Wednesday, August 31, 2016

One Writer's Obsession

by Sybil Johnson

A discussion has been ongoing here on Type M about crafting a novel. I don’t have anything to add so I’m going to talk about one of my current obsessions instead: The Great British Bake Off. Or the Great British Baking Show as it’s called when it airs here in the U.S. I don’t really know why they changed the title for the U.S. market. I know what a “bake off” is. I suspect a lot of other Americans do too. Book titles are often changed when they cross the pond, so I guess this is another example of that.

I love, love, love this show. Can’t get enough of it. It’s great fun to see people engage in friendly competition, bonding over baking, creating tasty treats with all-purpose flour, cake flour, bread flour... But, wait! What’s this? They don’t mention any of those in the show. Apparently, in Britain it’s strong flour, plain flour, soft flour...

Since I’m a naturally curious person, I looked these things up. It seems here in the U.S. we talk about flour based on what it’s usually used for, baking cakes or bread or for general purpose baking, while in Britain they talk about how much protein or gluten is in a flour. In the following, what it’s called in the U.S. is on the right of the equal sign, what it’s called in Britain is on the left. Here’s what I learned:

cake or pastry flour = soft flour
all-purpose flour = plain flour
bread flour = strong flour or hard flour
self-rising flour = self-raising flour
whole-wheat flour = wholemeal flour

These are rough equivalents. I did see a discussion online where someone from the U.K. noted that the plain flour there which is available to the home baker is not exactly equivalent to our all-purpose flour. If these are wrong, feel free to correct me.

And then there’s sugar. They kept on referring to caster sugar and icing sugar. I figured caster sugar is what I call granulated sugar or just sugar. The web tells me that’s not totally correct. Apparently, caster sugar is superfine, finer than granulated. Icing sugar is powdered sugar.

And then there’s the kinds of things they bake, many of which I’ve either never heard of or only having a passing acquaintance with. I now know what Victoria sponge, spotted dick, plum pudding all are. Though it’s strange for me to see puddings that are sliced.

I’m also still a bit confused about terminology. Maybe some of you readers can help me out here. First, there’s biscuit. Based on what I’ve seen on the show, I get the feeling that what we call cookies and crackers here in the U.S. are both referred to as biscuits in the U.K. Is that correct? And what about puddings? Is that a general term for desserts in the U.K.? Inquiring minds what to know.

I like baking myself though I’m not nearly at the level of these contestants. My favorite thing to do is play around with cheesecake recipes. I also enjoy checking out new recipes and techniques on websites. One of the contestants from season 1 of GBBO, Ruth Clemens, has a web page called The Pink Whisk. Great fun to wander around in.

Well, that’s enough about my GBBO obsession. What about you all? What are current obsessions?


Aline Templeton said...

I use a lot of American recipes myself, Sybil, so I understand your problems! Yes, cookies and crackers are biscuits to us and what you call biscuits is roughly equivalent to our scones. Pudding, in context, is certainly the same as dessert. It suggests a rather solid, old-fashioned type of thing like the spotted dick you mention and the American dessert is more often used now. taking over. You can, though, have savoury puddings too like Yorkshire pudding (basically batter) and black pudding and white pudding which are made by the butcher.
If you're interested, I have a conversion table giving equivalents in American cups for our grams that i can let you have. In exchange perhaps you can tell me how on earth you measure a 'cup' of butter, instead of just hacking a chunk off the slab and weighing it!!
I did enjoy this post!

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks, Aline. That cleared up some things for me. Would love to have that conversion table. Ah, butter. Every stick of butter here has markings on the wrapping in tablespoons so you can just cut off what you want without weighing it. One stick is 1/2 cup. No weighing necessary! To make matters even more fun, depending on where you are in the U.S., that "stick" may be called a "cube".

Eileen Goudge said...

Love the Great British Baking Show! Perfect way to unwind after a day of writing. My one quibble is the two female hosts who I find annoying

Sybil Johnson said...

Hi, Eileen. It is a great way to unwind. I actually like the two female hosts. I noticed, though, that they were a lot less jokey, I guess is how I'd put it, in the first season than in the later ones.

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks for the butter info, Sybil, though since our butter is now sold in grams it doesn't make it easier. I'll email the chart.
I'm not addicted to the Bake Off because I don't like either of the hosts, but I watch every MasterChef series and at the moment the Great British Menu when some of the best British chefs compete to cater a banquet. They fill me with awe!

Eileen Goudge said...

I love Masterchef too! Especially Masterchef Junior. Amazing and awe-inspiring to see an 8-year-old who can cook the pants off most adults. As for GBBS, I find it soothing as a cuppa, as they say in the British Isles. And while many of the desserts I think of as uniquely British are unfamiliar to me and therefore beyond my ken (and I'm a baker with a baking cookbook to my name), I noticed the contestants did not do well when tasked with making an angel food cake, which is more of an American treat, I gather.

Sybil Johnson said...

I like MasterChef too, particularly Masterchef Junior. Interesting they have difficulty with angel food cake. I think of it as more American, too.

Aline Templeton said...

I think angel food cake is definitely American. I'd never heard of it when I was growing up though it's now my daughter's favourite.

I do love how everyone has pitched in on this, Sybil!

Sybil Johnson said...

Me, too, Aline. Quite fun to see what everyone says. So interesting the differences in baking between the UK and US.