I have never been good at telling jokes. I do know some, which could be quite amusing told by the right person, but the way I tell them means they always land into stony silence and embarrassment. My lovely husband is completely different and even though I will admit to having heard some of his jokes more than once, they still make me laugh.
The last weeks we have been looking at old photos, and talking about his life in North Rhine Westphalia: the sort of food his Mum cooked, the cars his dad owned and the fun they had as a family. Suddenly last week he remembered an old joke from his childhood:
Q: What happens if you go to bed with an American? A: Crumbs!
How I laughed. You have to be a bit German to get this joke, and know that an ‘American’ in German bakery terms is a sort of small cake, and ones which we had never made. It seems that they are called Black and White Cookies in the USA and we call them Amerikaner.
Ours looked a bit different, and after consulting one of my dear students (a master baker) we found out that Amerikaner usually have a special type of raising agent, called ABC. This is also called ‘Hirschhornsalz’, and this took us down a whole new road of thinking about raising agents in general.
My lovely husband is not only a great teller of jokes, he also possesses a degree in chemistry, so when I scroll through websites covered in the chemical formulae for what makes my cakes rise, he actually understands what is happening. How cool is that?
At this stage I have to point out that – contrary to what most of my students think, Dr Oetker did not invent baking powder. No! That was a British chemist called Alfred Bird (famous now for his custard powder). He combined cream of tartar (an acidic powder composed of potassium bitartrate) and baking soda, keeping the two apart until they were to be used so they wouldn’t react too early. That was back in the 1840s. Later, Dr Oetker, another chemist – but one whose father was baker – had the clever idea of selling baking powder ready measured in sachets, exactly the right amount for 500g of flour.
We have Hirschhornsalz (Hartshorn powder or ammonium carbonate) on our shopping list for today and will make a second attempt at the Amerikaner.
Maybe with chocolate chips this time…
And, before I go, another joke for all us German-speaking English-speakers: