When we first arrived in France, my kids embraced French cuisine with gusto. I was delighted at all they were willing to try. They tasted escargot, coq-au-vin, mousse de canard. Some they even liked! (Massive amounts of butter and garlic can make almost anything palatable.)
But, after a few months, they were craving a bit of Americana—a literal taste of home. So, we settled on baking a family favorite: chocolate chip cookies. It seemed easy enough, after all, in the U.S., we had baked chocolate chip cookies dozens of times. A lovely hour of family baking time followed by deliciously warm, gooey, chocolately cookies.
My first indication that this was not going to be the easy, fun family activity I was imagining came at the grocery store. A quick sweep of the store rendered my basket half empty. Eggs, salt, butter, sugar – check, check, check, and check. But I stood immobilized in the flour section, pondering the several different types. Which one was all-purpose flour? And what is this numbering system…45, 55? And where on earth are the chocolate chips? The brown sugar? What do they call baking soda here?
After two more fruitless tours of the grocery store, I purchased the items in my cart and decided to return later. Back at home, I spent 30 minutes conducting online baking research. I needed number 55 flour, the French equivalent for brown sugar is called Vergeoise, and while chocolate chips did exist, they tended to come in small bags and were crazy expensive. The recommendation was to chop up chocolate bars to create your own artisanal “chocolate chunks.”
Armed with this new information, I went back to the store and was able to finish getting the remainder of the ingredients. But back at home, I was confronted with a new challenge: conversions. How many grams are in a cup? How many grams in an ounce? What’s 350 degrees Fahrenheit on a Celsius oven? More online researching while my children waited patiently. Just kidding…they really were not at all patient.
Back to the baking bowl and we were a whir of activity. Alas, I had no electric mixer, so we had to cream the butter into the sugar using a fork. My children thought this was super fun for roughly 30 seconds before this tiring exercise became solely my responsibility. Chopping up the chocolate bars was also solely my responsibility. Adding to the “fun” was trying to avoid chopping up the little fingers that kept reaching to steal the bits of chocolate.
Ah! Now to baking. Eagerly anticipating the wonderful smell of baking cookies filling my home, I tried to put my cookie sheet in the oven. I say “try” because the darn thing wouldn’t fit. All of my American-sized cookie sheets were too wide for my French-sized oven. “[CENSORED],” I whisper-yelled to myself. Back to the store…
Furnished with a new, smaller cookie sheet, I was ready to go. While this new cookie sheet fit my oven perfectly, it could only fit six cookies at a time. And I only had one. So, I had to bake three dozen cookies, six at a time. It was going to be a long night.
I finally wrapped up the whole process at about midnight, hours after my children had gone to bed. Alone, exhausted, in a completely dark and silent house, I tasted my first France-made American-style chocolate chip cookie.
It was delicious.
American Chocolate Chip Cookies Designed for the French Kitchen
I used the Martha Stewart recipe. You can find the original here.
- 285 g (1 ¼ c.) beurre, room temperature (butter)
- 250 g chocolat noir, chopped (dark chocolate)
- 250 g chocolat lait, chopped (milk chocolate)
- 450 g (3 ½ c.) farine de blé type 55 (flour)
- 6 g (1 ¼ t.) levure chimique (baking powder)
- 6 g (1 ¼ t.) bicarbonate de soude (baking soda)
- 12 g (2 t.) sel (salt)
- 200 g (1 c.) sucre en poudre (granulated sugar)
- 330 g (1 ½ c.) vergeoise blonde (light brown sugar)
- 6 g (1 ½ t.) arôme vanille (vanilla extract)
- 2 œufs (eggs)
- 1 bottle of Provence rosé (wine)
- Set out your butter to reach room temperature. Check your cookie sheet. Does it fit in your oven? Do you have more than one? If you said “yes” to both, congratulations! You’re already ahead of the game! Have a glass of rosé to celebrate while you wait for the butter to soften.
- Chop up the chocolate bars. Little bits of chocolate will shoot everywhere and when you accidently touch the bits, they will stick to your hand and melt. Avoid wearing white. Have another glass of rosé as you ask yourself why you didn’t shell out the extra money for those tiny bags of chocolate chips.
- In a bowl, combine and whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high until light and fluffy, 6 minutes. If you haven’t had the time to buy an electric mixer because the expat life means having to rebuy everything that has a plug, then you can also do this using a fork. It will take far longer than six minutes, so fortify yourself with another glass of rosé. Your children will not be interested in helping you with this task.
- Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Again, you can do all this using a fork. You will begin to question everything in your life. Your children, sensing your distress, will offer to help. They will make an unholy mess. You may have another glass of rosé.
- Mix in flour mixture just until incorporated; fold in your chopped chocolate.
- Using a large spoon, form balls and drop dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Laugh to yourself that Martha Stewart is so naïve to think you would have parchment somewhere in your house. You have no idea where you would even find parchment paper at the store—for goodness sake, it took you 20 minutes to find the fricking baking soda.
- Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Your children will hate this step. They will be livid. You pour yourself some more rosé.
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Bake until edges are light golden brown, 17 to 18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and try not to eat them until they’re cool. Ha, ha, just kidding! Dive into those suckers right now, even if it means burning your fingers and tongue. You’ve earned every delicious bite.
4 thoughts on “Adventures in Food: American Baking in a French Kitchen”
Too funny! Had to laugh at “Don’t wear white.” Would love to see some pictures!
Steve and I laughed until we cried. Enjoyed several glasses of wine while reading your entertaining blog. Can’t wait for the next installment.
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