Amy wanted to bring some cookies to a work meeting, so a few days ago we sent an email to some of our American friends and family to get the recipe for Nestle Tollhouse Cookies, that staple of American baking. Thank you to all who replied. The only problem is, the recipe is worthless here.

We knew that the recipe would be a little different no matter how hard we tried. Flour is a little different here (although the main difference seems to manifest itself when baking with yeast, because it reacts differently), and the chips wouldn’t be Nestle (you can’t find that here because the Irish hate American chocolate – more on that in a future post). But the big problem was when I began to mix the dry ingredients and noticed we had baking powder but not baking soda. No problem, a quick run to the Centra would set me right, I thought.

When I got to the store I only saw baking powder on the shelf, so I asked at the checkout if they had baking soda. One of the clerks thought they might and brought me back to the baking supplies, and pulled out a bag labeled “Bread Soda.”

“Is this the same as baking soda?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, looking a little unsure of herself. “I don’t cook much. Let me ask someone.” So we went to the little deli section of the store, where two more women decided it was the same thing. By then, though, the manager had come out and was looking at the bread soda and one of the women from the deli joined me as we went to talk to her.

“I don’t think it’s the same. You need baking powder,” the manager explained.

“But baking powder and baking soda aren’t the same thing,” I said.

She laughed. “I wish we were speaking the same language. You can’t use the bread soda, it’s not for baking. It’s for cleaning.” She looked at the back of the package. “Oh, I guess you can use it for baking.” She showed the package to the other employee.

After hearing what I wanted to do, the manager offered some help. “I have a really simple recipe for good chocolate chip cookies.” From memory she gave me the recipe, and then ventured that this was probably the strangest visit to the store I’d had. I had to agree.

When I got home, I checked, and while there are ways to substitute baking soda for baking powder, there are not, apparently ways to substitute baking powder for baking soda. The problem is baking powder is baking soda and a little bit of acid. You can add the acid, but you can’t take it out.

Oh, and the cookies? They were okay, but cakey. I haven’t been back to talk to the manager of the store, but I’m pretty sure that I did something wrong with them since our friend Angela assured us that Irish cookies are not known for being cakey. Amy talked to her mom yesterday and she told us that sodium bicarbonate is the only ingredient of baking soda, so I’ll have to check out what’s in bread soda. Maybe Tollhouse Cookies are still possible after all.