“Beating the Metric System”

2011-05-10. Published in Life in Gothenburg
by Nina

Ah, you've arrived in Europe. And after much hearty traveling and securing yourself a cozy flat, you suddenly find yourself with the big American need to pig out. You decide, in order to save money for the ridiculously expensive beer menus in this town, you'd like to bake yourself out of hunger.


Fear not! Here, as promised, follows my careful, step-by-step account of going from cups to liters, in no time at all (that's a lie---it took three hours). Soon, my friends, you'll be baking like the rest of the world---thanks to my skill as dutiful lab slave...


Chapter 1: Baking

Step 1: Find your recipe.

Thanks to my mom, I chose to use an old favorite of mine, actually taught to me last time I came to Europe: Italian cantucci (biscotti).

Step 2: Wikipedia.

This is how I started my first quest: How much is actually in one American cup?

A good friend with blonde hair and an incredible sense of style once told me that you have to vary your baking practice depending on what you're measuring. Apparently in Europe, not only do they use milliliters (or mL, as I will hereafter refer to them) for wet ingredients, but they also use grams for dry ingredients. Grams. Like, you need a scale and weigh it out.

Roadbump one: I had no scale.

After staring at my kitchen cabinets in denial, I turned back to the recipe. (Warning! Science!) Even if all my different dry ingredients varied in density, I realized that they were all measured with the same volume (whatever 1 cup was) and so if I kept the volume measurement the same, I could add everything in the same stoichiometric quantity. Basically, I could keep my flour-to-sugar ratio. Woo! (This conclusion merited a celebratory shot of vodka).

After a bit of sleuthing on the Internets, I determined that the measurement I was dealing with was, firstly, the "traditional American cup," and typically varied between 236-237 mL of volume. I also found out that a teaspoon is 1/3 of a tablespoon, and was around 5 mL.

Step 3: Google Translator.

Now that I knew how much of everything I needed, the next question was what everything was. Like any good scientist, I knew that getting the right ingredients was key---no coarse flour or powdered sugar. Write 'em down, grab your canvas bag (bag tax!), and go shopping being prepared to stumble over words...

Step 4: Pre-Heat the Oven.

You've got your Swedish ingredients. You've got your converted recipe. You've got your bowl and your baking trays. So now, first, turn on the oven---oh wait. It's Celsius.

There are lots of websites that can automatically calculate degrees Fahrenheit to degrees Celsius. However, because I've been feeling a little science-deprived as of late, you can also calculate it with a little old-school but always-badass algebra:

Celsius = (5/9)(Fahrenheit - 32)

Plug and chug, baby. I got 180.

Step 5: Start!

This process should be very familiar, with the giddy exception of using the incredibly cute (milli-cute, if you will!) 1 mL measuring cup.

Step 6:  Bake. Watch. Bake. Watch.

Because I forgot which knobs to turn, I kept an eye on my cantucci for the whole 30 minutes. Between using an extra egg because I can't make dough and all this extra guesswork, it might be good to chaperone your goods while they're cookin'...

Was for me. : )

Step 7: Cool, cut, and revel in your success.
It worked. Take that, metric system! Nina's got you served.

Of course, this is all without a scale. Soon, when that gets in my hands, I'll post an updated version. But for now, do not despair: you can make your American recipes, moreorless the same as back home.

/Nina, Misi.se team 2010