05 July 2021

British Equivalents: Baking Words, Conversions, and Kitchen Things

American to British baking differences and conversions

Much like the English language itself, there's a lot that makes sense alongside oodles of stuff that makes zero sense when it comes to the British baking world as translated by an American baking. But because the home baking culture is so much a thing here in the United Kingdom (hello Great British Bake-Off), there is an entire world to discover when it comes to supplies, ingredients, and creative baking accoutrements. We are talking high end bakery cakes and pastries being made by amateurs in everyday kitchens as well as immaculate grocery store bakery cakes, and it's inspiring. While this wealth of options is great for a perfectionist like myself, a part of me mourns the reality that hilarious Cake Wrecks are an invisible part of British society... and gives me some anxious flashbacks of my obsessive "must get a gold star" childhood.

Fancy cakes at Marks and Spencer

One important anthropological note is that, generally speaking, food is cheaper and available in more size variety (e.g., smaller than "normal" packages for smaller cabinets/single households) here than the States. It's an odd phenomenon especially since the UK food system relies on a lot of imported food from Europe, Asia, and Africa, but it means that baking really can be more affordable and accessible for people.

So in my quest to learn and conquer British baking and to appease curious minds, I have gathered my own translation guide in this world of home baking across the pond. It is an evolving guide and will be updated as I figure things out. A cooking-specific translation guide is also in the planning, but in the meantime, hope you enjoy/get a laugh out of this starting point!

American to British baking differences and conversions

INGREDIENTS FOR BAKING

[U.S. English = UK English, in alphabetical order]


• 2% milk = semi-skimmed milk

• All-purpose flour = plain flour 

• Baking soda = bicarbonate of soda 

• Bread flour = strong flour

• Canola oil = rapeseed oil

• Cider = cloudy apple juice // UK cider is always alcoholic which you may or may not want in recipes!

• Cordial = liqueur // UK cordial is not alcoholic and is a concentrated syrup meant to be diluted with added water. This kind of cordial is also called "squash" here, but I can't even get into that language spiral right now. We would be here too long. But for baking, go straight to the alcohol section and look for the liqueurs.

• Cornmeal = polenta, masa harina

• Cornstarch = corn flour

• Corn syrup = golden syrup // While you'll find recipe conversions that say this is an equivalent, it's important to note that corn syrup has nothing on golden syrup. I feel like it's totally different in taste and quality; the only similarity is color and viscosity. I'm very Team Golden Syrup!

• Cream cheese = soft cheese // Philadelphia is a popular brand in the UK, too!

• Golden raisins = sultanas

• Graham crackers = digestive biscuits // These don't have the same flavor to me, but in recipes, they can be interchanged as a decent substitute. With that saying, I have found Morrison's gluten-free golden syrup breakfast biscuits taste just like graham crackers, so I'll be using them for making sweet crusts! A friend also mentioned Lotus Biscoff as another yummy perfect alternative.

• Half and half = single cream

• Heavy (or whipping) cream = double cream

• Honey = runny or clear honey // There are so many widely available common types of honey such as set or spreadable honey (which is opaque and pale yellow) and cut comb honey (chunk of honeycomb in clear honey). For general baking, it'll be runny honey as your sweetener.

• Jelly = seedless jam

• Maraschino cherries = glacé cherries

• Molasses = black treacle // And it's in the most inefficient tinned can ever. It's literally like a small can of paint that will never close properly again because the syrup gets. every. where. See below.

• Natural or raw sugar = Demerara sugar // This is not the same as brown sugar though I've seen it listed as such in UK Google searches. The soft "packed" sugar we know as light or dark brown sugar is also called light or dark brown sugar here.

• Non-fat milk = skimmed milk

• Peanuts = monkey nuts

• Pits = stones // As in peach or avocado.

• Powdered (or confectioners') sugar = icing sugar

• Pumpkin pie spice = mixed spice

• Self-rising flour = self-raising flour

• Semi-sweet chocolate = dark chocolate

• Shortening = solid vegetable fat

• Shredded coconut = desiccated coconut

• Slivered almonds = flaked almonds

• Sour cream = soured cream

• Sprinkles = hundreds and thousands, vermicelli, sugar strands // Everyone knows what sprinkles are, but you'll find grocery stores are quite diverse in how they label them.

• Superfine sugar = caster sugar

• Whole wheat flour = wholemeal flour

American to British baking differences and conversions


BRITISH SUBSTITUTES FOR AMERICAN INGREDIENTS

Applesauce - The well-known British Bramley Apple Sauce is not even close to American-style smooth applesauce. It's not the same texture or flavor needed if you use applesauce as a butter/oil substitute for baking. What you want to look for is an apple purée which I've only seen online as of writing this, not in the local shops. You will need to either make your own from scratch, pack some in your suitcase upon visiting across the pond, or order from an online American import shop (e.g., American Grocer).

