Thirty Pounds of Sugar: A Baker’s Odyssey
For months I’ve been hearing about it, a mythical place for bakers where one could buy everything from an enormous bottle of vanilla extract to a three-tiered golden cake platter. It was rumored to be “somewhere near Plaza España” but since no one ever seemed to know the exact name of the place, nor the address, the reality of it always hovered just out of reach, usually popping into my mind just as I was paying $10 for a tiny 2 oz. bottle of vanilla, or pondering where I could possibly find the right hue of gray-blue food coloring to recreate Batman’s spandex in frosting form. That baking place… I would think. But where is it? How can I find it. Does it really exist or when I talk about it, are people smiling and nodding in the same way that I do when Nico asks if Santa has pet polar bears?
Maybe I should back up. To understand my fascination with this place you need to realize that as a general rule, people in Spain don’t do a lot of dessert baking at home. This means that it can be both difficult and expensive to find ingredients such as vanilla extract, food coloring, fine-grained brown sugar and powdered sugar. Actually, you can get powdered sugar just about anywhere, but it comes in these ridiculous plastic shaker canister things that only hold about 2 cups worth (not nearly enough for a decent batch of frosting!). It is clearly meant to dust the tops of things rather than to be dumped in massive quantities into even more massive quantities of butter in order to be slathered all over… Never mind. The point is, that for my purposes, using those powdered sugar canisters to make any sort of reasonable American dessert, is like trying to bake a wedding cake in an Easy Bake Oven.
The other day my friend Danielle finally took me there and I can tell you now that this covert baking place does indeed exist (see info below). We had to circle the block a few times “I can’t remember where it is exactly and there’s no name on the outside but I remember there’s frosted glass” Danielle declared. After a few frosted-glass-related false hopes, we found it- a subterranean baker’s paradise. Aisles upon aisles of tart pans, cake molds, food coloring, pastry tools and giant bags of ingredients (it’s a wholesale place so nothing comes small).
After a great deal of perusing, I trundled up to the cashier with a 10-lb bag of brown sugar and a nifty spatula thermometer gadget (I like utensils that can multi-task). I was just about to pay when all of a sudden, I remembered the powdered sugar. I couldn’t forget to buy powdered sugar! Because if I have to pry the lid off of one more flimsy plastic canister with a knife, only to wind up with a face-full of sticky powder, I’m going to have to give up frosting all together and trust me when I tell you, that for a multitude of reasons, no one in my family wants that.
There was a problem though. The only way they would sell us the powdered sugar was in a 30 lb bag. As Danielle and I pondered the feasibility of buying a bag and sharing it, the saleswoman looked at us skeptically. “Well if you’re not sure you’ll be able to use it all…” she began. “Oh no,” Danielle assured her “We’re American, we’ll use it all.” The problem was rather one of transportation. I practiced hauling the enormous bag back and forth in front of the cashier. Could I do it? Could I lug this gigantic bag of powdered sugar home on the bus in the rain? Maybe if I returned the brown sugar? But then I came to my senses and realized that the idea was ridiculous. I love my frosting but not enough to throw out my back.
But then what? Would we just divide it up right then and there? Images of us crouched down in the middle of Plaza España, surrounded by plastic bags and clouds of powdered sugar filled my mind. I then thought about picking it up on the way home from Luca’s nearby swimming therapy the following week, but realized that it wouldn’t fit in the bottom of the stroller. “I know!” said Danielle. “I’ll come back here with a cart, pick it up, and then bring it to Xavi and Lali’s dinner party and we can divide it there.” More images filled my mind, this time of our friend’s faces as Danielle and I dragged a 30-lb bag of white powder into their house and then proceeded to divvy it up. Perhaps if we accompanied the activity with a few dozen plastic baggies and a scale, we might give them a few stories to tell at their next dinner party (which I’m guessing would not include us).
Unfortunately, it was at this point that we abruptly ran out of ideas. This means that unless one of us comes up with a better solution, we will indeed be showing up at next week’s dinner party bearing 30 lbs of powdered sugar. Well, it’s not as though the American reputation doesn’t need a bit of sweetening every now and then and this should escapade should definitely do the trick.
In the meantime, if you’re in Barcelona and find yourself in need of just the right hue of food coloring, some brown sugar, real vanilla extract or 30-lbs of powdered sugar (“icing sugar” for you Brits), I’m going to make it easier for you than it was for me. Here you go:
CONFITERIA: MATERIALES Y UTENSILIOS
Príncep Jordi, 1 , 08014 , BARCELONA
They are open typical working hours Monday-Friday and closed weekends.