Lost in Translation – France

This summer, I picked up a copy of Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” Engrossed by her tales of fearless cooking, I tried to imagine what it must have been like learning to cook in a foreign country, in a language not your own.  Later, as I was browsing through my cookbook collection this summer, I happened upon the baking book I had picked up in France.  I flipped through, realizing how rusty my French had become, and then my twisted mind thought, what if I tried to use this cookbook without a translation?  Thus, an idea was born: I would try to cook from a foreign language recipe without translating it and just working off my best hunches.  Italian food in Italian, Spanish tapas en español… what have I gotten myself into?

I’ll admit, I went easy on myself for this first foray into cooking sans subtitles.  I decided to try a French recipe, since I’ve taken French in the past.  And what could be more classic than French bread?  It started with a trip to Fairway in the rain – hardly an auspicious kickoff to my adventure.  I looked over the copy of the recipe I brought: numbers one and two on the list of ingredients were farine de seigle and farine blanche.  I knew farine blanche – white flour.  But seigle?  I resisted the urge to google translate, and grabbed a bag of “all-purpose” flour, figuring that all-purpose should cover both blanche and seigleSucre roux I figured was brown sugar, and levure de boulanger déshydratée just had to be yeast.  Overall, aside from the little flour speed bump which I’m sure destroys any credibility I may have among serious bakers, gathering supplies was relatively simple.

I can practically hear the francophones reading this and hollering “RYE!”  Yes, as I later found out, seigle means rye, so the bread I made was more “pillsbury’s finest” than anything French.  Oh well.  To that, I reply with one of the few phrases I can remember: C’est la vie.

Armed with my kitchen scale, since the measurements were all by weight, I set about making a vastly-underprepared mess of myself in my Hartley kitchen.  I squinted at my recipe and ran into the second roadblock in translation: cuil. à café.  I was pretty sure cuil. Was an abbreviation for spoon, but what sort?  Teaspoon?  Tablespoon?  I went with the assumption that teaspoon got translated across the Atlantic into coffee spoon, and hoped for the best.  Next step: “Mélanger de façon à bien amalgamer le tout plus pétrir jusqu’a obtention d’une pâte qui se détache des parois de la casserole…” Ok, so I was lost after mélanger de façon à bien amalgamer, but, undaunted, I kneaded away and then let the ball of dough rest while I went to a lecture.

Two hours later, I returned to a big ball of dough that had “doublé de volume,” so I guess everything worked out all right with the whole mélanger bit.  The recipe called for an oven preheated to 190 degrees Celsius.  I figured that burning down my dorm in a cooking translation experiment wouldn’t exactly endear me to the university; anyways, converting measurements isn’t exactly translation, is it?  So I set the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and popped the whole big boule in the oven to bake.  An hour later my bread emerged from the oven piping hot, apparently solid as a rock, and sporting a large crack along the edge that made it look like an eyeless whale.

After a bit of cooling, my suite-mates and I dug on.  The loaf was actually quite chewy on the inside, reminiscent of an enormous soft pretzel, with just a hint of the sea salt I borrowed from my neighbor.  The crust, however, was extremely thick and crunchy.  I couldn’t decide if this was particularly good bread, but most of it was eaten by the next day, so I’ll mark this attempt as a success.  Nothing was burned, nobody was poisoned, and I never even touched Google translate.  Voila!

Pain de Seigle 

450g de farine de seigle

225 g de farine blanche

un peu plus pour soupoudrer

2 cuil a café de sel

2 cuil a café de sucre roux

1 ½ cuil a café de levure de boulanger déshydratée

425 ml d’eau tiède

2 cuil. a café d’huile, un peu plus pour graisser


  1. Taniser les farines, et le sel danse une jaffe, ajouter le sucre et le levure et mélanger.  Creuser un puits au centre et verser l’huile et l’eau.
  2. Mélanger de façon à bien, amalgamer le tout plus pétrir jusqu’a obtention d’une pâte qui se détache des parois de la casserole.  Pétrir la pate 10 minutes sur un plan de travail farine, jusqu’a ce qu’elle soit homogène et élastique
  3. Enduire d’huile les parois d’une jatte.  Façonner la pate en boule, la mettre et dans la jatte et couvrir.  Laisser lever 2 heures près d’une source de chaleur, jusqu’a ce que la pate ait double de volume.
  4. Huiler une plaque de four.  Pétrir de nouveau la pate 10 minutes sure un plan légèrement farine.
  5. Façonner la pâte en boule, la mettre sur la plaque et couvrir.  Laisser lever encore 40 minutes près dune source de chaleur jusqu’a ce qu’elle ait double de volume.
  6. Pendant ce temps préchauffer le four a 190 degrés C.
  7. Cuire le pain 40 minutes au four préchauffé.
  8. Cuire encore 20 a 30 minutes jusqu’a ce que la croute sait bien dorée.  Transférer sure un grille et laisser refroidir complètement.
  9. Servir
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