Monday, December 12, 2011

Baking in Prague - a devilish game of hide & seek

As you can tell by the sticker posted on the right, I took part in the #fbcookieswap, albeit a slightly revamped version. As Prague is roughly the size of a postage stamp (and getting said postage stamp from the terribly frightening Česká pošta sends most expats into a state of panic), those of us participating decided it would be much easier, and much more enjoyable, to meet up in person and swap cookies face to face.

I love to cook and bake. Absolutely love it. However, cooking for others scares the crap out of me, despite approximately a billion girls night dinners and thanksgivings and holiday bakings and whatnot. I start to get incredibly paranoid, thinking to myself "What if I accidentally make people ill?" or "What if my palate is completely off and what I think tastes amazing actually tastes like dirt?" Weeks of preparation commences (though nothing quite like the Thanksgiving of '08, in which I was glued to FoodNetwork for a month in advance, scribbling down notes on the best way to brine a bird, and weighing the pros and cons of to stuff or not to stuff. Exhausting.), but nothing can really prepare you for baking in Prague.

There are two major setbacks when attempting a culinary masterpiece here. The first is that it is nearly impossible to find all of the ingredients listed in your US/UK recipe. Vanilla extract took weeks of hunting around, only to find it (insanely overpriced) in Marks and Spencers. Baking soda and baking power took hours of staring at the baking section shelf at Billa, Google translated list in hand, wondering if it was just close enough to be okay. Molasses is only available at the health food stores. Forget shortening altogether. Thus, one must go through about 10 different recipes before finding one where all of the ingredients can be sourced. And by all here, I really mean most of them. Get at close as possible. The second setback is that while your recipe is written in cups and teaspoons and whatnot, all of your measuring cups are in metric. As is the temperature on your oven. Thus, any cooking turns into a fun little math problem, and results in me guestimating how much butter 128g is out of a hunk of butter that weights in at 250g. 

Recipes in hand and having sourced (most) of the ingredients, I set out to bake up a storm. Christmas music on, hot chocolate nearby, and go. I had it in my mind that I was going to make my great-grandmother's molasses cookies, though no one could find a copy to send me so I went to the internet and tried to find one as close as possible. This is what I came up with - Molasses Cookies (allllmost like Grandma Tyler's):


  • 3/4 cup margarine, melted - have a feeling this is why they are so flat
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves - couldn't find these, so left 'em out (didn't seem to make too much of a difference)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup white sugar


  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted margarine, 1 cup sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger; blend into the molasses mixture. Cover, and chill dough for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Roll dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining white sugar. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until tops are cracked. Cool on wire racks.

Safe to say that my fears of things tasting delicious to me but disgusting to others was offput by the fact that we managed to eat all five dozen cookies that I made in about four days. I also made Paula Deen's Gooey Chocolate Cookies as a back up plan (figured one I would probably mess up, but two recipes means my odds are slightly better).

I set off to the gorgeous apartment of Sarah Lambersky to swap cookies with the other Prague Bloggers taking part. It was an absolutely lovely afternoon - it was great to meet new people and get their take on what it's like being an expat here - all of them have great advice on what to do and where to go, and were all terribly nice. Had a fantastic time. Be sure to czech out their blogs, as they are all great resources about living in Prague: Out of the EventCzeching In and Petsky in Praha. And luckily for everyone involved, Sarah is a much better photographer than I am, and took some nice shots of the goodies:

Happy Holidays!
Paula Deen's Gooey Chocolate Cookies


  1. It's not that the ingredients you've listed are impossible to find, you just aren't searching at the right places. I often find my recipes at or other american sites and yeah, the calculation of amounts could be a little tricky, but manageable. Czechs don't use cups and spoons measuring, every household have it's own weighing scale. Vanilla extract can be found at every non-chain drugstore (along with rum and almond ones) - the more communist looking the better chance of succes (so I can actually undestand that expats would be a little intimidated to go in :). Mollases is sold in Billa, Albert (Bio shelf) and practically everywhere else. I don't know about ground cloves (but the freshly ground ones really make a difference).

  2. zuzana - you sound like quite the expert - any idea where I might find coconut extract before I start another quest? If not, will just do what I usually do and leave it out lol

  3. Hmm.. It's sold in the drugstore too, along with possibly any other extract you might want. Since it's before Christmas, in some supermarkets they even have this special seasonal corners with sugar sprinkles and stuff like that, it might be sold even here. I'm not from Prague, but I googled some stuff and found that Teta drugstore should have it. Look for a small (10 cm) usually brown glass bottle with yellow cap or even better ask the shop attendant for "kokosový extrakt" or "kokosová tresť" (you might want to write this one lol). If you want the organic one, add "přírodní" as in "přírodní kokosová tresť". Hope that helps!

  4. ahh - thank you! that's fabulous!