Chocolate chip cookies are one of my favorite things in the world. I’m not talking about the strange, hard biscuit-like things called cookies here, but the real homemade American kind that my grandma and mom make. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Turkish desserts (Sutlu Nuriye is my new favorite), but when it comes to cakes, cookies, and pies I prefer the American kind hands down and I am pretty sure I am not the only one.
When my roommate brought home an oven one day, I didn’t wait long before testing it out with a simple Nutella cupcake recipe. It took a few tries to get the ratio of Nutella to flour right since I didn’t have any measuring cups, but soon enough I had it figured out and jars of Nutella kept appearing out of nowhere (a not so subtle sign for me to make another batch?). However, when it came to cookies, I knew I couldn’t wing the measurements. I would have to invest in some proper baking utensils and so the search began.
Do measuring cups exist in Istanbul?
I was a bit shocked to find that baking utensils were not easy to come by. Measuring cups and spoons? It seemed like no one had heard of such a thing. I looked at the baking aisle in Pasabahce and all the high-end cooking stores from Besiktas to Levent, but either the stores didn’t have them or they didn’t know what I was talking about. Thanks to the always helpful Facebook group, Cook’s Corner for Expats in Turkey, I was advised to go to Eminonu for baking supplies. I dragged Gurkan there one cold Friday night, and after going from store to store we were just about ready to give up when I asked Gurkan to take his phone and show a picture of a measuring cup to the shop owner. Although reluctant, he did, the man looked rather confused at first, but then told us there was one store (Nuans) further down in the bazaar that might have measuring cups. After rounding a few corners, we finally found the store he was talking about and sure enough they had measuring cups and spoons, and not just any kind, but the heavy-duty kind used by professional baking chefs. Although a bit surprised by the price, I scooped them up, Gurkan bargained for a few liras off the total price, and we headed home. Mission complete, or so I thought.
Chocolate chips? Nope, it’s chocolate chunk when in Turkey.
The next challenge was finding the ingredients. We were lucky enough to find all the basic ingredients at our neighborhood grocery store (only after a long discussion about what the word for baking soda is in Turkish), but I knew we’d have to make a trip to Macro Center for the rest (brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla extract). Since I had been told that if you want the taste of real chocolate, you should use a block of chocolate rather than the chips found in the stores here, we were on the lookout for bittersweet baking chocolate. At the neighborhood grocery stores, people kept pointing us in the direction of the candy bar aisle, same too at Macro Center, but at least, they had something akin to what I was looking for. Vanilla extract also proved to be a challenge as we could only find butter-vanilla extract, something I had never seen before (and seriously do cookies need any more butter?), but since it was the only option into the cart it went.
Is that a microwave oven? No, mom, it’s just a Turkish oven.
The last and final challenge was actually preparing the cookies. Mixing the ingredients wasn’t too difficult, but it was a good thing I had a helper since we didn’t have an electronic beater. Baking the cookies in the oven, however, was the ultimate challenge. No matter what I tried the cookies got burnt on the bottom well before they were done inside. The cookies in the back also baked much much faster than those in the front. I had heard that it’s helpful to turn on the fan to evenly disburse the heat in the Turkish-style ovens, but we didn’t have that setting. After several sheets of ill-looking mismatched cookies, I figured out the ideal baking equation. Bake at 150 (175 max) on the very top shelf and flip the sheet half-way through in order to get all cookies baking at the same rate.
After all was said and done, these were the most time-consuming cookies I’ve ever made. I think I will stick to Turkish recipes from now on since the ingredients are readily available and the baking instructions are suited to these counter-top Turkish ovens. Ayva tatlisi, anyone?