Levure chimique

by jemma margaret

It’s a well known story that Paris cafés generally serve bad coffee.  Like any good French rule (and unlike good mathematics) there are numerous exceptions. Every arrondissement has one or several cafés boasting brews as good as anything in Italy (or Brew-kleen, as they say).

Since I begin the day with a café au piston, and since I exhausted my American imported supply a long time ago, I make my trek to recommended locales where I fork over large sums of money to taste things like apples and milk chocolate at breakfast-time (the apple part is redundant since I almost always eat a real one first thing in the morning).

Just between you and I though, it’s a complete sham. I drown my coffee in warm milk and merrily enjoy the stuff they serve at conferences (which judging by the looks of the pastries, is absolutely the bottom of the barrel).

But though I could probably be satisfied with instant granules and though I finish my day with dangerously cheap wine, I do not lack taste all together. Which brings me to baking powder.

Many grocery stores in France (and perhaps Europe in general?) do not stock baking soda. This is (my theory) why the chewiness of American cookies makes them so American. Baking powder, on the other hand, is readily available and often packaged like yeast in small envelopes. I bought a packet of 10 shortly after moving here to make cake. The cake tasted slightly off, and I thought perhaps I had misjudged the recipe (since there aren’t teaspoons and tablespoons in the precise sense around here). However, last night’s pancake disaster confirmed that actually, no, this baking powder is noxious.

How noxious?

Well! After spending what felt like eternity flipping very small pancakes (the batter was like division dumplings) to eat with my boullabaisish soup for dinner over the next few nights, this morning I decided to throw them out. (I never throw food away. Honestly, I have slogged through terrible dishes of soggy sautéed radish greens because they are “edible”. On a similar note, I only just yesterday finally replaced the laundry detergent that I detested but was determined to use up.) Having wrestled a lot with this decision, I will spare you the details of the heaps of self-justification provided with before tossing the lot. Afterward, though, I knew I had made the right decision since the tupperware they had formerly occupied smelled like a chemistry lab.

I must note though, parenthetically, that the last chemistry class that I took was in high school where we made ice cream and peanut brittle (and I have a scar to prove it).