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Doing R&D on Passion Fruit Pate de Fruit.

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These are just observations gathered from a number of people, not necessarily all my own, and not judgments about the country, its people, or its culture.

  • Long lines in banks to cash a check or make a deposit.
  • Stores, taxi drivers, and  banks not having change.
  • Lack of sanitation and trash collection in many areas.
  • Ubiquitous hazards walking down the street such as open holes in the sidewalk, pieces of steel or unfinished rebar sticking up, uneven sidewalks, excrement.
  • Disregard for the environment i.e. littering from car/bus windows.
  • Public urination by males nearly anywhere, in full view of others.
  • Lack of street signs and lighting, especially outside of major urban centers.
  • Major streets/roads in poor condition with potholes, dirt, and other obstacles ubiquitous.
  • Lack of civility and disrespect for the law by most drivers-i.e. you will be cut off by drivers without any signal whatsoever, disregard for stop signs and red lights, honking from cars 5 behind you or more the second a light turns green, bus drivers who drive like they are the only one on the road.
  • For businesses, if you sell B to B, you will be paid Fridays between 3 and 4:30 pm only, and you have to go pick up the check.
  • No mail for official business or anything regarding financial transactions.
  • Little use of electronic transfers for payments.
  • Slow and erratic internet connections, at high cost.
  • Unannounced cut-off of water or power, usually for hours at a time.
  • Loud salsa/merengue/rock or other music from storefronts, totally unregulated.
  • Vehicular advertising using loudspeakers and very loud music.
  • Next door neighbors partying until the wee hours at loud volume and there’s nothing you can do about it.
  • Lack of variety, selection in stores.
  • Almost total absence of effective policing. Police are mainly figureheads, and objects of scorn and the butt of jokes by Ecuadorians.
  • If you are injured and unconscious in a car crash, you may be robbed and picked over before you are offered help. I have never seen this happen but have heard of it and been warned about it by Ecuadorians.
  • Absence of EMS and emergency services except for select urban areas.
  • No dynamic real estate market or statistics for pricing-making pricing a shot in the dark for many transactions.
  • Insecure property rights due to lack of clear titles on rural land; squatter’s right’s often prevail if you don’t keep them off according to locals.

I´ll try and cover these as best as I can in detail in future posts and explain the who, what, where, when and why behind these observations.

I’ve been trying to make pound cakes and things like it for months. I never had the discipline to keep copious, detailed notes until just recently. All my poundcakes were a flop. The looked like this:

High Altitude Lemon Cake Disaster

I tried adjusting recipes, tried different recipes, different oven temps, starting off in a warm, but not fully-preheated oven (my mother-in-law swears by it for her orange cake), but nothing seemed to work. The work went in fits and starts, I’d try for a day here, a day there, but kept giving up. I finally decided it was time, time to just go at it, do a marathon of baking if that’s what it took, to get something, anything, resembling a pound cake, baked here at Quito’s altitude of 9,000 feet.

After five attempts, we finally got something that works! The key points, who I must credit to user davidtmori of South Lake Tahoe, CA on egullet, were these:

“…cakes and cookies are the two items affected most by altitude. In cookies, the leavening needs to be reduced, by as much as 50%. Flour and eggs need to be increased by 8% and 13% respectively. Sugar, a tenderizer, needs to be decreased by 8%. Fat, such as butter, needs to be decreased by 7%, And liquid, such as water or milk, needs to be increased by 20%.
Of course, every recipe is different, and the best results are obtained by some experimentation and tweaking. These across the board percentages may need to be adjusted from one recipe to the next. Good luck.

I had made several different adjustments similar to these in one way or another, but still wasn’t getting results. But after applying these percentage adjustments to a scientific degree I finally got it right. The one adjustment that was even bigger than what’s recommended here was leavening, which I reduce by about 75%. Also, I did not increase the eggs from the original recipe.

I began initially with Joy the Baker’s Lemon Drenched Lemon Cakes recipe. The photo above is the first flop. After converting the entire recipe to grams, it was a lot easier to start making percentage adjustments here and there.

