American Baking in Georgia

Posted on March 2, 2012 by

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It goes without saying that food is central to Georgian culture and life, and the gastronomy here is something that all Georgians honor and revere, while being more than willing to share it with others. Moreover, if someone arrives in Georgia and doesn’t have khatchapuri within a few hours of arriving, something is definitely wrong. Food is integral to life experiences regardless of where one lives. It undoubtedly has helped define my time in Georgia. Furthermore, it often serves as a historic marker. I can easily recall where I had my first Acharuli khatchapuri, my first American baking disaster, first glass of wine mistaken for juice, etc.

A large part of the host family aspect of TLG is cultural exchange, and what better way to exchange culture than through food? The Georgians I have met over the last 19 months are very keen on talking about food. Many find it shocking that khinkhali doesn’t exist in the United States. Also, I’ve surprised many when I say that if I were to open an artisanal bread bakery that I probably could sell shotis puri for about USD $5.00 a loaf. Sadly, most Georgians seem to think that all American cuisine has to offer can be found at McDonald’s. I try to tell them that American cuisine is much vaster than what McDonald’s has to offer, and that American cuisine includes cultural influences from around the world. Most of my offers to make American foods for my Georgian friends have sadly been turned down.

From my first day with my first host family, I was asked to make American foods for them. One of the relatives had lived in America and had developed a love for brownies and cheesecake, two of my favorites and was interested in learning about the exciting world of the smoothie. I was confident (perhaps too confident) about my overseas baking skills, honed after months of living in Israel and learning the art of using recipes with minimal ingredients. Moreover, I was also sure that having brought American measuring spoons and cups with me would also ensure success. After having to guesstimate the amount of flour, sugar, butter, etc. in Israel I wasn’t taking any chances. I carefully made my conversions to the metric system, gave the shopping list to the host family, and anxiously awaited the time to bake brownies.

Well, things did not go exactly as planned. The batter tasted perfect…then I baked them.

This was the first of several attempts at American baking failures in Georgia. It was heartbreaking for me, as back home I was known among my friends as the expert baker (the group was small and most of them were guys who would eat anything they did not have to prepare themselves) and as a child I even won baking competitions. Now, I couldn’t even make brownies. After the Super Bowl Sunday 2011 M&M Cookie Debacle I gave up baking for good while in Georgia.

After the first Brownie Baking Fiasco of 2010, a friend sent me her Apple Crisp recipe, a recipe she swore by. For over a year I avoided making it, as I did not want another dessert making adventure to end in tears. While back in the United States I attempted it as a trial run. It did get rave reviews from my dinner party guests. Only in December 2011 did I attempt it in Georgia, and for a television program on AdjaraTV no less. I would not recommend making a dish for the first time in a foreign country for TV, but miraculously it worked.

This Apple Crisp recipe has now successfully been made in 4 post-Soviet countries (Russia, the Ukraine, Georgia, and Uzbekistan).

Leanne’s Apple Crisp

  • 5 C apples (about 1 kilo)
  • 1/3 C water (75 mL)
  • ¾ C flour (175 grams)
  • 1 C sugar (225 grams)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (about half of a small spoon full)
  • ¼ tsp salt (a small pinch)
  • ¼ C butter (100 grams)

Peel and slice the apples. Place apples in baking pan. Sprinkle water over apples. If the apples are rather juicy, you won’t need as much.

Combine the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small chunks. Mix butter and dry ingredients until a crumbly mixture forms.

Spread the crumb mixture over the apples. Bake at about 350 F/180 C for 30 minutes. However, in Georgia baking times can vary widely depending on the device used (oven, woodburning stove, etc.) It will be done when the butter has melted and the top looks crispy. Ideally, serve warm. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled depending on the need.

As you begin your American baking adventures in Georgia, here are some lessons I have learned the hard way. Hopefully, your first attempts will be more successful than mine.

  • Make sure the pan you are going to use actually fits in whatever you are going to cook in.
  • Make sure that the oven in your home or apartment actually can be used for baking and is not just for storing pans.
  • Well-meaning host mothers will tell you exactly how the recipe should be prepared even when it is something they have never seen before and cannot read a recipe in English.
  • Baking times will vary widely. Don’t leave the room while baking.
  • Finding ingredients could mean several hours of work. In Tbilisi, this shouldn’t be such a problem, but even in Batumi can be tough. For those in Adjara, cinnamon can be found at the Willmart in Batumi.
  • Do not be over confident in your Georgian language abilities when shopping for items. Always bring a list in Georgian.
  • While the ingredients may have the same name, they may not be exactly like what you have at home.
  • Exercise extreme caution when using the packets of vanillin.
  • The fewer the ingredients the better the chance for success, though this isn’t true with the Betty Crocker 4 Ingredient Christmas Cookie recipe.

Happy baking…and good luck!

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Posted in: Food and Drink