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Translating Recipes - French to American & Back

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Dear Dorie,

It is really great to see this Spotlight Conversation with you, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions!

As an American doing my best to try and bring my culture and history to my new French family and friends, I had to laugh when you told the story about how your French friends were aghast that you actually prepared your dessert at home. I have experienced the same thing! One of the best ways to raise your status to that of Goddess in this country is to serve a really good home baked dessert! :laugh:

Something that was really terribly difficult for me to understand, in fact, something that took years of struggling for me, was adjusting my American recipes to accomodate the differences between French flour and American flour. My first baking attempts in France turned out flat gummy cookies, fallen cakes, strange and otherwise unexplained catastrophes - it was quite terrible. Trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of French flour took me years. Even now after baking and preparing desserts for some time, I have an inner secret fear every time I try out a new recipe because of that harrowing time of adjustment to a new kind of flour.

I am so thankful that your books are now available in French for the French kitchen here. Honestly, really good books with seriously good recipes for home baking are few and far between.

My question to you is about how you managed to accomplish translating the flour element of the recipes - I can imagine that the French pastry chefs you worked with in your collaborations had some pretty precise and technical requirements. How did you manage to come to ratios that would work with American flour? Was it a problem you spent a long time working out? Did you have a general rule for conversion of certain gram weights (as they are listed in French recipes) to American cups and spoons, or did you adjust one at a time, from recipe to recipe?

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Lucy, thank you so much for writing -- I've really appreciated your posts on the France Forum.

I commiserate completely with your frustration in trying to make your favorite American baking recipes with French ingredients. I, too, have had the fallen cakes and flat cookies, which is why I NEVER test recipes for my books in France. While I collect a lot of recipes in France, before I'll use them for publication, I test them in America with American ingredients.

Now here's the interesting thing -- for the most part, this is a one-way problem. I have found that the majority of French recipes work with American flour but that American recipes don't fare as well with French flour.

I have an American friend who tells me that whenever he gets a European recipe that he wants to make in the States, he immediately reduces the flour by one-quarter.

I have never made immediate changes in a recipe and, as I've said, I haven't found that wholesale changes have had to be made.

Similarly, while I made my own conversion chart, I used it as a handy general reference, not a guide for translating and converting recipes. The first time I make a French recipe in America, I weigh each ingredient and then put each weighed ingredient in a measuring cup or spoon, so that I can obtain the volume measures. In other words, as you said, I adjust each recipe one at a time. That is the way I worked on the recipes in both Pierre Herme books and in Paris Sweets.

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