I’m not one of life’s natural bakers. My mum doesn’t have a sweet tooth so baked fairly irregularly (although her flapjack was legendary) and I honestly never remember baking with her. By the time I decided to try, I already had a few American cookbooks from my backpacking summers spent on Amtrak (insert wistful sigh here) so I naturally started to learn how to use American baking recipes. Besides, I didn’t own any scales back then!
Why would you want to?
Well, apart from the fact that we have access to so many American recipes on-line now and those recipes can be very appealing, I find it a lot less stressful than getting the scales out and MUCH easier with small children.
Baking cups are very easy to get now (these are very cute and these are an excellent price) but you can just as easily use a measuring jug. Some have cups on anyway but, if not, 1 cup = 250 ml (well actually 240 but it rarely matters) so 1/2 cup = 125 ml, 1/4 cup = 60 ml and then you’re down into tablespoons anyway which are 15 ml each. The cups are much easier though.
Just to give you an idea, here’s a recipe I use with my toddler every couple of weeks. It’s very adaptable and forgiving of sloppy measuring. Below the recipe, you’ll find some useful tips on how to make baking ‘a l’americaine’ even easier and more likely to be successful. Cupcake heaven is yours, my friend.
Template muffin recipe (makes 1 dozen) with many variations
2 – 2/12 cups grain – plain or wholemeal flour (optional – you can replace some of the flour with oats, cocoa powder if you’re making chocolate muffins, cornmeal if you’re making savoury muffins, even the leftover crumbs at the bottom of cereal packets, readybrek powder which makes a lovely light muffin or leftover mashed potato – honestly!)
1/2 cup sweetener – any kind of sugar, honey, syrup etc. We sometimes use a bit less and obviously omit if making savoury muffins
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Mix all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl or measuring jug mix…
1 cup milk, milk alternative, juice, yoghurt or buttermilk
1/4 cup fat – melted butter or marge or I just use vegetable oil
1 egg or 1 tbsp soya or gram flour with 1 tbsp water if you’re egg intolerant
Mix your wet ingredients well then stir into the dry ingredients, just until combined and all the flour is wet and no more. Lumps won’t matter.
Then add up to 1 1/2 cups additions. Great ideas include choc chips, peanut butter (reduce fat a little), jam, fruit chunks or purees, cheese or bacon chunks for savoury muffins, herbs, spices (cinnamon and mashed banana or apple chunks is great!), chips of marzipan, chopped up leftover chocolate, raisins, chopped mixed peel, crystallized ginger, cherries etc, etc. You get the idea.
Bake at 180C (Gas mark 4) for 20 minutes in a non-stick or well-greased muffin tray. Cool in tin for 10 minutes then ease out to cool on a wire rack using a narrow silicone spatula. Drool at the results.
Some other useful tips
Confident bakers will know that some recipes are less forgiving than others. If you are making something like a sponge or cupcake then spoon the flour into your cup rather than digging into the flour bag. It can make around 30-40% difference in weight! (I suspect that recipes from some sites that share home cooks’ recipes such as Allrecipes.com may not observe this rule so be aware of this).
Butter is often given in “sticks”. A stick is a 1/4 pound or 113g of butter.
Some ingredients will also be called different things in American recipes. Here are some common translations for baking.
All purpose flour = plain flour
Wholewheat = wholemeal
Corn syrup = golden syrup
Shortening = lard
Biscuit = something more like a scone but often served with cooked breakfast or dinner
Cookie = biscuit, as I’m sure you know!
Frosting = soft icing
Bread flour = Strong flour
Powdered sugar = icing sugar
This link gives a lot more very useful translations, including vegetables, meat terms, equipment and cooking methods (such as what ‘broiling’ means). You may find it handy.
So now you know everything you need to get started with some American recipes. Cupcake heaven is yours!
I’d love to know how you get on with the recipe above or if you avoid baking with small people like the plague! And do you bake with cups or prefer scales?