Friday, June 23, 2006

Two Fine Dames

Just when I risk sounding like lyrics of traditional tango songs – one big whinge after another; I am going to say something nice about Buenos Aires.

Like most new comers, I have mixed feelings about the city; I am shocked by the nasty pollution, both air and noise – it is no surprise when the buses and many cars should have retired 30 years ago; abhorred by the porteños' devil may care attitude towards littering – sky raining McDonald's wrappers, dogs' droppings all over the pavement; and the unexpected rudeness of the educated classes – a dirty look may be all you get after holding the door open for the elegant ladies of Recoleta.

However, it only takes one good person's kind deed to melt your fed-up soul. Today, is my luckiest day in a long year, I encountered more than one good deed. Acting on the advice of my graphics designer, Valeria, who promised great things for La Otra Dimension (ahem!), I ventured to the wholesale area of Once (pronounced: On-se). The Time Out guide to BA is the greatest and coolest for those passing through but if one is to set up permanent abode here, Once, the hidden secret of the locals, is too good to miss!

We had bought metres of curtain fabric, also sold at the chi-chi Buenos Aires Design Centre, in Once for quarter of the price! Most of the time you end up buying Industria Argentina (made in Argentina) regardless of where you go, so buying from a wholesaler which is 15 minutes away from the fashionably decked out shops, at a significant discount sounds too good to be true, only it is! For the exigentes (the demanding ones) even imported fabrics are syndicated through some of these wholesalers.

The only problem is Once is a district, not an air-conditioned shopping centre. It is hard work when you don't know where to start. We were tipped off by our curtain maker to focus on a few cuadras (blocks) along Azcuenaga (street). This time, Valeria sent me to Corrientes y Larrea (cross streets) for baking and packaging materials.

I walked along Larrea and found a great papeleria (shop selling gift wrapping materials), shops that specialise in bedding, babies clothes, towels, and what I was looking for – cake tins. The selection is great, the brand is identical to that sold at Geo Bazaar (a fashionable houseware store with branch in BA Design Centre) - I was one excited girl. However, my destination was one shop named Doña Clara (Madame Clara), the Mecca of all aspiring bakers of this city.

Probably due to the excitement of sensing what I need is near, I overshot and passed Corrientes. Unaware of my mistake, I ended up on Cordoba (street). When I didn't find the Madame there, I thought she had moved. I aimlessly made a turn and was thinking of what to do next when I spotted a panaderia (bakery). I walked in and asked if they knew the fine lady. There was unison of "Si!" The guys started telling me where to find her and got confused among themselves. One looked into his phone book of suppliers' and found her number. At that moment, her number just didn't cut it, I needed more...without any prompting the same guy picked up the phone and located her. Hooray, address in hand, I said my heart felt "muchisimas gracias!!" many times over and headed over to her house.

Doña Clara is no Williams-Sonoma or John Lewis but she is full of good things: a chef's blow torch is 40% less here than Geo Bazaar, moulds of all descriptions, a sugar craft galore...she is compact and effective. Her son or grandson, a fine gentleman in his 70s, chatted with me animatedly after I told him his shop is muy piola (very cool). I found a local cooking chocolate of 70% cocoa solids, while still not a Valrhona, it is one step up from the Aguila Extra Fino I used; and a proper Angel Food Cake tin with detachable bottom and legs.

For the non-Americans, Angel Food Cake is a feather-light chiffon cake baked in a tin with a funnel in the middle. To cool this cake, you flip the tin so the exposed cake is facing down; the idea is to have the cake gradually slide out of the tin so it suffers no damage. Many bakers just use a deep cake tin with a funnel in the middle; without the legs, the cake tin can only rest on the neck of a bottle. This is a flawed solution because if the delicate cake slides too far down the wider part of the bottle, it is going to tear in the centre.

This piece of new toy comes in handy for afternoon tea on Sunday with our good friends Miguel y Paula, and their daughters. When we sit down to sample the cake, I shall propose a toast to Valeria and Doña Clara for a great day out, muchisimas gracias a ustedes!!

Doña Clara, Corrientes 2561
Compañia de Papeles, Larrea 349

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