I spent part of the morning converting the recipe for Ottolenghi’s Chocolate Fudge Cake from metric to American measures. Well, more accurately, I used an online converter to make the calculations for me and then duly recorded the figures in the cookbook. My grammar school metrics lessons were an utter failure at the time and have completely vacated my brain at this point. The converted measures were unusual though: do you round up or down when you get something like 3.34 ounces? While you could go either way without much consequence when making something like a roast, it’s entirely different when you’re baking, which demands relatively precise measures. I couldn’t decide whether to err on the side of less or more, so I made the bold decision to flip a button on my kitchen scale — from pounds to kilograms — and cook in metric.
Most experienced cooks “eyeball” measurements, but to make this possible, you need to have a pretty good sense for how much, say, a cup’s worth of flour is or a teaspoon full of salt. I guess this ability is kind of like culinary ESP. I don’t have the foggiest idea of how much 290 grams worth of anything is, so that particular culinary sense was eliminated during the baking of this cake. Add to that the fact that I’ve never baked a flourless-cake before and I was completely disoriented throughout.
The cake is in the oven now. 170 degrees Celsius is 338 degrees Farenheit, a temperature that the analog dial of my oven can only approximate, so I’m watching the cake closely. Also, the recipe called for a 20 cm pan and I had only a 24 cm pan, so I’ll reduce the cooking time. The fancy whistle of this cake is that it gets cooked in stages: the lower level has a proper cake-like texture while the upper is fudgier from having been cooked for a shorter period of time. That lower level is smelling awfully good right now.
This experience has provided a glimpse into the world of European baking, which prefers measurements by weight rather than volume. As I think about it, this method seems contrary to the American psyche. Without a doubt, weight measurements are more precise. The method is not difficult, provided that you have a decent kitchen scale. The attitude behind it seems, however, more rigid, less of the freewheelin’ cowboy thing that Americans are famous for both inside and outside of the kitchen.
Not such a bad thing, in my opinion. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding, which should be finished shortly.