10 Types of Flour

Recently, I decided I couldn’t resist the urge to bake any longer and wanted to give it a go. I grew so accustomed to having all the basic ingredients and materials I needed that when I had to start completely over here, I was a bit overwhelmed. While in my apartment we have pots, pans, utensils, plates, etc. we didn’t have anything for baking (besides an oven). So, I made a trip to IKEA and bought some essentials while facing the fact that getting used to metric, a system I usually love, is going to be difficult for baking.

Once I had the materials, I needed the ingredients. I decided to make banana bread knowing it’s a fairly simple recipe with relatively few ingredients, and I just happened to have two very ripe bananas. All right so I need the usual… flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking soda, baking powder, salt, milk, vanilla extract, and of course the bananas. Seems straight forward, right? Well it’s almost embarrassing how long it took me to find all the right ingredients (and some were never found). Sugar? Easy. Butter? Easy. Eggs, salt, milk, bananas? Easy. The rest… not so easy. Baking soda is fairly common. I just had to remind myself that it can be used for cleaning and thus is sometimes in that aisle not the baking aisle. Well speaking of a baking aisle, it’s basically nonexistent which is quite disappointing. Baking doesn’t seem as big of a thing here. Baking powder took several trips to different stores to find. As for flour, stores certainly weren’t lacking in it. In fact my problem was WHICH flour to buy. All-purpose flour usually covers it for me, but it doesn’t seem to exist here. Instead we have… harina de fuerza, de trigo, de repostería, de maíz… it goes on and on. So thank god for cellular data because I spent about 10 minutes looking up all these types of flours. In the end I chose harina de trigo (wheat flour) as other similar recipes seemed to use this. And finally, vanilla extract. After trying three different stores, I gave up for now. I decided as much as I love vanilla extract, it wasn’t as vital as say flour.

After an exhausting grocery trip, I was almost unmotivated to even start baking. But I had to tell myself the hardest part was over and get in the zone. I also usually use a mixer for most recipes so that my arm doesn’t fall off, but I’m not exactly ready to dish out the money for that. So with some elbow grease, I finished making the batter, popped it in the oven, and an hour later it turned out great! I asked my roommate if she wanted to try it. She’d never had it before and while it’s called “banana bread” in English, it’s not “pan de plátano” in Spanish. Here the term “bizcocho” is used all the time to describe something that is kind of like a cake but without any frosting or icing. So banana bread would be a good example of this. Bizcocho can be any flavor too: chocolate, vanilla, lemon, etc. A loose translation would be “sponge cake.”

The finished product. Tasted just like when I make it at home! I'd say it was a good first attempt at baking here.

The finished product. Tasted just like when I make it at home! I’d say it was a good first attempt at baking here.

The cheapest loaf pan at IKEA happened to be the cutest. It prints this design on the bottom which although you don't really see it, I appreciate it. It's also a silicon loaf pan which typically I don't like, but it works great!

The cheapest loaf pan at IKEA happened to be the cutest. It prints this design on the bottom which although you don’t really see it, I appreciate it. It’s also a silicon loaf pan which typically I don’t like, but it works great!

After banana bread, my next baking attempt was brownies! My roommate mentioned that brownies are her favorite dessert, so I thought I would give it a shot. Time for a confession: I rarely make homemade brownies and instead rely on a Ghirardelli mix, but it’s so good so why mess with perfection?! Well obviously those mixes don’t exist here (and neither does Ghirardelli chocolate *tear*), so it was time to find a new homemade brownie recipe. Now it was pretty difficult to find all the ingredients for these. Brown sugar isn’t the same here. It doesn’t pack and is more like sugar in the raw, so it’s not exactly a good substitute for the light, sticky, molasses-y brown sugar we’re used to. Instead I used only white sugar. As for the chocolate, I chose a brand that looked decent and wasn’t super cheap. Chocolate chips are difficult to find, and even if you do, it’s about 4 for a very tiny bag. And cocoa powder does not seem to exist. At this point, I still hadn’t found vanilla extract, so that was left out too. With all these missing ingredients, I was a little nervous about how they would turn out. In the end, everyone loved them, and I was sufficiently satisfied. Sorry no picture! They were eaten up pretty fast.

Next up was some cooking! It’s getting chillier here, so I decided to make some soup. I’m not actually a big soup eater but chicken tortilla soup is one of my favorites. It’s a good way to get protein and veggies all in one! I had the most trouble finding black beans. The only canned beans I could find were some beans and other veggies canned together as some sort of Venezuelan dish. The soup just isn’t the same without beans, so I checked the ingredients on the back of the can and thought it would just fine. I didn’t have any jalapenos, so I bought what looked to be a spicy pepper. Ended up being sweet, but I threw it in the pot anyway. I think everything else was findable, and once I had it all, it was simply a matter of cooking some chicken and throwing everything in a pot. After eating this for several days, I was bit a soup-ed out. But I’m sure it will make a reappearance. I also made some beer bread to go along with it. Beer bread is a super simple quick bread and while it turned out all right, I think I may have mis-measured something (maybe the baking powder?) since I was converting to metric. It just didn’t seem as light as when I’ve made it before. Or maybe I should have used a different type of flour. I’ll need to make a chart to keep them straight.

