The language of Cookery and recipes
I would guess that most people associate France with good food, once the good wine has been poured out and enjoyed, and the French would certainly have us believe this is the case. Cordon Bleu is a French expression and while British cookery has certainly improved, there is a lot to be said for expanding the French experience to take in their food, and on the way finding out how, for the most part, everything is done without self-raising flour.
But French recipes can present puzzles. How do you even start when one can’t buy mixing bowls and pudding basins? A clue to this is the curious insistence from organisations like Gite de Frances that a salad bowl (saladière) must be provided in every holiday home. This is what they use for a mixing bowl.
Starting with the ingredients, most widely used items, beurre, sucre, farine, sel etc are in most people’s vocabulary or can be looked up, but how much to use, and in the case of sugar, flour etc., which ones? Contrary to common belief, self raising flour does exist here. Francine, the brand-name flour maker, calls it Farine Gateaux but the key words come after: avec poudre levante. But most French cooks use plain flour and add sachets of “levure chimique” and teaspoonfuls of “bicarbonate alimentaire” to whichever flour they are using. T numbers tell you how strong or weak the flour is. T45 is used for pastries and cakes, where a fine light refined flour is needed, T55 is for white bread or viennoiseries – breakfast goods. It also makes passable cakes, but for a light sponge you would need T45, or even perhaps one of those Francine specialities Farine Suprème, specially milled and sieved for lightness. Most supermarket own brands have the same sort of range. But they are all available here! For making bread, you need “levure du boulanger” and you need to take care that it is “instantanée”, as some of the sachets contain ordinary yeast that you have to start off before use.
Sugar is another case where the experience of the two countries is different. Until quite recently it was hard to get anything but beet sugar in France, but now you can find the full range of cane products that you find in a UK supermarket. Sucre Roux is probaby akin to demerera sugar, Cassonade more like soft brown sugar. You can find caster sugar (sucre en poudre fin) granulated (sucre cristal) icing sugar (sucre glace).
Beurre can be demi-sel (lightly salted, like most UK butter) or doux (unsalted) and either may be specifically called for in a recipe.
Quantities might be in grammes, but often you will find une cuillère à soupe (tablespoon) or une cuillère à café (teaspoon) une pincée (a pinch) une poignée (a handful) un peu (a little).
So what do you do when you have got them all ready? If it’s a cake or pastry mix, you might be asked to mélanger les ingrédients dans une saladière (mix the ingredients in a bowl) battre les blancs d’oeufs (beat the eggwhites) écraser grossièrement les fruits (roughly squash the fruit) ajouter le beurre (add the butter) rajouter de l’eau de temps en temps si nécessaire (add water from time to time as necessary) travailler la pâte (work the dough) pétrir la pâte (knead the dough) incorporer les blancs d’oeufs (mix in the eggwhites) bien remuer (stir well).
And when it’s ready, you might have to verser (pour) étaler (spread out) or disposer (place) the mix or dough dans une moule à manqué (a deep round cake tin) or une moule à cake (loaf tin) and perhaps saupoudrer (sprinkle) sugar on top or parsemer (sprinkle with something a bit bigger like flaked almonds or raisons)
Then you enfourner – you stick it in the oven for the time and temperature indicated, normally until it is doré – golden. Beware, in some recipes they don’t remind you to préchauffer le four (preheat the oven)
If you are doing savoury dishes in a stew (don’t they have lovely words for stews – blanquettes, where the sauce is white, bourgignon and coq au vin, where red wine is involved, not to mention civet, where you suck the meat through your teeth and discard the tiny bits of bone and shot!) then the key words are different. The vegetables may be épluché (peeled) coupé en dés (diced) or en rondelles (sliced into rings) or émincé (chopped finely). You may have to faire revenir (brown on the outside) the meat to begin with, faire fondre les poireaux (sweat the leeks) faire mijoter (simmer)
Swapping recipes is a wonderful way of getting to know French people, as they do talk a lot about food, and what you get a French style picnics, where everyone brings the buffet dish they make best, is beyond words!