An Egyptian (Baking) Experience

Jane Bartman, '14, participated in the Cairo: Middle Eastern Civilizations program. She shares with us an excerpt from her blog titled, "Cairo Baking."

We have no measuring cups.

Our oven does not list any temperatures. (We guesstimate its heat by heating the toaster oven, which does have labeled temperatures, and feeling the air in front of one and then the other to see if they're about the same, clearly the most foolproof of systems. Let it never be said that UChicago students are not ingenious.) 

Vanilla appears only in powder form (with sugar!), chocolate chips are not readily available in supermarkets and cost about twice what they do in the US, and in lieu of pumpkin puree in a can, students left the supermarket triumphantly bearing a 10-lb pumpkin (at a cost of less than three dollars), which they proceeded to then roast and puree by hand. (We also do not have any implements that aid in the processes of blending, grinding, beating, whipping, or pureeing.)

In the face of such adversity, many might quit, might bow to the economic reality that in Egypt it can often be cheaper to order in or eat out on a daily basis than to make your own food at home. We bravely soldier on.

Today I made gingerbread, a lighter response to the tub of ice cream, homemade chocolate sauce (thanks Colin!), homemade whipped cream (Erin's initiative, with valiant team whipping efforts), and massive quantities of bananas and strawberries that we consumed last night. This, in turn, followed up two separate pumpkin pancake evenings (there was a lot of pumpkin puree; it also served for my pumpkin scones, Erin's pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and Lee's pumpkin ravioli) as well as a Colin vs. Cullen Family Pancake Recipe Competition and, later, the inaugural Colin and Cullen Combine Their Family Recipes for Maximum Success Pancake Party.

Sometimes, you just need to have that taste of home. Or just the joy of baking. And cooking! While not nearly as rewarding, sugar-wise, we have done our fair share of savories as well. Especially in a kitchen such as ours, which is about ten square feet, making food really brings Apartment 3 together.

As does eating it.

We also gain some extra joy/ pride in our abilities/ handy excuses for less-than-tasty attempts from our lack of legitimate cooking gear and measuring tools. All things considered, the number of successes that we have had is pretty incredible.

And perhaps the most important lesson of all, courtesy of Egypt: when a baked good doesn't turn out great, the remedy is always a healthy coating of Nutella on top (or one of the infinite varieties of Nutella available at every supermarket here. Seriously though. There is a whole Nutella/ Nutella derivative section in every. Single. One. Of. Them.)

Happy baking, Cairo!

Text and photos submitted by Jane Bartman, '14.

Cairo, food