baking in an austere environment
September 7, 2018 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I want to bake things, but I live in a different country and have some weird set limitations.

So I live in rural east Africa and I want to make some things! I am looking for recipes, ideas on how to adapt recipes, and specific suggestions for making icing.

Here's my big issues.
1. Ingredients: I have a very limited set of ingredients. I can bring some new items with me when I leave the country, but that's not for a while. See list below of what I have.
2. Tools: My oven is a large black enclosed circle. It has two temperatures: on or off. I have only a charcoal stove and it irritates my asthma. I do have a microwave and a kettle.
3. Eggs: One of my housemates is allergic to eggs, so I'd like most things to be without eggs.

Things I would like to bake:
- Cookies!
- Cakes!
- Uh, pies? Why not.
- Ah whatever, let me pretend I'm on GBBO.

Ingredients I can get:
Basics: Flour, sugar (granulated, natural only - no powdered sugar), yeast, baking powder, milk (UHT and powdered), yogurt (plain, more watery than Greek, not , eggs, oil, vanilla, cinnamon and some other "tea spices", ginger, peanut butter, beer (for beer bread!), oatmeal

Fresh: Orange, apple, bananas, grapes, watermelon, mango (during season), avocado

Other: Nutella-ish spread, various (way-too-sugar-y) juices, fake kit-kat like bars.

Occasionally I can get butter or margarine. I would really like to get some cocoa to bake with.

If you can give me a frosting recipe by the time my improvised orange yogurt cake cools off, I would be very grateful (as would my 10 housemates!).
posted by quadrilaterals to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Given your lack of powdered sugar (which is, as far as I can tell, sugar and cornstarch ground together in case you decide to experiment there), I would go ahead and specialize in glazes rather than frostings. For example, your lovely orange yogurt cake would take a glaze that's orange juice and sugar reduced in a pan (or probably one of those way-sweet pre-prepared juices reduced in a pan without any additions). I'll bet you can do this in a microwave with a bunch of stopping and starting and stirring (there's instructions in this Food52 post)

You might try searching for baking recipes specifically using an Aga cooker, which is similarly on/off
posted by theweasel at 7:09 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I make cobblers and crisps on the BBQ all the time. They do well without a specific baking temp, and just means you have to watch the bakes.

This recipe would also be customizable to other fruits, and I think would adapt well to your oven
posted by Ftsqg at 7:16 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Forgot to mention that I have lots of honey, and occasionally honeycomb (depending on where the bees build their nest...).
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:16 AM on September 7, 2018

Frosting is usually a fat bomb built around butter so you are going to have a challenge on that. Your two non butter topping options are a glaze (on preview theweasel has that covered) or to do something like a cream cheese icing with the yogurt, which will work much better with a Greek style yogurt.

The difference between Greek style and watery is straining; put some yogurt in a strainer lined with cloth such as a tea towel or coffee filters or if needs must a t-shirt. I think that's more of a make ahead than you want though.

When you don't have butter you are going to have a tough time in cakes and cookies and pastry is right out (can you get lard or shortening? That would put pastry back on the table), although there is olive oil cake. But tons of options in the bread world, which as a bonus often don't involve eggs.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:24 AM on September 7, 2018

1) Do you have an oven thermometer? Knowing the "on" temperature will make it easier to target recipes that use that temperature, or adjust baking times up or down.

2) If you have something you can grind with, you can make powdered sugar from granulated sugar. It's obviously easier in a blender, but a mortar and pestle would get it powdery enough to have a good consistency for frosting!

3) You can try to make a sourdough starter, then maintain and have delicious, rustic, sourdough bread! Just make sure you add a tray of water to the oven when you put the bread in and you're golden. If I can find my favorite rustic bread recipe I'll post later, but this NYT one is ok - I mix in or top with spices to add pizzazz: NYT recipe.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:28 AM on September 7, 2018

Anzac biscuits are delicious and don't call for eggs. You could sub out the syrup for honey.

Biscuits, with fruit and yogurt make a great shortcake treat.
posted by jennstra at 7:30 AM on September 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does the oven hold it's heat after its fully hot and turned off?
If so, i would experiment baking small sized pieces with the residual heat. Start with 10 or 15 minutes, taste it, bake another minute....keep tasting a piece until the timing is right. Also, try putting a cup of water in as you bake

Can you boil water and sugar, making a thick simple syrup to add vanilla, milk and the Nutella like paste for a chocolate frosting.
posted by jennstra at 7:41 AM on September 7, 2018

You could do a lot with bread baking. Raised donuts are something on my learn-to-make list, and could be fun. For quick breads, yogurt and/or well-mashed-up apple sauce and/or mashed ripe banana are decent subs for eggs.

Are there any other solid-at-room-temp fats you have access to? Coconut oil, shortening, lard? For a lot of bread stuff I imagine that they'd be decent substitutes, and they'd be valuable for pie crusts, too, maybe even frosting.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:54 AM on September 7, 2018

Best answer: You want to search Google on terms like "Depression cake" or "war cake" or sometimes "wacky cake" - there are a huge number of recipes that were developed during WWII to comply with rationing. Also "rationing cookies". I actually baked the one listed in the wikipedia article last year, and it came out great.

