Sending cookbook abroad?
January 31, 2010 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Sending an American cookbook to Europe: what do I need to include?

I'd like to send an American cookbook to a friend in Norway. I'll also include a set of cheap cup measures (do they use teaspoons/tablespoons? Should I include a set of those as well?). Is there anything else I should include?

Here's the other problem: the cookbook is chocolate-heavy, and measures chocolate in ounces (I'm guessing, I don't have a copy with me.) Assuming this person doesn't have a kitchen scale, is there any easy way for me to help them make the recipes? It'd probably be difficult to calculate and use .357 of a European chocolate bar, but maybe doable. Is there anything else I could do?

I'm hesitant to include American baking chocolate, quality or otherwise, because of two packages sent from here to there by someone I know, the one with no candy made it and the one with candy never showed - is it possible it got stuck at customs?

This is supposed to be a fun gift, and it plays on an inside joke, so a substitution of a similar European book wouldn't work here. I don't want to make it a huge production, though, and I'd rather not stick her with a book she can't cook out of.
posted by R a c h e l to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Aargh, missed it on a first search but found this question, which is helpful. New problem: baking soda. are there other products like that that would be difficult for her to find? I'd really like her to be able to make a certain chocolate cake in particular. What other ingredients am I not thinking of that would be difficult for her to find? Should I include some baking soda or powder? Would that possibly contribute to lost-in-customs package? There will also be at least one item of sentimental value to both of us in the package, so it's important to be that it reaches its destination.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:49 PM on January 31, 2010

Add'l: (sorry, just found the recipe.) Sour cream? I'm pretty sure they don't even have vanilla extract (which is omittable, I guess. Unlike baking soda, etc.). She wasn't familiar with it when she came here.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:53 PM on January 31, 2010

Assuming your friend is not American:

Explain what a stick of butter is -- this unit seems unique to North America.

Explain what the standard sized egg is. These vary from country to country.

Make a little glossary of dairy product names and their approximate composition. Eg, "half and half" is a complete mystery to non-US English speakers.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:57 PM on January 31, 2010

Baking powder and baking soda are available widely all over Europe. Baking soda may be called Sodium Bicarbonate (or the local language equivalent). But pretty much anyone with enough English to read a cookbook will know this.

Cup measures are a good idea. I managed to find a set here in the UK, but I've never seen them since. I still greatly dislike using cups (how do I measure a cup of butter or chocolate without melting it?)

Maybe you could make a chart of spoon sizes (5ml = teaspoon etc.). I'm sure these small measures are used throughout Europe, but naming may vary.

Things that aren't sidely available:
1. American confectionery
2. Corn syrup (although other syrups may be usable)
3. Graham crackers
4. Just about any brand-name product that people take for granted in the US. There will usually be generic equivalents, but you may need to make a note of what they are.

Provided your cookbook sticks to basic ingredients like flour, sugar, dairy products, eggs etc., you'll be fine.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:00 PM on January 31, 2010

Regarding the ounces of chocolate, specifically: typical European cookbooks measure almost anything solid by mass (1 oz. = 28 grams). Anyone who cooks enough to use cookbooks owns a kitchen scale.

Besides including the conversion (), you may also mention that there is an ounce, and a fluid ounce (1 fl.oz. = 30mL), to be aware of.
posted by whatzit at 4:02 PM on January 31, 2010

As far as your initial concerns:

Baking soda substitutes are findable in Europe. The only slightly weird thing (that I was told when I was in France, not sure if true) was that the baking soda stuff that I bought was instant fast acting, or something, so it should be put in last right before baking. In most countries there's something that can be used for sour cream -- in Russia there's smetana, in France creme fraiche, and I'm sure that other things can be used in other places. Basically, if you add a bit of lemon to a heavy and creamy product, it can be a stand in for sour cream. For vanilla extract, vanilla beans can be used and taste better.

