Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Brits and baking March 11, 2011

Filed under: Books,Food — lauravw @ 8:45 am

As you read this, if things have gone to plan, I should be in Belgium. So there’s no Friday Tidy this week – but I thought you might like to read about how I got on trying out an American recipe for British baked goods.

I love brownies, key lime pie, chocolate chip cookies, Boston creme pie, and all kinds of other American baked goods. I also love egg custards, fairy cakes, banana bread, millionaire’s shortbread, and many other things that I think of as British. So my collection of books about baking covers both sides of the Atlantic. Some of the recipes I have are all-out British, some are totally American, and some are American recipes adapted by British cooks for British tastes and kitchens.

I think it is the American books I enjoy reading the most: there is something exotic about the recipes for dishes I have not grown up with. But it is usually the British books I turn to when I’m actually going to bake something, in part because I know that I’ll be able to buy the ingredients easily and that I will have the equipment and tools they will require.

For the past couple of months I have been poring over the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, which Megan very kindly sent me for Christmas. I love how elegant everything looks – it is stuffed full of fattening foods, yet they present the pictures in such a dignified way that you wouldn’t feel greedy if you ate them all. There are a few recipes I’ve had my eye on, but the one I was most keen to try was chocolate shortbread. I struggled a bit with the ingredients – not because they are unusual in this country, but more because they have names we’re not used to. Next time I use an American recipe, I want to look up all the terms first, so that I’m not having to go online every couple of minutes to see what the British equivalent of something is.

For reference next time:

  • Superfine sugar = caster sugar
  • Confectioners’ sugar = icing sugar
  • All purpose flour = plain flour
  • A stick of butter = 113g

I do have a set of American measuring cups, but I just don’t understand why they don’t use scales to weigh everything! I find that filling up the little cups with the right amount of flour/sugar/whatever just leads to a mess all over the kitchen worktops, and it means I can’t simply stick the bowl I’m using onto the scales and add things in as I work. And how on earth are you supposed to measure out a cup of butter?! I also have my doubts about how accurate it is to measure by volume rather than by weight.

Anyway, I set to work and, despite my initial difficulties with translating things, I was soon eating some of the most delicious shortbread I have ever eaten. I don’t have one of those big stand mixers, but I do have a small electric whisk, which I used to bring together the ingredients to form the dough. It struggled a bit as it’s quite a heavy dough, but we got through it OK in the end. And while I may have started to lose my temper somwhere in the middle of the process, the end result was so worthwhile that I would be more than willing to go through it all again.

And by the way, while in a bookshop on Sunday I saw three books about whoopie pies. Two of them were distinctly American, and while they look like very good books, life is a lot easier if the recipes you are using use the language, ingredients and measuring techniques you are familiar with. So I was happy to see that the third book is by an American chef who runs a bakery in London. I bought it, and will be trying out a recipe from it just as soon as I get back from Belgium!


2 Responses to “Brits and baking”

  1. PinkCat Says:

    I have a lovely American everything cookbook and it’s surprisingly one of the most used cookery books. The recipes are so interesting and aren’t things that I’ve learnt from my Mum and grandmothers.

    I’ve been making chocolate shortbread recently and the last time the texture was a lot like brownies. Bizarre!

    Hope you’re having fun in Belgium. Can’t wait to hear all about it! x

  2. Meghan Says:

    Clarification on the butter issue: in the US, butter is sold in one-pound boxes of four 113 g (4 oz) sticks. Each stick is individually wrapped in a paper wrapper that has tablespoon and cup markings on the side–from here to here is one tablespoon, from here to here is 1/4 c, etc. So butter isn’t generally measured here, we just lop off a bit and toss it in.

    That said, I completely agree on the scale thing–all that measuring by volume does is make a mess and make your measurements less accurate.

    Also, that shortbread looks incredible–I’m going to have to get a copy of the book so that I can give it a go!

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