Where our protagonist goes to the supermarket with one idea for birthday cupcake decoration and comes out surprisingly Chilenized.
I had my first Chilean linguistic/cultural confusion in a long time a few weeks ago. In keeping with what a fabulous time my niece and I had had making and decorating cupcakes for the family when I was in San Francisco, I volunteered to make “quequitos” for a friend’s birthday. Quequitos, the diminutive of queque, are how we refer to cupcakes. It’s not that cupcakes are part of the Chilean diet, but there are small, tough cakes cooked in a muffin tin that people sell on the street (yay, more street food), so they’re not totally alien, either. I’ve had good experiences in the past making various baked goods for Chilean friends, including all manner of crisps, crumbles, cobblers, carrot cake and chocolate pound cake. So I had every reason to think the cupcakes would be a success.
So I went out to the baking supply store on Puente (the one that says Ambrosoli on it, but that can’t be what it’s called, because that’s a brand of (mediocre) chocolate), and bought size 8 cupcake liners. A hundred of them. Now that’s a lot of liners. I then went to one of the many birthday stores in the area. These are stores set up around what you need for (birthday) parties. There are party favors, plastic cutlery, paper plates, streamers, bags of balloons, and of course, candles. There are candles at the supermarket as well, but I didn’t anticipate having to go to the supermarket, so I thought I’d just get some candles and be done with it.
I went home and baked many, many cupcakes, a bit slowly, because my cupcake pan only makes six at a time, since my old oven was too small to hold a 12-cupcake tin. It was cold out, so running the oven for extra time was actually a bit of a luxury. And while the cupcakes were baking, I made royal icing. And then I rooted around for the food coloring. Root, root, root. Not near the flour, not with the baking supplies, not in the spice cabinet. Root root. I used to have it and now I didn’t. Maybe it got lost in the move? Maybe I threw it away in an attempt to be more all-natural?
No worry, I thought, scooping the icing into a plastic container, packing some icing bags and icing tips into a bag along with the cooled cupcakes. I’ll go to the grocery store and buy food coloring. I can mix it up at the cumpleañero‘s (birthday boy’s) house.
Here’s where the confusion starts. So I went to my local supermarket and poked around all the likely locations. Near the spices, near the flour, near the candy. Hmmm. And I found nothing. A restocking person and a superviser where standing there, so I thought to ask.
Me: Tienen colorantes? (do you have food coloring?)
Supermarket workers (SW): “Colorantes?” (food coloring?)
Me: Sí, es un liquido, viene en frasco chiquitito, son 4, vienen en una cajita así. (yeah, it’s a liquid, comes in little bottles, there’s usually four of them, they come in a small box like this)
SW: blank stare
Me: Son de esta marca. (They’re this brand (pointing to a particular brand)
SW: Para que son? (what are they for?)
Here’s where I realize how weird it sounds to say I’m baking cupcakes for a friend and I want them to be funny colors.
Me: Son para teñir la crema de un pastel para un niño. (They’re to dye the frosting for a child’s cake)
SW: Habían (we used to have some)
Me: y ahora? (but now…?)
SW: una señora los compró. (A lady bought them)
Me: mmm, y dónde vive? (so, where does she live?) (I was kidding here)
SW: nervous smile
Me: Gracias. Bueno, y si no hay nada para teñir la crema, será blanca, no más. (ok, if there’s nothing to color the frosting, it will just be white.
SW: Ah sí, claro que hay. (Oh sure, of course there is).
Me: follows SW, who points to two colors of dyed flaked coconut, pink and green, and multicolored sprinkles.
SW: Ves? (see?)
Here’s where I realize I have many options, (pitch a fit, complain, go to another supermarket, leave the cupcakes white), none of which are probably going to result in me with a box of four tiny bottles of food coloring and prettily-colored cupcakes. So I did what you do in these situations, and bought the dyed flaked coconut (green of course, as the cumpleañero is a boy) and the sprinkles, and I thanked everyone heartily and went off to decorate cupcakes and leave SW1 and SW2 to ponder why ever you’d think of decorating your cupcakes any other way.
And here’s what a regular birthday cake looks like in Chile, if you were wondering. And I have, of course, since found the food coloring, not in the drawer of danger, like you’d expect, but inside the pasta collander. And no, I have not eaten pasta since I’ve been in this apartment. Or at least I have not drained it well. And a better-stocked supermarket would have had them, but here in Plaza Italia pa’bajo, odd-mostly-gringo foodstuffs are hit and miss.
A couple of weeks ago, I found food coloring at my Lider. It’d been a few years since I’d decorated a cake, but I made a valiant effort. I wanted pink icing to make flowers. I can now report that Red Dye #2, banned in the US since 1976, is apparently still available in Chile because, though I used only a few drops, the icing turned out bright red!
I saw how red your flowers were on that cake you made, but I’d assumed you’d wanted them red!
Probably, those SW don´t bake anything beyond cheese on bread in a microwave, here in the south, land of the best bakers in Chile, if someone is looking for them xD, any SW should have lead you directly and exactly to the food coloring section, hahaha. Here people still bakes and cooks all sorts of things.
I know, Marmo, everything is better in the south. One day I’ll get down to Temuco and you can show me!
I think I saw them once or twice. I don’t even know how to dye edible stuff, chocolate frosting is fine 😛
Was the store in Puente Casa Costa? I try to avoid it, because I get too excited about things I’ll never use, as I rarely bake.
I think it is Casa Costa! But it’s a funny name for a store, based on brands. Reminds me of that middle eastern place in Patronato (Where all those people got food poisoning a few years ago from homemade mayo) called “Pepsi”.
I have found the food coloring, so I’m good for making artifically colored food for the forseeable future!
The cupcakes turned out cute regardless, but I still think you should have hunted down the woman who bought the last of the dye.
you’re right, annje, it would have made a much better story!
mmmm those cupcakes look delicious! For some reason I just can´t enjoy the cakes here. I think they add a lot more sugar and it always feels so much denser than the cake at home.
I don’t know about sweeter, but they are overbeaten, in my opinion, that’s why the cake is so tough. The good news is, baking is easy. Also, try the cakes at Galletería Laura R on Vitacura or Manuel Montt. They know all about delicious baked good, and their cheesecake is incredible!
I always love those moments where you have to do a bit of quick thinking in the grocery store to get something approximating the final result you were aiming for and it ends up working well. And look at you with your fancy icing tip!
Emily, thanks for dropping by. Can’t wait check you and your lemon bars out sometime. And yes, if you can’t improvise in teh supermarket, then where can you? I’m just so glad they sell cream cheese here, because I haven’t the faintest idea how I would improvise that!
Those cupcakes look yummy! I use food colouring for dyeing wool and the last time I asked my husband to pick some up at the supermarket he brought me powdered food colouring. I was a bit suspicious, I have never seen powdered food colouring. They were very strong colours though!
Was this in Chile or in England? I have never seen powdered coloring either, but when I was a child, my mother used a paste from some fancy bakng set. Have you ever tried herbs or veggies for wool dyeing, or do you prefer the more vibrant colors? Thanks for dropping in! I’ll add you to my blogroll. (btw read your thing about plucking the rooster, and though I don’t eat meat, it didn’t make me squirm. much.
The powdered food colouring was here in Chile, yellow and red, I don’t know if they do blue too. I have used natural dyes too. Leaves from walnut trees and onion skins are very easy to use, but I have also used ivy, nettles, marigolds, eucalyptus leaves and other flowers.
Thanks for visiting my blog, glad the rooster wasn’t too much. My daughter, a new vegetarian took the photos, and some of the close-ups were a bit much! I was quite proud of her, (she also thought the coq au vin smelled good.)
I was wondering if you could use beets! And yeah, the rooster was a bit, well, visceral, but I think it was actually easier for me because I don’t eat chicken. So just look at it as “not food.” I grew up eating coq au vin (a couple of times, not all the time), and remember thinking it was pretty great, so I’m sure yours smelled super as well. I do like cooking complicated things from scratch, so I guess I enjoyed that aspect of your story. And I’ve never seen powdered food coloring, but will keep an eye out. Though of course I found my food coloring a week after this whole thing happened!
I could not imagine a cacerolazo in NYC. Thanks for the coverage from an American’s perspective. I’m headed to Stgo in September and am really trying to follow what’s going on in the country. Great pictures, too.
It’s funny that you mention that, because a Chilean friend of mine was just asking yesterday about how people in the US don’t really protest like people do in the middle east, in europe or in latin america, and we were trying to imagine what cultural factors are behind that (other than complacency). People strike, but it sort of ends there. I wold love to have seen a cacerolazo about mortgage forclosures! Thanks for commenting. Are you going to be in Santiago for a long time, or just a visit? September is a great time to start! (not so bone-cold!).
Yo puedo ayudarte la proxima vez que necesites colorantes 🙂
resulta que los encontré en un pote en la casa, pero no he vuelto a hacer cupcakes ni torta, pues parece que no me son tan importantes! Gracias de todos modos!
Puedes encontrar decoración para pasteles y repostería en general en la esquina de Meiggs y Alameda, un par de cuadras al este de la Estación Central. Dentro de una pequeña galería en la esquina suroriente hay solo tres locales, y uno de ellos se especializa en suplementos de repostería. No estoy seguro, pero aparentemente es el único de ese rubro en el centro.
Suerte, espero que esto sirva a casi medio año del post.
al final, encontré lo que buscaba, y la verdad es que hay otra tienda de repostería que está en Puente, casi llegando al mercado central. Le dicen Ambrosoli por su letrero pero seguramente tiene otro nombre. Pero buen dato lo del Meiggs, y me queda cerca. Gracias!