You get that hankering for a taste of home and venture forth only to discover that some commonly available baking ingredients in the US or Europe aren’t available in Lima. Persevering, you locate the basics to then find that ingredients you thought you knew don’t perform the same way. We've been there and are happy to share what we've learned along the way.
Where to shop? Most chain supermarkets carry very basic baking ingredients, though none currently has very robust offerings. More varied baking ingredients, some kitchen and baking equipment, papers and the like are available in the mercados, including Mercado Surquillo No. 1 (Border of Miraflores and Surquillo), Mercado Eden (Ovalo Higuereta), Mercado de Lince (Petit Thouars) and Mercado de Magdalena (Leoncio Prado). Among specialty shops there are the Lima central markets (El Dorado and the Mercado Central) and a handful of specialty stores, many of which are easier found on Facebook than via web sites.
All-purpose flour, or “harina” is relatively easy to find both plain, “sin preparar” and prepared, “preparada.” Pastry flour, “harina pastelera,” and bread flour, “harina panadera,” are available in mercados. Wong occasionally carries flour marked “00” for pizza and bread making. Specialty markets carry some of the Bob’s Red Mill line of flours, as well as gluten free options. Polenta is available in the pasta section of grocery stores and in some bodegas and specialty markets. The national brand is coarse ground and the imported Italian variety is a finer grind.
Butter: Compared to national U.S. and European varieties, we find that national brand butters melt more quickly and generally create soggier pastries. We suspect that may be the result of a lower fat and higher water content, a difference that will show up, mostly, in recipes for butter crusts, some cookies and pastries. We recommend using one of the French or New Zealand brands available in most supermarkets and some specialty shops, which generally handle a bit easier even in the high humidity. A note here, for puff pastry (hojaldre) recipes, mantequilla hojaldre supply has been inconsistent, however margarina hojaldre is generally available in food (not super) markets.
Baking Soda, or “bicarbonato de sodio,” is sold in markets, pharmacies and grocery stores. Some grocery stores carry it in the pastry section and almost all in the pharmacy section.
Baking powder, “polvo de hornear” is sold in envelopes in grocery stores in the baking aisle and in some markets.
Cream of tartar, “cremor tártaro" is occasionally sold in supermarkets (though we have seen imported baking powder mislabeled as cremor tártaro so check the original packaging label), and is also available in the markets and specialty shops.
Chocolate musings: Although a chocolate producing country, Peru’s chocolate making industry remains small and the best seems to go exclusively to export. Pure cocoa, “chocolate puro,” can be found in bars in the markets and bioferias, we only occasionally find it in supermarkets. Beware the bars premixed with sugar and other ingredients that are to make hot chocolate, which look similar to the pure cocoa bars. Cocoa powder, or “cocoa” is available in markets and in supermarkets in natinoal varieties (Winter's and Negusa, generally), and in one or two imported varieties, such as Hershey’s. The most widely available national brand of baking chocolate is Negusa and sold in milk, dark and white varieties. It is couverture chocolate and, while it works well for decorating, it is not a high quality chocolate. Ibérico, from Arequipa, is also easy to find but rather expensive. From our vantage point, the best and most widely available chocolate for regular baking, in markets and some specialty shops but not supermarkets, is Belcolade, sold in disks in dark, milk and white varieties. Chocolate chips, “chispas de chocolate” exist but are not widely available. We usually find mini chocolate chips in bioferias. Most of the time we chunk up our Belcolade disks for chips. For unique needs, such as very dark chocolate, it is easiest to resort to Ghirardelli and other imported chocolate bars, although some markets carry a 75% cacao Italian chocolate.
Corn Syrup is not generally available. We tried out a lot of possibilities and settled on this one for cane sugar syrup http://www.thekitchn.com/pantry-staples-diy-cane-sugar-131934 from The Kitch’n, which has worked exceptionally well for us here.