I also wonder if you can get lard or canned shortening. Your mention of honey brought to mind these WWII era "honey biscuits".

You can try making butter (basically put it in a jar and shake for a long long time) from the milk you can get. If you can get full fat milk, it will work best. Making butter is extremely easy, if your milk will cooperate.
posted by anastasiav at 8:02 AM on September 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Classic seven-minute frosting doesn't require powdered sugar or butter, but it does use egg whites.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:16 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

You should be able to get fresh cocoa pods when they're in season. They grow in the same climate as mangos. Ask whoever you buy it from what to do with it. Definitely not cocoa powder, but definitely cocoa!
posted by aniola at 8:44 AM on September 7, 2018

Best answer: If you can get some cocoa, my favorite chocolate cake recipe uses oil instead of butter.

It does call for eggs, but there are lots of possible substitutes. I don't love PETA, but their guide lists a lot of options. If one thing you try doesn't work well, try something else. This is something that can take a lot of experimentation.
posted by FencingGal at 8:53 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How is your internet? I can send you an electronic version of the cookbook we received in Togo as Peace Corps Volunteers. It includes lots of substitutions for when you don’t have eggs or other items. Everything that I made in it (brownies, LOTS of banana bread, pound cake) was in a Dutch oven over a charcoal cookstove and was essentially “on” or “off.” I know cooking is treated as a science by a lot of people (I used to be like that!) but I found that thinking made me avoid trying because I thought that it would definitely fail.

I would try pies as you can make cookie crusts or crusts from margarine and flour and the filling often doesn’t need egg either.

Also try reaching out to whatever country/nearby country’s Facebook group for Peace corps volunteers and they might be able to help you out with a cookbook with regional variations/substitutions
posted by raccoon409 at 9:05 AM on September 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Do you have a food processor or grinder? Bake your sugar dry, then pulse into powdered sugar. A bit of corn starch helps keep it from turning into a rock, but is not required and just make as much as you need. Or make a cooked frosting.

Can you get or make a solar oven? They work, as do Dutch Ovens.

Lard or coconut fat or any solid fat can be used to make pastry. I just saw a GBBO on the most recent Netflix season that used suet, a specific animal fat. They like old-fashioned recipes, which often use very basic ingredients.

Pancakes are literally cakes baked in a pan over heat. You can make them with yeast or baking powder (or eggs), and there's a lot of opportunity for creativity. Also, immediate gratification.

Bread is incredibly versatile, and adapts well to sweet recipes. Make dough, after the 1st rise, form it into balls. Make a buttery, sugary mix with cinnamon or chocolate (Nutella would be good) and coat all of it. Let it rise again, bake. Pull apart sweet bread. Or roll out the dough, slather with the same mix, roll, slice, bake. Cinnamon rolls.
posted by theora55 at 9:15 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can make powdered sugar but putting regular sugar in a blender
posted by fshgrl at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Custard pies with a crumb crust? That is, if you can get graham crackers or similar for pie crust (that also needs butter, but maybe could be faked with oil? Coconut oil might be available?) then that opens up, e.g., lemon meringue pie. If you can get cornstarch. Likewise banana cream pie?
posted by LizardBreath at 10:16 AM on September 7, 2018

Sorry, I forgot the minimizing eggs part of it.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:20 AM on September 7, 2018

Best answer: My go to quick bake cake without eggs (or milk!) is this one:

1 1/2 Cups flour (all-purpose)
3 Tbsp. cocoa (unsweetened)
1 Cup sugar (All purpose sugar – Granulated Pure Cane Sugar)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Cup water

(on this website- scroll scroll scroll to get to the recipe:
To make it without cocoa, swap it out with 3 tbs of flour, and add flavour.
posted by freethefeet at 8:33 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Damper is a standard Australian bread made in cast-iron ovens on campfires, without eggs. 2 cups flour, a pinch of salt, and just enough water to pull it together into a ball of dough.

This recipe uses self-raising flour, but I've made it with plain flour plus a teaspoon of bicarb, plus once with gluten-free flour by mistake, and it was fine. It's meant to be a flexible, make-do-with-less kind of recipe so it might be fun to try with any type of flour you can get that doesn't fit your other recipes.

The linked recipe has suggestions for things to add to it, like dried fruit or spices. I like to eat it with butter and honey but it's also good for mopping up stews or soups. It must be eaten fresh though, it turns into stone by the next day!

Thirding the mention of glazes - they're more flexible than icing and also helpful on a cake or cookie that turned out a bit drier than you wanted. And delicious!

I've made powdered sugar by blending it - the cornflour in some brands is to help it stay loose in storage in moist conditions, but if you're only making as much as you need for one recipe that won't be a problem. I think you could probably grind sugar with a pestle & mortar too if you wanted although I haven't tried that myself.
posted by harriet vane at 6:51 AM on September 8, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas! I’m looking forward to baking my way through.

I can say that I was definitely unable to make powdered sugar by hand...tried very hard with the end of a rolling pin and a cup to no avail. Maybe it’s me! But we found butter this week, so I’m about to go make something nice.
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2018

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