In my 2 1/2 years in Britain I have had to learn a whole new set of vocabulary for grocery shopping, cooking and baking. I think the biggest variations come in the baking area where nearly everything has a different name and measuring is much more precise. At this time of the year when you may decide to try your hand at maybe a Christmas pudding recipe or some other traditional British Christmas goodies, this quick guide to British baking could help decode those recipes for you.
One of the biggest differences I’ve found is the variety of sugars and their names. We’re used to basic white/granulated and brown sugars but here they seem to have a greater variety and they have different names.
Granulated Sugar: Like in the US this is your typical white sugar, its normally referred to as granulated as opposed to white.
Caster Sugar: Also known as superfine sugar. This is similar to granulated sugar but its a finer grind than granulated. It dissolves very easily and is used a lot in baking. If you don’t have caster sugar it can be made by grinding regular granulated sugar in a food or coffee grinder until it is a finer consistency.
Demerera Sugar: This is a natural brown sugar, as opposed to brown sugar which is made by adding molasses to refined sugar, Demerera sugar is made by only partially refining cane sugar. The term Demerera comes from the origin of this sugar in Guyana.
Brown Sugar: Just as in the US, brown sugars come in darker versions and softer versions.
Icing Sugar: Confectioners or powdered sugar
Treacle: Also called Black Treacle, basically this is the same as molasses. If you’re in the US and have a recipe that calls for treacle, use molasses and vice versa in the UK.
Golden Syrup: This is something quite unique to the UK and is often found in flapjack recipes (a kind of bar cookie made with oats). It is a type of pale treacle with an almost honey like taste. If you are in the US and need a substitute for golden syrup the closest thing is corn syrup, maybe with a tiny bit of molasses added for a bit of flavor and color.
Other Cooking Ingredients
Bicarbonate of Soda: Sometimes in recipes you might even see this as simply “bicarb” (also TV chefs like to throw it out there) but this is baking soda.
Double Cream: This is heavy cream or heavy whipping cream, thats the closest you will get in the US although true double cream has a slightly higher fat content and is very decadent. If you are using it in a recipe, heavy cream will definitely do the job.
Single Cream: This is the British term for half and half.
Sultanas: Golden raisins, although I’ve seen regular raisins labeled as sultanas as well.
Eggs: In America we really do everything bigger, and eggs are no exception. I find I need to add an extra egg to many American recipes for them to work if the eggs are the main rising agent. A large British egg is about the size of a medium egg in the US and there is nothing that really comes close to the size of a large or extra large American egg. I usually try to use my discretion when adding eggs but if I’ve got an American recipe that calls for 2 eggs I normally add an additional medium egg to make up the difference. On the flip side, if you’ve got a British recipe that calls for 2 eggs, the best thing to do is to opt for a smaller American egg variety from your grocery store instead of the typical extra large so you’re working with eggs that are closer in size to British eggs.
Dessert spoon: Some recipes, especially older traditional ones will call for a dessert spoon measure. This is an anitquated measure that is equal to 2 teaspoons or 2/3 of a tablespoon.
Metric units: Most British recipes use metric units of measure which result in much more precise measurements ideal for baking. I wouldn’t try to eyeball this, and as all ingredients will have different densities and pack differently there is no good way to convert to cups. I actually prefer this method since it takes the guess work out of whether to tightly pack something into a measuring cup or leave it loose, and don’t get me started on “heaping” measurements you often find in American recipes.
Once you’ve gotten used to cooking with weights you will find it is easier to anticipate how much you are going to need and if you have a baking recipe in metric units that you would like to try, it is worth it to get yourself some kitchen scales and carefully measure your ingredients. I now use my kitchen scales nearly every day for things like measuring pastas and meats to be more precise in the portions I’m cooking and avoid waste, so if you don’t own one yet it is a great tool for your kitchen!
Degrees Celcius and Gas Marks: Most British recipes give heating directions in Celcius or Gas Marks. This is a very handy chart I use for the gas marks, but I also have found the same chart in the index section of some of the American and British cookbooks that I own so its worth a look to see if you’ve already got a handy reference somewhere in your cookbook collection!
This covers a lot of the basic differences, but I’m sure there are probably some things I may have left off so if you’ve got a question please feel free to ask in the comments section and I would be happy to answer you, and if I don’t know the answer I know loads of great English cooks who would be happy to give me an answer! Also, if you can think of any useful nuggets of baking wisdom to add to this post, please share in the comments section!