Other potential problems:

I didn't find chocolate chips in Europe. This is easily solved by smashing chocolate bars with a hammer, or whatever, but make sure to explain that if Norwegian friend doesn't know. Cocoa powder might be a problem if recipes call for it -- I don't remember seeing any around. Also, some guys that I met in Italy told me that they were in love with artificial pancake syrup - is your friend into that?
posted by three bear minimum at 4:06 PM on January 31, 2010

Besides mass and volume conversions, include degrees F to degrees C (what's a 350-degree oven? In Celcius you could melt lead).
posted by hexatron at 4:27 PM on January 31, 2010

* measuring cups
* measuring spoons
* explanation of American dairy terms and the % of fat so that your friend can find an equivalent
* if you are using somewhat exotic spices like chile then you will need to provide that (Mexican chiles were hard for me to acquire);
* temperature conversions
* possible chocolate issues may include definitions of chocolate types if your book does not explain in detail
* chocolate chips but substitution of chocolate bars can be done
posted by jadepearl at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2010

I wouldn't worry too much about unit conversion, google can handle all of that. For example: "1 stick of butter in mL".
posted by jjb at 4:54 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

jjb: that's all very well, if you know that "stick of butter" is a standard thing, and not something like a pinch or a dash or a nut of butter. Frankly, it would never occur to me to treat such a odd-sounding thing as a unit like litres or grammes. The first time I encountered it I had to ask my US-resident sister to explain. Which is also the conversation where I learned that standard US eggs are small.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:17 PM on January 31, 2010

Oh yeah, unusual flavor chips such as, cinnamon, butterscotch or peanut butter are difficult to get a hold of as well, so you will want to include bags of those if any are called for in the cookbook.
posted by jadepearl at 5:45 PM on January 31, 2010

Whatzit, I'm quite sure she doesn't own a scale. I lived with them for 2.5 months and they cooked, but often from mixes, and we only baked once, using a measuring cup to measure.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:04 PM on January 31, 2010

R a c h e l: Whatzit, I'm quite sure she doesn't own a scale.

It is simply not possible to bake in Europe without a scale. Weight is used instead of volume and every recipe is in grams. Even if you're converting from a US recipe, you need something to measure with. So, like, she won't have a stick of butter, but any online conversion calculator will tell her that a stick is 113g. Without a scale, however, that too will be meaningless.

She can pick up a kitchen scale for €10. I would not worry about it.

Everything else I've seen people mention is much less of an issue than it's being made out to be. I suspect your friend's lack of familiarity with some of these items is less to do with availability and more to do with the fact that she is not a baker. Baking soda (the same thing as bicarbonate of soda), cocoa powder (cocoa powder for baking is actually called, even in America, "Dutch process" and that's because it's European in origin), sour cream, peanut butter, vanilla extract, and cinnamon (?!?!) are all non-issues. All varieties of chocolate are available and in a greater range, except chocolate chips which are hard to come by but can be made with a hammer.

Anything weirdly American like half and half will have been covered either by the intrepid Norwegian bakers before her or Wikipedia and she'll be able to look up what to substitute online. This is standard practice for cooking from US recipes abroad, although I have no idea what we did before the internet.

Really, I think the only thing you can do is provide measuring cups (mine were found at IKEA and are precious to me!), teaspoon and tablespoon measures and rely on her to acquire a scale if she actually wants to embark on this project.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:43 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Darlingbri: Scandinavians bake by volume to a large extent, the decilitre measure is a standard. A stick of butter is seemingly a little more than a decilitre. Teaspoon and tablespoon etc are no problem, the dl measuring cups include "matsked" which is tablespood, 15ml and teaspoon, 5ml.
posted by Iteki at 12:59 AM on February 1, 2010

American baking powder is usually double acting, meaning one leavening element in the baking powder is activated by an acidic liquid and a second leavening element is activated by the heat from the oven. German and Polish (and possibly Dutch) baking powders are single acting and the leavening is so it's more important to get your baked goods straight into the oven. This link has some suggested substitutions for double acting baking powder.

I won't lie... I found that link on Yahoo! Answers, which is apparently good for something.
posted by clockwork at 5:48 AM on February 1, 2010

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