What finally brought success was the following:

195 g butter
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
190 g cream
515 g sugar
325 g flour
6 eggs
vanilla extract, powder or bean
2 Meyer Lemons
Juice of 2 lemons

Making the cakes:
Preheat a convection oven to 350 degrees F or a conventional oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour two 8 1/2-4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Place the pans on an insulated baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Put the sugar and the lemon zest in a large bowl, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and the zest has released its oil and smell in the sugar. Add the vanilla bean seeds or vanilla powder and work them into the sugar. If you are using vanilla extract, add it later, after you have added the eggs.

Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract (if using), then whisk in the cream. Continuing with the whisk, or switching to a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. As soon as the cake goes into the oven, make the syrup. After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color- if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with tin foil.

Making the syrup:

Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil Remove the pan from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.

When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-bladed sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.

I skipped the syrup, it’s up to you. Thanks to http://www.joythebaker.com/blog/2009/01/lemon-drenched-lemon-cake/ and Dorie Greenspan, from which this recipe has been adapted for altitude.

These are observations, and not meant to be judgments about Ecuador’s people, country, or culture.

  • Delicious, cheap ice cream abounds.
  • You will always be acknowledged at any social event by numerous people, even if they don’t know you.
  • People will remember you and treat you like a close friend after meeting them just once.
  • No freeways.
  • Much less in-your-face, agressive advertising and 24/7 media bombardment-unless you choose to have CNN on all the time.
  • You leave the city, just barely, and feel like you’re in real country.
  • Holidays are not overly commercialized and made into a spending celebration.
  • Cheap, abundant, fresh, local food available everywhere.
  • No agressive sales pitches, telemarketing, or junk mail anywhere.
  • No school shootings.
  • No need to follow stop-lights late at night.
  • You can build whatever you want, no permit required, no questions asked, in most areas.
  • It’s hard to find things to spend your money on.
  • People work to live, they don’t live to work.
  • Most people live in the present, and are not uptight about the future.
  • You are never alone, unless by choice.
  • Nothing gets thrown away; people will always find a use for, or way to repair, things North Americans would consider disposable. You would be astonished.
  • Lack of selection makes choosing easier-no selection overload in supermarkets, department stores, etc.
  • Fresh cut flowers are affordable, cheap even-2 dozen budget roses $1.
  • You will rarely face a confrontational attitude in most disputes.
  • You can go from Amazon jungle, to highlands, to coast in a matter of hours.
  • World’s greatest chocolate.

I’ll go into as many of these as I can, in detail, in future posts.

In no more than a few weeks, I´ve gained fame baking chocolate chip cookies from the NY Times recipe back from July ´08. It first caught my eye after reading about it on Chez Pim´s. Before I was able to actually sell the cookies, I had to make the recipe several times over and make the proper adjustments for altitude. My first cookies came out flat as pancakes. The second batch too. They were crispy all the way through and not bad, but not what I was looking for. I like them crispy and brown on the edges and chewy as you work your way towards, the middle, don’t you?

I tried extra an extra egg yolk for texture, that didn’t work. The brown sugar here is different than what you can get in the states-there is no “light” or “dark” brown sugar, just plain brown sugar. Tried varying the rations of brown to white, made little or no difference. I let a Venezuelan friend of mine, who owns a restaurant, try them and they didn’t like the “panela” flavor. Panela is the term for what is raw, unprocessed brown sugar, which usually comes in a solid block and has to be broken up before it can be used. But to me, the absence of brown sugar…well, you couldn’t call it a chocolate chip cookie, really, if it didn’t have brown sugar.

You can’t find bread flour here in Ecuador either, so I use all AP flour in the recipe. Worked fine for me here.

I found the key to getting cookies that did not spread too much was to use chilled dough. 50g portions were just right. A hot oven is also key. Success came using our convection oven preheated to 375F.

Finally, I realized the less I changed the original recipe, the better. Because of the altitude, I find that most muffin and cookie recipes can use up to 80% less leavening than at sea level. So, let me leave you with the recipe adjusted for high-altitude baking, 9,000 feet to be more or less exact. (BTW, if you have any tips, I’m still having trouble with high altitude pound cake). Adapted from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/091crex.html?_r=1:

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

475 g AP Flour
1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
280g unsalted butter
560g light brown sugar
225 g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
500g bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves (I use 55% bars broken up in chunks)
Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 50g balls of chilled dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

Yield: Approx 3 dozen cookies.

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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