Converting an American recipe to British is tougher than you think!

Posted on September 22, 2009 by peacefulyorkshire

redlillocksFirstly, I’d just like to thank the amazing ladies of SNFY for once again allowing me to contribute as a guest blogger and get some of my frustrations off my chest. Beats anger management classes anyday! You girls ROCK I tell ya.— REDLILOCKS

Autumn Baking…

Hey did anyone notice those couple of days of sunshine we had over the past few months? Yes, that is what they call here The British Summer. I know, I know, I almost missed it as well. I have to admit moving from Southeast England to the Northwest, I never realised that when people said it was cold and rainy in Manchester that they actually meant it! I just figured people were exaggerating (I mean, the whole country rains, right?). Well, much to my surprise, they weren’t. Dreams of pretty cotton dresses and drinking Mojitos in the sunshine never entirely materialised but as the weather turns, I find myself with new fantasies to occupy my time. Warm knits, knee high boots with opaque tights, snugly scarves and that cool nip in the evening air that tells you that autumn is well and truly upon us.

Despite our rather sorry stint of truly warm weather, I actually quite like the cool crisp September weather and having a taste of home the other day, I decided I wanted to make a Zucchini Cake. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to warm up the house and remind you of cozy nights in with hot mugs of tea and a bit of baking from scratch. As you probably know, they are called ‘Courgettes’ here (we Americans use the Italian word, the British use the French) but as it is, after all, an American recipe, I decided it’s only right to use its proper American name.

Now I do quite a bit of cooking in this country but it was first time I was going to actually attempt to BAKE. With my fabulous boyfriend’s (we’ll call him Mr. Lovely) vast array of culinary equipment and ingredients to hand (he’s a great cook) I decided it would be a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I knew, of course, the ingredients would be in imperial measurements but I was confident that with a bit of conversion using metric kitchen scales, I could easily manage the recipe – no problem. Well, the issue wasn’t the conversion. It was the ingredients.

My conversation with Mr. Lovely went something like this:

Sitting in the living room, I called out to Mr. Lovely in the kitchen, “Can we get ‘All Purpose flour’ here?”

Mr. L responded, calling back, “What’s ‘All purpose flour’?”

“I don’t know, I guess it’s just regular flour.”

“Umm. Yeah I would think so. Is that the same as Self-Raising Flour? I have some of that.”

I didn’t like the sound of flour that rose on its own willpower. “Self-Raising flour? Hmm. I don’t think so.”

Mr. L, already tired of the exchange, assured me, “It’s okay, we can nip to the shop and get some.”

“Ok…” I went back to my recipe but only for a moment. “What about Baking Soda?” I called again.

“Do you mean Bicarbonate of Soda?”

I thought about it for a second. I know I’ve heard of Bicarbonate of Soda but I’d never eaten it. “I think so. Aggy and Kim use it to clean everything; I think it’s the same thing…” I went back to the ingredient list.

I called again, “What about Baking Powder?”

It was at this point that Mr. L, realising this may be an extended conversation, came into the living room. “What’s Baking Powder?”

“I think it helps the cake to rise. Or wait, is that what Baking Soda does?”

“Well, that’s what self-raising flour does.”

“Ahh right. Do you think I can skip both of those then if I use the self-raising flour?”

“I’m sure you can. It’ll be fine, just use the self-raising flour,” he assured me. He’s good like that.

I pondered this for a second. “Wonder why we don’t use self-raising flour in the States? Seems a lot easier….” Back to the ingredient list again. “What about white sugar?”

Mr. L crinkled his brow. “What do they mean by white sugar?”

I shrugged. “I think they mean just regular sugar.”

Mr. L went back into the kitchen and brought back a white packet. “I have caster sugar,” he announced.

I looked inside the packet, examining the tiny crystals. “Hmm – this is a bit finer than regular sugar. Do you think it’ll be okay if I use this?”

“Yeah, it’ll be okay.” (I swear that should be his motto, he says it to me so often.)

“Ok, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, reassured. “Oh wait, the frosting takes confectioner’s sugar. Can you get that in this country?”

“Never heard of it. What about icing sugar?”

“I don’t know. This is a soft icing, it’s not gonna go hard is it?”

By this point Mr. L put his hands on his head. “ Arghhh I don’t know…” and walked out of the room.

It was clear by this point, I was on my own!