Cool Whip (or stabilized whipped topping) - While it was never a great healthy option with all of its artificial ingredients, Cool Whip is sometimes needed in some recipes for a stabilized whipped cream. Since Cool Whip doesn't exist in the UK, what's an American to do?! You can either make from scratch or buy kind of similar Bird's Dream Topping (add a few teaspoons of powdered sugar and a drizzle of vanilla extract for a copycat taste!).

Instant pudding mix - Beyond the word differences, there's a reason I packed a dozen boxes of organic vanilla instant pudding mix from Whole Foods for my "secret ingredient" in my cookies and cakes when I first moved. It will always be something I bring back when visiting the States! The most similar British product is Angel Delight or Bird's Instant Custard Powder Sachets. I have tried the former, and it doesn't quite bake into cookies the same way American instant pudding does. It's the wild west with Bird's as I haven't experimented with it yet. Because of its long shelf life, you can also find instant pudding mixes in online American import shops, but I found it's really not cost-effective for a baking dish here and there unless you grab some on sale.  


Yellow cake mix - Once upon a time, I used boxes of yellow cake mix for a starting base for a lot of my cakes. Sadly, it doesn't exist here by this name. They say a traditional British sponge cake mix is similar, but it's still not quite the same in texture or flavor. I've found yellow cake box mixes on online American import shops, and for the homemade kind, I have this recipe for yellow cake mix (without any nasties) bookmarked.

American to British baking differences and conversions


TYPES OF SWEETS & BAKED GOODS

• Buns = baps // As in bread for the burgers.

• Biscuits = savory scones // There is much international division on this issue... hence this blog's name! Best just accept the lack of gravy and move along.

• Cake = sponge // This varies, of course, depending on recipe, but can cause confusion if you're thinking about washing dishes when someone asks if you can make a sponge.

• Cake batter = cake mixture
• Candy apple
= toffee apple

• Cooked or instant oatmeal = porridge
• Cookie dough = biscuit mixture

• Cookies = biscuits

• Cotton candy = candy floss

• Crackers = water or cheese biscuits // British crackers are typically known as a traditional Christmas party favor, so that's why you might get weird looks asking for crackers in July, but people here do know the "cracker" for cheese/snacking. For commercial packaging, I found "crackers" more commonly labeled on British-Asian snacks like prawn or rice crackers.

• Cupcakes = fairy cakes // Everyone knows cupcakes though. Mr. B swears they're also called buns, but I just shake my head in non-solidarity. I've found American cupcakes are more soft and spongy than British cupcakes that tend to have a crumbly texture... which has led me to using pre-made gluten-free American cake mixes for cupcakes.

• Dessert = pudding or puds // Literally anything can be a pudding, even a savory thing from Yorkshire. It will cause perpetual confusion.

• English muffin = crumpet // Similar, but not the same. Crumpets are more buttery and airy with its open top holes. You will find "muffins" as in the English muffin in some grocery stores, but trying to explain that it's not a blueberry muffin that you're seeking is a weird one.

• Gingersnap cookies = ginger nuts // They absolutely have no nuts in them whatsoever, but are called this because the original British cookie had a marketing slogan called "as hard as a nut" from the 1840s.

• Granola bars = flapjacks // This one is confusing, but you'll see they resemble chewy granola bars, not pancakes... English pancakes resemble crêpes, and the cycle of whut begins.

• Hard candy = boiled sweets

• Jello = jelly // As in the fruity gelatin.

• Lava cake = fondant // Not to be confused with that stiff icing used to decorate cakes because that's also known as fondant here.

• Pie crust = pastry case

• Popsicle = ice lolly

• Pudding = custard // As in instant or cooked. It's a similar product, but different flavors.

• Scones = no equivalent // The American sweet scone just doesn't have a traditional British buddy. Different shape, different flavors, sometimes different textures. At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I personally do prefer the British scone. If you haven't had one yet, you'll know why when you do.
• Sheet cake (or any dessert made in a square/rectangle pan)
 = traybake

American to British baking differences and conversions


BAKING SUPPLIES

• Aluminum foil = tin foil

• Baking pan = baking tin

• Broiler = grill // Not to be confused with a BBQ in the backyard. It's still the oven setting!