A fairly close re-creation of the original recipe. I had leftovers for days.

A fairly close re-creation of the original recipe. I had leftovers for days.

Beer bread was a good addition to this fall soup.

Beer bread was a good addition to this fall soup.

After some Mexican soup, Chinese food sounded amazing, so I thought it was time to take matters into my own hands and make orange chicken. I’ve never actually made it before, so I spent a decent amount of time looking for a reliable recipe. Once again, I had to amp myself up to go on the scavenger hunt that is grocery shopping in Spain. I tried a different store this time. It’s actually a department store called El Corte Inglés. So it feels like a Macy’s or Nordstroms with its perfume section but then shoved in there is a grocery store. It feels like a fancy grocery store, but I was surprised to find that some of the prices were cheaper than the other store I frequent. I successfully found all the ingredients for my orange chicken (well substituting apple cider vinegar for rice vinegar), but I was pretty pleased with myself even if I had to pay a bit more for some dried cayenne peppers. This definitely hit the spot, though next time I think I’ll splurge and buy the more expensive orange juice since the one I bought tasted pretty artificial (most of the juice does).

Here it is! I would definitely recommend this recipe.

Here it is! I would definitely recommend this recipe.

Finally, my most recent creation was some chocolate chip cookies. Out of all my recent creations, this one was probably the least successful. It wasn’t a failure or anything, just not like I expected. I’m certain it’s because of the sugars I used. So remember how I mentioned that brown sugar isn’t quite the same here? I made a good choice and replaced it with white sugar for the brownies. Well for the cookies, the author of this recipe stressed the importance of using brown sugar. I gave it a shot even though in the back of my mind I knew it wouldn’t turn out the same with this “fake” brown sugar. The dough formed just fine and the cookies baked as usual, the flavor was just a bit off. But who knows, maybe to a Spaniard who is used to this brown sugar they taste great! They kind of grew on me after a while, and I’m sure someone who never bakes would think they are great. I’ve just made better chocolate chip cookies before. It kind of tasted like a mix between a sugar cookie and a chocolate chip cookie since the “brown sugar” wasn’t fine enough, and there were some sugar crystal chunks. The good news is that I finally found vanilla extract!

So there’s my attempt at bringing a little home here, and with these successes, I’m getting more confident and experimental each week (even if I spend an exorbitant amount of time searching for ingredients and converting everything to metric). My roommate always calls me “la buena cocinera” (the good cook), and as any chef or aspiring chef knows, we’re always harder on our own cooking than those eating it. Unless you’re cooking for Gordon Ramsay.

Here are my observations of Spanish cooking:

1) Oil is god. Oil goes on EVERYTHING. A salad is considered lettuce with oil and salt on it. I’m certain that within every kitchen in Spain you will find a huge supply of oil. A good part of the grocery store is dedicated to oil (more than baking is…). I do like olive oil a lot but sometimes things are drowning in it.

2) When in doubt, fry it. A lot of food is fried. Fried food can be great. Croquetas, breadcrumbed fried food rolls of usually cheese and/or ham, make a good snack. After a while though, I can only stand so much fried food. There is no shortage of Spanish tapa restaurants in Madrid, but they usually serve the same food. There isn’t as much variety in food as there is in the U.S. But true Madrileños seem content with this. For me, I really miss having Mexican one night, Italian the next, then Chinese. In general, I only eat out maybe once or twice a week both to save money but also to add some variety to my eating habits.

3) No spiciness here. No food will be too hot even for the wimpiest of eaters. I struggled to find hot chili peppers so that shows you that spiciness isn’t really a priority when cooking here. I’m by no means a spicy food addict, but it’s a nice addition every once in a while.

4) Where’s the flavor? Emeril would be pretty disappointed that they’re not kicking it up a notch here. There aren’t many strong flavors. Granted, I don’t eat every type of typical Spanish food so I could be missing out on things, but I felt my food back home was more flavorful (though I also have a mom who is a very good cook). I’ve noticed this a lot with desserts (hmm… which came first the bad baking or the bad baking aisle?). Many of the chocolate cakes (bizcochos) are not very chocolatey. But I’ve always been a stickler about dessert since I almost always make my own.

5) Tuna, olives, ham, cheese, and bread rule the table. Okay, I’m all about the bread and cheese. If you know me well enough, you know I can basically live off bread. As a previous post alluded, I abhor tuna. So I try to avoid that as much as possible. Maybe by the end of my time here olives and ham will grow on me.

If you want, please share any of your simple, go-to recipes with me! I’m coming to terms with the fact that some ingredients just don’t exist here (or if they do they are outrageously expensive), so I’m slowly accumulating recipes so I can eat fairly healthily and cheaply throughout the week.


