Everyday Expat Adventures: The Chocolate Crackle Episode

Vietnamese kitchen don’t have ovens.

Our kitchen has a two-ring gas cooktop. Underneath is a cupboard where the gas bottle is stored.

So when Miss M first became aware of birthday parties, I was faced with the dilemma of a cake.

It’s a child’s rite of passage to help bake a cake, sticking fingers into batter and licking beaters and spatulas. I was worried my daughter would miss out on it all.

Luckily I have made a dear friend in Ho Chi Minh City who has an industrial-sized oven in her kitchen. (Making my initial claim of no ovens a lie. But I had to get your attention somehow.)

And so Miss M and I had our first baking experience at Ms A’s house and it was a far classier affair than it would have been without Ms ‘s presence. The result, a dense sweet cake with Milo-flavoured icing … for my birthday. Because I couldn’t stand another six weeks listening to Miss M demand a birthday cake.

Then Ms A went home for a month — leaving us oven-less in the lead-up to Miss M’s birthday.

But, you know, we’d done a cake.

I thought I’d try a traditional Australian kid’s recipe: chocolate crackles. A popular recipe because you don’t need an oven.

Yes, sheer brilliance on my part.

Two days before Miss M’s third birthday, the first one she’s actually aware of, my grand chocolate crackle plan hit a hurdle.


Chocolate crackles are made with copha, paper-wrapped blocks of hydrogenated coconut oil. And copha is only available in Australia.

But Uncle Google supplied me with a bunch of copha-less chocolate crackle recipes and so I thought we were good to go. Butter, marshmallows, Cocoa Pops (Cocoa Krispies) and sugar. To be mixed together and dropped into cupcake papers, which we used to call patty papers when I was a kid.

So, the copha issue was conquered.

But …

I couldn’t find patty papers. Even though I was sure I’d seen them before. Somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City.

I thought marshmallows would be the tricky ingredient but I found some hidden on the bottom shelf in the confectionery aisle of Metro, the warehouse-like wholesale supermarket that requires a member card — or a foreign passport — to get through the front door.

I could not find a trace of patty papers — I looked high and low in the An Phu Supermarket and across the road at the glitzy Annam Gourmet shop. I went back and forth twice because I was so sure I’d seen them.

Then I panicked … and issued an appeal on Facebook.

And so … the day before Miss M’s birthday, I raced into the city looking for a shop called Thai Hoa, which apparently is the place for baking enthusiasts in Ho Chi Minh City.

Finallly, after lunch on the day before the birthday, a whole day behind schedule, I dragged a chair over to the kitchen bench and Miss M and I got cooking.

It was a DISASTER.

Chocolate crackles are supposed to be a kids recipe. Meaning that an adult melts the copha and supervises the stirring while the copha is hot. But the kids do the measuring and mixing and then scoop the mix into the patty papers.

Substituting marshmallows and butter does NOT give you the correct consistency. You end up with some kind of molten chewing gum, that strings and sticks and is completely recalcitrant. It is no fun at all, and no task for a small child.

Thankfully, Miss M was more than happy to lick the spoon.

Then help me out with a fall-back kid’s recipe. Rum balls. Without the rum, of course.

The chocolate crackles looked OK in the end but they didn’t taste right.

And the rum-less rum balls looked spectacular but they CERTAINLY didn’t taste right without any rum.

However, despite not tasting right, the chocolate crackles and the rum-less rum balls were a hit at both of Miss M’s birthday parties. (One for the kids, one for her Vietnamese relatives.)

And now Miss M is three, a baby no more. Where did the last three years go?


11 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Lisa says:

    I lived in several Asian countries for years and it was very rare to have the luxury of an oven in my home. I found that my rice cooker served well. Nearly anything I would bake in the oven could be done in the rice cooker. Yes, that includes cakes. It takes a bit longer and requires a couple of clicks to keep the rice cooker going until whatever being cooked/baked is finished, but it works and works well. The drawback is the shape and size of the cooker. Of course, things that need to be crisp or crunchy won’t work in a rice cooker.

    • Barbara says:

      Brilliant, Lisa! I think it would have been far easier to do a cake in the rice cooker — much less running around. And you don’t really expect running around to be the major feature of cooking.

  2. They look good to me! (And they probably tasted terrific to everyone who’d never sampled the originals!) I just tried to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies in our high-efficiency oven and it was a complete disaster. The oven turns itself off every few minutes so it never really gets hot enough. The end result was cookies that were crispy on top and still raw on the bottom. I ended up flipping them over to cook the other side. They look awful but taste ok. Luckily I wasn’t taking them to a party 🙂
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  3. We spent 12 days camping on a national park island in the Whitsundays a few years ago and when we ran out of bread after the first few days we created our own ‘oven’ over two gas plates with a cast iron griddle and a big aluminium bowl turned upside down on top of it. Best pita bread we’ve ever had 🙂 I reckon if you put a little rack in it you could do little cakes. Not so great from an OH&S perspective with a three year old though.
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    • Barbara says:

      Oh jeez, I don’t want to give Darling Man any ideas when it comes to rigging up things in the kitchen! He is a Mr Fixit type and in Vietnam there is NO concept of OH&S, so things can get very “interesting”. And Darling Man is very competitive, so he’d have to make a bigger, better, faster version of whatever works for camping.

  4. I have heard so many funny stories about expats trying to cook their favorite dishes with substitute ingredients and ridiculous kitchens. Even if it doesn’t turn out so great, it makes for a good story.
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    • Barbara says:

      It does make for a good story. And making “things from home” is quite rare for me. I know some people always eat “things from home”. It’s expensive and they are often disappointed that things don’t taste the same, or gathering the ingredients is such hard work. I LOVE Vietnamese food and I’m happy to eat it most days.

      (Although we’re going to Cambodia soon and I’m looking forward to eating Cambodian food for a week or so!)

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