Sunday, 5 February 2012

A little taste of almost home

welshcakes by hallucygenia
welshcakes, a photo by hallucygenia on Flickr.

One of the things that the Chinese don’t really do is ovens. Big industrial ones, yes, but not little domestic ones for home baking. There are times when one feels the urge for a home-made cake or a quick batch of rock buns, and this is of course impossible without an oven. So, on fieldwork this summer, we invested in a copy of “Welsh Bakestone Cookery” by Bobby Freeman. Bakestones (or griddles) are a way of cooking cakes on the stovetop – perfect for our situation.

Needless to say, actually making something wasn’t quite as simple as reading the recipe book, deciding which one sounded yummiest, and doing it. For a start, most of the recipes involve baking powder, which of course isn’t available here, because no-one has an oven. This difficulty was solved by a quick trip to the supermarket on our visit to the US in October last year (which also yielded ground coffee, hot chocolate and an external hard drive for backing up all our data). I bought what is probably wheat flour in the local supermarket here in Nanjing – I can’t read the label, but it’s the right colour and isn’t made from rice (I know that character). The local supermarket also yielded the other necessary ingredients, with the exception of mixed spice (I found time to visit a supermarket in the UK over Christmas).

So, ingredients gathered, we decided to make welshcakes. This is the first recipe in the book, so presumably the simplest, and Joe has often eaten them so he knows what they’re supposed to be like. Lacking a mixing bowl or pair of scales, we used the bowl of the rice cooker and the “oh it looks about right” method. Instead of a griddle, we used the wok. Amazingly, the cakes turned out delicious, although Joe says that they’re not really Welshcakes. Obviously more practice is needed!