• Canned (anything) = tinned (anything)

• Cookie sheet = baking tray or sheet

• Cupcake liners/baking cups = cupcake/baking cases

• Paper towels = kitchen roll

• Pitcher = jug

• Plastic (or Saran) wrap = cling film

• Toothpicks = cocktail sticks

• Parchment paper = greaseproof or baking paper

American to British baking differences and conversions


US - UK MEASURING DIFFERENCES

I should have a section on UK-US baking measurements because these are different as well, but honestly, I'm not a math person, and I'd fail miserably trying to explain cups, milliliters, fluid ounces, et cetera. Going from the imperial to the metric system is not for this gal. Short story: British baking is done mostly by weight, not volume.

So I offer this US-UK measurement chart from Fab Flour that does a better visual job at conversions. I will say I have incorporated a baking scale into our kitchen since so many British recipes use it, and I love it! I still shipped over my American measuring spoons and jugs, but I now have more in my baking arsenal.

Posh cakes from Marks and Spencer


GLUTEN-FREE BAKING FAVORITES

Since I have Celiac Disease, I'd be remiss to not include a mini-section about gluten-free baking. In the UK, you'll find GF ingredients in the "Free From" aisles at grocery stores. Oftentimes, gluten-free is included with dairy- or nut-free goods, so it's practically categorized as free-from though it's dominantly gluten-free products. 

Gluten-free, in general, is incredibly common in the UK, and it's one of my favorite things about the food culture. People don't look at you weird when asking for GF, and most everyone takes it very seriously when you order at a restaurant. I have most always been able to order a gluten-free dessert of some kind at a pub, and it's a glorious happy Celiac moment. I can even find loads of pre-made GF grocery store cakes and desserts! Sadly, it tends to be basic flavors and not the super fun cakes... but hey, it's still an upgrade from American offerings.

Just like America, though, some gluten-free products are not created equal. Nothing compares to Thomas Keller's Cup4Cup gluten-free flour in the U.S. for me, and I did learn that Lakeland (a UK home store) imports it in, but I still can't justify the £15.99 price tag when there is always some kind of standard gluten-free flour available at every UK grocery store (hello, land of all things baking with a large Celiac population), but there are textural differences.

As of now, Freee by Doves Farm is my preferred (found at Tesco, Sainsbury's, and other main grocery stores with exception to Marks & Spencer), though I still find it sometimes grainy in some of my baked goods. And coming in last, M&S brand gluten-free flour was the worst as it was felt gritty in my cakes and did not pass the non-Celiac tastebud test courtesy of Mr. B.

While "from scratch" mixed gluten-free flours will always be the best, alas, my search continues for the perfect commonly accessible and affordable basic pre-mixed gluten-free flour in Great Britain.

American to British baking differences and conversions

FAHRENHEIT TO CELSIUS OVEN TEMPERATURE CONVERSIONS

There's no need to reinvent the wheel. This oven temperature conversion table PDF by Doves Farm (my UK gluten-free flour choice at the moment) is my permanent go-to because my brain cannot manage converting American recipes to Celsius let alone converting Celsius with Fan Oven which is my current kitchen appliance life right now. The "fan oven" is much like the recently popularized air fryer in the States. I love it for cooking, but for baking, it's still a "keep a close eye" situation to not let my bakes dry out.

Some British ovens even have a basic "Gas" number, and other ovens are regular ole convection heat like what most American ovens are. Make your life easier, have fewer over-baked desserts, and just save that conversion chart.

Gluten free cherry bakewell tarts from Tesco


POPULAR BRITISH BAKES IN AMERICAN TERMS

If the Great British Baking Show (or also known as The Great British Bake Off or GBBO in the UK) has taught us anything, there are some very much have well-loved flavor combinations for British tastebuds. 

Eton Mess - Piled dessert of broken meringues, strawberries, and cream
Banoffee Pie - Cookie-like crust dessert filled with bananas, caramel (or toffee), and cream and sometimes served with a chocolate topping
Bakewell Tart - Dessert with flaky crust, cherry jam, and almond-flavored custard (aka frangipane) topped with silvered almonds and a maraschino cherry
Trifle - Layered dessert made of pound or vanilla cake, vanilla pudding, fresh fruit, and whipped topping
Jam Roly-Poly - Rolled cake with strawberry or raspberry jam and served with custard
Battenberg - Long pink and yellow checkered almond cake composite with apricot jam and marzipan blanket
Victoria Sponge - Naked yellow cake with strawberry or raspberry filling and whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar
Jaffa Cake - Cookies with orange jelly centers covered in dark chocolate 

 

Fellow expats, have anything to add to this baking glossary? Share in a comment below! I'd love to hear them!

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