13 thoughts on “10 Types of Flour

  1. Prima Peeps says:

    I’ve found that making pancakes sometimes satisfies my primal urge “to cook.” And since it appears you are now the proud owner of both an opened bag of flour and an opened can of baking powder, this might be right up your alley. This is my Grandma Sudholt’s recipe and it can be easily doubled or tripled:

    1 cup flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    ½ tsp salt

    1 cup milk
    1 egg
    ½ tsp vanilla – if you ever find it

    3 T veg oil or melted butter

    Mix the dry stuff together. Mix the wet stuff together. Add wet to dry. Then add the oil or melted butter last.

    Fry ’em up.

    I don’t know if you have an electric mixer or even a whisk, but you can separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff and make them super fluffy.

    Now whether you can find anything that resembles maple syrup in Spain, I have no idea. Maybe you could make your own out of fruit preserves or jam or something like that. Just ask yourself, WWMD? (What would Martha Do)

    Party on!


  2. Dad says:

    Great, now I’m hungry.


  3. Susan Finley says:

    Lauren, I’m really enjoying your blog. For brown sugar you can substitute 1 cup of white sugar and 1/4 cup of molasses and reduce the other liquids by 1/4 cup. It won’t be quite the same but it will give you the color and texture you are missing.
    Aunt Sue


    • Prima Peeps says:

      Lauren can’t have no ‘mo lasses! She aint had her lasses yet! Bwahaha! Seriously, if she can’t find vanilla, i dunno how she’s gonna find molasses???


  4. Joe H. Sowders says:

    Hi Lauren,
    The things I enjoyed in my world travels were the cultural differences from ours. My first encounter was Tokyo Japan in 1953. The sight, smells and stores were very interesting. And…the things they eat. It seems they would eat the botton out of a bird cage and lick the pan. In Korea they ate Cats and Dogs when ever they could find them. Sigmund Rie, The PM of Korea got the bright idea that he could solve the Rat problem in Seoul. He imported thousands of house cats thinking they would kill the rats. Well, the Koreans ate the cats as fast as they could catch them. The Rats are still there!

    My travels through the UK, France, Germany were the most interesting and the different food and beers were the highlight of the tripping around. But the biggest shock was the cost of everything…40 to 60 % higher that the good ‘Ol USA. With the EU now it is even worst as that screwed up many things.

    Glad to hear you are making do under the circumstances with the lack of availability of things we have here. It will make you enjoy things even more when you get back home. I could tell you a lot of stories of how we improvised in Korea as we were always hungry and we gathered up the ingredients to make a Pizza. I won’t bore you with the details but we enjoyed it even though it was 4″ thick.

    Take care of my Pretty Girl!

    Papa Joe

    Keep the posts coming as we all enjoy them very much.


  5. Lynn says:

    Another delightful and very interesting entry! Guess you won’t get to make any of those fabulous espresso chocolate cookies this year–I’ll make them in your honor.

    The pancake recipe sounds good, and if it turns out you can’t find maple syrup, pancakes with jelly are really pretty good. As I recall, I preferred something with a bit of tartness, like blackberry perhaps. Guess you’ll find out what kinds of jellies and jams they have in Spain. Interesting how we assume the foodstuffs we consider just basics would be available everywhere, but aren’t. I remember when we had a French student for the summer, he absolutely fell in love with our peanut butter–couldn’t get enough of it, and packed as many jars in his bags as he could fit. He also took home chocolate chips because they had nothing like it in France. But he was frustrated here with difficulties finding what he needed to make pan au choclat for us. The flour wasn’t quite right and the chocolate offerings were wrong also. He, like you, soldiered on, and though he wasn’t happy with the results, we thought they were really good! Sounds as if the same thing is happening with your cooking efforts. Maybe your roommate can share some Spanish recipes with you.

    If I had an idea about what kinds of recipes you’re looking for, I might be able to help you some.

    Love your adventurous spirit!



  6. John The Father says:

    Cats and Rats
    I do not recommend eating cats. They are stringy and tough. This is based upon my experience many years ago before the crock-pot. On the other hand the rat’s tail is quite good when deep fried in lard. It tastes like hog nuggets.

    When I was young I would to go into the big sewers to hunt rats. At that time rats were an endangered species and you had to have a Rat Hunting Tag from the Conservation Department. Similar to a Deer Tag today. You could bag 5 rats per day, but each one had to weigh more than 5 pounds. If a rat had a long tail I overlooked the weight limit. I would just cut off the tail and throw the rest away. It sounds wasteful, but the other rats did not seem to mind.

    I hope this helps everyone to understand what we are talking about.


  7. Cindy Himmelberg says:

    Lauren, I’m glad to see you are being so adverturous with your cooking! It also sounds like you’re getting a reputation! “la buena cocinera”! Many compliments to your mom, as well 🙂


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