As translators know, a translation is never just about the words. Translation requires understanding the meaning behind the words and then expressing that meaning in another language. As I discovered recently, recipe translations are no exception!
I don’t normally translate recipes in my daily life as a translator, but I work with recipes all the time in my personal life. Baking is a favorite hobby—it’s relaxing, familiar, and yields very tasty results. So when I started feeling homesick around the holidays, I pulled out some recipes for familiar baked goods.
I started the process by looking online for advice on baking US recipes in Germany. I assumed that I would run into a few complications, if for no other reason than having to convert US measurements to the metric system. However, the list of challenges quickly grew:
- Corn-based products are much more rare in Germany. (As a native Iowan, I have trouble adjusting to this idea!) Cornstarch, cornmeal, corn syrup … start looking for alternatives!
- Germany doesn’t label flour with names like “all-purpose flour” and “bread flour.” All-purpose flour in the US has 10-12% gluten protein, compared to flours with higher gluten content (like bread flours, with 13-14% gluten) that produce chewier results. Germany uses a number system for flour, so use types 405 (pastry flour, 8-10% gluten) or 550 (like all-purpose flour, 9-11% gluten) for baking. (There are many options for bread flour, but there are also many bakeries with fresh bread!)
- Brown sugar as we know it in the US is hard to find. I have been told that Asian food stores sometimes carry the soft, moist brown sugar we know and love. In regular grocery stores, however, you’ll find a granulated sugar that behaves a bit differently. (There is a lot of debate in online forums about whether it works as well as soft brown sugar. I’m still testing it out, but the flavor seems fine to me.)
- Baking powder isn’t the same here. I had a moment of panic when I looked up “baking soda” and “baking powder” and found the translation “Backpulver” for both terms! After a little research, I found that baking soda is called “Natron,” while baking powder is, indeed, “Backpulver.” However, baking powder in Germany in single-acting, not double-acting like in the US. This means adjusting the amount used … a little trial-and-error is needed.
- Vanilla extract is hard to find (and expensive). The most common replacements are vanilla aroma and vanilla sugar. I got myself a little bottle of vanilla aroma, although I haven’t used it yet. The common complaint is that it is oilier and less sweet than vanilla extract, and many people import extract or make their own. We’ll see how it works when I try it out!
I won’t let these things stop me from baking. All baking requires a little trial and error—if you don’t believe me, try taking your familiar ingredients to Denver and do a little high-altitude baking! I blocked out the naysayers and trusted in this helpful Glossary of German and American Cooking Terms. I then loaded up on some baking essentials at the grocery store and decided to try out a recipe for cinnamon rolls.
I avoided the baking soda/powder issues by using a yeast recipe, so my biggest issue was keeping the granulated brown sugar from pouring out of the unbaked rolls. I also got lazy and decided not to make the cinnamon roll icing. In the end, though, my tasting panel declared the rolls delicious!