Eggs – taste and size. Eggs taste like fish? Fish meal is often used as commercial chicken feed and the flavor goes to the eggs. For eating and baking, we prefer sourcing eggs from producers of grain fed chickens, which are increasingly available in supermarket chains, and always at the one of the “bioferias,” or farmers markets. Bioferias are growing in popularity and number in Lima, predominantly open on Saturdays and Sundays. The list is constantly expanding but a few to get you started are: Parque Reducto, Miraflores (Saturdays), the Bioferia Surquillo (Sundays, Mercado No. 1), Ecomarket San Isidro (Sundays, Miguel Dasso), and the Mercado Saludable de la Molina (behind La Agraria University).
Many U.S. recipes are written for “large” eggs, roughly 50 gram eggs, comprised of 30 grams albumin and 20 grams yolk. We have found less standardization of sizes here and the volume of a “large” egg may vary significantly. While a small variation won’t make a noticeable difference in many recipes, if you need exact weight
(or are just freakishly picky like us), weigh them out.
Gelatin, “colapiz,” is available in powdered and sheet form in Wong and in the markets.
Milk, powdered milk, cream and buttermilk: “Fresh” cow’s milk comes in various presentations, including shelved in cans, tetra packs and plastic bags, and refrigerated in bags and glass bottles. Our favorite is fresh from the farmer’s market but that is not always feasible. We have found that regular store bought milk in all presentations performs well. One word of advice, lactose free milk is only generally available as part skim – the loss of fat may affect some recipes so test it out as you go. Goat milk is available in natural and food stores (such as Madre Natura in Miraflores), and we hae seen it only very occasionally at bioferias.
Powdered milk, leche en polvo is readily available in major supermarkets and bodegas. Our current favorite for its finer texture and taste is the Anchor brand.
Cream, “crema de leche,” is almost exclusively ultra-pasteurized and comes in bags (national) and tetra packs (imported). It works well in baking and whips well. (Whipped cream is known here as Chantilly.) Heavy cream also comes in cans, not fresh and not spectacular. A whippable cream product called Chantypack, also is available in markets and supermarkets; we aren’t fans of its taste or texture but it is widely used and stands up to the weather.
We have not found buttermilk and so make our own. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of fresh milk and rest it 5-7 minutes to curdle. From there use it 1:1 in place of buttermilk.
Parchment paper, “papel manteca,” can be a struggle; found in markets and bookstores, the quality is often low. We have found bookstores generally to carry a better quality product. Even with the better quality papers we’ve found it useful to grease the paper for good measure.
Sugar, white & brown. White sugar seems to have more impurities and granular inconsistencies than common U.S. store brands. By and large this will have little effect on your basic baking. If you make caramel, candy and sugar decorations you may want to be a little more exacting with the attention you pay to impurities and consider adding a bit of glucose to fudge, caramels, butterscotch and toffee.
Brown sugar is generally not available as we know it in the U.S. But what is brown sugar exactly? Much of it in the U.S. is white sugar with a molasses coating sprayed back on. If you don’t mind extra crispness in your cookies, often you can substitute an equal amount of white sugar. But you don’t have to. Chancaca and panela (also known in Spanish as papelón, piloncillo and raspadura) are sold widely in Lima and work in lieu of brown sugar. Chancaca is sugar cane juice, sold in solid roundish disks or in liquid form. Panela is a granulated form of chancaca. We have found that panela can be substituted 1:1 in recipes calling for brown sugar. Chancaca is a little more complicated. In its solid form you will need to boil and strain it, and cook it again to your desired consistency. Or you can save yourself a few steps and just grab the liquid variety. To make one cup of light brown sugar add one tablespoon of liquid chancaca to one cup of white sugar and combine completely. For dark brown sugar, use 2 tablespoons of chancaca to one cup sugar.
Hope this gets you off to a good start. If we overlooked something you need, give us a holler and we’ll try to assist.