But subsequent visits of baking aisles at the various grocery stores made me wonder. Maybe South Africa is baking-challenged because it has put its entire baking prowess into the production of the perfect rusk, leaving no room for anything else? You’ll find an entire aisle full of these things best eaten after dunked into your tea, similar to a biscotti in concept but sadly not in actuality.
I’ve now got “chocolate chips” permanently etched on my mental shopping list, and every once in a while I’d think I finally scored. I tried the kind from Woolworth – a store I worship – but they were more like a fine dust of grated chocolate. Definitely not the same. I found a package of what looked like large flat chocolate chips at Pick n Pay one day, but they tasted so awful I actually had to throw them away. I tried chopping up chocolate – there is a lot of good chocolate to be had here, just not in morsel-format – but if you’ve ever done that you will know that you end up with more chocolate flying into all four corners of your kitchen than will end up anywhere near a cookie.
And if you think “what’s the big deal, just go and buy some cookies – uhm, biscuits – then,” you’ve got it wrong. South African cookies, let’s face it, are just not very good. That’s the plain and honest truth, sorry my friends. There are lots of foods I love here – I could go on and on just about yoghurt – but cookies are not amongst them. Every once in a while, a person needs a good chocolate chip cookie (or, frankly, just a tub full of the cookie dough) when she’s had a rough day.
What I did find one day on my quest for chocolate chips was a nice looking package of baking mix. Maybe South Africans just don’t like to bake from scratch, I thought, so I gave it a try. But it was exactly as if I was baking from scratch! I was asked to add milk, and butter, and eggs, and it seems like maybe the flour and sugar as well. It was an “Emperor’s new clothes” kind of baking mix, but it seems South Africans are quite happy to go along with it.
Last week my search for the elusive chocolate chip took a turn to the serious: Sunshine, age 9, was having a market day at school and had volunteered to provide – you guessed it – chocolate chip cookies to sell. Too bad my kids never consult me before making such rash pronouncements. What now? I already told you how our ancient hand-held Braun mixer had to come to the rescue due to our transformer going up in smoke, but I still had no chocolate chips.
This is when I remembered a friend telling me about a shop called Kadies, way early into our tenure here, when I had voiced a similar complaint. Back then I couldn’t be bothered going to five different stores every time I shopped. I guess I was still determined to bend South Africa to my will. But with your pride on the line when your daughter has volunteered your baking skills, you have to make concessions. So on to Kadies I trudged (just go straight across William Nicol if you’re coming out of Montecasino, and it will be down a bit on your right hand side next to a small Spar), and what a worthwhile visit I had!
Kadies is nothing short of amazing. They’ve got everything you could ever imagine that is in any way connected to baking. Including chocolate chips. Not just a few bags, but an entire aisle dedicated to them – dark, white, milk, 52% cocoa, 60% cocoa, small bags, big bags, gigantic bags… You name it, they had it, and I was seriously challenged making any type of decision.
It was as if all of Joburg’s chocolate chip supply was stored in this one single place.
It turns out there must be some pretty serious bakers out there to warrant such a store. So perhaps it’s not so much that South Africans don’t bake. It’s just that they love going from one specialty store to another to do their buying.
The cookies turned out great, and Market Day was a big success (with my pride intact). Here is the recipe from “How to cook everything,” one of my trusted cookbooks:
Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 sticks (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (finding the right type of brown sugar is also a bit of a challenge, but I’m sure Kadies would be the place for that as well)
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups (9 oz or 255 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla exrtract
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 375 F or 175 C
- Use an electric mixer to cream together butter and sugars; add eggs one at a time and beat until well blended
- Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and add them to the batter, stirring just until blended. Stir in vanilla and chocolate chips.
- Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheets covered with parchment (make sure you leave plenty of space around them or they will run together) and bake until lightly browned, 8-10 min. Cool 2 minutes on sheets, then transfer to rack to cool completely. Or eat them warm!