.” Now, I had heard of David Lebowitz before. A colleague of mine (Jenny!) had recommended his blog when I told her I was moving to France. In the hustle over the past few weeks, I hadn’t had a chance to really dive in. I rather eagerly clicked on the link. It was pure magic. David Lebowitz is an American in France sensei. My new sensei. Jenny was a genius for recommending him.
I quickly realized I had purchased the incorrect flour. Damn. I bought T45 (it said all-purpose), when I needed T65. What I thought was baking powder (levure chimique) was actually yeast (hey – I know it came in tiny packets [like yeast], but Google Translate said it was baking powder and it wouldn’t be the strangest thing I’ve encountered). He confirmed chocolate chips do not (in fact) exist outside of TINY packages for big money. But the most fascinating detail of all was where to find baking soda: the pharmacy. And not just on any shelf in the pharmacy. You have to ask a pharmacist for the bicarbonate soda at the desk and they’ll go get it from the back.
Armed with this knowledge, I set out to my first pharmacy down the block. I walked in and said, “Bonjour! Je cherche le bicarbonate de soude, s’il vous plait.” The woman looked at me very funny. Her response was, “Pour vos dents?” while motioning toward her teeth with her finger. My response, “Non, pour cuisiner.” Then I gave sort of a shoulder shrug and a smile. She disappeared and then came back and said, “We’re out.” in English. Humph.
The specialty cake store was between that pharmacy and the next one. So, I stopped in there, first. I wandered through the aisles trying to decipher what all the ingredients entailed. A gentleman approached me, “Bonjour, Madam!” We had a quick exchange and he began to speak English and directed me to the vanilla extract. “Super!” I exclaimed. Then I said, “Bicarbonate de soudre?” He looked very confused and then took me over to the baking powder, “Parfait! Merci beaucoup!” I exclaimed. Then he also directed me to the pipettes to substitute for my chocolate chips. He said, “These will be best.” My French is definitely not good, and most French begin speaking in English (if they know any) once they realize I speak English. However, I continue to respond in my limited French vocabulary with the gusto of a child in a candy store.
Now, onward to my second pharmacy in search of the baking soda. I had a similar interaction as the time before. However, there was a great deal of back and forth regarding baking soda for your teeth and for cooking. They also looked at me like I was insane for wanting to use it in cooking. After about 5 minutes, the clerk went into a back room and returned with my baking soda. “Merci beaucoup! Au revoir! Bonjourne!”
All of my ingredients, finally assembled. It only took trips to 4 stores and one Google search. Chocolate chip cookies would be in my immediate future. Also, how funny is that brown sugar packaging? What a happy cupcake.
I made the cookies this afternoon (main photo), and they turned out OK. They don’t really taste like chocolate chip cookies. They taste kinda caramel-y and sugary. Almost wafer-esq. I think I’ll have to play around with the sugar ratio and try it again.
Perfect, French chocolate chip cookie, here I come!