Having already had a bad encounter with Russian bread flour at Thanksgiving, wherein I used it to make a pie crust and it refused to roll out and I had to serve pumpkin pies without crusts, I shopped very carefully when I was buying supplies for Christmas cookies.
If it weren't so much work, I'd take and upload a picture of my bag of bread flour and show you just how tiny the word хлебопекарная (bread-baking) is on it; apparently they consider bread flour the norm here, or they just don't want you to notice what kind of flour you're buying. Anyway, that's how I got duped the first time, and I decided not to get duped again. The only other option at the grocery store (or the market) was labeled 'blini flour.' (Blini are Russian crepes.) I checked to make sure it was made from wheat (some traditional blini are made from buckwheat flour, but the word "wheat" on this package was in a font at least ten points larger than "bread-baking" on the other package) and bought it, figuring that it was probably more like all-purpose flour than bread flour is.
Well, I got home this evening and began happily measuring it out for my sugar cookies, at which point I noticed that this flour was... sparkly. Hmm. Almost as if it had granulated sugar in it.
I paused, my measuring cup dangling precariously (ok, not that precariously... I'm not prone to seizures or anything) over the mixing bowl. Do I check the ingredients on the flour bag, or just dump it in, hoping I'm imagining things? I had bad luck last night with forging ahead when I knew I was wrong (it involved trying to delude myself that the soft peaks in my royal icing were actually stiff peaks, and mortaring together two entire gingerbread houses before admitting to myself that the icing wasn't going to harden the way I wanted it to). The sting of this failure, which required pulling apart the gingerbread houses, beating the icing for another ten minutes, and re-mortaring, imparted the small modicum of logic usually absent from my kitchen frolics (or rampages, depending on who you ask). I looked at the packaging before dumping.
And it turned out that despite the fact that this stuff is clearly labeled МУКА (flour) in enormous letters on the front of the bag, it is not actually "flour" in the traditional sense of the word. Ingredients: flour, dried eggs, sugar, salt, baking soda, vegetable fat. So basically, it's Bisquick. I am very indignant about the fact that I came so close to ruining my cookies, not to mention that I now have a kilogram of Bisquick that I don't even want! I think it should count as false advertising!
The story has a happy ending, though, because I went out and bought real flour (bread flour again, since that's apparently the only kind available) and the cookies, which are from my friend Nana's recipe, are great! Unlike the pie crust, they rolled out just fine.
If this entry is a little random, it's probably because I got very little sleep last night (because of the gingerbread house debacle). It's been a strange day. I haven't done much of the sleep-deprivation thing since college, and I forgot how strongly it affects me. Unfortunately, I will probably also get very little sleep tonight, because tomorrow is the Christmas party for which all this ridiculous baking is happening. And I haven't written the script yet.
(Don't get me started. The fact that Russian parties require scripts is one point on which my cross-cultural tolerance is very, very low.)