Now, my dear readers, let me tell you that in the end, despite all the guessing and against all the odds, the cake came out rather fantastically well – I know, no one is more shocked than me. Turns out all my substitutions worked a treat. However, next time there’s a chill in the air and I fancy a bit of baked scrummy goodness, I might just save all the hassle and go to Greggs instead.

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What Others Are Saying

  1. phillyUKgirl November 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Anna, I make pimento cheese ALL the time – when those cravings hit, everything else – like dinner – stops! I am always checking the jarred condiments aisles in the supermarkets – you want to look for roasted peppers in oil – NOT brine or vinegar, which is what is more usual here. You’ll often find them in the more upmarket section, like the Taste the Difference/Special Selection at Sainsburys. Also, if you have access to a Spanish grocery (in London, Garcia’s on Portobello Road is great) – get Piquillo peppers (but again, check they’re in oil). These come in a tin, like sardines do. I stock up on ten or so when I find them as they last forever. Once you open any of these oil-based peppers, they go moldy, even in the fridge, quite soon. Be sure you top up the oil so no bits of pepper is left exposed. Or just make a LOT of pimento cheese!

  2. GingerGirl October 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    just completed my very first (highly translated) batch of cookies – am practicing for baking over the holidays! went surprisingly well and the cookies were well received but my boyfriend’s mother said she was surprised that i was baking- she thought it was something only older people did, which i found surprising. As far as my experience went, I know many of my college age friends and I really enjoyed baking, as well as my mom and other family members. Does that ring true for you expats? She was so surprised that when i rolled the dough into balls that they came out flat!

  3. Anna October 18, 2010 at 2:25 am

    wondering if anyone has been able to find jarred pimento anywhere in england?
    i sure would love to make pimento cheese. ;)

  4. Christiana (US meets UK) November 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Oh my gosh, I am DYING at work over here. Only because my husband and I have had the EXACT same conversation – right down to the freaking caster sugar!

    Last night we were trying to explain to my (American) parents what a “toad in the hole” was, and how to make a yorkshire pudding. The toad in the hole part was, for some reason, very confusing.

  5. Meagan Lopez September 29, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Baking and cooking – oh, I know how bad those can be!
    And, I’ve had a couple of recipes call fro chicken broth – English consider broth to be chicken noodle soup! I had to go to a Chinese market to get actual chicken broth.
    Plus, don’t mention to an English person that you’ve used a cake mix for baking – they consider that cheating. In America, I consider that the most home made I get!

  6. Redlilocks September 25, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Ok, where were all you lovely peeps with all the knowledge when I was BAKING?!?! lol

    I didn’t realise that self-raising flour was that risky – I dropped the baking powder, baking soda and salt right out of the recipe and the cake was lovely and fluffy as it should have been so maybe I got lucky there!!

    This is great though – I know I’ll end up referring to this now next time I venture into the world of baking! You people are a wealth of handy info!

    • peacefulyorkshire September 25, 2009 at 6:43 pm

      –Yep, everyone has amazing tips! Just goes to show how well-rounded our uber smartie readers are. I love it!

  7. wickedripeplum September 25, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    On replacing Crisco with butter, I think flavor wise that’s a good choice, but butter straight up does not have the same properties as shortening. So if you make say pie crust with butter it will not come out as flaky unless you have some serious skills. I’ve never seen one, but I wonder if there’s a pie dough recipe with a butter roll in (a la puff pastry) which might solve the flakiness problem, though like all roll ins it might be more trouble than it’s worth for baking at home.

    Oh and ITA about unsalted butter, like self-raising/self-rising flour it’s a control issue.

    Is pastry flour more readily available in the UK than the US? Because really that would be the best thing for cookies and pies, but here it’s pretty hard to come by here though it can be ordered online in non bulk sizes.

    Do I think too much about baking? Why yes, yes I do.

  8. pacificyorkshirebird September 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Oh yeah – canola… that’s the word I was forgetting. Thanks!

  9. wickedripeplum September 25, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Rapeseed oil is actually canola oil. Or well canola is extra special low acid rapeseed made by crafty Canadians. According to the Wikipedia Canola stands for CANadian Oil Low Acid. Catchy!

  10. pacificyorkshirebird September 25, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Awesome post Redilocks!! A few other tips/my opinions:

    Print out a table of temperature conversions and put it with your cookbooks to avoid checking the internet for temperature conversions all the time – and check whether your UK oven is fan assisted, as it was pretty common in Yorkshire and changes the temperature and cooking time you will need.

    If you look for granulated sugar, that will probably be closer to the regular white sugar you get in the US, although caster sugar does work well too. I think, because of the fine grains you want to consider reducing the quantity just a little bit.

    For brown sugar, I found the light and dark brown sugars in the UK to be lacking in that yummy brown sugar flavor. So I pretty much always used muscovado sugar which made my tollhouse cookies taste the way I liked them. Not a good choice if you don’t like the molassis flavor.

    If you opt out of Crisco (which I highly recommend), use unsalted butter for your baking too… especially if your recipe calls for salt.

    I think I remember that vegetable oil was rarely labelled as such. You can get rapeseed oil which is pretty much what we Americans call vegetable oil. Sunflower oil is also available.

    City shops may not provide everything on your list. We lived right in the city and SO often I went to the store with my baking list and found all but one ingredient (which inevitably always varied so I couldn’t predict which one it would be). Always be prepared with a subsitution OR go to a bigger shop. It will make your baking life easier.

    Happy Baking!

  11. wickedripeplum September 25, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Self-raising/self-rising flour is a terrible thing, do try to avoid it if you possibly can. It just isn’t reliable and with baking you want to control as many variables as you can.

    If you’re ever in a tight spot with no baking powder you can actually make your own with baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch.

    If you aren’t a vegetarian (which of course I am) you can replace Crisco with the thing it was made to replace, lard.

  12. Rachel September 25, 2009 at 2:29 am

    Katheryn — I. Love. You. THANK YOU!!!! The Crisco is a curious thing. I hadn’t suspected that one would be an issue. I just looked on wikipedia and it said that Crisco = Spry. Since the recent “transfats are bad and now butter is back” trend, I’ve taken it out of most of my recipes save my chocolate chip cookies. Somehow Tollhouse isn’t Tollhouse without the transfats. I’ve decided to travel in December with my own chocolate chips, and Hershey’s kisses (for the peanut butter blossom cookies.) Again — thank you!

  13. Kathryn September 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Ooh, this I can help with. I love to bake and I’ve done my fair share of experimenting.

    All Purpose Flour= Plain Flour (its sold with the self-raising, usually just a different colour bag)
    Baking soda = Bicarbonate of Soda (sold with baking supplies in a plastic can)
    Baking powder is the same
    Powdered Sugar = Icing Sugar
    White Sugar is probably sold next to the tea and coffee, its just plain sugar. Caster sugar is a more finely ground sugar which is great for cakes.
    There are a number of brown sugar’s here. Dark brown will work, although it tends to have a stronger flavour and I suggest substituting a bit of white sugar for part of it. They also have light brown sugar which is closer to American brown sugar, but its harder to find.

    While you can sometimes substitute self-rasing flour for plain and just leave out the baking soda and powder, this doesn’t always work.

    If you like to cheat, larger tesco grocery stores often have bisquick and a larger selection of Betty Crocker than other supermarkets.

    I have no yet figured out what the equivalent to crisco is-I suspect it might be birds suet but I haven’t been brave enough to try it.

    For chocolate chips, I usually try to find plain chocolate ones, or the cadbury’s bourneville as these are much closer to our semi-sweet.

    The hardest thing for me to adjust to? It took me (literally) weeks to find the eggs in the supermarket. I checked all of the chilled shelves…

  14. Rachel September 24, 2009 at 2:14 am

    So Redilocks, can you make a little list for us in the comments? Pretty please with sugar (powdered or icing) on top? I’m arriving in England on December 16th and expected to whip up several batches of Christmas cookies and cakes in the first week there for my boyfriend’s family. Do I have this right?:

    Baking powder = not needed with self-rising flour?
    Baking soda = bicarbonate soda?
    Powdered sugar = icing sugar
    White sugar = caster sugar?

    What about brown sugar? When I was there last, it seemed like our version of very dark brown sugar — not the lighter version I prefer for cookies. Any advice there? Thanks in advance!

  15. baroquebabies September 23, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Oh my goodness, I can completely relate. I’ve had lots of challenges and even a few tears (I thought I had found cake flour but it was really cornstarch… label in german of course) finding the baking ingredients I need here in Germany. For example, there’s no baking chocolate or brown sugar (the soft type, make with molassas). So I’ve found recipies that use semi-sweet chocolate and either import brown sugar from the US or go to the one asian store that has it. Glad your recipie turned out fine despite challenges!

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